The thermometer bounces between 108 and 111 degrees as I drive into the Mojave Desert on a recent June afternoon.
Several days earlier in 115 degree heat, not all that far away, a middle-aged man had left a tour bus in Death Valley National Park to take a few photos. An hour later he was found dead just several hundred yards from the bus. (Mammoth Times)
The conditions outside my thin panes of glass are deadly serious, yet have been described as “relatively moderate” compared to times past.
Moderate, they say.
These moderate conditions have existed for about the last 6,000 years. Prior to this, about 8,000 years ago and earlier for some time, the climate was one of “extreme aridity.”
Atacama I suppose.
Obsidian projectile points found at the place I’m driving to have been roughly dated to about 4,200 to 7,100 years ago. While it is unclear if human occupation at this particular site occurred this long ago, the evidence suggests that it is not unlikely.
At 110 degrees the Mojave is hellish. It seems like a great day to experience a desert site to gain some modicum of understanding about how it felt to exist here in ancient times. Yet funnily enough, the land today may well be more hospitable than it was during those times.
The gravel flat and resting stone beneath the huge painted boulder.
Here amid the barren desert mountains the granite monolith sits, a dominant feature before a hill of jumbled boulders. It is not lost in the jumble but stands apart, visually dominating, beckoning upon first sight, an attractive destination seen from the surrounding wastes.
I walk up in the brutal mid-afternoon sun seeking refuge in the shelter of its shadow. In the hottest hours of the day the shadow covers a smooth, sloping granite outcrop that appears at first sight to be a great resting place.
Sure enough a large polished slick is evident on the surface of the outcrop where people have been lounging for a very long time. Laying down and pressing a sweaty hot back against the cool shady slick of granite no doubt provides a much welcome respite from the brutal desert swelter.
I notice my five year old son sits exactly at this resting spot without any word from me.
No doubt the stone has taken on greater patina in modern times from the rumps of many visitors through the years, but it seems readily evident that people have been lounging there for much longer.
There is a striking connection made between humans separated by 5,000 years of time and wildly different cultures as my son sits to rest. For all the differences between the peoples in ways and means, the little boy of today is naturally drawn by the same brain to the same spot for the same reason as the ancient people had been.
A portion of the boulder’s painted wall that’s aside the gravel flat.
This polished resting stone is fronted by a small gravel flat which runs up against the painted wall of the looming monolith. To one side of the flat lies a large tabletop slab with several shallow, well-polished grinding slicks worn into the granite. From the gravel flat one enjoys long views of the surrounding land. Thousands of obsidian shards litter the area everywhere, lithic scatter cast off by the hands of ancient craftsmen fashioning stone tools.
The pictographs are rendered in hues of red, white and black. Several rock shelters are found nearby the painted boulder wherein scores of arrowheads have been recovered by scholars. Items of interest found in the area include cordage, basketry, ceramics, stone artifacts and human remains.
The components of nature come together here in remarkable form to create an exceptional place for a human to spend time in a harsh land. This was quickly evident to me as I walked up. It’s no wonder ancient people made it their own. I would have as well.
Standing on the gravel flat before the painted wall I am stunned to discover a remarkable acoustical phenomenon that I had not noticed on a previous visit several years ago.
When I speak my voice booms back at me in a deeper tone that seems amplified. I don’t want to make too much of this occurrence or hype it, but I was taken aback. Surely this meant something to somebody at sometime.
There is without question a naturally occurring acoustics here due to the manner in which the rocks are shaped and sit together on the land and it noticeably alters the human voice as noted.
As I experiment with the phenomenon for a moment I notice that it seems to be limited to a rather small area whereupon one can notice the effect. This spot is located beside the resting stone, which must play some role in the acoustics, and in front of the large pictograph panel on the boulder.
I have no doubt the ancient people that were here knew of this phenomenon, but I wonder if it played any notable role in their lives. Who now could possibly know?
Ungulates of some sort, perhaps deer.
Some remarkably different looking ungulates compared to the predominant form given bighorn sheep in pictographs and petroglyphs in this region. The long curved horns extending over their back makes them resemble ibex more than sheep, though ibex are not California natives.
Something that appears to be anthropomorphic figures.
Several well-polished, shallow grinding slicks.