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ARTIFACTS LINK TO LONG AGO; PIECES MAY BE 1,000 YEARS OLD.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Daily News Staff Writer

Beside the Amargosa Creek centuries ago, American Indians set up campsites to hunt, gather food and plants, and craft decorative pendants to wear or trade.

At least that is what can be gleaned by the 800 to 1,000 artifacts - grinding slabs, hand stones and steatite ornaments - unearthed during construction work for the now-defunct Ritter Ranch housing project.

``It's what you would expect for Native American use from an area where you've got a variety of plants and animal resources,'' said Beth Padon, the archeologist hired by the city. ``When you've got water and plant coverage, you're going to find deer and other animals using that area - that's a food source. They are going to come and do hunting and gather plants. I would have been surprised if we didn't find something.''

An estimated 500 to 1,000 years old, some whole, some fragments, the artifacts were found between 1995 and 1998 during flood control work and road improvements along Elizabeth Lake Road.

The city hired an American Indian monitor and Padon's archeology firm, Irvine-based Petra Resources Inc., to oversee the grading and construction work.

The city-owned artifacts will be housed at the Antelope Valley Indian Museum in Lake Los Angeles, where they will be made available to researchers, said curator Edra Moore.

``We would like to see it serve as a research resource,'' Moore said. ``It's really nice to have local artifacts here and on reposit so that they are more accessible to researchers of this particular locality.''

The museum also holds collections of artifacts from Lovejoy Springs in Lake Los Angeles, and from Barrel Springs in southeast Palmdale, Moore said.

``With the addition of this one from the city of Palmdale, it certainly will provide comparable information that people can look at and compare,'' Moore said.

Palmdale principal city planner Laurie Lile said the idea is to have the collection in the hands of one entity, where portions can be loaned out to other organizations, like the museum being proposed for Leona Valley by the West Antelope Valley Historical Society.

Among the artifacts uncovered were grinding stones, oblong rock slabs about the size of dinner plates, used for preparing food or other materials, such as pigments for dyes or yucca leaf fibers for baskets, Padon said.

The hand stones used to do the grinding and pounding came in oblong, round and rectangular shapes, 5 inches in width and 8 to 10 inches long.

Padon also found pendants an inch or two long and one-eighth-inch thick made from steatite, or soapstone, a soft stone that is very easily worked.

``We found several pendants, pieces of pendants and worked pebbles with holes in them,'' Padon said. ``They were worn around the neck. The literature tells us they were likely a decoration or ornament, rather than used in a functional manner.''

The most recent research indicates the area was inhabited by people of the Serrano nation, a branch of the Shoshone linguistic family that occupied much of the Great Basin of what is now the Western United States.

They had religious leaders directing their social activities, and most villages would have a communal ceremonial house, granaries, a sweat house and residential area, Padon said.

The Elizabeth Lake area was not their home but probably a seasonal campsite for gathering food.

``We didn't come up with a major village site or what we would call a permanent year-round settlement,'' Padon said.

The artifacts were found at seven locations along Elizabeth Lake Road, many of them uncovered before construction began because the area has been surveyed and archeological sites were identified.

In fact, the city redesigned part of the road, moving it 10 or 15 feet to one side, to avoid one site.

``We initially did excavation work and testing by hand,'' Padon said. ``We would work with shovels and a trowel, doing one meter by one meter, and excavate in levels of 6 inches in depth. We would go down and keep track of where one artifact was related to another.''

Padon estimates that three-quarters of the artifacts were found by hand excavation, and one quarter during the actual road construction. Items were found as deep as 11 feet.

Construction work was halted about a half-dozen times, in some cases for several weeks, to allow Padon to cordon off the area, do excavation by hand, find the boundaries of the site and collect the materials.

``The cooperation we found with the construction folks and crews and the city was really very good. We were able to work with them and their scheduling,'' Padon said. ``Construction folks had good eyes. They would jump off and help us look. By the end of the project, they found it interesting and meaningful.''

She added that the city will not divulge locations of specific archeological sites to prevent possible plunder by amateur diggers and collectors.

``We can't disclose locations because people will go digging,'' Lile said. ``Archeological sites are not public record. People come in and ask for information, and we say, sorry.''

Such information is available to professional archeologists through the University of California, Los Angeles, which serves as a repository for archeological studies, Lile said.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO (Color) Laurie Lile, a Palmdale city planner, shows some 500- to 1,000-year-old Serrano Indian artifacts found along Elizabeth Lake Road.

John Lazar/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 22, 1998
Words:900
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