Heat-treated Tool Stone

We’ve known for quite some time that it wasn’t uncommon for prehistoric peoples to heat-treat their lithic raw material to improve its flaking properties. In fact, I believe W.H. Holmes recognized the practice in some of his pioneering work in lithic studies in the 1890s.

It’s been observed ethnographically and assumed archaeologically that raw material is buried in a shallow pit and a fire built over it. Lots of experimental work has been done along this line over the last 30 years or so both with fires and temperature controlled kilns and it has shown to markedly improve the quality of some materials. Sometimes the material is improved by vitrifying the silicates in the stone making it more brittle and other times more complex chemical reactions produce the desired effect.

When observing artifacts in the field, you can often tell if material has been heat-treated by color changes, crazing of the stone surface, or the presence of pot-lid fractures. Most anyone who’s done much lithic analysis has seen it.

All of this is a sort of long-winded introduction to an article in this week’s NY Times concerning research in South Africa that has pushed back the earliest documented occurrence of heat-treating. Previously, the concensus had been that the practice first occured in Europe about 25,000 years ago, but now material recovered from sites on the South African coast documents it there at least 72,000 years ago.

I found this interesting in that with all the lithic analysis I have done over the years, I had never really thought of heat-treating in terms of chronological implications. I’m sure this comes from my background of research limited to North America.

Here, unlike in the Old World, there is no real trajectory of improving development in lithic tools through time. In fact, some of the earliest tools we find here (such as Clovis) are the most complex and reflect the most sophistication and skill in manufacture. Some of the tool assemblages from Late Prehistoric cultures are extremely primitive – we tend to use the term “expedient” which is less value-laden. For example, in the fieldwork I did last year in Imperial County, on the Late Prehistoric sites (dating around AD 1300 – 1600) there were hardly any formal tools (such as projectile points or scrapers) at all. Really 99.9% of the assemblage consisted of a simple flake someone had knocked off a cobble, used once, and thrown away. That’s hardly above a Homo erectus level of technology, yet these were fairly sophisticated farming people, who lived in settled villages, had good pottery, and lots of ground stone tools. They simply kept to a level of technology sufficient for their needs.

You see examples of this all over North America. It would appear that there was a menu of lithic manufacturing techniques (heat-treating among them) that most cultures had available to them from the first entry of humans into the New World. Those that a particular culture chose to use were a function of their particular subsistence technologies, resource availability, or sometimes just interest or esthetics. Some tool forms do change with time and are used as chronological markers, but looking at a total assemblage and characterizing it as simple or complex doesn’t necessarily give you a handle on how old it may be.

Chimney Rock – A Chacoan Outlier

Here’s an interesting report on this year’s excavations undertaken by the University of Colorado Field School at Chimney Rock, an Anasazi site near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Chimney Rock was a colony planted in the 11th century AD by groups from the political/cultural Anasazi center in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Steve Lekson, a Chaco expert on the faculty at CU, is aiming his research at showing status differentiation between inhabitants of different parts of the pueblo.

When I was in graduate school ages ago, the consensus was that the prehistoric Anasazi were largely an egalitarian society, with a highly developed ceremonial complex, much like contemporary Pueblo peoples. Lekson is among a group who now believe that the entire Chaco complex is based on a political elite imposing control over large portions of the Southwest. This article from the NY Times from a few weeks ago talks about Lekson’s theories, and previews a new book he has coming out this Fall.

Lekson believes that this Chacoan political entity is based on a Mesoamerican model and has ties to Paquime (also known as Casas Grandes) a large site in northern Chihuahua. He ties in the appearance of Mesoamerian behaviors that are preserved in Anasazi sites, such as cannibalism; trade in exotic goods such as rubber, macaws, and cacao; and construction of monumental architecture and roads.

