Progress Notes

Forbidden Archeology: Early Man in the Western Hemisphere, Part 4

Rate this Entry
1991. One of our Desert Studies instructors told us that if we wanted to get experience on a real archeology dig we could volunteer at the Calico Early Man Site. She quickly added, "it is a disputed site so you won't be able to get any kind of official credit. They are professional, though, and they do everything the right way." That statement didn't mean much at the time.

Calico 021 copy.jpg Tools used at the Calico Early Man Archeology Site

We had to take a training before we could begin digging. The various tools and how to use them. The Calico Site uses the Feet and Inch system instead of metric, which is rare but occasionally done in America back when they first started the project. They told us there was really only one rule for digging in the pit, "Don't hurry." I can remember digging for two weekends in row on one spot not much bigger than a dinner plate that contained a small scraping tool and the flakes the toolmaker had chipped off the core to make the tool. There were some terms to learn: A collection of tools in a particular geographical area by specific people is called a Lithic Industry. A single tool making site is a Lithic Assemblage. The tool is a Core or whatever its intended purpose was: Scraper, Hand Knife, Chopper, Hand Axe . The discarded chips or flakes are Debitage.

48.jpg Lake Manix Lithic Industry samples. Photo:

When you find a workshop area or Lithic Assemblage on the surface you will see a spread of flakes and chips where the toolmaker knocked them off by striking a core held on his knee and struck with a hammer stone. If he was successful and made a usable tool, he took it with him. If the tool didn't work out he dropped it or discarded it under a nearby bush so he or someone else would not step on it later and cut his foot.

If you were to imitate what the toolmaker did, sit down, cover your knee with a piece of leather, then knock off pieces of one rock with another, making flakes or chips soon you would recognize a pattern on the ground to the flakes. They usually are in one or two fans in front of the knee, sometimes more distinct than other times. But once you have found a dozen or so such workshop areas on the desert surface you come to recognize them when you see one. If you excavate one at a dig eight feet below the surface it will look exactly the same. That is the primary way we knew what it was we were finding. That and the quality of the tools we dug up. Some of them showed unmistakable signs of having been worked: large chips knocked off, then sharpened by small chips called nibbles. Bifaces, meaning worked on both front and back. Natural forces could not create such edges. The very reason they are noticeable on the surface or in situ (as found and dug up) is because they look unnatural.

009 copy.jpg Paleo-Indian stone tool found on the surface. Photographed in place. Notice the "nibbles" on the bottom edge, evidence of the stone having been changed by hominid hands.

So, if the worked pieces, tools and debitage you are digging up from eight feet below the surface match favorably with known pieces, tools and debitage made by Paleo-Indians found on the surface and both match a known Lithic Industry in the same area, you have a pretty good find. All that remains is dating the strata from which the artifacts are dug up, writing up your results and publishing. That is where things stood in 1970, after Louis Leakey, Dee Simpson and thirty or forty students and volunteers did everything the right way. Like all good scientists, they invited others to inspect their work in progress. Some outside experts visited the site and examined the work several times. As Louis Leakey and Dee Simpson got ready to publish, others were preparing scholarly articles for publication as well.


  1. Garuda's Avatar
    Great blog entries, Doc. I love them.
  2. Doc's Avatar
    Thank you, Manuel!
  3. spinningshields's Avatar
    Yes, this is fascinating! I've read a fair amount that suggests that orthodox archeology is wrong in dating human habitation of the western hemisphere--as Native Americans have been claiming all along! I remember the resistance, decades ago, to the evidence that human civilization originated in southern, not northern, Africa. In hindsight, this seems more racist than scientific! I think the same sort of limited thinking may be going on in the case of early sites discovered in the Americas. Plus, as this author discusses, there's always resistance from the Old Order to findings that challenge their POV (and textbook sales :-)!