Home Page  |  News  |  Events  |  Links
Online Articles : by Author  |  by Subject  |  by County
  Timelines  |  Site Names  |  Maps  |  Glossary  |  Everything Else   
<==Previous Page



William J. Wallace

Contents:    Introduction
Geographical Setting
Archaeological Investigations
Excavations at CA-FRE-115
Description of Artifacts
House Sites and Hearths
Food Remains
Summary and Conclusions
End Notes
Appendix A. Other Vermilion Valley
  Archaeological Sites

This article originally appeared in Papers on California Prehistory 2, edited by Gary S. Breschini and Trudy Haversat. Coyote Press Archives of California Prehistory 22:67-113, 1988.

In recent years construction work of various kinds has taken an enormous toll of California's prehistoric resources, and the state's archaeologists have been increasingly confronted with the necessity of salvaging remains endangered by the unprecedented use of land for highways, housing, factories, and a multitude of other public and private installations. Although much of this activity has been concentrated in or near urban centers, no section of the state, however remote, has escaped involvement. Even in the High Sierra country, far from cities and towns, an ever-increasing threat to archaeological sites has developed. Here, in addition to road building, lumbering, and other activities, waters of rivers and streams are being diverted and stored in reservoirs to meet multiplying needs for electric power, irrigation and domestic use. As a consequence, a number of river and stream valleys have been or are now being drastically altered or flooded. Much information about the past lies in these valleys, for it was beside watercourses that Indians regularly made their camps and along which passed their migration and trade routes.

An opportunity to recover archaeological information from one stream valley destined to be inundated by reservoir waters was afforded through the interest and cooperation of Southern California Edison Company. In the summer of 1953 the Edison Company invited representatives of the Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California, to examine the Vermilion Valley Reservoir project in eastern Fresno County (Map 1) where an enormous earth-filled dam, 4,300 feet long and 160 feet high, was being erected across Mono Creek to impound its waters (Plate 1). Lake Thomas A. Edison, the body of water subsequently created behind the dam, measures 3.75 miles in length and 1.25 miles in width, and forms the head of a chain of reservoirs making up the Southern California Edison Company's Big Creek-San Joaquin Hydroelectric Development. This development generates electricity from the water of melting snows to serve homes, farms, and industries of central and southern California and at the same time provides a valuable aid to the controlled and directed use of water for irrigation of crops in the Sierran foothills and Central Valley. Construction of the dam and clearance of the reservoir pool area had already begun when the archaeological investigation got underway.

Map 1. Location of Vermilion Valley.

Plate 1. Dam Construction in Vermilion Valley, June 13, 1954.
Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Geographical Setting

Vermilion Valley, so named from the reddish hue of its soil (Solomons 1895:227), lies high up on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at an elevation of 7,500-7,650 feet above sea level. The secluded valley, a place of great natural beauty, consists of a glacially-sculptured granite trough, filled to its present surface with a succession of largely unconsolidated glacial and fluvio-glacial sediments, totaling 50-250 feet in thickness (Campbell 1953). Through a narrow gorge at the upper end, Mono Creek emerges onto the valley floor and winds through it in a generally southwesterly direction. Mono Creek, a principal tributary of the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, is a clear, fast-flowing stream with an annual discharge of approximately 114,00 square feet (Plate 2). A smaller stream, Cold Creek, empties into Mono Creek from the west about 800 feet upstream from the axis of the dam.

Plate 2. Mono Creek at CA-FRE-115, June 16, 1954.
Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Though the floor of Vermilion Valley forms a broad and relatively level expanse, the surrounding country is extremely broken and rugged. Sheer granite walls enclose the valley on either side and to the east and north stand out in striking fashion the bare summits of the High Sierra with peaks rising to elevations of over 13,000 feet. Mono Pass, at 12,000 feet, cuts through the range to Owens Valley on the eastern side and represents one of the highest traveled passes in the Sierra.

The climate differs in no way from that usually associated with California's high mountain country. It is marked by extremes, long cold winters and relatively warm summers. A typical January day probably has a temperature of about 25-27 degrees F.; a usual July day, 65 degrees F or thereabouts. Annual precipitation, much of in the form of snow, averages somewhat less than 30 inches. The snowfall can be extremely heavy, with final disappearance coming in the late spring or early summer and returning commonly in late October or early November. Dry summers are characteristic, with little rain falling for two or three months. Occasional thunderstorms occur during the summer season, but these are generally of short duration.

Vermilion Valley presents a park-like appearance with groves of trees interspersed with open meadows. Fine stands of Jeffrey and lodgepole pines grow on the rich bottom land. Sierra juniper and red fir occur in lesser numbers. The creek banks have scattered clumps of willows, often quite dense, with occasionally some aspens. Drier meadows display a mixed growth of low sagebrush and bunch grass; the few damper ones have a heavy grass cover.

The forests and meadows provide food and shelter for a varied animal life. Chief among the large mammals are mule deer, which move up from lower altitudes with the melting of the snows. Though seldom seen, black bear and bighorn sheep visit the valley. Predators include coyotes, foxes, bobcats and occasional mountain lions. Of smaller animals there are skunks, raccoons, porcupines, martens, marmots, rabbits and great numbers of smaller rodents, particularly ground squirrels. Bird life shows less variety and abundance than in the foothill zone, though a number of species migrate into the district during the summer and fall. Mountain quail and grouse, both excellent game birds, are relatively abundant.

In terms of human occupancy, Vermilion Valley, which lies in territory once held by the Western Mono Indians, offered only limited possibilities. Throughout the winter, the ground lies buried beneath a thick blanket of snow. This would have made it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for a native people, as poorly equipped with housing and clothing as were the Western Mono, to have lived in the valley the year round. It was, however, a favorable locality for seasonal habitation, and small bands of Indians apparently came in each summer for a stay of a few weeks or even months. When snow began falling, they returned to their settlements at lower elevations.

These seasonal movements were not prompted by necessity, since lack of food did not constitute one of the hardships of life for the Western Mono (Gayton 1948a:6). They did, however, give variety to the diet, for the high country offered some native animal and plant foods not available at lower altitudes. A desire to trade also drew the Indians and may have provided the prime reason for their annual migrations. Beyond the crest of the Sierra lived their close linguistic kin, the Eastern Mono (Owens Valley Paiute), who came westward in groups of ten or less to barter. They brought with them such products as salt, pinyon nuts, grass seeds, arrow poison and, most important, obsidian. In exchange, they received buckskin, Yokuts-made baskets, cane for arrows, and acorn flour (Gayton 1948b:258). Many products from the east subsequently were passed on by the Western Mono to Yokuts Indians inhabiting the foothills and San Joaquin Valley (Gayton 1948a:2).

Travel went through Mono Pass. Beyond Vermilion Valley an aboriginal trail follows Mono Creek and crosses over the main Sierra divide from whence it drops down into Owens Valley. Temporary campsites have been found strung out along this route (Appendix A; Hindes 1959:8). The Eastern Mono came to trade but never to settle (Gayton 1948b:258; Steward 1938:188), though it seems possible that a few Owens Valley people found refuge in Vermilion Valley in the 1860s during a period of difficulties with White settlers. Western Mono occasionally crossed the mountains to gather pinyon nuts, and individuals or families sometimes remained for a year or two in the country of their trans-Sierran neighbors (Gifford 1932:19).

Until the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Western Mono followed their aboriginal mode of life, undisturbed by the White Man's civilization. Before the American settlement of California, the Spanish and Mexican occupants of the coastal region regarded the Sierra as too remote and forbidding for exploration and colonization. Whatever influences may have indirectly reached the mountain Indians from the west seem hardly to have modified their manner of living. After 1849, however, a search for gold and later for land brought a multitude of settlers into the foothills and into direct contact with the native inhabitants. From this time on, a decline in the Indian population set in, and the aboriginal culture gradually disappeared. The impact heightened toward the end of the century when exploitation of timber resources denuded entire districts of their forest cover and fouled many streams, thus making it difficult for the Indians to continue their traditional method of gaining a livelihood by gathering wild plant foods, hunting and fishing.

Archaeological Investigations

The archaeological salvage program in Vermilion Valley involved three steps: reconnaissance, testing, and intensive excavation. Between September 10 and 13, 1953, a preliminary survey was made by William J. Wallace and Edith Wallace. Two prehistoric encampments, one on Mono Creek and the other on Cold Creek, already noted by Edison Company employees, were visited and recorded, and both banks of Mono Creek from near the upper end of the reservoir pool to the dam site were examined. A more extensive search for additional sites took place in June of the following year on Sundays, while the earth-moving equipment lay idle and it became possible to move about freely. This work resulted in the discovery of two encampments, both on Mono Creek. These are described in Appendix A.

A second line of investigation involved testing of the most promising of the sites, initially designated Vermilion Valley I and assigned trinomial CA-FRE-115, to determine if it merited more intensive exploration. During the initial survey, a small (2 x 2 foot) test hole dug near the western edge of the encampment demonstrated that the refuse deposit had a thickness of at least 30 inches. Several stone artifacts and a quantity of obsidian chips were turned up. A second exploratory excavation was carried on by Donald W. Lathrap and Jack Nicoll from October 12 to 18 of the same year. A 10 x 15 foot section encompassing a shallow depression, which proved to be a house pit, was explored. This operation produced considerable information concerning house construction and yielded approximately 300 artifacts (Lathrap and Shutler 1955).

Results of the 1953 excavations indicated the desirability of obtaining a larger sampling, particularly of the deeper portions of the midden, so work began again on June 7, 1954 and continued until June 29. The latter excavation was accomplished by William and Edith Wallace.

