AdventureExploration & Survival

The Voices of Bones

The skeleton of a child who died 11,000 years ago may hold answers to the mystery of man's earliest adventure in America—but the past has a way of hiding the truth

On the evening of our second-to-last day working at the Anzick site, after the others leave, I climb to the top of the sacred elephant head and breathe in the immense space under the vault of the Montana sky, the landscape wild and free since the Pleistocene. I pray it will stay this way.

The next morning, the final day of the dig, Lahren shows us a single, huge, four-pound obsidian point he has borrowed from Larry Edwards, a local bird hunter who discovered it along a nearby creek three years ago. It's a Clovis biface that shows the same serrated-edge flaking technique used to produce the Anzick burial tools. This is odd because, even though obsidian is a common lithic material here, none of the Anzick artifacts is made of it. The biface looks as if it hasn't lain out in the sun long; there's no patina, the edges are still sharp, no cow has stepped on it. On the other hand, Lahren points out that the faces show wear, as if the piece had been carried around in a pack. Lahren says, "I bet this eroded out of another cache."

The three of us decide to go check out the area. We climb into my truck and head to the hillside where our friend found the biface, bouncing along a dusty track following a small creek. We park in the draw where the hunter's dog first jumped a small covey of Hungarian partridge.

A few cottonwoods grow along the little gully where deer and range cattle have cut trails down to the water. I look for a place to cross the thick willow-bottomed creek. I hear a gurgle of water and know there's a beaver dam nearby. In the pool above the tiny dam, small trout dart and rise to insects. The three of us assemble on the rocky hillside on the far bank, where the giant biface was found, no doubt washed out of a fissure or overhang from the sandstone cliff just above. You could probably find where it came from if you wanted.

From the top of the hill we can see the distant elephant head of the bluff above the Anzick site. As we walk, conversation turns to how to protect the site and return the layers of rock that belong to the Clovis back to them. Maybe we could restore the land to its original contours, I suggest. We could consult with the Lakota, Crow, and Blackfeet tribes and consecrate it with an appropriate solemn ceremony.

"When all this science is over," I say quietly to my two friends, "we should rebury the child."  

Outside correspondent Doug Peacock wrote about his friendship with Edward Abbey in the August 1997 issue.

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From Outside Magazine, Feb 2000
Filed To: ScienceMontana
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