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Calico Early Man Archaeological Site
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Calico Early Man Archaeological Site

All photographs taken by Kenneth A. Larson. All rights reserved. © 2004 - 2017.

Just a few miles east of the touristy preservation/recreation of Calico Ghost Town, is a very serious Archeological dig at Calico Early Man Archaeological Site. It is the oldest known American Archaeological site, although some dispute this. The site also has the distinction of being the only New World site worked by Louis S. B. Leakey, until his death in 1972. Ruth De Ette Simpson showed some pieces to a skeptical Dr. Leakey in London and he quickly visited the site in May 1963.

When this dry desert was inhabited by early Native Americans twenty to thirty thousand years ago, the climate was much cooler and moister than it is today. About 20 inches of rain made this location more humid. The Ice Age polar ice cap was only about 500 miles away. Forests of pinion pine, juniper, and live oak trees covered what is now sage brush and Joshua trees. Two hundred square mile Lake Manix covered the valley floor. Animals like those at La Brea [Link here] lived here then. It was a productive environment for the local people to find and process their food. Seismic actions caused the lake to drain into what is now Death Valley and the glaciers retreated. As you stand in the 25 foot deep Master Pit #1, it is difficult to imagine the change. The site is on the shore of that long gone lake.

Excavations at Calico Early Man Site began on November 1, 1964, making it the oldest active archeological dig site in the United States. Master Pit #1. Because of a high concentration of artifacts found in the northwest corner, a second pit was begun a short distance northwest. When a high concentration of artifacts was found in the southeast corner of pit 2, this indicated that they were probably digging at the edges of a work site, so a third pit was begun between them.

In addition to the three Master Pits, there are a number of smaller pits, some for control purposes and several trenches. The control pits were dug to verify that the chipped stones found were actually tools found only in work areas and not natural flaking which would have also been found everywhere. No stone tools were fond in the control pits. The material is a course material with many unconformities where one layer of deposits is sometimes millions of years older than the layer above, indicating mush erosion in the past. A short trail to the dig site, passes a small bentonite mine along the way. Bentonite is used for drilling mud among other things. The Master Pit is not a square. It is irregular in shape leaving large areas for future archeologists. In total, three Master Pits were dug that have yielded artifacts. In addition to the Master Pits, there are several Control Pits that were made in response to the critics. There are several other pits serving various other purposes.

The site contains the oldest stone tools in this part of the country and, until recent discoveries elsewhere, the oldest in North America. Before the work at Calico, it was believed that people arrived in North America about 12,000 years ago, but Calico artifacts are believed to be 200,000 +/- 20,000 years old and they have reason to think they might go back further. These are not from Native Americans but earlier Homo erectus or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. There are skeptics who think the stones were broken naturally. The artifacts are simple stone tools, believed used to process food, wood, hides, and planting rather than for killing. Many of the stone tools displayed on site are copies, with the originals at the San Bernardino Museum in Redlands. Many of the tools are made of agate with a hardness of 7.5 and agate hunting has been popular in the area since 1920. The pits were dug slowly with dental picks. There is a small museum at the site.

Calico Early Man Archeological Site, about 15 miles east of Barstow on I-15.
Slides not yet scanned : Photo Date: 2-29-04.

Below October 2010.

Sign at the turn-off that this author missed.

Trail to the dig site.
There is a small museum at the site. Some artifacts are displayed at the site, the more important objects are at the San Bernardino County Museum.
The Master Pit where most of the work has neen done.
The Master Pit where most of the artifacts were found.
The Master Pit was quiet this day in October 2010. Volunteers are needed.
The Master Pit is not a perfect rectangle, but rather leaving areas for future exploration.

Master Pit #1 stockpile.

Master Pit #2.

Master Pit #3.

Another pit.
Stockpile of material for ruther study.
Another small pit.
Another small pit.

When these tools were made, the landscape was moister. Today, dry desert plants cover the landscape.

This 500 foot trench was dug to quickly explore a large area.

A Bentonite mine is what brought modern people to this site.

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This page last updated: Saturday, 06-Jul-2013 17:28:18 EDT

Note:This is not the official site for any of the places shown in Places Earth. Places Earth is not responsible for accuracy of the information. Hours of operations, prices, exhibits, and sometimes locations are subject to change without notice.

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