Sunday

Brownstone Canyon Archaeological District (Summary Page)

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This page last updated on 10/11/2017

Introduction: As I began to discover more and more rock art sites during my hikes over these past several years, I have become witness to far too many examples of where persons had seemed fit to deface them with graffiti and other examples of damage. Eventually I realized that the sharing of my hiking adventures could have the potential to increase public exposure, and thereby increasing the possibility for even more damage. As a result, I decided to preface each of my rock art pages with the following information to help educate visitors about the importance of these fragile cultural resources. Before scrolling down, I implore you to READ the following ... as well as the linked page providing guidelines for preserving rock art.

Here are a few simple guidelines you can follow that will help to preserve these unique and fragile cultural resources that are part of our heritage. Guidelines for Preserving Rock Art. If you would like to learn more about the Nevada Site Stewardship Program, go to my page ... Nevada Site Stewardship Program (NSSP).
    

Area Description: Located inside the 47,180 acre La Madre Mountain Wilderness Area, Brownstone Canyon Archaeological District comprises 2,920 acres. The Brownstone Canyon Archaeological District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 22, 1982. The area is administered by the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The cultural resources of this area tell a story of prehistoric Americans in a desert land. Filled with numerous pictographs, petroglyphs, and several pristine agave roasting pits dotting the landscape, it also as the most expansive display of polychromatic pictographs found in all of Southern Nevada. Due to the sensitivity of this fragile area, I have chosen NOT to provide specific directions to its site location.
                             
Cultural History:  The Native American cultures that may have used this area are: Southern Paiute (900 AD to modern times); Patayan Culture (900 A.D.to early historic times in the 1800s); Anasazi (1 A.D. to 1150 A.D.); Pinto/Gypsum (Archaic - 3,500 B.C. to 1 A.D.). Native Americans who inhabited or passed through this area left behind roasting pits, tools, implements and trash of their everyday living. Rock Art, broken (pottery) pots and tools, coupled with radiocarbon dating and cross dating with comparisons from the surrounding areas that have a more established chronology, all begin to tell the story of the ancient ways of life and human adaption to the desert. Even projectile points (arrowheads) can serve as time markers to archaeologists familiar with the prehistory of the area. Since many times these resources are the only source of information on American's prehistory, it is important to preserve and protect them in their original location. Moving or removing any item from its place can cause the loss of potential scientific knowledge needed to tell the story of the areas prehistory. As our understanding of this region's prehistory increases, the above estimated dates will likely be modified.


                                  

05/14/2016 Trip Notes: Along with my regular hiking partners Bob Croke and Jim Herring, we were accompanied by ten other invited guests. For today's hike we were led by Mark Boatwright, Field Archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management and a technical adviser to the Nevada Rock Art Foundation. Mark has worked as an archaeologist for the past 25 years and is currently the Red Rock/Sloan Field Archaeologist in the Las Vegas district.  He is deeply interested in issues relating to the historic preservation and conservation of cultural artifacts, including rock art. Throughout the length of our hike he pointed out several petroglyph sites, agave roasting pits, tinjas and dams; providing us with his extensive archaeological knowledge's at each stop. One of our first stops along the wash was the unusual formation seen in (Fig. 03) below. Next we stopped at one of the several agave roasting pits (Fig. 04) that can be seen in Brownstone Canyon. As we continued hiking the wash we were privy to several blossoming plant and cacti (Fig. 05)
NOTE: "Roasting pits are circular areas of fire-cracked and whitened limestone. A hole was dug into the earth and filled with wood, which was burned, and rocks to hold the heat of the fire. They can vary in size from ground level circles five to six feet in diameter, to huge piles several yards high with large sloping sides. The limestone was gathered, heated by the fire and then used to cook the foods. After prolonged heating, the limestone was raked aside and replaced with new rocks. This process caused the circular ring of rocks to grow with use. These agave roasting pits were reused time and again. Through use they began to take on the classic shape seen here, with burned stone and charcoal heaped up in a large circle, generally with a depression in the center. Roasting pits were used to roast various foods such as agave hearts, desert tortoise and possibly other plant and animal foods. Agave is a type of plant that was extremely important and widely available to the people of the Mojave Desert throughout ancient times. When dried the leaves were used to make sandals and other textiles, and the base of the large plant was roasted after all of the thick pulpy leaves were removed. The agave "head" would be placed inside and buried where it was roasted for several days."

