Excavation to Chronicle Yuki History
By UCILIA WANG, Press Democrat Staff Writer
Summer camp dig an effort to preserve a prehistoric site
Hutt, a Yuki Indian, is taking part in a weeklong archaeological excavation of an ancient Yuki summer camp in the Mendocino National Forest, an effort by the forest service to preserve the prehistoric site.
It's also about leaving a legacy.
"I don't want us to get lost in history," Hutt said.
The excavation is part of Passport in Time, a national program in which the U.S. Forest Service gets the public involved in its historic preservation efforts.
This year, the Mendocino National Forest enlisted dozens of volunteers to help excavate the Yuki summer camp on the Etsel Ridge near Covelo. The field work ends Friday.
The excavation is part of an effort to document and learn about the ancient Yukis' way of life. Because people have been illegally digging for Yuki artifacts, the forest service wants to preserve any remaining cultural materials, said forest archaeologist Christine Hill.
"Little work has been done on the North Coast Range," Hill said. "Hopefully we will have a report done describing our findings and telling us how they were surviving, their tool technology, trade network and cultural practices."
The camp is probably between 3,000 and 4,000 years old.
The Yukis were the first settlers in the Covelo area. The name Yuki was given by another Indian tribe and means "enemy" or "stranger" because the Yukis were fierce and feared, Hutt said.
The modern-day Yukis are part of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, which has a population of about 3,000. The group includes members of five other tribes because of a forced relocation of American Indians from other areas in the 1860s.
Hill said the discovery of the various summer camps in recent years contradicts previous beliefs that the Yukis didn't need to leave the floor of Round Valley for food.
Archaeological evidence shows that in summers the Yukis preferred the cool weather in the mountains above the valley, where they hunted deer and gathered food such as berries.
"These sites are chosen so that they can keep an eye on their homeland" in Round Valley, Hill said.
At the elevation of 4,500 feet, the camp offers a breathtaking view. Mountains spread across the landscape on all sides like ripples in the clouds.
The prehistoric site sits on a fairly flat area surrounded by cedars, pines, oaks and various types of berries.
The dig began Monday with a purification ceremony conducted by Hutt, the Round Valley Indian Tribes' representative to the project. Sage and sweet grass were burned and prayers offered to seek protection of the site and the people working there.
Four forest archaeologists and several dozen volunteers formed into eight small groups, each working on a one-square-meter pit area. Little pink flags marked the spots where artifacts were found on the ground or were expected to be unearthed.
Bob Traller left his engineering job in the Bay Area for three days to get down on his knees and scoop up soil with a trowel.
His clothes and boots browned by dirt, the 52-year-old Traller said he volunteered so he could enjoy being outdoors and learn something new.
"It was pretty exciting to actually find things lying on the ground," he said.
Most of what people will find are lithic materials, milling stones and pieces of chert and obsidian that were flaked off during tool-making. Because the camp is at a high elevation and exposed to the elements, it doesn't preserve organic materials well, Hill said.
But Hill noted that evidence of food and other perishable items could be found in one corner of the camp because the soil has been darkened by the deposits of organic materials.
Soil from the excavated pits is sifted through screens. Volunteers fingered through rocky fragments looking intently for stone tools or other unusual materials.
"We found two projectile points!" piped William Wells, a 9-year-old from Lake County, holding up pieces of green chert and obsidian.
The materials discovered at the camp will be cataloged and analyzed at Chico State University, which has been involved in excavating Yuki sites in the forest for three years.
Eventually, the artifacts will be given to the Round Valley Indian Tribes when a museum is built. Hutt said the first fund-raiser for the museum will take place next month.
"We are doing this for cultural revitalization and to learn, to collect materials that otherwise might be stolen," Hutt said. "It's very exciting to me."
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