Chimney Rock is nearly the northernmost of Chacoan outliers, I believe only the Escalante Ruin over near Dolores is further north, and apparently purposefully positioned for conducting astronomical observations. As the article points out, this is the first work done at the site since the early 1970s when one of my former professors at CU, Frank Eddy, ran excavations there. True to its name, the site is on a high precipice, and work was banned during this period due to concerns about Peregrine falcons nesting in the area.

Also, just for fun, some friends of mine, Mike and Kathy Gear, have written an imaginative novel about the inhabitants of Chimney Rock based on real archaeology titled People of the Moon.

Tamarisk Eradication

Tamarisk is an invasive plant that takes a terrible toll on the environment here in the Southwest US. Almost exactly two years ago, I had a post about studies for a plan to introduce Asian beetles here that prey on tamarisk in its natural environment. The concept is that these tamarisk-eating Diorhabda beetles will if not eradicate, at least seriously reduce the plant population.

Today’s Denver Post announces that the Colorado Department of Agriculture is releasing 200,000 of the Diorhabda beetles along the Arkansas River this year. Apparently the state is undeterred by a lawsuit that has brought a halt to a federal program with these beetles elsewhere in the Southwest, a development I hadn’t heard about.

As always, you have to hold your breath and wait for the unforseen consequences of introducing another alien species. The article points out concerns with affects on Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, a threatened and endangered species that now often nests in tamarisk. We’ll see.

A True Tale of Bureaucracy and Individuals

I posted this as a comment below but decided it could stand as a post.

Re “individuals” and beaureaucrats.

When Libby was in Bozeman an INDIVIDUAL woman who disapproved of Libby’s keeping company with a hunter (really) got the town to go after our then third dog, as no one could keep three without all neighbors’ permission. The town actually told us to put down one, our choice.

A law firm took us on pro bono, thank God. We won, but the bill, to the town, was $27,000. The town then appealed to the Montana State Supreme Court, who found again in our favor, costing thousands more. At the time Libby couldn’t leave and we couldn’t have afforded to pay the lawyers.

One of the low points was the neighbor’s husband’s perjuring herself by saying in court that my Goshawk’s screaming was keeping him awake. I was able to prove that his hearing was remarkable; the Gos had been in NM for 6 months.

After it all one of the city councilmen told me: “You beat us on dogs. Now we are coming after your hawk. And if you beat us on that we’ll come after your pigeons.”

Now in Bozeman you must have all neighbors’ permission for ANYTHING. I believe the regs say “if your neighbor has a problem you have a problem”. As the feed store owner sadly told me: “This used to be Montana”.

I see no reason NOT to fear such monstrous violations of freedom, unless perhaps you have millions to fight them. That is why I consider bureaucrat- free zones like Mongolia, Kazakhstan (yes), Wyoming (outside of Jackson perhaps) and Catron county (guns mandatory, no other bureaucracy wanted). Albuquerque, with virtually no public input, rushed in the most stringent AR regs in the country.

You are not paranoid when they are after you.


I have been simply flabbergasted by the controversy I’ve been reading about dog husbandry and the nit-picking crap described by Steve and our blogger friends in several recent posts. After reading the animosity represented, I suspect that some folks would have me put behind bars since our lifestyle doesn’t conform to their rigid standard for animal treatment. But it also became apparent that there seems to be two underlying differences in our thinking.

The first is that some of us have working partnerships with animals – they aren’t simply “pets” here to enhance our lives. We live with and depend on one another, in various ways. My relationship with my dogs isn’t just about me. I live with livestock guardian dogs, which are by their very nature very independent animals, so they “get a vote.” More often than not, the dogs decide. I try to influence, but then what I get is given to me by an animal that has survived for thousands of years by making its own decisions.

The second involves the reality of risks and death. Life on our ranch involves risks, and the knowledge that the cycle of life includes death. Death isn’t something we’re afraid of, but is part of our lives.

