FORT IRWIN CALIF. — Mummies, pyramids, and tombs, oh my! Although the finds are not always as dramatic as aspects of Egyptian archaeology, all archaeologists strive towards the same goal: uncovering humanity’s past through material remains. We use the evidence left behind to reconstruct what people did, much like crime scene investigators. Animal bones help us understand past hunting activities; tin cans and bottles reveal more recent diets. Grinding stones can help reveal materials—often plant foods, sometimes pigments or small animals—processed at a site. Certain stone types used for making flaked stone tools (such as knives or arrowheads) can reveal the source of the stone, reflecting past journeys or trade connections.
In documenting evidence of past activities, the Fort Irwin archaeologists support the mission of the National Training Center by ensuring that the Army follows the laws and regulations applying to cultural resources (which include material remains of the past, such as archaeological sites). A significant cultural resource is one that meets at least one of the four criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Briefly, these four criteria are: being associated with an important (1) event or (2) person in American history; or (3) being characteristic of a distinctive type, period, or method of construction; or (4) being able to provide important information about prehistory or history.
When ground-disturbing projects happen at Fort Irwin, legal compliance is necessary; a request is submitted and needs approval from several different sections, including archaeology. The first thing we do is look to see if anyone has already checked for archaeological sites (and other cultural resources, such as historic buildings). If so, was anything significant found?
Sometimes, an area has not been checked. Then, we survey—walk the ground systematically—to look for cultural resources. We document what we find, and ask whether the resources meet any of the National Register criteria. If significant archaeological resources are found in the project area, we explore ways to preserve the characteristics that make the site significant. This may include working with the person who proposed the project to shift the project location, modifying project activities to avoid damage, or studying the information that the site provides.
In this process, we also consult with the California State Historic Preservation Office and Native American Tribes that have ancestral ties to Fort Irwin lands. If there are concerns, Fort Irwin works with the concerned party to find a solution and preserve important cultural resources.