Excavations at CA-FRE-115

CA-FRE-115, by far the most important site discovered, occupied a low rise along the west bank of Mono Creek, well out of reach of high water. On the north it was bounded by an enormous granite outcrop; to the south and west it gradually merged with a meadow. The surface of the encampment formed a more or less level expanse, roughly 160 x 160 feet in extent, with only a gentle slope toward Mono Creek on one side and to the meadow at the other (Plate 3). Several tall pines and a group of smaller ones grew on its surface along with scattered tufts of grass and sage. The natural soil, a coarse, granitic sand, had been darkly discolored by human occupation. Mingled in it were numerous obsidian chips, fire-broken rocks, and bits of charcoal along with a few cast-off stone tools and weapons. Four shallow, circular depressions, assumed to be house pits, were visible on the surface. Mortar holes dotted granitic outcrops at either end of the habitation area. A third set lay a short distance upstream, roughly halfway between CA-FRE-115 and a second, much smaller, site.

Plate 3. CA-FRE-115. View to the North.
Photograph by Edith Wallace.

The camp area had not suffered major damage from erosion, but it had experienced a certain amount of recent human despoilment. The locality, well known as an Indian dwelling place, had been subjected to sporadic relic-hunting over the years with some digging in search of specimens. A large collection of artifacts, now reported as lost, had been taken from it (Hindes 1962:4). Also, hunters, fishermen, and hikers have camped at the spot, leaving behind shallow fire- and trash-pits, tin cans, bottles, and other debris. A truck or two had run over the surface, making deep tire tracks. But on the whole, these were rather minor disturbances and CA-FRE-115 had seen comparatively little change since its last aboriginal inhabitants had departed many years ago.

Preliminary to excavations, a section, 5 feet wide and 120 feet long, marked off into five foot squares, was staked out across the campsite in a north-south direction. Digging started at the southern extremity and five squares spaced along the north-south line were explored with 17 additional opened up at right angles to it. The total work thus amounted to a trench 5 feet wide and 110 feet long with an average depth of 36 inches. Throughout an effort was made to select for excavation those units which seemingly would produce the greatest depth of midden and yield the best sample of its cultural contents. But the pattern of digging frequently had to be altered in order to avoid boulders or enormous tree roots.

The deposit in each square was taken down with trowels in arbitrary 6-inch levels (Plate 4). After being carefully examined, the loosened earth was shoveled out and combed through with a garden rake in order to make certain that nothing was being overlooked. Because of its extreme dampness, sifting the earth through a screen proved inpractable. Each pit was dug to the base of the culture-bearing stratum and then carried an additional 6 inches into the underlying sterile gravel. Excavation was rendered slow by the heavy rock content of the deposit.

Plate 4. CA-FRE-115. Bill and Edith Wallace Working in Pit M15 at CA-FRE-115.
June 24, 1954. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Trenching disclosed a thick layer of loose coarse sand and finer silt, darkly stained by the decay of organic matter (Plate 5). It contained numerous stones, many shattered or cracked by the heat of campfires, charcoal and ashes scattered from hearths, hundreds of obsidian chips, and occasional broken or whole artifacts. No natural layers occurred in the deposit. Earth yielding evidences of human occupation reached a maximum depth of 40 inches with occasional deeper pockets in crevices between boulders. Because of the presence of granite boulders, the deposit in a single excavation unit might vary from a few inches to three feet or more. When these rocks were absent, the midden's thickness remained fairly uniform, varying only an inch or two from the 36 inch average.

Plate 5. Trench 15 at CA-FRE-115. Pit M15 is marked by the stadia rod.
Photograph by Edith Wallace.

The cultural deposit had accumulated upon a compacted bed of coarse, yellow gravel containing many rounded cobbles, the latter often wedged tightly one against the other. The upper surface of these underlying stones had become darkly stained; their undersides retained the natural yellow or orange color. An occasional obsidian chip had worked its way down into the base gravel but it contained no artifacts.

Description of Artifacts

CA-FRE-115 proved to be quite productive with 822 specimens unearthed. Finds consisted for the most part of stone tools and weapons, the only non-lithic artifacts being 44 potsherds and a handful of glass and metal items. Articles made of less durable substances have not survived in the dame acid soil. The absence of the latter leaves an incomplete and one-sided record of the equipment of a people who, judging from what is known of recent Sierran Indians, must have been well-supplied with objects fashioned from wood, plant fibers and other organic materials.

The various classes of artifacts and their numbers are listed below and their depth distribution is given in Table 1. Items from the two 1953 test excavations as well as surface finds are included.

Classes of Artifacts (Total = 822)

Projectile points302    Steatite vessel sherds4
Knife blades91    Steatite beads3
Scrapers406    Hammerstones8
Drills8    Polishing stones5
Crescent1    Unaltered pebbles3
Prismatic flake1    Potsherds44
Handstones15    Glass beads7
Milling stones3    Glass fragments7
Pestles10    Metal fragments3

Table 1. Depth Distribution of Artifact Classes.

Depth (inches)0-66-1212-1818-2424-3030-3636-4242-48Total
Large projectile points         
    Deep concave base000220105
    Shallow concave (entire) base100001002
    Shallow concave (partial) base010011003
    Concave base, side-notched041012008
    Concave base, corner-notched000001001
    Straight or concave base, corner-notched000112015
    Concave base, side-notched030010004
    Leaf-shaped, convex base000001001
    Unclassifiable fragments0003520010
Small projectile points         
    Concave base, side-notched42320000130
    Concave base11230000016
    Straight base2900000112
    Straight or convex base, corner-notched104103110130
    Concave base, corner-notched140100006
    Unclassifiable fragments183493301270
    Triangular (?), convex base241001109
    Parallel-sided, convex base031000015
    Leaf-shaped, convex base000101002
    Asymmetrical ("scraper-knives")022200006
    Unclassifiable fragments1028139511067
    shaped base002000002
    Unshaped base110000002
    Unclassifiable fragments121000004
Flake Scrapers401699049371380406
Crescent (?)010000001
Prismatic flake000010001
Milling Stones000111003
Cobble pestles         
Steatite vessel fragments130000004
Steatite beads300000003
Polishing stones021110005
Unaltered pebbles020010003
Objects of Caucasian manufacture         
    Glass beads040000037
    Glass fragments070000007
    Harmonica fragments120000003

Chipped Stone

The overwhelming majority (83.6%) of artifacts comprise chipped stone implements. With few exceptions they have been made from a fine-grained, translucent obsidian, variable in color but normally black or dark gray. Examples of gray- and black-banded, red and black, and brown also occurred. Obsidian exposed on the surface or lying just below it has lost its lustrous appearance and has become an opaque, whitish gray.

No local deposits of obsidian exist, the nearest known sources lying across the Sierra in Inyo and Mono counties (Heizer and Treganza 1944:305). An important proportion of the material appears to have been obtained in the form of blocked-out "quarry blanks," since fragmentary examples of these were found in the deposit. Occasionally it came in without preliminary shaping as rough-coated natural lumps or nodules. The vast quantity of wastage, spalls as well as of unfinished products rejected because of defects discovered or breakage during the process of manufacture, demonstrate that the Vermilion Valley people had no problem of supply. The forms of tools and weapons made from obsidian include projectile points, knife blades, drills, and scrapers.

Projectile points, the most easily classifiable and most significant specimens, form a rich and varied series with 203 examples. On the basis of size and weight, they can be divided into two groups, "large" and "small." A few medium-sized specimens which could have been placed in either group have been arbitrarily assigned to the "large" category. The two groups differ not only in dimensions and weight but in forma and, at least in part, in stratigraphic position. The heavier missile tips tended to occur deeper down in the deposit than the smaller ones.

The larger points have a size and weight suitable for tipping darts propelled with a throwing board. Large projectile points are not particularly numerous with only 39 whole and fragmentary specimens retrieved. The 29 classifiable examples show considerable diversity in shape and represent eight distinct form classes.

Plate 6. Large Projectile Points from CA-FRE-115. Specimen: A-D: concave base, deep; E-F: concave base, shallow (entire); G-H: concave base, shallow (partial); I-L: concave base, side-notched; M: concave base, corner-notched; N-P: straight or convex base, corner-notched; Q-S: convex base, side notched; T: convex base, unnotched. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Concave base, deep. Five thick specimens have pronounced, U-shaped basal notches, thinned at the center of the concavity through removal of good-sized flakes from either surface (Plate 6 A-D). Their edges curve outward with the greatest breadth coming about one-third of the way up the blade. One example has serrated borders and a hint of side-notching.

Concave base, shallow (entire). Two broken projectile points exhibit shallow basal indentations made by taking a large flake from either side (Plate 6 E-F). Their concavities extend across nearly the entire base. The specimens have straight sides with the greatest breadth occurring at the butt end. They are rather flat in cross-section.

Concave base, shallow (partial). Small, not very deep, U-shaped notches placed at the center of the butt end characterize these three fragmentary points (Plate 6 G-H). Their convex sides begin to expand just above the base, reaching a maximum well up on the blade. Definitely smaller than the above two groups, they could have been classed as "medium-sized."

Concave base, side-notched. In addition to fairly deep and broad basal indentations, these eight specimens have shallow notches flaked into their sides (Plate 6 I-L). Their borders curve outward.

Concave base, corner-notched. A broken point has deep notches at the corners and a stem which expands markedly toward its indented base (Plate 6 M). Originally it appears to have been heavily barbed. The edges of the blade appear to have been more or less straight or to have swelled out only slightly.

Straight of convex base, corner notched. Closely akin to the preceding are five points (Plate 6 N-P). Their bases are either straight or slightly convex. The acute angle and depth of the notching of their corners must have resulted in long barbs but these have broken away. Four of the specimens have straight-sided blades; the borders on the fifth curve outward.

Convex base, side-notched. Four crudely-flaked basal fragments appear to be from heavy points with shallow side-notches placed well up from the base (Plate 6 Q-S). Their butt ends are broad and expanding, rounded on three specimens and somewhat irregular on the fourth. Flakes have been struck off parallel to the long axis in order to thin their bases. Not enough remains of many of the points to establish blade form but it was probably triangular. All four may represent rejects.

Convex base, unnotched (leaf-shaped). A leaf-shaped specimen has a thinned, rounded base (Plate 6 T). It is a thick point, flaked back from both edges so as to produce a central ridge. The greatest width lies about one-third up from the butt.

