Calico Early Man Site, Mannix Basin, Yermo, California, c. 100,000 to 200,000 BP

Calico Early Man Archaeological Site, 15 miles NE of Barstow, California, in the Calico Hills of the Mojave Desert, is considered to be a knapping station or workshop. Virtually all tools and debitage are of fine-grained siliceous materials, includng chalcedony, chert, jasper, freshwater limestone, and petrified wood, with chert and chalcedony predominant. Tens of thousands of lithic specimens have been found at the site. The site is dated between 100,000 and 200,000 BP (years before present). Due to the early dating there has been an on-going debate about whether or which objects are artifacts as opposed to flaked by geological processes (i.e. geofacts or 'nature-facts'). There is also debate about the degree to which site strata are secure or mixed, although scientific dating seems to show consistently old dates.

Dating. Three separate assemblages of lithic artifacts are found in the Manix Basin. The youngest two are Indian and Paleo-Indian, consisting of pottery sherds, spear points, arrowheads, knives and debitage, and they are found at surface locations. They lack significant discoloration by iron- and manganese-rich rock varnish. Such artifacts may range in age from 200 years to a maximum of about 8,000 years. Clearly older is the Lake Manix Lithic Industry, including artifacts found on and just below the surface at elevations above 543 m, the shoreline elevation of Pleistocene Lake Manix, which drained approximately 18,000 years ago. Artifacts of the Lake Manix Lithic Industry exhibit rock varnish patinas on both their buried and exposed surfaces and are often found embedded in desert pavements, unlike the younger artifact assemblage. R. Shlemon (1978) assessed an age for the this Lake Manix Lithic Industry based on soil profle as OIS 5 Sangamon Interglacial (110-130,000 BP). This is supported by recent dating based on the age of the sediments containing the stones, dated by thermoluminescence, c. 135,000 years BP [Debenham, N. 1998. Thermoluminescence dating of sediment from the Calico Site (California) (CAL1),
Quaternary TL Surveys, Nottingham, UK] and by U-series on sediment adhering to a chalcedony core, 200,000±20,000 years BP [Bischoff, J.L., R.J. Shlemon, T.L. Ku, R.D. Simpson, R.J. Rosenbauer, & F.E. Budinger, Jr. 1981. Uranium-series and soils-geomorphic dating of the Calico Archaeological Site, California, Geology 9,12:576-582].

Excavations. In 1954, The Southwest Museum and Achaeological Survey Association of Southern California conducted a survey of the Lake Mannix Basin, led by Ruth DeEtte Simpson, subsequently Curator at Southwest Museum and the San Bernardino County Museum. In 1958, Simpson visited Louis Leakey at the British Museum of Natural History in London and showed him what looked like ancient scrapers from a site in the Calico Hills. Leakey obtained funds from the National Geographic Society and commenced archaeological excavations with Simpsonin 1963, continued to visit the site several times a year and was connected with the project until his death in 1972. The site was taken over by California's Bureau of Land Management and was opened to the public. By 1989 more than 20 pits and treanches had been excavated, with most of the diagnostic specimens recovered from Master Pits I and II and related trenches.

Assemblages. Tools are fashioned from cores, tabular pieces and flakes; the assemblage is primarily flake tools and primarily by percussion flaking. Categories of tools include core tools (picks, bifaces, choppers, anvils, hammerstones); light-duty tools (scrapers, gravers, bifacial cutters, denticulate and serrated flake tools, rotational tools or reamers). Arguments for artifactuality include location of site in low energy alluvial fan and lack of evidence of fluvial transport; better quality chalcedony and chert selected for knapping; some large flake bulbs of percussion were trimmed away; some faceted platforms; flakes with both positive and negative bulbar scars; acute striking platform angles, and standardized tool types such as scraper, graver, notches, and edge damage diagnostic of chopping [Patterson, L.W. 1999. Popular misconceptions concerning the Calico Site. Current Research in the Pleistocene 16:57-59; Leakey, L., Simpson, R. D. and Clement T. 1968. Archaeological excavations in the Calico Mountains, California: Preliminary report. Science 160:1022-1023]. For detailed analyses of the lithic assemblage, an examination of 13,667 lithic specimens and comparison to extensive experimental knapping, see Patterson, L. W., Hoffman, L. V., Higginbotham, R.M., Simpson, R. D. 1987. Analysis of lithic flakes at the Calico Site, California. Journal of Field Archaeology 14,1:91-106. See also the comprehensive report, Simpson R. D., Higginbotham, R. M. 1989. An introduction to the Calico Early Man Site lithic assemblage. San Bernardino County Museum Association, Quarterly XXXVI, 3. For contrary view that some or all objects are geofacts, see earlier studies, Payen, L. 1982. Artifacts or geofacts at Calico: Application of the Barnes test. In Ericson J., Taylor, R., and Berger, R. (ed.) Peopling of the New World: pp. 193–201. Los Altos, California: Ballena Press; Duvall, J. G., Venner, W. T. 1979. A statistical analysis of the lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California. Journal of Field Archaeology 6, 4: 455-462; Haynes, V. 1973. The Calico site: Artifacts or geofacts. Science 181:305-310.

In addition to the stone assemblage, excavation recovered an oval of intentionally placed stones that examination revealed had a radiating gradient of magnetization consistent with its use as a hearth [Dixon, K.A. Archaeology and geology of the Calico Mountains: Results of the International Conference on the Calico Project 1970. 1988.
Papers on California Prehistory: 2:1-22. Archives of California Prehistory: 22]. A piece of fossil mammoth tusk was also recovered (Simpson and Higginbotham 1989).

Palaeoart Interpretations (James Harrod, Ursel Benekendorff, Jan van Es). Based on published images the Calico stone assemblage has four (4) candidates for stone sculptures: one 'bison', one 'mountain sheep' or 'elk', and two 'mammoths'. See images below (j) through (o).

Photo archaeological photos ©
Calico Early Man Site.; text and photos by Fred E. Budinger Jr., Calico Project Director. This is the premier website for Calico archaeology. James Harrod has placed images of fauna on pages (k),(m), and (o) for comparison and image credits are on those pages.

This gallery first posted 1/5/2008; last updated 1/5/2007.

a)calicocutter10 b)bifaces41 c)blades23 d)blade49 e)bladeletcores7
a)calicocutter10.jpg b)bifaces41.jpg c)blades23.jpg d)blade49.jpg e)bladeletcores7.jpg
f)percoirs54 g)beakedgraveralum3 h)percoiralumtip4 i)2ndpercoir55 j)alumbisonbobv28
f)percoirs54.jpg g)beakedgraveralum3.jpg h)percoiralumtip4.jpg i)2ndpercoir55.jpg j)alumbisonbobv28.jpg
k)bison47comp l)bison62 m)horseheadhobv51 n)mammothmobv50 o)mammothscrapers22
k)bison47comp.jpg l)bison62.jpg m)horseheadhobv51.jpg n)mammothmobv50.jpg o)mammothscrapers22.jpg