An archaeologist at home in Silver City
November 3, 2006
SILVER CITY – Robert Elston calls this small historic mining town off Route 342 a home for hippies who wanted to get away from the city and government.
There’s something about this area that has attracted the educated and their families. In the town of about 140, there are several residents with advanced degrees. Three have doctorates, including Elston. They’ve stayed in the community even though the majority of roads aren’t maintained. There is no shopping center in Silver City, or much of anything commercial. This may be the perfect place for an archaeologist.
Elston, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, has traveled to China several times to study the people who inhabited the vast central desert region, which is on the same latitude as Northern Nevada.
“I’m 68 but I still am digging, I’m still riding my bicycle and I’m still walking every day. All of that keeps me young.”
With his dog, Phil, on his heels, Elston works around his home, which is decorated with art from China.
His interest in China started at an archaeology conference in Denver. Elston and a friend invited some visiting Chinese archaeologists to dinner and a friendship started. His own interests, which have grown in the Great Basin, expanded to China.
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“I’m interested in how people relate to their environment and how people react to environmental changes.”
That includes how the farmers became sheepherders and how they interacted with hunters.
Elston and a Chinese colleague are three years into an excavation at Lake Jilantia, in inner Mongolia. He’s been funded by the National Geographic Society and the National Science Foundation. In 2004, he earned a Fulbright Research Scholarship. Elston has paid for some expenses out of his own pocket. It’s costly, but it’s vital work on human interaction and progression.
“This work will take a long time because none (of the area) has been worked out there. It’s pioneer work. This work in the central part of China has not been done by Chinese archaeologists.”
Elston plans to travel to China in the spring to do lab work on artifacts he’s found so far. Once he gets published, that will open up the opportunity for more funding.
“We have found that people have occupied the lakeshore for 8,000 years.”
He’s excited about excavating a sand dune that sits atop a spring mound. He believes this site will reveal a camp site for herders that was inhabited 4,500 years ago.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.