Unclassifiable fragments. Because of their broken condition, ten point sections cannot be categorized. Included are six tips and four blade pieces. The only dimension which can be measured is thickness which shows a range from 5-7 mm, with the average falling around 6 mm.

The preponderance (ca. 62%) of the large projectile points came from beneath the 12-inch level in the midden, with four forms (deep concave base, concave base and corner-notched, straight or rounded base and corner-notched, and corner-notched, convex base with no notching) limited to this zone. All of the unclassifiable fragments were retrieved below 12 inches. As a group the missile tips resemble those obtained at relatively early sites elsewhere in the southern and central Sierra. Most of the forms can be duplicated in the Crane Flat Complex, the most ancient cultural unit recognized in the Yosemite Valley with a proposed terminal date of A.D. 500 (Bennyhoff 1956: Figures 5-6). Collections from the Huntington Lake district also include analogous specimens (Hindes 1962-13-17). A recently developed chronological scheme for the southern Sierra Nevada places these forms, now given specific names (Sierra Concave-base, Elko, Humboldt) in a Canebrake Phase, tentatively dated between 1200 B.C. and A.D. 600 (Moratto 1984:333).

In contrast to the scarcity of their larger counterparts, small weapon tips constitute one of the most plentiful artifact groups from CA-FRE-115, represented by 164 whole and fragmentary examples. Characteristically slender, thin and light in weight, these beautifully worked little weapons undoubtedly served as arrowheads. Five forms, all basically triangular in outline, can be distinguished.

Plate 7. Small Projectile Points from CA-FRE-115. Specimen: A-E: concave base, side-notched; F-J: concave base; K-O: straight base; P-T: straight or concave base, corner notched; U-Y: concave base, corner-notched. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Concave base, side-notched. All 30 points in this group exhibit small basal concavities, varying from U- to V-shape, and well-marked side notches (Plate 7 A-E). Typically they have long narrow blades with the greatest width falling at the base. The edges on 12 specimens have been finely serrated and the delicate retouching along the borders of the remaining specimens give them a somewhat toothed appearance.

Concave base. The second variety, represented by 16 points, conforms to the preceding category in outline and size but lack notched margins (Plate 7 F-J). Four have serrated borders.

Straight base. Twelve points lack basal indentations (Plate 7 K-O). Their more or less straight butt ends have been thinned from both surfaces. Their blades are shorter than those of the basal-notched points and this gives an impression of their being much broader though the average breadth only slightly exceeds that of the preceding two classes. As a group, these specimens exhibit less controlled workmanship than the others and two consist of sections of larger points rather hurriedly reworked.

Straight or convex base, corner-notched. Varying considerably in appearance from the previous categories are 30 missile tips. They have deep corner notches and pointed tangs (Plate 7 P-T). Their expanding stems have straight or, rarely either straight or barely convex bases. Comparatively broad in proportion to their length, the present a somewhat stubby look.

Concave base, corner-notched. Since only butt ends remain of these six points, their overall form cannot be determined. The pieces are characterized by basal indentations and ill-defined corner notches (Plate 7 U-Y). They possess round-tipped barbs which flare out markedly. All are rather thick, exceeding the other classes in this measurement by an average 1.5-2.0 mm.

Unclassifiable. Seventy tips and mid-sections cannot be placed with certainty in any of the above typological categories. Judging by size and general outline, 23 of the fragments came from slender concave- or straight-based points and 26 from broader corner-notched specimens. The remaining 21 pieces could represent either form.

The vast majority (ca. 95%) of the small points were unearthed in the upper 12 inches of the midden. Three of the varieties (concave base with side notches, concave base, unnotched, and straight base, unnotched) were confined to this zone, with the preponderant number occurring from the surface to a depth of 6 inches. Most (ca. 80%) of the corner-notched examples also came from the deposit's uppermost 12 inches. This form, however, showed a much wider vertical distribution, ranging from the surface to the 24-30 inch level. Its greater stratigraphic spread suggests that the corner-notched missile tip persisted over a much longer period of time than the other small types and perhaps overlapped in usage with the heavier projectile points, perhaps during a period in which the dart-thrower and bow saw contemporary employment.

At CA-FRE-115 arrowpoint forms appear to have been in contemporary use in relatively late times elsewhere in the Sierra as well as in surrounding regions. Yosemite Valley has produced many examples made in the same styles. Here they are allocated to the Mariposa Complex which represents the closing aboriginal phase (Bennyhoff 1956:53, Figure 3). Campsites in the Huntington Lake region and in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have also yielded like specimens (Hinds 1962:9-11, Plate 1; Elsasser 1962: Figure 1).

It is now customary to regard arrowpoints of the types described as belonging to two separate prehistoric periods. Side-notched and unnotched forms, now regularly designated as Desert Side-notched and Cottonwood Triangular, are considered typical of the last prehistoric southern Sierra period (Chimney Phase), dated from A.D. 1300 to historic times. Corner-notched forms, identified as Rose Spring or Eastgate points, are assigned to an earlier (A.D. 600-1200) Sawtooth Phase (Moratto 1984:333).

Plate 8. Knife Blades from CA-FRE-115. Specimen: A: oval; B: triangular (?) convex base; C-D: parallel-sided, concave base; E-F: leaf-shaped, or convex base; G-H: asymmetrical ("scraper-knives"). Photograph by Edith Wallace.

An appreciable number of knife blades, nearly all broken, was recovered. Except for one made of rock crystal, all have been fabricated from obsidian. Of the 91 specimens, only 24 remain whole enough for classification. The latter can be divided into four types according to their shape.

Oval. An entire blade, roughly oval in outline, with broad rounded ends, shows shallow percussion-flaking scars over both surfaces (Plate 8 A). Its edges have been finely retouched to improve their cutting quality. One end has also been subjected to secondary working. A large flake has been struck off from one side of the opposite extremity, evidently to facilitate mounting in a handle or grasping. The blade is 8.6 cm long, 5.2 cm wide and 1.5 cm thick. A second specimen, lacking a base, also exhibits rough flaking on each surface and carefully trimmed borders. It is smaller than the first, having a project length of only 58 mm. The specimen measures 39 mm across and 9 mm thick.

Triangular (?) convex base. Nine broad, rounded basal fragments appear to be from large triangular blades (Plate 8 B). Though rather roughly flaked on both sides, their cutting edges have been sharpened by careful and minute chipping. The blade pieces range from 21 to 40 mm in breadth, averaging 30 mm. In thickness they vary from 4 to 7 mm with the average falling at 5.2 mm.

Parallel-sided, concave base. The most skillfully made blades have parallel sides and shallow basal concavities, the latter thinned by the removal of chips from both sides (Plate 8 C-D). They are notable for the neatly-executed ripple flaking which slants across their surfaces. Since none of the five examples remains very complete, no accurate measurements of length can be given. Remarkable uniform in breadth, the pieces vary between 23 and 25 mm. Thickness ranges from 5-8 mm with an average of 7 mm.

Leaf-shaped, convex base. A section of a slender leaf-shaped blade has a narrow, rounded base (Plate 8 E). Large flake scars cover both surfaces but well-controlled pressure chipping is visible on both edges and around the base. The fragment measures 20 mm across and is 6 mm thick. A portion of a second, much cruder, leaf-shaped specimen, likewise shows retouching along its margins (Plate 8 F). It may be a reject, later sharpened for use as a scraper. The piece is 23 mm wide and 8 mm thick.

Asymmetrical ("scraper-knives"). An unusual group of six small tools could have functioned equally well for cutting or scraping. They exhibit rough chipping on both surfaces and edges which have been partially or wholly sharpened by pressure flaking (Plate 8 G-H). Although variable in outline, they tend to be semilunar with one edge consistently convex and the other straight or slightly curved. Their bases, trimmed more or less square, have been thinned by taking of a larger flake. Evidently the latter was done to make it easier to grasp the tool between thumb and forefinger. Their tips have been trimmed to a rounded shape. Rather small in size, these "scraper-knives" have lengths of 31-47 mm, averaging 39 mm. In breadth they vary from 15-25 mm with an average of 17 mm. Their thicknesses are from 5-10 mm with an average of 7 mm.

Unclassifiable. Not enough remains of 67 other bifacially flaked blades to categorize them. Of these, 14 comprise blunt-pointed tips; 15 are rounded or slightly pointed pieces which could be either tips or bases; and 38 consist of central sections.

Though the classifiable knife blades probably represent too small a group upon which to base sound archaeological interpretation, two forms did appear to show significant stratigraphic separation. Both large oval specimens came from rather deep down in the midden, one from 18-24 inches and the other from the 24-30 inch level. I contrast, four of the five parallel-sided blades were obtained rather high up in the deposit. Three lay in the 0-6 inch layer; the fourth one was uncovered 6-12 inches down. Provenience of the fifth example went unrecorded. The rather nondescript leaf-shaped form also had a restricted occurrence. One of the two came from the 24-30 inch layer; the other was found 12-18 inches below ground level. Round-based, triangular blades ranged throughout the culture-bearing stratum, occurring from the surface down to the bottom. The "scraper-knives" likewise showed a fairly wide vertical distribution, though none was unearthed below the 18-24 inch level.

All CA-FRE-115 blade forms have been found in various parts of the Sierra. Triangular knife blades with broad, round bases and the leaf-shaped variety have a wide distribution in time and space. The other three forms appear to be of more limited occurrence. The oval variety seems to have a rather restricted distribution and its use may have been confined to relatively early times. Duplicates of the parallel-sided form have been found at encampments in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains and in the western foothills (Lathrap and Shutler 1955:234). The use of this type of blade continued into the period of White contact and both the Eastern and Western Mono made obsidian knife blades of this shape (Steward 1933:266, Figure 3i; Gayton 1948b:262). The CA-FRE-115 combined scraper-knives are like those of Yosemite Valley. In Yosemite this form of tool seems to have been most frequently utilized during the latest period of aboriginal occupation though it also saw employment earlier (Bennyhoff 1956:46, 54-55).

