Archaeological Investigations at the CAL FIRE Ishi Conservation Camp

L.Kyle Napton, Ph. D. and Elizabeth Anne Greathouse, M. A.
February 29, 2000

Investigations at Site CA-TEH-001621/H at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Ishi Conservation Camp (CAL FIRE/ICC), Paynes Creek, Tehama County, California, were requested by Dan Foster, Senior Archaeologist, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection , Sacramento. Excavations were supervised by the Principal Investigators, Dr. L. Kyle Napton and Elizabeth Greathouse, sponsored by the California State University Stanislaus (CSUS) Foundation and the CSUS Institute for Archaeological Research (CSUS/IAR). The CAL FIRE sponsored investigations proved to be another invaluable opportunity for students to be exposed to fieldwork in California archaeology.

Site CA-TEH-001621/H is located on the grounds of the CAL FIRE/ICC, on opposing banks of Plum Creek, in east-central Tehama County, California. The CAL FIRE/ICC facility was constructed in the 1950s without prefatory cultural resources investigations, which of course were not required at the time. However, over the years since the facility was constructed indications of the presence of a prehistoric occupation site (i.e., obsidian flakes and projectile points) have been observed on most of the 80-acre CAL FIRE/ICC property. Consequently, in 1993 CAL FIRE Archaeologist Richard Jenkins initiated a program of site recordation and protection, and the site was inspected, recorded and mapped in detail.

In 1999 it became necessary for CAL FIRE to relocate some underground utilities and other service facilities within the CAL FIRE/ICC. Accordingly, archaeological test excavations were undertaken in the potentially affected area to determine: (1) the depth and areal extent of potentially affected part of the site; (2) the qualitative and quantitative composition of the subsurface archaeological assemblage; (3) the nature (composition and other attributes) of the subsurface lithic assemblage and the possible origin of some of the materials, especially but not exclusively obsidian; and (4) the age of the archaeological deposit as might be inferred from radiocarbon determinations, obsidian hydration and pedological analyses. Contract requirements specified four 1m2 units excavated to sufficient depth to penetrate and sample the strata in the affected area of the site.

Unit 1 produced three prehistoric artifacts: two andesite cores, one of which is a large single-platform prismatic core, and a biface, 62 flakes, and ten modern artifacts or specimens. At a depth of 50 cm the excavators encountered a virtually solid mass of angular rock (roadfill) and excavation was discontinued.

Unit 2, excavated to a depth of 250 cm, yielded 71 prehistoric artifacts, eight historic artifacts, and 36 modern artifacts or specimens, as well as 2,162 pieces of debitage. The upper levels of Unit 2 consisted of dark black loam, an anthropic deposit which contained diminutive obsidian flakes and numerous, generally larger basalt and andesitic flakes, as well as numerous fragments of charred or calcined bone.

Unit 3, located less than four meters from the cut-bank of the present stream channel of Plum Creek, was excavated to a depth of 160 cm, yielding 51 prehistoric artifacts, one historic artifact, and seven modern artifacts or specimens. The unit produced 1,181 pieces of debitage, and also contained a great many alluvially and fluvially-deposited cobbles, ovoid to subround in shape, varying in size from small pebbles to small boulders.

Unit 4 was positioned at a random location in a tilled experimental garden area located on the northeast side of Plum Creek. Excavated to a depth of 100 cm, this unit yielded eight prehistoric artifacts, two historic artifacts, 14 modern artifacts or specimens, and 63 pieces of debitage. The 14 modern artifacts or specimens, consisting mostly of wire nails and fragments of glass, are indicative of historic and modern use of the area.

Excavation of Unit 2 indicates that the anthropic deposit in Area A of Site CA-TEH-001621/H evidently presents a more or less continuous occupational accumulation from the surface to a depth of 250 cm. Excavation of this unit was terminated at 250 cm to allow assessment of materials obtained and for personnel safety. The data obtained by excavation of four test units demonstrates that this site has the potential to yield information pertaining to prehistoric occupation of the Plum Creek region. Accordingly, Site CA-TEH-001621/H is assessed as eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historic Resources. Further investigations of the areas tested, as well as other areas of the site, are recommended. A draft report has been submitted to CAL FIRE in February, 2000, and the final version is scheduled to be published in the "CAL FIRE Archaeology Reports" series.

The investigators thank Mr. Dan Foster and Mr. Rich Jenkins, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Sacramento, for initiating the project and their assistance during the investigations at Site CA-TEH-001621/H. Mr. Jenkins accompanied us during our initial inspection of the site and assisted us during project excavation. We are grateful to Walter Williams, CAL FIRE Division Chief, for permitting access to the site. We thank Lt. Dan Shaw, California Department of Corrections, for permission to conduct excavations, and we are most appreciative of the efforts of Mr. Roy Dowdy, CAL FIRE Fire Captain, to improve working conditions during the inclement weather of spring, 1999. In Red Bluff Historian Mary Lee Grimes most graciously furnished local information. Dr. Eric Ritter, Archaeologist, Bureau of Land Management, Redding, generously provided certain vital documents.

Lastly, it is our pleasant duty to thank the members of the field crews who excavated the test units during two field sessions, enduring what might be described charitably as less than ideal weather. They are Bill Ray, Field Supervisor; Eric DeSelms, Tammy DeWitt, Paula Echebarne, Cynthia Gourley, Mark Kile, Jonna Nunes, Tony Rocha, Kelly Tricarico, Yvonne Villaneuva, and Gabriella Visola. Laboratory work on the materials and specimens from the site was conducted at CSUS by Laboratory Supervisor Stan Strain, assisted by members of the field crew.