The risk of death occurs daily. West Nile Virus killed one of our sheep last week; my dogs kill coyotes fairly routinely; wolves kill our dogs on occasion; and on occasion, we have dogfights that result in injury and even death. We humans on the ranch experience daily risk as well, be it from lightening strikes, hazards of working with machinery, being charged by mother moose, horse wrecks, and certain hormonal cattle who want to kill us for touching or coming within a half-mile of their babies – just to name a few.

We have a waiting list of other sheep producers who want our pups. Our dogs are a mix of Akbash and Anatolians and now, we’re adding Central Asian Ovcharkas. The males that win breeding rights, in the process of natural selection, get to breed. The females pick where they will den up – we build hay houses and other whelping boxes, but the females decide. The result is some of our litters are born in dirt dens dug out of a hillside, others in culverts, others underneath buildings, and even a few in the hay houses. The females that use the hay houses seem to know what we’re doing as soon as we construct it. We feed the female atop the house for several weeks before whelping, and they usually begin nesting and making it their own just before having their pups. The females always have the pups by themselves, and I’ve only lost a few from being rolled on during the birthing process. Most of our litters include 8-11 live pups.

The pups are never locked in, and I simply can’t resist touching them from the time they are born. If it’s a real big litter, I supplemental feed with a bottle of milk replacer. Within a couple of days of birth, the bitches usually wait for me to arrive for babysitting duty before they exit at a run, headed for water and to empty their bladders/bowels, then hurrying back to the pups. I try to line the natal dens with wool, and some females allow that, while others kick it back out as many times as I put it in. No matter – mama decides and the babies do just fine. We provide hard dog food, soaked in milk replacer, before the pups ever open their eyes.

The babies start coming out of the den as soon as their eyes open, meeting their first sheep and getting butted when they try chewing on ears that don’t belong to them. They grow and venture out further, tangling with porcupines, digging up prairie dogs, harassing moose for better or worse, chasing off magpies and hawks, and meeting up with their first coyotes and fox. The pups have wild adventures and seem to be truly happy animals. They usually have their first coyote or fox kill while they still have puppy teeth. And mercy, but they are proud when that happens. Coyotes challenge our herds nearly every day, so the guardian job is a big one.

The pups bark and growl all night long, roll on dead things, and stink to high heaven sometimes. They swim in the river when and if they want. They steal fish from ospreys.

Most pups survive, but some don’t. We had a moose kick a pup in the chest and break its sternum a couple of years ago, and another died of the infection from a deep wound down its back that was inflicted by a bobcat that tried to enter the herd. We spray for fleas often because with our prairie dog populations, we have an unlimited source.

I socialize the pups by getting them to come to my voice, or to my whistle. I play with them, get them used to collars, leashes and cables, take turns taking them for rides in the cab of the truck to the house. That way, it’s not so traumatic when they have to go into the vet’s office in town. They slobber, and puke, have stress-induced shedding, and survive civilization, but gleefully jump out of the truck and back to their herd.

The dogs don’t live in doghouses, even in the bitter cold of winter. They will not leave their sheep, no matter the condition. They curl up to the wool bodies they protect, fan their tails over their faces, and wait out the storms. The sheep don’t use buildings, but seek out the shelter of sagebrush and natural landscape contours for protection, and the dogs stay with them.

These livestock guardian dogs live very active, adventurous lives. I feed them well, providing good dog food and meat on the bone. The dogs love me, but prefer their herds. They rarely die of old age. Wild animals rarely do. They live lives of bravery and I am privileged to get to share in that life with them. I mourn their passage, and am thankful for the time I’ve had with each one. Animals such as these are good for my soul.

Another AR Outrage

In Philadelphia, from David Zincavage at Never Yet Melted.

He quotes from the Border Collie Bulletin Board:

“The local SPCA raided Wendy’s Willard’s kennel where she keeps her Murder Hollow Bassets on Monday night. They arrived with seven trucks and two police cars & informed her that one of her neighbours had complained about noise.

