Chapter 4: The First Humans

Tens of thousands of years ago, eagle-eyed scouts with genes that could be traced to the steppes of Asia, prowled this continent, searching for new, unexplored places to settle down and raise a family. Who knows exactly when it happened, but at least 10,000 years ago, a scout must have mounted a high peak or tall hill, such as Shadow Mountain, in the Nopah Range, Pyramid Peak, over in the Funeral Mountains, or perhaps Razorback Ridge, near Beatty.

As he or she scoured the landscape of the Amargosa Valley, surely their eye must have landed on all the green against the foothills of the Spring Mountains. And they brought back exciting news to their tribe. And Ash Meadows would never be the same.

Archaeologists have uncovered ancient campsites at Ash Meadows, dating back at least 10,000 years. And they’ve discovered pottery and other signs of permanent human habitation that go back at least 1,000 years, probably longer.

Early humans raised their families here, sang songs to the gods, feasted and starved, no doubt fought a few wars and battles over the lush and valuable springs, and made a home out of Ash Meadows. And it became a gathering place for tribes all over the region, who traveled hundreds of miles to this sacred site for reunions and powwows of all occasions.

King’s Pool, at Point of Rocks in Ash Meadows, was a gathering place for the Paiute and Shoshone people, who believed this pool possessed a special power.

No doubt there was a sorting out, with weaker tribes and clans being driven away. By the time the white man arrived, the tribes that remained in this prized valley were the Pharump Southern Paiute and the Timbisha Western Shoshone.

They had established a great agricultural civilization in the Amargosa Valley, with Ash Meadows leading the way in productivity. The tribal families at Ash Meadows used selective plant breeding to develop a superior mesquite tree, that enhanced both the size and taste of its nutritious pods.

They also diverted water into small fields, to cultivate corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers. They ascended the surrounding highlands, and hunted mountain sheep for some of their meat. And when the season was right they would gather pinyon pine nuts in the same mountains.

No doubt, the human impact from these tribes disturbed the ecological system to some extent, for the plants and animals that had thrived in this region for thousands of years prior. But still, it was very minimal compared with the harm European civilization would eventually exact upon Ash Meadows.

In the hands of these native tribes, Ash Meadows remained the largest wetland in Southern Nevada. Its waters and meadows and tortuous Carson Slough, teemed with wildlife. It continued to be a haven for ducks, wading birds, birds of prey, and migratory birds. And within its streams, springs, and pools, large populations of pupfish and speckled dace, and snails, and insects, played out their lives, as the cycle of life continued uninterrupted.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 5: Sister Valley of Death . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

68 replies »

  1. We don’t usually think of America in terms of ancient human history in the way we think of Europe and Mesopotamia. I guess because the Neolithic tribes and proto-civilizations that were here before the European conquest didn’t like very many ancient ruins.

    It’s interesting to think of alternate histories in which a more advanced civilization would have developed in the Americas. But, whereas the ancient Eurasians domesticated the wild horse for work, the ancient Americans killed them for food and probably drove them extinct and never developed animal domestication beyond wolves. That is probably one of the biggest differences.

    I wonder what archeologist will say about us in 5000 – 10000 years time.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I think you’re right about disease. Ever read, “Guns, Germs and Steel“?

    I guess half of Nevada was covered by “Lake Lahontan” when the first people arrived out here. It’s easy to see its ancient shorelines hundreds of feet up mountainsides. Was the Amargosa Valley ever flooded like that?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Never read it.

      I think there is archeological evidence of humans having lived along the shores of Lake Lahontan. That would be an interesting history to explore.

      The southern end of Amargosa Valley was once filled by Lake Tecopa. It disappeared about 150,000 years ago. Death Valley, to the west of the Amargosa Valley, was once filled by Lake Manly, but that lake disappeared about 12,000 years ago.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sounds like humans might have seen Lake Manly. A geologist friend working for a local geothermal company once took me out to a place where you could follow ancient shoreline along what would have been a peninsula. He explained that the people who lived around the lake would hunt by driving animals onto the peninsulas. Literally thousands of years worth of abandoned stone tools.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I’ll bet humans did see Lake Manly. That must have been an interesting experience. I’ve found small clamshells in the middle of deserts. It appears the geology of the West was very different 10 to 20 thousand years ago.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. it’s hard enough for me to realize that there were people living in what is now the U.S. 500 yeas ago, let alone 1,000 or 10,000 years ago. there is so little I know about the ancient history of my own country. thanks for filling in some of my gaps.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s true, though they were somewhat destructive themselves. For instance, it’s believed that early Native Americans hunted the horse to extinction. And possibly the wooly mammoth.


      • I don’t believe that at all. That smacks of speculation. Native Americans knew how to live in harmony with the buffalo. They would waste no part of the animal and had ceremonies to honor their sacrifices. Hunting horses to extinction? I seriously doubt that.

        The extinction of the Woolly Mammoths was a completely different issue. They, and other species, were wiped out all at once due to a catastrophic event. Whomever stated that Native Americans hunted Woollys to extinction is full of shit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Heck, I don’t know. Native Americans were much easier on the environment than the European invaders, I’ll say that much. But I believe that where there are people, there always seems to be environmental destruction, no matter how careful they try to be. And the more people, the more destruction.


          • There are a lot of factors, that I can’t get into right now, regarding those that harm the environment (there are extenuating circumstances & issues that are too complex for a comment section on a blog). Modern life has bred the closeness of nature out of most. I’m guilty of that, myself. I was far closer to Earth as a child than I am, now…thanks to a mindless society (that continues to become more & more mindless by the day) and a politicized education system.

            Also…keep in mind that, when you read about “science”, it is highly political, too…which is why we are in the mess we are in, now.

            Liked by 1 person

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