Land of Extremes: IVDM kicks off Archaeology Month with a blast

Imperial Valley College Archaeological Field School students excavating near Dunaway Road in February 1973. Courtesy Photo

Anyone who has visited the Imperial Valley Desert Museum recognizes its role in celebrating, interpreting, and preserving the history of the Valley and its inhabitants. The depth of that commitment, really, has been shown by the consistent effort of the community to advocate for and fund the long-term storage of local archaeological artifacts.

Beyond the dioramas, interactives, videos and glass display cases of the exhibit floor, secreted away in an array of storerooms, we maintain a vast collection of historic and pre-historic materials, each with its own story to tell. Now, as October looms and California’s Archaeology Month is set to begin, the museum readies itself for a new round of investigation and presentation of its stored collections.

What is archaeology month?

Archaeology Month is a national event which, through the efforts of the Society for California Archaeology (SCA), aims to celebrate and educate on the scientific processes of archaeology, and the value of its results. Throughout the month of October, and across the state of California, museums and schools will provide special programming intended to inform and delight on the state’s historic and prehistoric past. The Imperial Valley Desert Museum is no exception.

In its upcoming schedule, the museum has planned a number of archaeology-inspired events, lectures, and new exhibits in October. Across the month, new programs will explore the geoglyph formations on the native landscape, discovering the “human” in the pottery, ancient foodways and — most importantly — the relationship between native peoples and their environment. These programs will culminate on Sunday, Oct. 22, when the museum hosts International Archaeology Day. In a special after-hours event, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the institution will honor the day with a series of unique exhibits and activities.

Celebrating archaeology...with a blast!

Among its collections, the Imperial Valley Desert Museum boasts numerous artifacts and records from the Imperial Valley College Archaeological Collection: worked stone and tools (lithics), pottery, aerial photographs, artwork, tools and apparel from local organic materials, site excavation reports, oral histories, and much more. Now, existing work seeks to analyze these collections.

Currently we are exploring obsidian artifacts in the collection. Imperial Valley is well known for its geothermal activity: there is literally geological potential beneath our feet. The Salton Buttes, on the southern shores of the Salton Sea, was itself registered as an active volcano by the US Geological Service in 2012, and consists of not one or two, but five small, rhyolitic lava dome volcanoes.

Just as they do today, these natural resources — and their resulting by-product materials — played an active role in the culture and tool kits of indigenous peoples in the past. Through the materials in the Imperial Valley College Archaeological Collections, staff is analyzing the historical depth of such artifacts.

Obsidian and wonder stone cores

Large blocks of the raw material have been found at sites across the Imperial Valley. These cores are evidence of chipping and craftsmanship, as the volcanic glass was worked and transformed into sharpened points and tools. As a resource, not only were these materials simply used by the native tribes of the Imperial Valley, but they were actively sought out and transported!

Current work at the museum seeks to categorize both the variety of uses and designs — and sheer number — of worked artifacts and cores, as well as their spatial (geographic) distribution. This study, in association with ongoing studies on historic trade routes and trails, sheds new light as to the movement and activities of the native peoples within the Imperial Valley (and beyond). In other words, the history of the object is not just one of crafting or construction; it is also one of travel, effort, attributed value, trade and skill on the part of every person through whose hands it passed.

Research will be presented in a series of new exhibits — both temporary and permanent! — Stay tuned, and try not to melt away.

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