Drills intended for boring wood, bone or other materials form only a small group among the chipped stone objects. Eight specimens, one of opal and the remainder of obsidian, make up the total. The four that remain sufficiently complete for purposes of classification fall into two categories.

Shaped base. The expanding lower part, which makes up about one-third of the total length, on these two drills has been carefully trimmed into a wide oval. Their long, straight-sided shafts have been chipped to a sharp point. The two drills have almost identical dimensions. One is 30 mm long; the other exceeds it by 2 mm. Their bases measure about 10 mm across and their thicknesses are 3 and 5 mm respectively.

Unshaped base. Another expanding base form, represented by two drills, has been made merely by chipping a long narrow shaft on an otherwise unmodified irregular flake. Again the basal portion accounts for about one-third of the overall length. The longest specimen measures 35 mm and is 20 mm wide; its thickness is 5 mm. The second specimen has dimensions of 23 x 15 mm. It is quite thin, nowhere exceeding 2 mm.

Unclassifiable. Four shafts showing careful all-around chipping could have belonged to either category.

Nothing remains to indicate that the drills had ever been hafted though possibility that they once were mounted on wooden shafts cannot be ruled out. They could have been merely held between the fingers while in use. Presumably they were intended for boring holes in softer substances such as wood or steatite though they could just as easily have functioned as awls for punching holes in animal skins or other materials. All eight of the specimens came from high up in the refuse deposit with none obtained below 12 inches.

Expanded-base drills or perforators, regarded as belonging to the late Mariposa Complex, have been found in Yosemite Valley (Bennyhoff 1956:47, Figure 8a-c). The Huntington Lake district has also produced a sizable number (Hindes 1962:21-32).

By far the most common tool is the flake scraper with 406 examples recovered. Dozens of others must have gone unrecognized among the thousands of obsidian spalls turned up by the digging. Although every effort was made to save all chips that showed any indication of having been deliberately sharpened, the examination of the individual pieces of stone had of necessity to be hasty or cursory. Flakes put to use with only slight or without any secondary working whatsoever were not tabulated or kept.

Aside from two specimens made from an unidentified igneous materials, all of the scrapers have been fashioned from obsidian flakes. Typically they consist of irregular spalls converted into tools by removing minute chips along one margin so as to produce a good working edge. Almost always the sharpening has been done from one surface only. The quality of retouch varies greatly; most often it has been carefully executed, whereas on other pieces it is uneven and haphazard. No attempt has been made to alter the overall shape of any of the flakes and in some instances one side retains the rough nodule surface. Among the specimens are a half dozen broken projectile points made over into scraping tools.

The scrapers form an exceedingly diverse series, assuming all manner of shapes and sizes. Extremes in length are 10 and 57 mm with an average of around 30 mm. In breadth they vary from 6 to 35 mm, averaging 17 mm. Thicknesses range from 3 to 12 mm with an average of 6 mm. Perhaps scraping tools could have been segregated into various classes, each with numerous sub-varieties, on the basis of the edge selected for retouching, but this would have resulted in an arbitrary and artificial arrangement for the general impression gained from an inspection of the lot is that, when the need arose, any handy piece of stone was picked up, sharpened, used and then discarded. The edge chosen for chipping appears to have been the one best suited for the job at hand. Most often it was a convex to nearly straight edge. On a small percentage (ca. 5%) one end has been pressure flaked; on fewer still a notch in one border of the flake has been retouched. Occasional pieces display more than one trimmed edge and on a minor proportion chipping extends around the entire circumference of the flake.

Their abundance indicates that these simple flake tools must have seen service in scraping and cutting anything and everything. They occurred in all levels of the midden but became rarer as depth increased with over 71% obtained in the upper 12 inches of the deposit. Specimens encountered farther down in the refuse tended to be somewhat larger in size and more elaborately worked.

The only unusual thing about the CA-FRE-115 scrapers lies in their profusion and this holds true for Yosemite Valley as well. Large quantities of these artifacts characterized the late Mariposa Complex but they occurred less commonly in the preceding Tamarack and Crane Flat assemblages (Bennyhoff 1956:53-55). Scrapers composed the most abundant artifact group in the Huntington Lake district (Hindes 1962:33) and at the El Portal site, located near the entrance to Yosemite Valley, they were second in number only to projectile points (Fitzwater and Van Vlissingen 1960:159).

An exceptional find consists of nearly one-half of what appears to have been an obsidian crescent. The piece exhibits a rounded tip and its curving edges have been retouched to varying degrees of fineness. It measures 40 mm in length and 20 mm across at the base and has a maximum thickness of 6 mm. The article may nothing more than a scraper prepared from a broken concave-based projectile point but it is strongly reminiscent of the chipped stone crescents, found in many parts of California. The purpose of the crescentic-shaped artifacts of this kind remains uncertain.

Ground Stone

In contrast to the abundance of chipped stonework, artifacts shaped by grinding proved to be comparatively few in number. Mainly these consist of commonplace domestic implements such as handstones, milling stones and pestles designed for the crushing and reducing to meal of various wild plant foods. Other articles made by the grinding process include steatite vessel fragments and beads.

Of the 15 handstones unearthed, 12 exhibit only slight wear whereas the others show evidence of prolonged utilization. The distinguishing feature of the latter lies in the extreme flatness of their grinding surfaces. Pecked areas of roughening to increase their abrasive quality are visible on several. For purposes of description, the mullers can be separated into two groups--uniface and biface--on the basis of the number of used faces.

Plate 9. Unifacial Handstones from Vermilion Valley. Specimen: A: CA-FRE-115; B: Vermilion Valley 2; C: CA-FRE-115. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Uniface. The six specimens worn smooth on one side only consist of natural oval cobbles taken from the stream bed (Plate 9). Each has a smooth, flat grinding surface; the unused upper side retains the natural curvature of the stone. A battered end on one muller demonstrates that it also saw service as a pounder or hammer. The handstones are of moderate size and conveniently fit into one hand. In length they vary between 95 and 103 mm, averaging 101 mm. Their widths are from 69 to 93 mm with an average of 81 mm. Thickness ranges between 37 and 62 mm, the average being 51 mm. Five are granite cobbles; the other is composed of sandstone.

Plate 10. Bifacial Handstones from CA-FRE-115. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Biface. In outline, the nine mullers which have been utilized on both sides vary from natural oval to rectangular with rounded ends (Plate 10). On the rectangular variety, represented by two specimens, the edges and ends as well as both surfaces have been modified. Parallel grinding faces characterize all of the handstones except a single well-worn specimen. One side of the latter has been smoothed at an angle, thus giving it a wedge-like cross section. Abrasion marks on the extremity of another muller provide evidence of its employment as a pounder. Like the uniface group, these specimens are medium-sized, suitable for manipulation with one hand. They range in length between 95 and 107 mm, in width from 60-90 mm and in thickness from 24-53 mm. Group averages are: length 102 mm; width 74 mm; thickness 37 mm. It is only in the last dimension that they show a significance divergence from the one-surfaced examples, being on the average nearly a centimeter and a half thinner. This, of course, merely reflects the greater amount of wear which they have undergone. Six of the bifaces are of granite, two are composed of a volcanic material resembling lava and one is of sandstone.

Since the grinding faces on all of the handstones are quite flat, it can be assumed they saw service on milling stones with even horizontal surfaces, or nearly so. In the midden mullers occurred from the surface to a depth of 18-24 inches. There was no observable difference in vertical distribution between the one- and two-faced specimens.

Only three milling stones, crumbly and in extremely poor condition, were found. Sections of others could have gone unrecognized among the hundreds of angular pieces of stone encountered during the digging. The three mills consist of flattish granite slabs, each with a smoothed area nearly covering one surface. None had been used long enough to develop a grinding depression. Their edges and bases have not been dressed or altered in any way. The slabs are thick (100-177 mm, averaging 138 mm), heavy and barely portable. In length they are from 250 to 333 mm with an average of 291 mm.

All the milling stones came from below the 12 inch level in the refuse deposit. Besides the three more or less portable specimens, a bedrock grinding area was detected on a granite outcropping which also contained mortar holes. It comprised a barely perceptible elliptical basin, 205 x 302 mm in size and 2-3 mm deep. The almost constant flaking away of granite surfaces may have obliterated other bedrock mills.

Though the archaeological information is spotty, enough is known to indicate an ancient and presumably long-continued employment of handstones and portable milling stones in the southern Sierra. Mullers and mealing slabs represent implements of primary importance in the Crane Flat Complex of Yosemite; their use in later times remains uncertain (Bennyhoff 1956:50-51). Handstones but no portable mills were obtained at the nearby El Portal site (Fitzwater and Van Vlissingen 1960:159-160) and in the Huntington Lake district (Hindes 1962:34), whereas both forms of grinding implements came from the excavation of a prehistoric encampment in Kings Canyon (Elsasser 1962:34).

Millingstones are listed as a characteristic of the Canebrake Phase (1200 B.C.-A.D. 600) in the lately developed synthesis of prehistory of this section of the mountain range (Moratto 1984:333). Recent Sierra Indians are known to have employed mullers on both portable and bedrock mills (Driver 1937:69; Aginsky 1943:406).

Comparatively few bedrock milling areas have been reported for the Sierra. No examples have been noted in the Yosemite area (Bennyhoff 1956:49). They are present in the Huntington Lake district, taking the form of shallow depressions attached to or continuous with deeper bedrock mortar holes (Hindes 1962:34).

All of the 10 pestles found at CA-FRE-115 comprise stream cobbles, employed for pulverizing plant foods, with no initial shaping. Two different forms of cobbles were selected by the Indians:

Plate 11. Wedge-shaped Handstone from CA-FRE-115. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Wedge-shaped. The prevailing variety, represented by six granite specimens, consists of a wedge or triangle, much broader at one end than the other and squarish in cross section (Plate 11). On each cobble, the smaller extremity has been rounded by wear. All of the pestles appear much too thick and heavy to have been wielded with one hand. They are from 176-230 mm long, 90-152 mm wide and 61-141 mm thick with averages of 199, 121, and 100 mm.

