The date is approaching fast and we’re making preparations. Don’t miss out!
Interested in the Spirit Cave Mummy and Ice Age Nevada? I’ll be sharing his story on Thursday, January 20th at the Nevada State Museum located in the Springs Preserve in Las Vegas.
For details see the Friends of NSMLV Newsletter: email@example.com
Before I wrote Wind A Novel of the Ice Age, I accumulated interesting articles and factoids about the Ice Age. There was an item that fascinated me so much that I emailed the Nevada Museum in Carson City to get more information. This was in 1997. For some reason I kept the response, which was that they had no information at the time that I could access. Very mysterious. The story I asked about was of the Spirit Cave Mummy, a man who lived.10,000 years ago somewhere on the shores of Nevada’s Lake Lahontan. A mummy is human remains, and this mummy, because of its preserved skin and hair had so much to tell.
When the Spirit Cave Man died the climate was changing. What had been a marshy wetland was rapidly drying. It was the end of the Paleolithic which lasted there from 16,000 to 9,000 years ago, on the cusp of the Great Basin’s Archaic Period. The megafauna had mostly died out, but not so long before a people, who carried a strong oral tradition, would have told the tale of giants in the land. Giant Beaver, mammoths, mastodons, American lions, camelops, sloths as big as a VW bus, bears, bison, and dire wolves all fed at the edges of the ancient wetlands.
How do we know so much about the Spirit Cave Man? Because of where he was buried, and because an abundance of grave goods buried with him. Flesh and shoulder length hair were preserved, along with his complete skeleton. We know that relative to the rest of the world, he was a paleolithic renaissance man. Alongside his body were the remnants of arrows or atlatl spears with feathers attached, milling stones, finely constructed baskets, and stone arrow points. His shroud was made of intricately loomed or plaited tule. He wore intricately constructed rabbit skin moccasins and woven tule socks.
It was a hot, hot, very hot August day in 1940. Georgia and Sydney Wheeler were surveyors for the Nevada State Parks Commission and looking for human remains or artifacts in the caves that were mined for guano—bat poop—when Sydney, startled by a snake, fell and injured his ankle. Georgia helped him to a nearby shelter, Spirit Cave. As Sydney tells it, he saw, “Rocks, Sand. Nothing to see here.” But, Georgia, camera in hand, did. What she saw was a carefully arranged circle of stones. They began to dig and uncovered a well preserved burial.
The Spirit Cave Mummy was lying on his side, wrapped in a skin robe, and sewn into two mats woven of a marsh plant called tule. The mats were so finely woven that many believe they had been made on a loom. The milling stones, used to grind seeds and nuts into paste, could also indicate sedentary living. Not life on easy street, but the possibility of staying close to home at least for a season at a time. One thing is for sure, the Spirit Cave Man was intentionally buried.
With the help of some local people, the Wheelers carefully removed Spirit Cave Man from his intended eternal resting place. They were convinced that he was ancient, at least 1,500 to 2,000 years old. They were excited by their extraordinary find and he was displayed at the 1940 Nevada State Fair. Insensitive and careless you say. Probably some of the anthropologists of the time agreed, and the mummy was put on a shelf in the Nevada State Museum in Carson City and there it sat for 50 years.
Until…NAGPRA, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act of 1990.
Who owns the past? The Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe said they did and claimed the remains. But scientists had devised more reliable testing procedures and they wanted to take a deeper look. They came up with some weird theories to keep Spirit Cave Man in the lab. The mummy wasn’t Native American at all. Using a modern forensic technique, they constructed a head based on the shape of his skull. Look, they said, he’s a lost relative of Captain Picard. He’s a Hairy Ainu who got lost on his way to California. The Paiutes fought in court until 2018. They won and are keeping the burial site a secret.
But who was he? We know that he was between forty and 50 years old when he died. That he
suffered a fractured skull (which didn’t kill him) and three badly abscessed teeth (which probably did). His final meal consisted of cutthroat trout and bulrush seeds. He most likely ate a regular diet of lizards, ground squirrels, rats and rabbits, bulbs and roots, grasshoppers, ants, locusts, nuts and seeds ground to flour to make porridge, and an occasional antelope or deer when he was lucky.
Spirit Cave Man was wearing a twisted skin robe when he died, and moccasins made from rabbit and socks woven from tule. By his side was a feathered arrow or atlatl dart, baskets and the cremated remains of two other people. Last month, when I inquired at the Nevada Museum, I got the papers that were presented in 1997 about him and the environment that sustained him 10,000 years ago. Those rocky caves and sandy hills still hold his secrets.
Rachel Delovio, NV State Museum
Jim Parish, Friends of the NV State Museum
Files coming soon.
"Bones, Boats and Bison" (1998) E. James Dixon
"Nevada Historical Society" (1997) Touhy and Dansie
"A Brief History and Perspective of Spirit Cave Nevada" (2018)
Hackett and Paulus
There’s a character named Alu in “Wind,” my Ice Age novel set in the Fertile Crescent, who has the idea to intentionally plant the seeds from wild emmer wheat, until then an unreliable food source to the hunter-gatherers who occupied that historically amazing area of the world. Alu, it turns out, or people much like her who lived in that harsh time, “were far more clever and more skilled than we knew.”
At least 23,000 years ago, the people who occupied an ancient site called Ohalo II, cultivated crops on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They built brush huts and hearths, created stone tools to implement early agriculture, and left behind the remains of 140 species of plants which “included 13 known weeds mixed with edible cereals, such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats.” A stone grinding slab was uncovered, suggesting that the cereal grains were processed to make them easier to eat and digest. “The large number of cereals showing specific kinds of scars on their seeds indicate the likelihood of those cereals growing in fields, and the presence of sickle blades indicates that these humans deliberately planned the harvest of cereal.”
