By Dennis Cassinelli
Ever since I grew up on a ranch that had been an old Indian village site, I have had a special fascination for Indian artifacts. arrowheads, beads, scrapers and fragments of other stone tools can still be found just about anywhere in the mountains, fields and deserts of the Great Basin. There are laws against removing such items from public lands, but many can still be found on farms and ranches throughout the region. This article is about some of the more humorous things I have encountered in my amateur archaeological experience.
For a few years of my highly illustrious and varied career, I was employed as a paving inspector for a construction engineering company. I worked on several highway construction projects in some of the remote sections of the Nevada desert. Being an old desert rat at heart, I relished the opportunity to wander around through the sand and sagebrush, looking for the strange desert plants, colorful gemstones, purple bottles and the occasional oxen shoe or projectile point.
On one such project in the Hawthorne area, I saw some Indian petroglyphs etched into the dark chocolate-brown desert varnish of some boulders along the highway. I knew it was against the law to disturb these treasures, but I got the bright idea to create some of my own. I gathered some nice, hefty boulders that were covered with the brown desert varnish, and loaded them in my pickup. In between loads of asphalt, I began to chisel some ancient artwork I had copied from the petroglyphs I had seen. When other members of the paving crew saw them, they thought I had illegally removed some of the genuine Indian petroglyphs. I confessed I had made them myself, but some of the guys liked them so much they paid me $10 apiece to use as yard art. I have since sold many of these creations to people who appreciate the artistic designs of the modern rock art I created.
One of the guys on the crew named Harry, knew about the interest I had for Indian artifacts and came to me with an exciting discovery he had recently made. He told me he had been working along the right-of-way fence east of Hawthorne and had found a bunch of Indian artifacts lying on the ground just across the fence. The news immediately perked my interest, so I followed Harry to the site where he had made the discovery.
We parked out trucks alongside the highway, and Harry pointed to where he had seen the artifacts. He said, “Just walk over to the fence and look on the ground on the other side. You’ll see several Indian artifacts scattered around there glistening in the sun. Just go look for yourself. I will wait here in my truck. We should not attract too much attention to the place.”
I followed Harry’s instructions and casually peered over the fence where he said he had seen the Indian artifacts. There, half-buried in the hot desert sand, were about six of the most perfect Thunderbird wine bottles I had ever seen. The labels were somewhat faded, but other than that, they were in perfect condition. I stood there silent for a few moments contemplating this amazing discovery. The notion that I was the victim of a stupid prank slowly began to make an impression on my mind.
I finally cast a glance over my shoulder and saw Harry sitting in his truck laughing his fool head off at the obviously bewildered look on my face. I had played many practical jokes on people in my time, but this was one time the joke was on me. I stomped back to the truck where the big jokester was still braying like a freshly branded donkey.
“Don’t look so disappointed, Dennis,” he said. “Those could be real Indian artifacts. Some old Indians probably did leave them there.”
Out of respect for the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, I left the priceless artifacts right where I found them for some future archaeological expedition to discover. If any of you archaeologists out there are interested, I will lead you to the site if you will agree to pay my expenses. I will need a room at the El Capitan in Hawthorne and the rental of a boat on Walker Lake.
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 discount plus $3.00 for each shipment for postage and packaging.