Ancient culture thrives on Golwater Range

  • Published
  • By David Doyel
The 56th Fighter Wing Range Management Office archaeologists are investigating the mystery of how long humans have inhabited the region that includes the Barry
M. Goldwater Range. So far, more than 1,200 sites have been recorded within 180,000 acres of the more than 1.7 million-acre range. The surveyed areas on the eastern portion were prioritized by impact of military activities. 

Before 1940, it was thought that people had been in the New World (North and South Americas) less than 5,000 years. Since then, the dominant theory is that the first humans entered North America by crossing an ice-free corridor between Siberia and Alaska at the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago. This traditional thinking is now being challenged by new evidence that disputes both the date and the route of entry of humans into the New World. Sites have recently been excavated in the U.S. and South America that are older than any site known in Alaska, dating back 50,000 years, according to Adrianne Rankin, 56th RMO archaeologist.
"RMO archaeologists have spent the last 10 years surveying the range," Rankin said. "We surveyed sites that had a higher chance of being disturbed by explosive ordnance disposal clearing activities.  Driving across sites in large dump trucks and dragging bombs across the desert causes more damage than a BDU-33 can do." 

A few of the surveyed sites have produced remains of the "Paleo-Indian" culture that appeared across America around 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. This culture is recognized by distinctive stone spear points (see photo) used to hunt now-extinct large animals including the giant mammoth, bear, horse and bison. Their points are described as "fluted" because of a notch chipped into the base where they were attached to wooden shafts.
One site on the BMGR-East produced several whole and broken Clovis points and other artifacts.  A fragment of a fossilized horse tooth was found nearby, further supporting the presence of very old remains in the area. Fire hearths and stone features are present, but the site continued to be used by later peoples, making it difficult to sort what materials belong to what period based on surface evidence without excavation.
"At this point, we have not decided what to do with this site," said Rankin. "We marked it with six-foot poles to provide a visual barrier to the site. There's a couple of different ways to mitigate the damage to a site; one way is to move a target that's too close, which we've done in the past, and another way is to excavate the site."
Range management office archaeologists and affiliated researchers continue their field surveys, covering more ground and locating more sites. One researcher has studied the landscape of the Goldwater Range in an effort to predict where sites might be located, and another is using high-tech remote sensing to identify and reconstruct the ancient trail systems found in the region.
"Patterns are identified using digital aerial photography," Rankin said. "Then we'll use GPS, maps and ground truth to verify the findings." To answer the question of how long people have inhabited the BMGR, RMO archaeologists say with confidence about 12,000 and maybe 50,000 years. For most of this time, human use did not include mining for gold, herding cattle, or flying supersonic jets, but rather Native peoples living in their desert homes.