Dennis Cassinelli: Artifacts recovered from Lovelock Cave
March 28, 2018
In this, the second article about Lovelock Cave, I will describe a few of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the site between 1912 and 1924. The remarkable things about Lovelock Cave were the state of preservation in this dry cave and the amazing variety of well preserved objects that were found there.
Llewellyn L. Loud first began recovering artifacts from the cave in 1912 after guano miners had finished removing tons of bat guano from the floor of the cave. Unfortunately, looters had already removed many items of archaeological value before Loud started his work. Despite the previous ransacking of the cave, Mr. Loud recovered many items of great archaeological and anthropological value.
Approximately 45 sets of human remains, ranging from scattered bones to complete mummies and human skeletons, were found. One mummified child about 6 years old wrapped in fish netting was given to the Nevada Historical Society. Loud recovered the remains of a newborn child with the placenta still attached. I recall the days in the 1960s when some of these remains were on display at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno before the insensitive public display of them was discontinued.
Many examples of mammal remains were found in the cave. These included animals that had entered the cave seeking shelter, and others that had been brought into the cave as food by human occupants. Examples of these remains include deer, bighorn sheep, wolf, coyote, badger, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit and cottontail.
Human and animal excrement was found that gave an indication of what these mammals had eaten. Some coyote excrement contained human remains and human excrement revealed what the humans were eating in those days. It was an incredibly coarse diet of seeds, hulls, tough fibers and fish bones.
Bird remains included ducks, geese, pelicans, feathers, bird bone artifacts, and bird skin wearing apparel. The cave contained an abundant collection of artifacts made from bones of various birds and mammals. These included awls, flutes, beads, tubes, fishhooks, pendants and scrapers. Mammal horns and hoofs were used to make spoons, pendants and rattles.
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The cave provided protection from the elements to preserve such things as blankets of fir and feathers, strips of rabbit skin made into blankets, skins of meadow mouse and muskrat. Textiles included plant fiber aprons, sandals, and moccasins of tule and rush. Matting was made from grass, spike rush and cane. Many examples of wicker basket work were found.
In 1924, Mark Harrington resumed excavations in the cave started by Llewellyn Loud in 1911. Undoubtedly, many artifacts were stolen from the cave during the 13 years no professional archaeologists worked there. A few of these were brought to Harrington when he started his work at the cave. The excavations done by Mark Harrington were mostly in the deeper areas of the cave where some of the older artifacts were found. Eleven perfectly preserved duck decoys were discovered.
Harrington decided to do a stratigraphic section in the deepest part of the cave. The layers of the stratigraphic section were called the older period, the transition period and the later period. By studying the types of artifacts recovered from these layers, Loud and Harrington were able to determine atlatls (throwing sticks capable of hurling a lance with great force) were used only during the older period. They found during the transition period, both atlatls and bows and arrows were used. Finally, the later period, being the most recent, had only bow and arrow artifacts for weapons and hunting.
I have written much more about Lovelock Cave in the books available on my blog @ denniscassinelli.com.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis' books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.