“Neither the neighbour nor the SPCA had previously complained to her, yet she has been there for 22 years.

“As it turns out, Philadelphia County had recently passed an ordinance where no more than 12 animals may be kept on any property. The Murder Hollow kennels contained 23 bassets, less than the requirement to obtain a (US) Department of Agriculture kennel licence, but the kennel is just inside the city limits.

“Under this law, the local SPCA have managed to acquire the power to seize people’s dogs without warning, by force and by night, and then to take them away to an unknown destination without any accountability.

“The police took 12 hounds and delivered them to an SPCA animal rescue “shelter” in Philadelphia. From there the hounds were dispersed amongst other “shelters”.

“Basset packs in the area have contacted a Mr. Little who runs the SPCA shelter, seeking to place the hounds before they are put down or neutered (thereby destroying 20 years of Murder Hollow’s breeding programme). After a week, Mr. Little has failed to respond to any of these contacts.”

Read it all, especially the comments. This CAN happen to you, despite what some of my rural friends think. It makes me feel like moving to Mongolia– or at least Catron County.

Bold supervision

Hay harvest on our ranch started this week. Part of that process involves getting all the equipment greased, gassed, tuned up and ready to work – including machinery that hasn’t been touched since hay harvest ended last year.

Our two tractors are kept in a fenced stackyard next to the south meadow, and the other day, Jim started shuttling equipment to the meadow on the other side of the highway. When he picked up the bucket on the front of the tractor, there must have been at least eight mice underneath, enjoying the green moist growth and the cool darkness. By the time we came back for more equipment, a Swainson’s hawk had scoped out the situation and patiently waited for us to reveal more treats.

Controversial Pups

Our Asian dogs are capable of causing fits among more conventional dog breeders. Lately cyber attacks and threats were unleashed against litters by Vladimir Beregovoy and Jes and Brett at Demonpuppy’s Wicked Awesome Dog and Art Blog. Jess explains in great detail:

“…it is so incredibly disappointing for me to find out that an acquaintance of mine, Vladimir Beregovoy, has actually been the target of a campaign of intimidation by the so-called fancy. This occurred on a mailing list that I am on. I saw a conspiracy among several people to bring pressure to bear on this man, to get his dogs taken away from him, seemingly through any means necessary, by members of the fancy. Don’t think I’m exaggerating. I read the messages myself, and I’m being pretty restrained in my analysis. I was, to put it bluntly, gobsmacked.

“So what caused this brouhaha? Did he beat his dogs, starve them, make them live without shelter in the snow?

“Nope. He allowed his healthy Saluki bitch to whelp in her wooden dog house. Horrors! Worse, she removed the blanket so the pups were on bare wood. Could it be possible that the bitch knows best? After all, the weather is warm, there’s no danger of the pups getting chilled. They are sheltered from the sun and rain, and their mother is there to clean them, feed them and keep them warm if they need it. But no! A truly responsible breeder would make her keep the blanket. Screw her instincts. She should be locked in the house in a sterile whelping box with a heat lamp and blankets! That’s the way it’s done! Get that man’s dogs away from him before he can do more damage! The control issues and desire to dictate behavior behind the entire incident would have kept a whole college of psychologists busy for a year.”

RTWT. Somehow the outcome is win/ win; the forces of evil are at least temporarily routed, and now we are not only dog- in- laws with Vladimir; Jess and Brett are getting a pup to add to their diverse Asian sighthound pack, and old friend David Zincavage of Never Yet Melted is also, as is master hunter Mark Churchill in Scotland. Dog – in-laws everywhere! Long live aboriginal hounds!

Thanks, Paivi!

Just got one of the most expensive and impressive books on my Amazon Wish List, Wilson and Holldobler’s The Superorganism, sent by Paivi Annuka Pasi in Finland, with a note thanking this blog for the inspiration for his leaving business for entomology this fall.

Thank YOU, Paivi– nice to think our thing here sometimes makes a difference!