How It Began

Archaeological attention was first attracted to the Manix Basin by the discovery of primitive artifacts in the region by Ritner J. Sayles, San Bernardino County Museum Fellow in Archaeology. Early in the 1940s he took Dr. Gerard E. Smith and Ruth DeEtte Simpson into the area and convinced them that the most interesting stone tools seen there were distinctive and that a surface survey should be undertaken.


The Lake Manix Survey began in 1954 under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey Association of Southern California. Numerous Indian and PaleoIndian sites with arrow and atlatl points (Pinto Basin, Silver Lake, Lake Mojave typologies) were recorded below the higher shorelines of Pleistocene Lake Manix, along with trails, rock rings, cleared triangles and rectangles, and intaglios. Most notably, however, sites with more unusual lithic artifacts were present above an elevation of 1800 ft (549 m) on the dissected mass of alluvium (now known as the Yermo Fan) east of the Calico Mountains. This was the area to which Mr. Sayles had taken Smith and Simpson. The older tool assemblage here included ovate bifaces, chopping tools, large scrapers, workshop debitage, etc. The tools were mostly large, crude in form and workmanship, darkened by a patina of desert varnish, and included no projectile points of any kind. This primitive artifact assemblage was designated the Lake Manix Lithic Industry.

In 1958 Ms. Simpson took Lake Manix Lithic Industry specimens to Europe, where they were seen by famed prehistorian Louis Leakey. In 1963 Dr. Leakey came to the area to examine the surface sites and also some specimens that came from a buried stratum. Leakey did not like the deposit because it was secondary in nature–redeposited by erosion of an older deposit. He searched the ancient alluvial fan, its drainage patterns and soils, until he found what he regarded as the primary deposit from which the artifact-bearing material had been eroded and redeposited. Fortunately, a bulldozed jeep trail had created a cut bank in this deposit, and here Leakey saw fragments of chalcedony and jasper from which good artifacts could be fashioned. The primary deposit was thick enough to have geological significance, and Leakey decided it would be the material to explore for evidence of human modification of siliceous raw material in the remote past.

Subsequent work was sponsored by the San Bernardino County Museum under permit from the Federal Government, with initial funding by the National Geographic Society. Dr. Leakey directed the project, Dr. Thomas Clements, retired chair of the Geology Department, University of Southern California, was the geologist, and Ms. Simpson served as field director. Leakey visited two or three times a year and remained a few days on each occasion, examining the recovered material and planning excavation strategies.

In October 1970, a four-day International Conference on the Calico Mountains Excavations was held at San Bernardino, sponsored by the San Bernardino County Museum, The University of Pennsylvania Museum, and the Leakey Foundation. In attendance were nearly 100 distinguished scientists and prehistorians from throughout the world–a tribute to Louis Leakey’s eminence in the field. They were invited to visit the site, to see the evidence, to hear presentations, and to engage in discussions. In written critiques all had high praise for the field methods, but there was a lack of consensus on the validity of the Calico artifacts. Humans in the New World at so early a date would overturn the accepted view of world history. When Dr. Leakey died two years later, funding began to wither, so that subsequent work has been carried on, and continues today, by enthusiastic and indefatigable volunteers, employing the scrupulous methodology described in the following section.

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