Plate 12. Barrel-shaped Handstone from CA-FRE-115. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Barrel-shaped. A second group of four pestles, all granite, have a more elongate shape and are round in cross section (Plate 12). Their greatest width falls near the center of the cobble whence they taper slightly and about equally to either extremity. Both tips on three of the specimens show rounding, indicating that they were used interchangeably for pounding. The fourth pestle has broad flat ends and must either have combined the functions of pestle and muller or have been employed on a flat or only barely concave mortar stone. The barrel-shaped pestles are only little less massive than their wedge-shaped counterparts. The largest is 223 mm long' the shortest measures 177 mm. Their diameters vary from 75-103 mm. Averages for the four specimens are: length 199 mm; diameter 92 mm.

Only three of the 10 pestles came from the excavation, the remainder lay on the ground adjacent to bedrock mortars. Their relative scarcity in the refuse deposit can be attributed to their use and subsequent abandonment at grinding holes rather than in the living area proper. One of the implements was retrieved from the 0-6 inch level; another came from 12-18 inches down. The unusual flat-ended specimen lay at a depth of nearly 30 inches.

Three sets of bedrock mortars in which the pestles were used occur in the immediate vicinity of the campsite. The major milling place, situated on a massive granite exposure at the encampment's northern extremity, contains 10 mortar holes clustered in a 5 x 12 foot area with an isolated example 12 feet away. A smaller granite surface at the southern end of the site holds five grinding holes, concentrated in a 6 x 6 foot area. About 175 yards upstream and approximately equal distance from CA-FRE-115 and a second smaller occupational site lies a granite expanse perforated with seven grinding holes.

The three spots selected for milling places consist of broad and comparatively flat rock surfaces, close to ground level. The grinding holes themselves show considerable variation in diameter and depth, this being a reflection of their differing amount of usage. An exceptionally large mortar measures 215 mm across at the top; a much smaller example has a top diameter of only 88 mm. The average falls around 130 mm. In depth the range is from 10-127 mm with an average of 40 mm. Grinding holes to a depth sufficient to hold an appreciable quantity of meal exhibit a conical form, tapering from a wide mouth to a narrow rounded bottom; shallower ones tend to be more cup-shaped.

Unworked cobble pestles and bedrock mortars have a wide distribution in the Sierra where they appear to have been employed in predominately late times. They are met with frequently on recent aboriginal encampments in Yosemite Valley (Bennyhoff 1956:48-49) and in the Huntington Lake region (Hindes 1959:9-10; 1962:35). In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks these grinding implements are present but seemingly in fewer numbers (Elsasser 1962:10). It has been suggested that they first came into use between A.D. 600 and 1300 (Moratto 1984:333).

Bedrock mortars and cobble pestles represent the standard equipment used for pulverizing plant foods by historic Sierra Indians (Gifford 1932:24; Driver 1937:68; Aginsky 1943:406; Gayton 1948b:266). In the western foothills these grinding implements occur in great numbers with groups of grinding holes ranging up to 500 or more at a single habitation site.

The remaining ground stone artifacts comprise four steatite vessel sherds and three beads made from the same material.

Included among the former are two rim pieces, a wall section and a basal fragment, perhaps all from the same container. The incurving rim sections gradually lessen in thickness as they approach the vessel's mouth and terminate in carefully rounded borders. The wall sherd, its surfaces well-smoothed inside and out, measures about 10 mm in thickness. The basal piece is rounded and thicker, at 12 mm. Although the sherds are too small to allow for an accurate reconstruction, they appear to be parts of a shallow, round-bottomed, globular cooking pot. All four lay in the upper 6 inches of the refuse.

The steatite, a fine-grained, compact variety, gray in hue, could have been obtained at no great distance. Aboriginal quarries are known to exist on Table Mountain and in the vicinity of Fish Creek Mountain (Gifford 1932:25). Other steatite deposits have been noted near Millerton Lake and above Academy (Hindes 1962:31). The material was probably also available elsewhere in the region.

Nowhere in the southern Sierra does the fashioning of steatite vessels seem to have any great antiquity, all of the examples dating from late prehistoric or historic times. Ample ethnographic evidence exists for the continuance of the practice of making cooking pots from the material by the Western Mono (Gifford 1932:25; Driver 1937:69; Aginsky 1943:407; Gayton 1948b:266) and other foothill Indians.

The three steatite beads consist of flat discs, nicely made with squared edges. Each bears a central conical perforation, drilled from one side only. The beads have been fashioned from an excellent grade of material. Two are light gray; the third has a darker hue. They are small, varying from 9 to 9.5 mm in diameter and thin (2-3 mm). All three of the specimens were picked up from the surface.

In the Sierra Nevada, steatite disc beads appear to be restricted to the southern part of the range (Elsasser 1960:30-32). Examples have been recovered in Yosemite Valley (Bennyhoff 1956:52) and in the area around Huntington Lake (Hindes 1962-30). Everywhere this kind of bead seems to be confined to late archaeological deposits, though their introduction in the A.D. 600-1300 time span has been claimed (Moratto 1984:333). Their use by the Western Mono and neighboring peoples can be safely assumed.

Rough Stone

Rough stone tools do not form a high proportion of the CA-FRE-115 artifact collection. The only representatives are eight cobbles used for hammering. No tools which could have functioned as choppers or scraper planes were unearthed.

The hammerstones consist of ordinary oval-shaped stream cobbles which exhibit marks of pounding on one or more surfaces. On none has the effect of hammering been enough to modify the rounded outline of the stone. One specimen has a roughened shallow pit on one surface, evidently deliberately made to serve as a finger grip; two others show a slight amount of wear from rubbing. Seven of the hammers are granite cobbles; the other is composed of sandstone. The stones are all fist-sized. They vary in length between 52 and 80 mm, averaging 71 mm. Their widths are from 51 to 79 mm with an average of 57 mm. In thickness they range between 25 and 56 mm, averaging 35 mm. The vertical distribution of hammerstones in the midden stretched from the 6-12 to 24-30 inch level.

Humble tools of this sort number among the most common artifacts found in prehistoric sites throughout California. Their low frequency at CA-FRE-115 therefore remains rather puzzling. However, this situation is duplicated in Yosemite Valley where only four cobble hammers, none with a pitted face, were collected (Bennyhoff 1956:57). Excavations at the El Portal site, just outside Yosemite, yielded a lone specimen (Fitzwater and Van Vlissingen 1960:167-168).

Miscellaneous Stone

Five oval to round waterworn pebbles exhibit flat smooth surfaces, presumably the result of human usage. The amount of wear has not been sufficient on any of them to modify the original pebble shape though one shows a polished facet with a marked ridge. The stones, four quartzite and one granitic, are all quite small, 40-64 mm long, 23-45 mm wide, and 10-30 mm thick. Average dimensions are: length 49 mm, width 38 mm; thickness 16 mm. There is some reason to suppose that these pebbles helped finish other objects. "Polishing" or "smoothing" pebbles of this general sort occur in archaeological sites almost everywhere in California but generally receive scant, if any, attention.

A small series of four stones exhibit no signs whatsoever of having been used. But since they do not occur naturally in the soil, they must have been carried in by humans. Their purpose remains unknown. Perhaps children or even adults, drawn by their symmetrical form, natural polish or attractive color, picked them up as curiosities or lucky pieces. Included are three milky quartz pebbles, 22-33 mm in length, and a shine quartzite pebble, 27 mm long.

Quite exceptional is a slender obsidian prism. Though of natural origin and showing no certain signs of usage, it is of interest because obsidian splinters of this kind sometimes served as attachments to aboriginal dance skirts. Fastened to the hem of a skirt then produced a tinkling sound as the performer moved about. The prism has a length of 654 mm and is 5 mm thick. An obsidian "tinkler" was also unearthed at the El Portal site (Fitzwater and Van Vlissingen 1960: Table II).


Forty-four fragments of pottery came to light. These comprise 41 body sherds, 2 rim pieces and a bottom section. The sherds share certain salient features and apparently represent a single ware. They have been rather liberally tempered with granitic sand, ranging from relatively fine to coarse in texture, with some mica inclusions. The vessels from which they came have been constructed by coiling and their walls thinned and finished by scraping. Surface color varies from reddish-brown to dark-brown or nearly black, but predominant is some shade of dark brown. None of the sherds bears decoration.

Since all the ceramic fragments are small, the largest measuring 35 x 47 mm, little can be learned from them regarding vessel shape or size. The basal section is flattish indicating a flat-bottomed pot. The rim sherds are straight or direct and their edges have been squared. Wall sherds show an uneven thickness, differing between 40 and 65 mm. Pottery remained confined almost entirely to the upper 6 inches of the archaeological deposit with only a single example encountered in the 6-12 inch layer.

The ceramic material corresponds closely to the description of Owens Valley Brown Ware (Riddell 1951:20-23). In the Sierra this ware, in fact all pottery, is limited to the southern part of the range (Elsasser 1960:30-31, Map 7), occurring in territory occupied in historic times by the Foothill Yokuts, Western Mono and Tübatulabal Indians. A significant quantity of sherds has come from the Huntington Lake district, well within Western Mono country, but none has been discovered in Yosemite Valley, held in the aboriginal period by the Central and Southern Miwok (Bennyhoff 1956:56). Digging at El Portal also produced no potsherds (Fitzwater and Van Vlissingen 1960).

There can be little doubt that this ceramic ware entered the southern Sierra region across the mountains from the east. The time of its first appearance in the area has not yet been definitely been determined but nowhere does the pottery seem to have any considerable antiquity. Certainly the arrival of the ceramic art in this section of California took place subsequent to A.D. 1000-1100 and perhaps as late as A.D. 1300. Owens Valley Brown Ware represents the type of pottery manufactured by recent Indians on both sides of the Sierra Nevada mountains (Gayton 1929; Steward 1933:266-269), differing only in details from group to group.

Glass and Metal

The amount of commercially-manufactured goods was not great. Included among articles which provide evidence of Indian-White contact, direct or indirect, are seven glass beads, an equal number of pieces of bottle glass and parts of a harmonica.

