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Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native Saltworks in the Sierra

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Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native Saltworks in the Sierra

Postby Vaca Russ » Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:27 pm

Where is the site of the oldest business in North America? Could it be hidden in the Sierra?

Earlier this month “Sport” and I backpacked miles and miles into a very special place in the Sierra.

1 girls.JPG

My three girls...#1 is wearing black.

"Somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, a granite terrace the size of a football field holds hundreds of mysterious stone basins representing what geologists believe is one of the earliest known "factories" created and used by ancient Miwok Indians to make tons of salt to trade with tribes up and down California.

James G. Moore, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, learned of the strangely pitted terrace from detailed maps made more than a century ago and hiked the region in May to study what he determined were clearly hand-hewn objects.

Terrace.JPG


Terrace of Basins.JPG


He examined 369 of the circular artifacts only a few yards from two streams of saltwater fed by a nearby spring and a lake that was equally salty.

Moore and his colleague at the USGS, Michael F. Diggles, believe the circular basins were handmade by the Miwok people in an impressive display of early technology. They have published a detailed account of their findings in an official Geological Survey report, but because the area is now an "archaeologically sensitive" site and its location protected by law, Moore is permitted only to say that the basins are in a canyon somewhere within the National Forest.

Records show that early American Indians, including the Miwok people, lived for thousands of years as hunter-gatherers in that area of the Sierra, Moore said, and it is filled with evidence of old settlements, with abundant middens, arrowheads and small stone tools. But learning how long ago the basins were carved awaits high-tech dating.
The basins average more than a yard in diameter and are more than 2 feet deep.

Sport and Mika.JPG

Basins.JPG

empty basin.JPG


To create them, Moor and Diggles said, Miwok tribe members built fires on the granite surface that heated the stone until it fractured. They then crumbled and pounded the fractures with stone tools and removed the debris, inch by inch, until the basins were formed.

several basins.JPG

water in basin.JPG

weeds in basin.JPG


Diggles estimated it took Miwok workers nearly a year to complete a single one. He calculated that each fire used to dig a single layer of rock deepened the granite by no more than a centimeter. The process, he said, must have been repeated 100 times to make a single basin.

He said he believes the Miwok people carried water from the streams in watertight woven baskets, poured it into the basins and let it evaporate in the summer heat until the dry salt could be scooped out. The salt content of the water and the rate of water flow indicate that the two streams probably yielded about 3 tons of salt each year, Moore said.

The people of the area, he said, "had a large and valuable surplus to trade with other tribes - an early example of commerce by hunter-gatherer people."


"Salt was an important commodity for Native Americans," UC Berkeley's Lightfoot said. "It is certainly possible that salt harvested from these basins could have been traded to other native groups in California and the Great Basin (east of the Sierra).

"Further work will be needed to develop a solid chronology for the basins.""

I had a great time exploring this secret “archaeologically sensitive" site and its location protected by law. I particularly enjoyed my company. :D

Sport.JPG


I hope you enjoyed reading my report.

Thanks,

-Russ
Last edited by Vaca Russ on Mon Dec 31, 2012 7:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
” Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports … all others are games.”- Ernest Hemingway



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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby balzaccom » Fri Nov 30, 2012 7:34 pm

Very cool post. Thanks!
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby kpeter » Sat Dec 01, 2012 10:45 pm

Fascinating. I've come across small pits in granite created as grinding areas--usually for grinding acorns, but this is of a different order of magnitude.

What I don't understand is why the streams were so salty? Clearly this is a special place due to salt water being available to run the evaporators. But I've never come across an inland stream that was salty.
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby Ikan Mas » Sun Dec 02, 2012 11:10 am

Wow! It would be neat to be able to see these, but I understand the sensitivity, especially considering what happened to petroglyphs near Bishop. Lets hope they remain "off the radar" as there is no shortage of jerks that would damage such a treasure. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby Electra » Sun Dec 02, 2012 2:20 pm

This is really cool and amazing. I am always impressed with the ingenuity, persistence and smarts of those 'before us'.

It is fun to look at the photos and associated facts and try to deduct where this might be. I would guess an elevation of 4500-6000 and more northern sierra....
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby rlown » Sun Dec 02, 2012 10:18 pm

I would guess we shouldn't guess if they're sensitive. Are they protected?
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby Electra » Mon Dec 03, 2012 7:18 am

ah yes, the intricacies of communicating on the internet. I am by no means trying to figure out where this is and do not want Russ to reveal anything...i just found myself studying the photos and i figured many others did so as well and thought, detective anyone. With the petroglyph stuff going on, i can understand the sensitivity. As Leslie Nielson said in the Naked Gun: 'Nothing to Look at here"....

I bet the runoff from the latest storms has filled all the holes....

* added after a cup of coffee this morning: My original post also was slightly in jest and very general since if one knows miwok history, they are northern sierra (yosemite and north typically). Elevation guess solely based on look of scrappy glacial polish and look of area/brush/tress, etc..you get the point.
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby Jason » Mon Dec 03, 2012 8:59 am

Very cool. Thanks for posting!
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby vandman » Thu Dec 06, 2012 4:40 pm

very good report. i know where this is located.
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby adam921 » Thu Dec 06, 2012 8:04 pm

Very cool!
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby kpeter » Thu Dec 06, 2012 8:57 pm

I wonder about other salt extraction sites. I presume coastal Indians extracted salt from seawater. Was Mono lake also used for this? And then this site must have been one of the few alternatives in between.

There were some newspaper and other publications about this site beginning in 2009, but fortunately they all have been respectful about not making the location obvious. I like your photographs better!
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Re: Hand-Hewn Granite Basins at Native American Saltworks in Sie

Postby TehipiteTom » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:11 am

This is fascinating. Very cool photos--thanks for posting this, Russ!
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