Pubdate: Thu, 10 Oct 2013
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2013 Times-Standard
Author: Thadeus Greenson


The recent discovery of a marijuana growing operation that disturbed
an archaeological site has some wondering if this might be more common
than anyone wants to think.

"I figured we'd find something like this, eventually," said Scott
Bauer, the California Fish and Wildlife coho recovery coordinator who
discovered the artifacts at a grow scene near Bridgeville.

To hear Bauer tell it, the find makes perfect sense: Growers want
locations with southern exposure, warm weather, and nearby water
sources. American Indians looked for the same things when locating
villages and camps, he said.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office has identified 4,100 marijuana
cultivation sites throughout the county this year alone, and those
sites are sprinkled over an area with a very rich and populous
American Indian history. In that context, Bauer said, last week's
discovery isn't so surprising.

Bauer was with a multi-agency group led by deputies that was serving a
search warrant on a marijuana growing operation near Bridgeville. Much
of what they found seemed fairly typical: more than 450 plants up to 6
feet tall, 62 pounds of processed marijuana, a host of water tanks and
irrigation equipment, and evidence of an illegal stream diversion and
illegal grading.

Brought in to look at the diversion and grading issues, Bauer said he
noticed that it looked like the growers had very recently excavated a
spring at the head of a creek on the property, apparently searching
for more water after the creek ran dry.

While looking at the excavation, Bauer said he started seeing chert
flakes -- or chips of sedimentary rock -- indicating the recent
churning of long undisturbed earth. In a large pile of excavated dirt,
he saw a broken pestle -- a small, club-shaped instrument used for
crushing and grinding things. Inspired to look more closely, Bauer
found a broken spearhead.

Bauer said an archeologist employed by CalFire later examined his
finds and dated the spearhead at more than 1,000 years old and the
pestle at about 400 years old, indicating the site may have been
continuously inhabited for generations.

"When you find a pestle and hunting stuff, you tend to have a village
site," Bauer said, adding that he found other artifacts in the area as
well. "I think I only spent about an hour looking, and I found plenty
of ancient stuff."

Unfortunately, in the eyes of an archeologist, the site has already
lost much of its educational value.

According to an article on the Archaeological Institute of America's
webpage, the context in which an item is found is as educational -- if
not more -- than the item itself. Archeologists are trained to examine
the soil around artifacts, as well as the way the soil and the
artifacts are layered, all of which hold clues to the specific
environments in which the items were used as well as the long-term
environmental and cultural changes that occurred at the site.

When a site is unearthed in a haphazard way, all of that information
is lost.

"Excavation requires extremely careful work," the article states.
"Like detectives at a crime scene, archaeologists evaluate and record
an archeological site with great precision in order to preserve the
context of artifacts and features. ... Excavators record the vertical
as well as horizontal relationships of every object."

Such an effort is obviously now impossible at the Bridgeville site:
the dirt has already been turned over and disturbed.

"The activity of the marijuana cultivation out there damaged what had
been a pretty large archeological site," Bauer said. "Now, it's just
kind of a big jumbled mess."

Many worry this scenario might be playing out all over the

Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Lt. Steve Knight said it's an issue
most deputies probably weren't even aware of.

"They don't teach you to look for archeological items in the academy,"
he said.

Knight said deputies -- as they have with environmental issues
associated with marijuana grow operations -- will lean on other
agencies to help educate them on what to look for.

"We will continue working with our partner agencies if our officers
come across something that appears to be culturally significant," he
said. "We will work to help our officers figure out, 'when is this a
big deal and when do we need to bring folks in here for guidance.' Our
officers are constantly getting educated by other agencies and
officials on what to look for -- just like with the environmental damage."

In many ways, Bauer and Knight said they are still learning how this
process needs to work. Officials were contacting local tribes and
archeologists to figure what the next steps should be, as well as what
laws are applicable to the situation.

Bauer said it's clear that this adds a whole new layer of complexity
to the issue of large-scale marijuana cultivation on the North Coast.

"It's a whole other piece of this issue -- a piece that's damage with
little regard to history," Bauer said.
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