The glass beads represent four distinct types. Two, of globular form, have translucent red exteriors and are equipped with opaque white cores. They are quite tiny, with lengths of 2.4 and 2.7 mm and diameters of 3.8 and 3.9 mm. Larger and more cylindrical in shape are two beads with opaque red exteriors and clear dark-green centers. They measure 4.5 and 6.5 mm in length and have diameters of 5.2 and 7.3 mm. Another two specimens, both spherical, are white and non-transparent. Their dimensions are: 2.8 and 3.0 mm; diameter 3.8 and 4.1 mm. The last specimen, also globe-shaped, has a medium blue hue. It is 2.5 mm long and possesses and diameter of 3.5 mm.

The glass beads all came from the upper portion of the midden. Four were obtained from the 0-6 inch level in or around the house pit excavated in 1953; two were picked out of the back dirt in the same locality; the provenience of the remaining specimen went unrecorded though it probably came from the surface. Of primary interest, of course, is the source and age of the beads. Unfortunately when and how these arrived cannot be established very precisely from the evidence. None of the specimens can be attributed to Spanish or Mexican origin. They may have been obtained from Hudson's Bay or American traders. Another possible source is the United States Indian Commission agents sent out in 1851 to negotiate treaties with the California Indians. These individuals distributed presents, including beads, to many Indian peoples. The presence of glass beads in CA-FRE-115 does not necessarily provide proof of direct Indian-White contacts since objects of this sort frequently preceded the trader, passing from hand to hand before Caucasians appeared on the scene.

Glass beads are found in small numbers and in a limited range of forms within the Sierra province. A single Yosemite encampment yielded a mass of small white beads fused together in a melted body, evidently a cremation offering (Bennyhoff 1956:52). Four glass beads came from the upper 6 inches of the El Portal midden (Fitzwater and Van Vlissingen 1960:161) and 21 were obtained from ten sites in the Huntington Lake region (Hindes 1962:30). Conversely, vast quantities of beads in a wide array of forms characterize many historic sites in the western foothills. In the region some of the specimens date back to Spanish-Mexican times.

Five of the seven pieces of glass from CA-FRE-115 consist of thin (1-2 mm) greenish-brown fragments, all evidently part of the same object. The edges on a thicker (5 mm) curved piece of uncolored glass appear to be somewhat modified, suggesting use as a scraper. The remaining example, 2 mm thick, has a dark-brown hue. None of the fragments gives any real clue as to the original size or form of the object from which it came and none bears lettering to aid in identification. All of the pieces were found under circumstances which seemed to rule out the possibility of post-occupation intrusion. Six occurred in direct association with an aboriginal house floor; the other was encountered in the 0-6 inch level.

Less certain as "contact goods" are three harmonica parts, all evidently belonging to the same instrument. The first consists of a complete brass inner plate or reed, 22 mm wide and 94 mm long. Two similar sections fit together to form an almost complete reed of identical size. One of the harmonica parts lay on the surface; the other two were unearthed in the 0-6 inch level. It seems quite possible that the latter worked their way down into the earth.

House Sites and Hearths

Prior to excavation, four shallow, roughly circular pits were visible on the surface of the midden. They were interpreted as being excavations in which, or over which, shelters had been built. Testing of one of the depressions in 1953 revealed that a fairly substantial structure had formerly stood on the spot (Lathrap and Shutler 1955:229).

The house, slightly over 15 feet in diameter, had a circular plan. Its saucer-shaped floor, 13 inches below the present ground level, sloped gently toward the center. The tramped bottom of the pit formed the floor's surface. This was not hard-packed of the gravely nature of the soil. Four small posts, still erect but burned off at floor level, marked the location of some of the roof supports. Three of the posts lay well within the pit; the fourth stood near one edge. The pit walls, of unfaced earth, rose sharply to ground level. A partial ring of rock flanked one side. No entrance was discovered. Centrally located within the house was a hearth. Originally a circular unlined excavation, 2 feet in diameter and 6 inches deep, it had in the course of time become filled with clean white wood ash. The ash had then spilled out over the edges of the fireplace forming a mass 3 feet in diameter and 10 inches deep. Several arrow points and a quantity of charred mammal bone were contained in the ash. Near the hearth stood a small pine stump, 7 inches in diameter, burned and bent over flush with the floor. Domestic rubbish lying on or just above the house floor included several stone artifacts, mammal bones, pine nuts, and burned and unburned wood and bark.

During the course of the 1954 excavation, two of the remaining three circular depressions were carefully explored. This investigation proved much less rewarding since it disclosed only vestiges of two earthen floors. The first, poorly-defined because of the extensive activity of burrowing animals, was encountered at a depth of 12 inches. Circular, or nearly so, it must have been smaller than the previous one with a maximum diameter of around 10 feet. Like the other, it sloped inward. Toward the center lay two sections of burned posts. No fireplace was located thought the floor was liberally sprinkled with charcoal and ash. This house pit contained a fair number of obsidian chips but no artifacts.

Great difficulty was experienced in defining the third house floor because it had been burrowed through repeatedly by small animals. Encountered at a depth of 6-8 inches below ground level, it comprised a roughly circular area of tramped earth, approximately 8 feet in diameter. It too slanted toward the center. There was not the slightest trace of a fireplace though scattered charcoal and ash covered the floor. Material taken from this house consisted of a projectile point, two flake scrapers, some obsidian chips, and a few charred mammal bones.

The first structure, which provided the fullest picture of housing. must have been quite substantial. Probably it comprised a conical pole and bark slab dwelling of the type built by the recent Western Mono Indians around the circumference of a shallow depression dug into the ground (Gifford 1932:20; Gayton 1948b:260). With slight renovation such a house could have been reused time and again. The other two structures certainly must have been much smaller and less solidly built. Evidently they constituted makeshift shelters, rather hastily constructed and lived in for only a brief period.

The only other archaeological features uncovered were an isolated hearth and three roasting pits. The former consisted of a circular arrangement of 16 fair-sized cobbles and hear-fractured rocks (Plate 13). Within the 24-inch circle had accumulated several inches of charcoal and ash, and to one side lay a mass of charcoal which included several charred twigs. A few obsidian chips and a smooth pebble, undoubtedly a cooking stone, were discovered within the ring. Encountered 8 inches below the surface, the hearth lay just above a granite boulder, disassociated from any house remains.

Plate 13. Fireplace at CA-FRE-115, Pit H5. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Three yellowish-white beds of ash presented the appearance of irregular oval basins. The largest measured 40 x 48 inches and had a depth of 8 inches; the other two were much smaller. The ash lenses lay beside boulders, well outside of the house circles. They can reasonably be interpreted as roasting pits for pine cones rather than as domestic hearths. No implements came from them.

Food Remains

Only a limited amount of food residue survived. Mammal bones proved to be surprisingly scarce with only 143 examples, mostly charred. The condition of the earth probably explains their paucity. In an acid and almost constantly damp soil, bone, unless calcined, does not last long. The mammal bones are extremely fragmentary and only eight proved identifiable. Of these, six came from bighorn sheep and include the following elements: axis (partial), atlas (partial, posterior), humerus (partial, distal), occipital condyle (one half), pelvis (partial, one side) and another possible axis (partial, dorsal spine). A distal radius is from a young artiodactyl; an ulna probably belongs to a Marmota. The total absence of recognizable deer bones can be ascribed to chance circumstances of preservation, for it seems highly probable that this animal provided the chief source of meat. The preponderance of the mammal remains (nearly 99%) came from above 12 inches, most of it from the house pits and hearth. No bird or fish bones were unearthed.

Plant remains, being highly perishable, were expectably few in number. The largest house yielded a mass of partially decayed pine nut shells. These have been identified as almost certainly belonging to the Sugar Pine, a tree which does not grow in Vermilion Valley but which represents a common species at lower elevations. A carbonized acorn came from the same habitation. It has been recognized as probably coming from the Interior Live Oak, another non-local species. Both of these foodstuffs must have been carried in from a distance of 20 to 30 miles to the west.

Summary and Conclusions

It remains now to briefly sum up the results of the CA-FRE-115 excavation and to piece the data together into a historical reconstruction of the manner of living of the site's former inhabitants. To begin with, the extent and depth of the midden demonstrate that the locality served as a camping place over a considerable period of time. Evidently it represented a particularly favored spot to which small groups of Indians returned summer after summer, presumably moving up from their larger and more permanent settlements in the western foothills. The kinds of equipment these seasonal visitors left behind as well as the few surviving food remnants indicate that they supported themselves by hunting large and small game in the meadows and forests and by harvesting nuts, seeds, and other wild plant products. No fish bones or specialized gear remains to suggest that they did any fishing, but it can be surmised that this activity was not neglected. Mono Creek, on the banks of which the encampment lies, is more than well stocked with trout and it seems highly unlikely that this rich source of food was totally ignored.

From the wealth of obsidian flakes and other chipping debris, it becomes obvious that the Vermilion Valley people carried on a considerable amount of stone working. Since obsidian does not occur locally, its presence testifies to sustained trade relations with peoples living beyond the summit of the High Sierra. The enormous aboriginal quarries of Inyo and Mono counties must have been the source of supply of this important raw material (Heizer and Treganza 1944:305; Meighan 1955:9). Vermilion Valley perhaps served as a meeting point for trading parties arriving from the east and west. Indeed, it may well have been a desire to barter for obsidian and other useful products that repeatedly drew people to the valley.

Though the subsistence pattern and general way of life remained much the same, a stratigraphic analysis of the artifacts unearthed by the digging reveals that some changes in material culture took place during the lengthy span of time that the site saw intermittent habitation. The most significant depth differences come in pottery, steatite objects, and projectile points. Potsherds and steatite items were virtually limited to the upper 6 inches of the refuse; three classes of slender, triangular arrowpoints had practically the same vertical distribution. Conversely, large and heavy missile tips occurred mainly in the deeper levels. Other artifacts such as handstones, hammerstones, flake scrapers and some knife blade forms showed no such clear-cut stratigraphic separation. On the basis of their distribution in the midden, the archaeological finds can be divided into three groups:

1.   Items limited to the upper 12 inches;
2.   Those occurring only below this depth; and
3.   Objects present in both levels (Table 2).

