What may appear to some as a barren, inhospitable land has actually supported prehistoric Native Americans for thousands of years, from Paleoindian to historic times.
While the archaeological record in other parts of the West has been impacted greatly by development and mining, the Basin and Range region preserves slices of prehistoric and pioneer life, providing a window to our past and should be preserved for future exploration.
Click here for a report on the historic and cultural resources within the region.
Straddling the line between Lincoln and Nye counties in southeastern Nevada, the 800,000+ acres of Basin and Range has seen little systematic archaeological investigation. Yet, the region’s parcels that have been surveyed have yielded a high density of sites, suggesting that this place holds a richness of archaeological information that should be preserved for future exploration.
This intact landscape can yield fascinating and important information about human mobility, adaptations to a harsh and unforgiving environment, and interactions between hunter-gatherers and farmers. Euro-Americans have left fewer traces here, with most restricted to relatively short-lived mining endeavors and low-intensity ranching.
- The earliest evidence for human use of in Basin and Range comes in the form of a Clovis projectile point made of obsidian that a Paleoindian hunter left near Water Gap about 13,000 years ago (Ryan 1985).
- Between about 11,000 and 8,000 years ago, Western Pluvial Lakes Tradition hunters left distinctive crescent-shaped stone tools around Coal Valley Dry Lake (James 1981).
- Later Desert Archaic people who lived in the area between about 8,000 and 1,500 years ago left abundant evidence of their hunting, plant gathering, cooking, and camping activities as well as some rock art marking special places on the landscape.
- Because of the area’s paucity of water, it saw only minimal use by subsequent Fremont people who practiced both maize horticulture and hunting and gathering between about 1500 years ago/A.D. 500 and A.D. 1300.
- Numic-speaking ancestors of the Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone, who were in this region by at least A.D. 1100, left a mix of archaeological traces similar to those of the Desert Archaic people.
Tribal people continue to view this landscape as their homeland and have strong connections with its mountains, valleys, and cultural and natural resources.
Archaeological information for this area is limited but the relatively high site density in many of the areas that have been investigated suggests that Basin and Range has the potential to contribute important information about use of this portion of the Basin and Range province from the Paleoindian period through the present. A goal for the future would be to conduct substantially more archaeological inventory in order to better understand the area’s prehistoric and historic land use and cultural resources.
Extending into the southern tip of the Basin and Range, this rock art district contains hundreds of images of animals, anthropomorphs, and geometric symbols that people scraped into the desert varnish that covers underlying volcanic tuff. Images of atlatls (spear throwers) were probably made before that technology was replaced by the bow and arrow around A.D. 700. Mount Irish rock art includes examples of “Pahranagat Man,” a distinctive anthropomorph whose images are concentrated in Lincoln County.
White River Narrows Archaeological District
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, this archaeological district is located along the eastern boundary of the Basin and Range conservation proposal within the Weepah Spring Wilderness Area. Its hundreds of examples of rock art include a similar range of images as found in the Mount Irish area, but with more geometric symbols including a potential calendar. Another suite of images could represent a symbolic procession or game drive.
Other cultural sites within the Basin and Range region include the spectacular petroglyphs of the Big Rocks Wilderness in the North Pahroc Range and an array of shelters, lithic scatters and other archeological sites in the Garden and Coal Valleys.
Native American Trails
Although not yet formally recorded by archaeologists, Native American trails run throughout the Basin and Range conservation proposal. For thousands of years these enabled tribal people to travel between these mountains and valleys to hunt and gather wild animals and plants at different times of the year.