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Digs uncover past on Peavine Peak in Reno

By Frank X. Mullen
Reno, Nevada (AP) 9-07

When Josh Zuniga was a boy, his father took him up the slopes of Peavine Peak on camping trips and told him stories of his Paiute ancestors who roamed the mountain and harvested its bounty for centuries beyond time.

Last week, as a tribal cultural monitor on an archaeological dig, Zuniga helped uncover projectile points, grinding stones and other artifacts left on Peavine for thousands of years. His father’s tales and the evidence left in the ground converged.

“As a child, my dad brought me up here all the time,” said Zuniga, a University of Nevada, Reno journalism student. “He would make that connection with our ancestral past, and as I got older, I would see more and more of that connection. With this project, I’m seeing oral history and the archaeology come together.”

The Peavine digs are run by the U.S. Forest Service and staffed by federal archaeologists and volunteers from the Forest Service’s Passport in Time program. History buffs and retired people scraped one-meter square plots with trowels and picks and then sifted the dirt through fine screens.

The result was a look at the daily lives of the nomadic people who came to Peavine to gather food, hunt game and do the work necessary for survival for at least 6,000 years.

Bob Derham, a retired school principal, and his wife, Nancy, traveled in a 1965 Airstream trailer from Los Gatos, Calif., to take part. They said they like to help out their country and take part in projects that add to the knowledge of history.

“And it gives us a chance to get outside and remain active,” Nancy Derham said.

From the Truckee Meadows, Peavine Peak appears mostly bald of trees and desolate. But the mountain’s watersheds contain hidden meadows, stands of pines and groves of aspen trees. This time of year, rabbit brush flowers are bursts of yellow, the mule-ear plants have dried to faded brown and the willows are turning rust.

Soon, Peavine will be covered in snow. And in the spring and summer – the times of year the ancient hunter-gatherers usually visited the peak – water will again pump life into the hillsides, valleys and fields.

“There was a lot of activity here in the spring and summer,” said Joe Garrotto, the Forest Service archaeologist in charge of the project. “We’re finding mortars they used for grinding pinyon nuts and scatters of lots of different stone tools.”

He said there’s also evidence the Indians heat-treated chert, a stone used for arrowheads, to make it easier to shape the stone into tools. The test pits dug last week revealed pounds of stone artifacts, but the diggers have yet to find fire pits or rings of rock that would indicate longer-term occupation of the sites.

“These were people who would move on when weather or resources required it,” Garrotto said. “They would follow the seasons and camp for a short time in one place and then move on.”

In the fall, the people harvested pine nuts and hunted rabbits. In winter, the Indians moved down into the valleys to escape the Sierra snow.

When the artifacts found on the Peavine digs are analyzed, the Forest Service will issue a report to state agencies. Then, an application to put the sites on the National Register of Historic Places will follow.

If granted, the designation would mean stricter federal management of the Peavine sites, Garrotto said.

But Zuniga doesn’t need a bureaucracy to tell him the sites are important.

“I can feel a connection here,” he said. “In the past, others told Indians about their history, but things are different today. If these ancient things are going to be disturbed, at least we’re in on the plans on the drawing board and we have a seat at the table when these things take place.”

Information from:
Reno Gazette-Journal,