Table 2. Stratigraphic Distribution of Cultural Traits.

TraitLower level
(<12 inches)
Upper level
(0-12 in)
Large projectile points   
    Deep concave base, unnotchedx  
    Concave base, corner notchedx  
    Straight base, corner notchedx  
    Leaf-shaped, convex basex  
    Leaf-shaped, narrow basex  
Portable milling stonesx  
Small projectile points   
    Concave base, side-notched x 
    Concave base, unnotched x 
    Straight base, unnotched x 
Drills x 
Cobble pestles x 
Steatite vessel fragments x 
Steatite beads x 
Potsherds x 
    Concave base, parallel-sided x 
Objects of Caucasian manufacture x 
Large projectile points   
    Shallow concave (entire) base  x
    Shallow concave (central) base  x
    Concave base, side-notched  x
Small projectile points   
    Straight base, corner-notched  x
    Concave base, corner-notched  x
    Triangular, round base  x
    Asymmetrical, scraper knives  x
Handstones  x
Hammerstones  x
Polishing stones  x
Unaltered pebbles  x
Flake scrapers  x
Obsidian as preferred material  x

These depth differences in the occurrence of certain classes of artifacts make it possible to identify two separate cultural complexes, one characteristic of the topmost 12 inches of the refuse and the other perhaps of the remaining deposit, with considerable overlapping in content between them. Represented in the upper foot of the midden is an assemblage distinguished by:

1.   Small light projectile points, undoubtedly arrowheads.
2.   Parallel-sided knife blades with concave bases and triangular blades with round bases.
3.   Expanded-base drills.
4.   An extreme abundance of flake scrapers.
5.   The almost exclusive use of obsidian for making flaked tools and weapons.
6.   Uniface and biface handstones.
7.   Bedrock milling stones (?).
8.   Cobble pestles.
9.   Bedrock mortars.
10.  Steatite vessels.
11.  Steatite disc beads.
12.  Cobble hammerstones.
13.  Polishing stones.
14.  Pottery vessels (Owens Valley Brown Ware).
15.  Circular house with excavated floors.
Most of the same items occur together at late prehistoric sites elsewhere in the southern Sierra. But the new synthesis describes the projectile points as being exclusively of Desert Side-notched and Cottonwood Triangular types (Moratto 1984:333). The occurrences of corner-notched forms, regarded as belonging in an earlier prehistoric phase, raises the possibility that the assemblage is of mixed character. However, a similar association of missile tips marks the Mariposa Complex, representing the final aboriginal occupation of Yosemite Valley (Bennyhoff 1956:53-54). Actually, the majority of CA-FRE-115 upper level artifacts, save potsherds, find duplication among Mariposa Complex cultural materials. Like groups of artifacts, including the same point types, as well as fragments of Owens Valley Brown Ware, has been collected from late prehistoric sites in the Huntington Lake district (Hindes 1962:42).

Since the CA-FRE-115 upper-level assemblage conforms closely to late prehistoric manifestations occurring at sites elsewhere in the southern and central Sierra, it can with full assurance be assigned to the closing phase of aboriginal life. As the valley lies within territory inhabited until recently by Western Mono or Monache, at least part of the archaeological material can be attributed to these Indians. Artifacts derived from Western civilization help to date the terminal occupation of the site at somewhere between 1850 and 1875. Indians were observed in Vermilion Valley as late as 1864 (Brewer 1949) and undoubtedly they continued to visit this isolated locality for some years thereafter. Although an approximate closing date can be set for this last habitation phase, its beginnings can only be guessed at. The type of material culture represented or something closely resembling it is believed to have become established in the Sierra by A.D. 1100 or 1200 or shortly thereafter (Bennyhoff 1956:54; Elsasser 1960:75; Moratto 1984:333), but whether it had penetrated the Vermilion country this early remains uncertain. Judging by the number of finds, the most intensive occupation at CA-FRE-115 took place during this period.

Buried below refuse of the last aboriginal residents lay artifacts left behind by an earlier population. The material culture inventory for this more scantily represented occupation is a much shorter and simpler one, made up of:

1.   Large and heavy projectile points, presumable used to tip darts.
2.   Broad, oval knife blades and leaf-shaped blades with narrow bases.
3.   Less numerous but, on the average, larger and more extensively worked flake scrapers.
4.   A decided preference for obsidian in the fashioning of chipped stone work.
5.   Biface handstones.
6.   Portable milling stones.
7.   Pebble hammerstones.
There can be little doubt that this bottom layer assemblage goes well back into prehistoric times. It has much the same content as the Crane Flat Complex which begins the archaeological sequence in Yosemite Valley (Bennyhoff 1956:55-57). The two share a large projectile point tradition with several forms held in common. Other mutually held items include handstones, portable milling stones, retouched flake scrapers, and an emphasis upon the utilization of obsidian for chipped stone artifacts. Precisely how far back in time the Crane Flat Complex extends is not yet known; A.D. 500 supposedly marked its end. Most of the early Vermilion Valley and Crane Flat objects occur at sites around Huntington Lake (Hindes 1962:43).

The presence of Sierra Concave-base, Elko and Humboldt dart points allies the lower-level assemblage to those of the Canebrake Phase (Moratto 1984:333). Portable millingstones are also regarded as characteristic of this prehistoric period. It has been suggested that substantial occupation of high-elevation localities in the southern Sierra began during the Canebrake Phase, dated from 1200 B.C. to A.D. 600.

Chronological relationships between the two CA-FRE-115 assemblages are by no means clear. The archaeological findings seem to indicate a time gap and break in cultural continuity between them. Since the oldest and most deeply buried materials appear to be of comparable antiquity to those of Yosemite's Crane Flat Complex and manifestations of the Canebrake Phase, for which closing dates A.D. 500 and A.D. 600 have been proposed, this leaves a span of at least five centuries separating the two Vermilion archaeological manifestations. An alternative explanation to a time hiatus and an interval of non-residency at the site would be the existence of a transitional culture, too scantily represented in the midden for discrimination.

Taken all together, the work done at CA-FRE-115 provides an informative, but by no means complete, picture of aboriginal life in this high mountain country over a comparatively long period of time. No one site can, of course, give any final answers to problems of regional cultural development or illustrate the archaeology of an entire district. Indeed, CA-FRE-115, though not without certain parallels, may stand in a class by itself, with a personality all its own, the end result of a unique combination of elements and circumstances. The correlations and conclusions arrived at from the digging then are at best highly provisional and must remain so until supported by data from comparable investigations at other High Sierra localities.


* This report was completed in 1962. It was updated only slightly for publication in 1988.


Aginsky, B.W. 1943. Culture Element Distributions: XXIV: Central Sierra. University of California Anthropological Records 8(4).

Bennyhoff, J.A. 1956. An Appraisal of the Archaeological Resources of Yosemite National Park. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 34.

Brewer, W.H. 1949. Up and Down California in 1860-1864. University of California Press, 2nd ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Campbell, I. 1953. A Review of the Geology of the Vermilion Damsite, Fresno County, California. Southern California Edison Company, Los Angeles.

Driver, H.E. 1937. Culture Element Distributions VI: Southern Sierra Nevada. University of California Anthropological Records 1(2).

Elsasser, A.B. 1960. The Archaeology of the Sierra Nevada in California and Nevada. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 51.

Elsasser, A.B. 1962. Indians of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia Natural History Association, Three Rivers.

Fitzwater, R.J. and M. Van Vlissingen. 1960. Preliminary Report on an Archaeological Site at El Portal, California. Archaeological Survey Annual Report 2:155-200. University of California, Los Angeles.

Gayton, A.H. 1929. Yokuts and Western Mono Pottery-Making. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 24(3).

Gayton, A.H. 1948a. Yokuts and Western Mono Ethnography I: Tulare Lake, Southern Valley and Central Foothill Yokuts. University of California Anthropological Records 10(1).

Gayton, A.H. 1948b. Yokuts and Western Mono Ethnography II: Northern Foothill Yokuts and Western Mono. University of California Anthropological Records 10(2).

Gifford, E.W. 1932. The Northfork Mono. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 31(2).

Heizer, R.F. and A.E. Treganza. 1944. Mines and Quarries of the Indians of California. California Journal of Mines and Geology 40(3):291-359.

Hindes, M.G. 1959. A Report on Indians Sites and Trails, Huntington Lake Region, California. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 48:1-31.

Hindes, M.G. 1962. The Archaeology of the Huntington Lake Region in the Southern Sierra Nevada, California. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 58.

Lathrap, D.W. and R. Shutler. 1955. An Archaeological Site in the High Sierra of California. American Antiquity 20(3):226-240.

Moratto, M.J. 1984. California Archaeology. Academic Press, Orlando.

Riddell, H.S. 1951. The Archaeology of a Paiute Indian Village in Owens Valley. Reports of the University of California Archaeological Survey 12:14-28.

Solomons, T.S. 1895. A Search for a High Mountain Route from the Yosemite to the Kings River Canyon. Sierra Club Bulletin 1(6):221-237.

Steward, J.H. 1933. Ethnography of the Owens Valley Paiute. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 33(3).

Steward, J.H. 1938. Panatubiji, an Owens Valley Paiute. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 119:185-195.

Appendix A. Other Vermilion Valley Archaeological Sites.

Besides CA-FRE-115 (Vermilion Valley I), five other archaeological sites were discovered within or just outside of the reservoir pool area. Every one of the encampments showed certain likenesses. In each case, the refuse deposit was thin, reflecting short-term residence and all five occupied sandy spots, relatively free of vegetation with maximum exposure to the sun's warmth. Although situated in close proximity to streams, they lay on well-drained ground above the flood-water level. Surprisingly, none of them had bedrock mortars close by. Site II presents a possible exception, but the association is not clear-cut.

