Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Searching for evidence of prehistoric hunters and gatherers


Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
We’re headed to the deserts for the winter right after New Year’s Day and were told by another RVer that it was possible to find signs of the existence of prehistoric Native Americans in places not protected (such as in National Parks and monuments). We thought it would be fun to explore the areas where we boondock looking for these signs. How would we go about it? Thanks. —Sylvia and Marshall

Hi Sylvia and Marshall,
Searching for evidence of prehistoric people in the Southwestern deserts can be difficult, frustrating, educational, challenging and fun. It is not enough just to think like a Stone Age hunter – whether there is a source of water, nearby game and adequate shelter. Rivers that once flowed here or springs that gushed from the ground may have dried up in the last couple thousand years, and where once enough foliage grew for woolly mammoths to feed, several climate changes may have left the region a dry desert. However, there are a few preliminary steps you can take to make the quest a bit easier.

Knowing something of the prehistory of the locality in which you hope to search can determine whether the area at one time contained water sources or was along travel routes used by ancient hunters and gatherers. This information should be available from local libraries, national, state or regional visitor centers, local history teachers and park rangers. Once you’ve determined the existence of former habitation, you at least know that the possibility exists of finding evidence.

Petroglyphs at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Those same sources can direct you to known signs that can serve as starting points for your search. Sometimes rangers or others who possess this knowledge may be a bit reluctant to point out these spots because of past acts of vandalism and artifact gathering. Note that no collecting of archeological specimens is allowed on lands owned or controlled by the United States government. You may have to convince authorities that you are an amateur historian and would never deface or collect any historic artifacts.

Two factors to consider in your search: One, since hunters and gatherers were always on the move, they traveled light, with few possessions. Stones used for grinding the beans of mesquite, acacias, and palo verdes into flour consisted of a handheld stone, the “mano,” and a “metate,” shallow depressions in rocks or deeper holes from six to ten inches in diameter and sometimes a foot or more deep in a boulder or flat rock surface. Their weight dictated that they be left behind when they moved on, and they can be found today in thousands of locations in the Southwest where the tribe or family group camped. Second, wherever they camped, they also drew or carved pictures – pictographs or petroglyphs – into rock or cave surfaces. Once you find one metate or petroglyph, you know there are more nearby.

Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.

Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .





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Bob Difley
5 years ago

I received the following comment regarding the above answer to Sylvia and Marshall’s question:

Your response to a reader’s question that it would be “fun” to search for “prehistoric hunters and gatherers” evidence during their travels was inadequate, at best.

I am a trained archaeologist and my husband is a biologist; we have spent many years researching in the American Southwest and other areas.

*Protected v Not Protected Sites-The Feds, States, etc., have very little money to invest in protecting the environment-people, places, animals, vegetation, etc. The “protected” areas are an extreme few compared to areas in this country that should also be “protected” but are not. Suggesting people go off exploring for “evidence” is irresponsible! There are thousands of truly incredible American Southwest areas not on any bookstore map that put the protected park sites to shame. This is the only way to ensure the inexperienced public does not find them.

*The damage that people can leave is usually irreversible:
**chalking in petroglyphs or pictographs to make them stand out for a picture often erodes the glyphs.
**Scrounging around for streams or ponds can prevent local wildlife from bringing their babies for water-crucial in the desert spring.
**Moving anything like a rock or branch for a picture can completely change or destroy the “in situ” evidence important in providing valuable information about a site. **Many people bring their collections to a park archaeologist only to learn that removing or even just moving a found rock, etc, leaves little to examine and changes or destroys the important information on the area where the item was found.
**Ad nauseam.

I believe it is extremely important to encourage would be “explorers” to educate themselves before they wander off! There are many books about areas of interest that people should read to gain not only information about an area but also how to respect areas where people and animals live and lived.

Collect memories, leave only footprints!!!

Dinah Ackerson

Robert Noble Allen (@guest_18686)
5 years ago

..national parks aren’t protected?!

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