Needles Field Office

Archaeology "Traces of the Past" 

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OUR PAST BELONGS TO THE FUTURE! Did you ever wonder: Who lived in California long ago? Where they lived? How they lived? Archaeologist and historians search daily for these answers, and they know who can help them: YOU - and others who agree that a good way to understand ourselves, our ecosystem, and our future is to learn from our past.

We inherited a wealth of knowledge from past peoples who lived in California; knowledge about them and their ways of life. This knowledge is gleaned from oral tradition, history, and an extraordinary diversity of physical evidence from rock paintings to aspen art, from arrowheads to bottles, and from Native American villages to mining camps. These cultural resources are the windows through which we can look into the past and learn about those who came before us.

PRESERVING THE PAST - Preserving our nation's heritage is one reason for cooperation among federal land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service. These agencies, assisted by many specialist (Native American tribal and traditional leader, archaeologist, anthropologist, historians, engineers, maintenance personnel, etc.), work together to protect, preserve, research, interpret, and manage cultural resources on public lands - because these heritage resources are key to understand California's ecosystems.

Rock Art Tour

Blythe Intaglios

Desert Training Center
Patton Camps

RESOURCES - BUILDING CALIFORNIA FROM THE GROUND UP - Most people know the story of gold in California's history. But did you know that gold was discovered because of John Sutter's quest for lumber? In turn, the gold rush created a larger demand for lumber, and many sawmills were built throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains. The lumber from our forests and the minerals from our soil helped build California and the nation.

To accommodate demands for wood and water needed for homes and business throughout a growing California, workers constructed flumes and ditches. These overland wooden troughs and earthen ditches carried giant logs to sawmills for processing, and water to miners for operating their equipment and to farmers for irrigating their fields.

But gold, and other valuable minerals, spurred California towards statehood. Old mines, mining camps, ditches and flumes abound in California's mountains. They offer testimony to the entrepreneurs who financed development, to the operators who ran the mines and smelters, and to the thousands of laborers who toiled long and hard in the search. Many pioneers relied on other natural resources to survive and flourish in California: rich soil, abundant wildlife, a moderate climate, and a beautiful landscape. Today, we continue to depend on these natural resources to meet our modern needs.

TRANSPORTATION - California's Euro-American pioneers had to depend on slow and difficult forms of transportation. Settlers moving westward used overland routes on established emigrant trails, many of which were originally Native American trails. Others came by ship on long sea voyages. Transportation of people and goods to the Pacific coast took months - and was dangerous, as attested to by numerous shipwrecks, many emigrant graves, and the Donner tragedy.

But railroads changed the scene. The transcontinental railroad cut weeks off transportation time and transformed California into an economic player in national and world markets. Eventually, more than 100 railroad systems transported goods and people throughout California.

Modern roads are often constructed on or near old transportation routes, but remnants of many historic trails and railroads still exist. Interstate 80 and California 88 follow the corridors of the Truckee and Carson routes of the California emigrant trail. U.S. highway 50 follows the route of the Pony Express trail and the Lincoln Highway. The present Amtrak route to Reno follows the old transcontinental railroad route.

Hikers may happen upon old railroads or railroad logging camps that housed laborers who built the railroads or cut timer. These laborers were of diverse ethnic backgrounds: California Indian, Chinese, German, Hispanic, Irish, Italian, and Swedish. We can see evidence of their cultural differences in the artifacts that remain; such as Asian ceramics and foreign implements and food contains. Written records were uncommon, so these objects tell important stories about the lives of people who worked there.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS AND HISTORIANS - UNDERSTAND THE PAST TO HELP THE FUTURE Federal agencies, through the expertise of their archaeologist, historian, and other specialist, contribute to our ability to respond to the future. Research can reveal when and how environmental changes occurred in California's past ecosystems. By knowing how past societies responded and adjusted to changes, we can better prepare for similar changes in today's ecosystem.

As an example, archaeological evidence of past Native American fire burning cycles - branded into tree growth rings - provides federal agencies with data to prepare scheduled burn plans that generate and perpetuate habitats. The same information helps them curb wildfires in forest by planning prescribed burning to reduce the buildup of dry, potentially flammable underbrush. As in the past, this type of prescribed fire management enhances wildlife habitat, and it promotes the growth of plants that are still harvested for use in traditional Native American basket weaving and ceremonial activities.

Ecosystem studies can benefit from archaeological, ethnographic, and historic research. Agencies use such evidence to help understand and prepare for environmental challenges such as droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruption, soil depletion, water and water supply changes, and resource shortages that currently confront Californians.