(Trip notes con't below)

(Fig. 03)

(Fig. 04)

(Fig. 05)


Trip Notes Continued (Petroglyph Sighting #1):  For our next stop, we rounded the west side of the light sandstone outcrop. The petroglyphs are in the dark patina area indicated by the three yellow arrows (Fig. 07).

(Fig.07)


Trip Notes Continued: Next we moved to the south side of the wash and climbed up the side of a low rocky area to observe some tinajas (Fig. 13) and a small dam. Tinaja is a term originating in the American Southwest for surface pockets (depressions) formed in bedrock that occur below waterfalls and rocks that are carved out by spring flow or seepage. Tinajas are an important source of surface water storage in arid environments, often supporting unique plant communities and providing water to support local wildlife. A couple of these tinajas were filled with hundreds of tadpoles (Fig. 14). Following the water up the hill (Fig. 15) we eventually ended up at a small dam (Fig. 16). It was obvious that a heavy rain would create a large water area behind the dam more than a foot deep (Fig. 17). The beautiful view in (Fig. 18) was taken from a spot just above the dam. (Notes con't below)
                                   
(Fig. 13)
(Fig.14)

(Fig. 15)

(Fig. 16)
(Fig. 17)





(Fig. 18)
Trip Notes Continued (Petroglyph Sighting #2):  The next time we stopped, we were at the foot of a high cliff. Difficult to see, there were 5 to 6 panels scattered along a ridge line (yellow arrows) going up the side of this steep hillside (Fig. 19).

(Fig. 19)


(Fig. 23)
Trip Notes Continued (Pictograph/Petroglyph Sighting #3):  Finally, we reached our goal, a site containing a continuing line of pictograph panels that must have stretched for nearly 60 feet beneath a long overhang in the cliff. The pictures in (Figs. 23 above & 24 and 25 below) are but three of the main panels. Rock Art that is painted on a flat rock surface is called a “pictograph.” The mixing of natural compounds – hematite or ocher for red, for instance, or kaolin or gypsum for white, charcoal for black – with a base of plant and animal oils, created colored pigments. The paint was usually then applied with brushes made out of animal hair or yucca leaf fibers, or smeared on with fingers. It seems obvious that in spite of the volumes of scholarly study, no one can say with any certainly what was meant by the artists that created these paintings. Though some have theorized that much Rock Art is merely the result of idle doodling like a kind of prehistoric "tagging", I don't buy it. The peoples of hunting and gathering societies survived on a very fine edge in an extremely difficult environment. These people had little time for idle doodling. Rock Art is not an easy medium to work. To me it is obvious that many of the more elaborate pictographs found here took many perfectly placed hits to create and required untold hours to complete. To me, every stroke was intended to describe events or to communicate a message for future generations. Whatever the purpose of the authors, the mysteries of the paintings on these cliffs provide inspiration for the mind, limited only by the boundaries of our imagination.

Located near the right side of the site, just below the paintings, there were several cupules (Fig. 26). These cupules are small, bowl-shaped depressions that were pecked, pounded or ground into the rock surface. They were likely used to mix the compounds, ground plants and oils, to create the substances used in the painting of the pictographs. Picture collages (Figs. 27 & 28) contain enlargements for some of the more unique elements. Along the bottom ledge beneath the pictograph panels there were several "fallen" boulders (Fig. 29) that even showed evidence of some pictographs that once may have been part of a larger panel. On the eastern end of the site there was evidence of some actual pecked petrographs as well as and area where the surface had been "damaged" and was missing part of a pictrograph (Fig. 30). After spending considerable time examining an enjoying all this site had, we all had a picnic lunch before making the trek back down the wash (Fig. 31). Here are two more pictures Bob (Fig. 32) and I (Fig. 33) took along the way. Without a doubt, this was one of the best Rock Art sites I have ever visited and can't thank Mark Boatwright and Rayette Martin enough for making it possible.

(Fig. 26)
(Fig. 29)
(Fig. 30)
(Fig. 31)
(Fig. 32)

(Fig. 33)
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Reference Materials:

Manuscript written by Kenneth C. Clarke