About Dennis Cassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli is a Nevada author, historian and outdoorsman. He’s written extensively about American Indian culture and Comstock history. His book, Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, contains up-close photographs and detailed pen-and-ink drawings of American Indian stone artifacts. It also contains a fold-out chronology chart showing projectile points across a 12,000-year time scale. The book is a must-have for every enthusiast of Great Basin archaeology. Dennis’s website is DennisCassinelli.com.

Indian arrow straightener found 
at construction site

Many, many years ago, I was looking at home lots being cleared in a new residential area along the Carson River southeast of Carson City. As I walked through the sagebrush across a rather steep slope, I noticed a smooth, fist-sized cobble on the ground that seemed to be out of place for the area when compared to the rough, broken natural stones that littered the hillside. Being somewhat of a rockhound and an amateur archaeologist, I picked up the stone and examined it more closely. I immediately recognized that the rock had been worked by the hands of man, and at first I thought it was a mano.

Arrow Shaft Straightening Stone, on display at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

Arrow Shaft Straightening Stone, on display at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center.

For those of you who may not know, a mano is a flat, smooth stone used by the American Indians with a larger flat or slightly concave stone for the purpose of grinding or hulling nuts, seeds or grain.

Upon closer examination, however, I determined that the stone was not the common mano, which really is quite abundant in the fields and places where prehistoric Indians were known to have lived. This stone differed from a mano in several distinct ways. These differences enabled me to identify the item as an arrow-shaft straightener rather than a common mano.

Carved or worn into the edge of the stone was a distinct groove that was highly polished. The groove was about 1/4” wide and 3” long. The stone was flat, and both sides were blackened from having been heated in a fire. During the process of making arrows, the wooden shaft must be perfectly straight in order for the arrow to fly straight and true for the desired accuracy. This was accomplished by using a heated stone to rub along the arrow shaft to work out the natural irregularities in the wood. The user held the hot stone with a piece of leather and rubbed it back and forth on the convex side until the arrow became straight. The hot stone also helped to smooth and polish the arrow shaft.

I since have seen other specimens of shaft straighteners from different areas around Carson City, Virginia City and Como almost identical to the specimen I found. The straightener obviously had been a tool that was widely used by the local Indians. This is just one example of the rescue of an unusual artifact from a construction site before it was buried by heavy equipment or hauled away during construction. I donated this specimen to the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center in Gardnerville, Nevada, where it remains on display with hundreds of other Indian artifacts in the Cassinelli-Perino Artifact Collection.

I have written a book about this and the other artifacts in the collection. The title is Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians. It is available at the Mark Twain Bookstore and the Gold Hill Hotel bookstore. There is a delightfully humorous story in the last chapter that tells how the local Indians made their arrows, including how the arrow straighteners were used. The book contains hundreds of illustrations and descriptions of arrowheads, tools and other artifacts found in western Nevada. Every spring, I do a lecture about prehistoric Nevada at the Gold Hill Hotel, where I display and discuss this and many other Great Basin Indian artifacts. I hope to see you there.

Legends of Spirit Cave: Part 1

Originally posted on Legends of Spirit Cave:

Grandfather stood like an eagle on the steep bank overlooking the giant, shaggy mammoth. The beast snorted and thrashed its head and tusks about as it struggled for freedom from the thick, gooey muck that held its legs as tree trunks rooted to the bottom of the marsh. In all his sixteen years, the boy known fondly by his family as Turtle-Who-Fights had never seen such a magnificent animal. This was the first mammoth the band of hunters had encountered since the time before Turtle’s birth. His father had been killed by such a mammoth during a hunt far to the north along the shores of this same marsh.Legends of Spirit Cave

The troop of fifteen hunters, together with their women, children, and an odd assortment of dogs and belongings tracked the beast for several days along the shores of the Black Island Marsh (in more arid times, to become known as the…

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An Evening with Dennis Cassinelli at the Gold Hill Hotel (2005)


Dennis discusses American Indian stone tools, and he illustrates his lecture with actual display boards from the Cassinelli-Perino Artifact Collection. He also talks about the discovery of the Spirit Cave Man mummy, as well as how he helped unearth a cache of rare coin dies at the Carson City Museum, formerly the Carson City Mint.

Recorded 4/19/2005.