Since dam-building had gotten underway before the archaeological search began, some traces of aboriginal settlement already may have been obliterated. A difference of opinion existed amongst construction personnel as to whether there had once been a campsite on top of the spur at the junction of Cold and Mono creeks. This locality, level and sand-covered, seemed well-suited for native habitation but it had been so drastically altered by earth-moving equipment when first inspected that no conclusion could be reached. The presence of chipping waste and bedrock mortars on the east bank of Mono Creek, downstream from CA-FRE-115, had been reported. However, a careful exploration of the creek bank failed to reveal any such remains.

On the whole, only a limited amount of information could be derived from the five sites because they proved either to be small temporary camps or had been badly disturbed by dam-building activities. A brief description of each encampment and the cultural materials obtained from it follows.

Vermilion Valley II covered an area of 40 x 140 feet on the west bank of Mono Creek, 175 yards upstream from CA-FRE-115. Lying in a dry meadow adjacent to a pine grove, this locality in recent years had served as a picnic ground and a road had been bulldozed through it. Scattered obsidian chips and a heavy stream cobble which had seen service as a pestle provided the only evidence that the area had been camped upon by Indians. The pestle, an elongate granite cobble, 196 mm long and 119 mm in diameter, had been utilized on both ends. A cluster of seven bedrock mortar holes lying midway between CA-FRE-115 and this site could have been used by people from either encampment or from both.

Vermilion Valley III, extending 30 x 150 feet, occupied an open sandy spot on the west bank of Mono Creek, 177 yards farther upstream and just below the first narrow gorge or rapids. The only vegetation growing on the site consisted of a few pines and tufts of grass. Obsidian chips were thinly scattered over the ground.

Surface finds included an arrowpoint, a fragment of a second, a drill and two flake scrapers, all fashioned from obsidian. The arrowpoint, a triangular specimen, 26 mm long, 15 mm wide, and 3 mm thick, has a straight base and corner notches. It resembles the CA-FRE-115 corner-notched arrow tips but lacks a basal concavity. The general shape and size of the central section of a second projectile point suggests that it came from one of the slender, triangular forms. The piece has a maximum width of 8 mm and a thickness of 3 mm. A complete drill, nearly identical in form to the two examples from CA-FRE-115 has an expanded, unshaped base. Its dimensions are: length 24 mm; width (at base) 25 mm; thickness 3 mm. Two amorphous flake scrapers have been sharpened along one curving edge. Both are quite small. The first is 25 mm long, 20 mm wide, and 3 mm thick; the second measures 20 x 13 mm with a thickness of 3 mm.

Vermilion Valley IV lay on the level crest of a sandy ridge high above the west bank of Cold Creek, a half mile above where it empties into Mono Creek. The spot had been so modified by bulldozing that the site's original dimensions could not be accurately determined. But it appears to have been a fairly extensive encampment, disposed over an area of at least 160 x 200 feet. Essentially forest-free, the locality had only a few pines growing on it. Though convenient granite exposures occurred nearby, no mortar holes had been worked into their surfaces. The quantity of obsidian strewn over the ground demonstrated that Indians had frequented this camping place on more than one occasion but not long enough for the soil to have become stained or for a refuse deposit to build up.

Despite a diligent search, only four artifacts were obtained. These comprised two projectile points and two blade fragments. The first missile tip, a complete specimen has corner notches and an expanded, concave base. It is a large point, 36 mm long, 23 mm wide and 5 mm thick. This point closely resembles the heavy, indented-base specimen from the lower level of CA-FRE-115. A central section of a large, straight-edged projectile point cannot be classified as to its original form. The piece measures 22 mm across and is 6 mm thick. The two portions of blades are rather nondescript. One consists of a blunt tip; the other represents either the rounded corner of a tip or base. The first piece has a thickness of 5 mm whereas the second is 9 mm thick.

Vermilion Valley V was located in a sandy, lightly forested flat on the east bank of Mono Creek a short distance from the face of the dam. This constituted a fair-sized campsite, covering a 100 x 250 foot area. At the time of examination, it had suffered considerably from construction work. Obsidian chips littered the surface but no blackening of the soil was evident. A mortar hole was noted on a granite boulder at the water's edge, 200 yards below the encampment.

The site's surface yielded 12 obsidian objects and two glass beads. Included among the former is a whole triangular arrowpoint with concave base and side-notching. The specimen, 26 mm long, 10 mm wide and 3 mm thick, differs in no way from characteristic missile tips recovered in the upper level at CA-FRE-115. Of the three fragments collected, only one remains complete enough to be categorized. It comprises the butt end of what must have been a large triangular blade with a broad rounded base. The piece measures 30 mm across and 9 mm through. A central section, 23 mm wide and 9 mm thick, also appears to be from a triangular specimen. The remaining fragment consists of a blunt-pointed tip or base. It is 10 mm thick. Eight flake scrapers show customary retouching along one border. They vary in length from 23-40 mm, averaging 30 mm. In width, the range is between 15 and 24 mm with an average falling at 21 mm. All are quite thin with thickness of 2-6 mm, with an average of 4 mm.

The two glass beads, hexagonal in form with flat ends, have a dark blue color. Both are 6 mm long and a little over 4 mm in diameter. Though not represented at CA-FRE-115, this kind of bead commonly occurs on protohistoric and historic sites elsewhere in California.

Vermilion Valley VI lay just across Mono Creek from Site V. The level sandy stretch which it occupied had been completely altered by earth-moving equipment so that the original size of the encampment could not be ascertained. Obsidian chips occurred on the surface and a few were observed 12 inches down in a cut. Quite probably, the latter had been turned under during construction.

Plate 14. Projectile Points from Vermilion Valley 6. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Outstanding among the surface finds are seven projectile points characterized by ill-defined shoulders produced by corner or lateral notching and broad concave bases (Plate 14 A-C). The butt ends of all of the specimens have been thinned by removal of flakes from both surfaces. The sides of the points are either straight or slightly convex. All of a six the specimens have the following dimensions: length 30-36 mm, average 33 mm; width 20-22 mm, average 21 mm; thickness 3-6 mm, average 4.4 mm. Missile tips of this sort were almost absent in the CA-FRE-115 midden. They appeared to be of the Pinto variety, associated with the earliest documented native occupation of the southern Sierra Nevada.

Another projectile point is leaf-shaped (Plate 14 D). Its borders curve outward from the narrow butt to reach their maximum thickness rather high up on the blade. Quite large, this artifact is 31 mm long, 17 mm wide and 7 mm thick. A tip, 6 mm thick, appears to have come from a similar leaf-shaped point. The remaining two items from Site VI consist of a portion of a flaked core, evidently a "quarry blank" and a flake scraper (Plate 14 E). The latter, 41 mm long, 26 mm wide and 4 mm thick, has been sharpened along one edge.

Plate 15. Obsidian Knife Blades from Vermilion Valley. Photograph by Edith Wallace.

Isolated finds. A few artifacts were picked up at various spots within the reservoir area. Noteworthy among them is an oval knife blade which closely resembles the two deeper-level specimens from CA-FRE-115. It was found along a trail leading to Boggy Meadow Creek. The tool is 61 mm long, 54 mm wide, and 11 mm thick. A portion of a unique blade lay on the ground a short distance from the dam site. The piece comprises the rounded butt end of a corner-notched blade with serrated borders (Plate 15 B). The remaining section has a breadth of 35 mm and a thickness of 13 mm. From the west bank of Mono Creek below CA-FRE-115 came an irregular blade fashioned from a thick (10 mm), parallel sided flake (Plate 15 A). The tool, measuring 80 x 35 mm, has been carefully retouched along both edges. A beautifully-made large projectile point or knife blade was picked out of the dam fill. Fabricated from mottled red and black obsidian it has a broad straight base, thinned from both surfaces, and corner notches (Plate 15 C). The projected length of the specimen falls around 55 mm. It is 30 mm wide and only 4 mm thick. The final artifact, an unusually large and thick flake scraper, was retrieved on a trail leading up the west bank of Mono Creek. The tool is 50 mm long, 41 mm wide, and 13 mm thick.

Despite their small number and limited range, the surface finds allow for chronological ordering of four of the Vermilion Valley encampments. Site II, owing to an absence of diagnostic artifacts, cannot be placed culturally or temporally though the presence of a cobble suggests recent occupation. For Site III, triangular arrowpoints and an expanded base drill indicate a correlation with the upper-level CA-FRE-115 assemblage and hence a late habitation. Recent aboriginal occupancy is also suggested for Site V by an arrowpoint and two glass beads. A large projectile point and a portion of a second hint that Indians lived at Site IV in earlier times. The absence of bedrock mortars may also have some significance since this locality gave evidence of having been camped upon fairly often.

The stemmed projectile points obtained at Site VI are not duplicated at any of the other Vermilion encampments. Similar specimens, however, form part of the assemblage characteristic of Lamont Phase, representing the earliest documented archaeological stage recognized for the southern Sierra region (Moratto 1983:333). This phase has been assigned to the time span between 4000 and 1200 B.C. If the Vermilion Valley VI points are truly analogous and contemporaneous, this would place them in a phase prior to the two occupations represented at CA-FRE-115.

To sum up, the Vermilion Valley encampments (including CA-FRE-115) appear to represent three successive habitation phases (Table 1).

Table 1. Vermilion Valley Archaeological Sequence.

PeriodEstimated DatesSite Number
IIIA.D. 1100-1870CA-FRE-115 (upper level), II (?), III, V
IIA.D. 500-1100CA-FRE-115 (lower level), IV
I4000-1200 B.C.VI

A late occupancy is evidenced at CA-FRE-115 (upper level), III, V, and possibly II. For two of these (CA-FRE-115 and V), glass trade beads document the presence of Indians into historic times. An earlier occupation occurred at CA-FRE-115 (lower level) and IV; an even more ancient one was represented at VI. Only CA-FRE-115 appears to exhibit occupation during more than one phase.

Copyrights 2022 californiaprehistory.com Back to the Top