Archaeological Excavations at the CDF Murphys Fire Station, Calaveras County, California

The California Department of Forestry acquired a two-acre parcel in Calaveras County in order to build a new fire station to serve the Murphys area. Peak and Associates, an archaeological contractor for the State, discovered a prehistoric period archaeological site, now known as CA-CAL-1633, while conducting a field inspection. The extent of the site boundary could not be determined due to heavy ground cover. Test excavations were conducted in early 1996 that indicated that not only a site existed but that it was larger than the surface distribution of artifacts indicated. Materials recovered included formal prehistoric tools, lithic cores, lithic debitage, and historic period materials.

During the initial project inspection at the location of the proposed Murphys Forest Fire Station, an archaeological site was discovered. An archaeological excavation was conducted and the project was given the okay to proceed. (Photo by Don Haldeman, Fire Captain)

As CDF was unable to avoid this significant site during construction of the fire station, mitigation measures included the excavation, recording, and interpretation of CA-CAL-1633 to serve as the main approach to preservation of this significant cultural resource; the site is preserved both on paper and with the curated artifacts.

EIP Associates, with a crew led by archaeologist Jeannette McKenna, conducted further excavations during 1997 and 1998. Several members of the Calaveras Band of Miwuk Indians worked as monitors and consultants during the excavation. Excavation and surface collections at CA-CAL-1633 produced over 5,000 artifacts including over 4,500 lithic artifacts as well as large amounts of granitic manos, metate fragments, and glass trade beads. >Ninety four percent of the lithic assemblage consisted of debitage, though cores, modified flakes and bifaces were also included in the collection. Nearly one hundred ground stone artifacts, mostly mano and metate fragments, but including several pestles were recovered during the monitoring phase of the fire station's construction.

The site identified several major occupational periods dating primarily to the Calaveras (2500-1000 B.C.) and Sierra (1000 B.C.-A.D. 500) phases. These phases include the following types of artifactual evidence: ground stone, chipped stone tools, scrapers, various forms of projectile points, low counts of fire-affected rock, and obsidian traded from the east (Moratto 1988). Ninety six percent of the obsidian samples sourced originated from the Bodie Hills area east of this site (Hughes 1997). Also identified were four diorite pebbles, well shaped into a conical cores, which were very similar to the early assemblages at Clark's Flat, a phase ranging from 4,550-7,600 B.C.. Diorite stones were almost never used for the manufacture of flakes; however, these conical cores appear to exhibit highly controlled flake removals.

Several other unusual specimens were recovered during the monitoring process. The grader unearthed a quartz crystal fragment and a chert zoomorph depicting the shape of a bear. Nearly two hundred glass trade beads of various colors, sizes, and degrees of manufacture were discovered when an apple tree stump was removed.

References Cited

Hughes, Richard E.
1997. Geochemical Research Laboratory Letter Report 97-85. On file, EIP Associates, Chino.

McKenna, Jeannette A.
1998. Murphys CDF Archaeological Monitoring May 1998 to December 1998. On file Central California Information Center, California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock, California.

McKenna, Jeannette A., Richard S. Shepard, and Neill E. Brower.
1998. Phase III Archaeological Test Excavations and Data Recovery Program at CA-CAL-1633, A Native American Miwok Site Located in the Community of Murphys, Calaveras County, California. > On file Central California Information Center, California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock, California.

Moratto, Michael H., Judy D. Tordoff, and Lawrence H. Shoup.
1988. Final Report of the New Melones Archaeological Project IX. National Park Service, Washington, D.C.