Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thanks a Lot, Tongues o' Flame

Appropos of an earlier blog entry about fire and archaeological sites, I just came across an L.A. Times article from November 28, 2000 that I saved in my alphabetical file. (You know, the file where you stuff all sorts of interesting things that you think you might actually want to refer to, someday. I bought a big accordion file for them. Makes me feel organized.)

The L.A. Times article, titled “Tongues of Flame Reveal the Past,” starts off:

The Sequoia wildfire leveled forests but also opened spaces previously inaccessible to archaeologists. Relics found in the ashes suggest that Native American settlers had a more complex culture than previously thought.

OK, we’ll ignore the note of condescension. The meat of the article is this: In July and August of 2000, an 80,000-acre fire swept through the Sequoia National Forest. In parts of that forest, mechanized travel was verboten, so archaeologists never had much access. Bulldozers had to build emergency roads to get to the fire, though, so the archaeologists got to run around and find things, which is What Archaeologists Do.

They discovered cliffside pictographs denoting a solstice, areas full of grinding stones, lots of imported obsidian for arrow and spear tip manufacture, and pottery shards indicating trade with tribes hundreds of miles away. More than 400 sites, some dating back 3000 years, were documented.

Not much detail is given, for fear of attracting looters. This is a big problem in California’s forests, where the forest service dollars are spread in a pitifully thin veneer.

OTOH, the fire—called the Manter fire--was so intense and destructive that officials estimate the forest will take 300 years to fully recover. The unspoken caveat, of course, would be “assuming another fire doesn’t do even more damage.”

Given the dryness of the area this year, three centuries without a fire is an awfully idealistic hope.In fact, fire now threatens a couple of sites important to movie buffs: Vasquez Rocks off Highway 14, and the town of Lone Pine, on Highway 395, heading up to Mono Lake and the eastern edge of Yosemite. You can read about that on my hubpages entry.

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