“The community at Ohalo II was already exploiting the precursors to domesticated plant types that would become a staple in early agriculture, including emmer wheat, barley, pea, lentil, almond, fig, grape and olive.”
The next time you have your Wheaties, thank those clever people who slowly, but surely, planted, weeded, plucked, and harrowed the ground not only for themselves but for all of us who came after.
 Ainit Snir, Dani Nadel, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Yoel Melamed, Marcelo Sternberg, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Ehud Weiss. The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long Before Neolithic Farming. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (7): e0131422 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131422
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "First evidence of farming in Mideast 23,000 years ago: Evidence of earliest small-scale agricultural cultivation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 July 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150722144709.htm>.
 American Friends of Tel Aviv University
 American Friends of Tel Aviv University
 Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, July 2015
The Roots of Civilization
Ochre, Prehistoric Make-up
Mother would be buried in the morning in a high cave, a NesGras vault for the dead. Her clan scars rubbed with the red ochre of the mountains of the Huul, so that even in eternity her place would be recognized. Wind-A Novel of the Ice Age
Ochre is the oldest pigment, still vibrant after our ancestors used it as long as 300,000 YBP. From the yellow of Sahara sand to the deep red of the iron oxide of the Nevada Red Rock, ochre their cave walls, their living bodies and their buried ones. There is evidence of the Neanderthals of 250,000 YBP adorning sea shells, then carrying them great distances to trade, using ochre in an aesthetic traveling show and a way to preserve animal hides. Some say that we’re smarter now because iron rich ochre seeped through our pores and nourished our brains.
Another which came first question: Did we imagine ourselves more beautiful under the dust of gold, and amber, and burnt sienna, or did the source of this beauty feed our evolving ability to imagine?
To read more about ochre go to:
Hirst, K. Kris. "Ochre - The Oldest Known Natural Pigment in the World." ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/ochre-the-oldest-known-natural-pigment-172032.
For further general information:
For terrific pictures of everything archaic see the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART EDUCATION © visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.
Humans’ Earliest Personal Ornaments: An Introduction DANIELLA E. BAR-YOSEF MAYER The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, ISRAEL; and Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138, USA; firstname.lastname@example.org
"Special Issue: Early Personal Ornaments --- Marine and Freshwater Shell Exploitaiton in the Early Upper Paleolithic: Re-Examination of the Assemblages from Fumane Cave (NE Italy)" PaleoAnthropology 2019:64-81
Ralph Solecki, the paleoanthropologist who proclaimed the humanity of Neanderthals found buried in a cave in the Shanidar Valley of Iraq, recently died at the age of 101. His book, Shanidar, The First Flower People, details the discoveries he made there from 1951 through 1960. Uncovered in the cave were eight adult and two infant skeletons killed by earthquake induced rockfalls.
The Neanderthal baby rested twenty-six feet below the floor of Shanidar cave. Stone artifacts in place nearby the tiny skeleton indicated that the still occupied cave had been used from the “very first.” .Looking at the photograph taken by Dr. Solecki after the protective cast used for transporting the 40,000-year-old skull was removed, no one can “deny the commonality of the man who lived, and thought, and felt, and watched, and listened, created, and reacted within that undeniably human skull.”
The book is quite readable, and for contemporary readers, the Kurds, who provided the backbreaking labor of dislodging, digging and carrying massive amounts of rock and compacted dirt, emerge in an interesting historical framework for the current state in that most ancient part of the world.
said Dr. Solecki in his notes made on the day of discovery.
Pat Kranish loves living in the past and sets much of her fiction in the Ice Age—even though she hates being cold and left New York to live in Las Vegas. New Life, The Bear, and The Time Before Memory, stories excerpted from Wind—A Novel of the Ice Age, have been published and enjoyed (maybe wept over too) by readers who share her appetit
Pat Kranish loves living in the past and sets much of her fiction in the Ice Age—even though she hates being cold and left New York to live in Las Vegas. New Life, The Bear, and The Time Before Memory, stories excerpted from Wind—A Novel of the Ice Age, have been published and enjoyed (maybe wept over too) by readers who share her appetite to go back in time and explore the lives of the ancient people who lived in the mountains that ring the Mediterranean Sea. More stories, from the time when the last of the big toothed cats, and beavers as big as cave bears roamed the wet and cold landscape of Nevada will appear here soon.
25,000 years ago small migrating bands of hunters and foragers traced converging paths across the freezing earth. Evidence of their existence is etched in their long buried bones, turned to stone as hard as the tools they shaped over the millennia. They followed the vast herds that flourished as the earth cooled and the seas lowered, adapting to hard life in arctic and desert, forest and savannah.
Clean up Crew January 20, 2020
Video coming soon. Lions and camels! Oh my!
Repository Tour Set for August 1st
The Las Vegas Natural History Museum will be conducting a private tour for on Saturday, August 1, 2020. Join this special members only event to see some of the amazing fossil finds from the monument -- like those pictured here.
This tour will be strictly limited to 10 participants to adhere to social distancing recommendations. Two tours are available at 9:00 or 10:00 a.m. Please email email@example.com reserve your spot!
PS - Stay tuned for plans to tour the
Nevada State Museum repository in the fall!
American Association of Physical Anthropologists
Friends of the Nevada State Museum
Friends of Red Rock
Wooly Mammoth, Nevada Ice Age prehistory ice age information