The docents of the Nevada Historical Society at 1650 North Virginia Street in Reno have invited me to present a talk about one of Nevada’s most significant archaeological discoveries, Lovelock Cave. For two years I have been volunteering as a tour guide at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City where I take tour groups through the “Under One Sky” exhibit that shows how the ancient Indian tribes lived here in the Great Basin for the past 12,000 years. Most of what we know about the prehistoric Indians is from things recovered from places such as Lovelock Cave and Hidden Cave.
Several times during my career with the Nevada Department of Transportation, I was stationed in the town of Lovelock, Nevada. Having not much else to do in my spare time, I explored much of the surrounding desert lands including Lovelock Cave, about 22 miles south of town. In 1911, a mining operation removed several hundred tons of bat guano from the cave to be sold in California as fertilizer.
Within a year, they had to stop the mining operation due to the discovery of hundreds of Indian artifacts, including baskets, tule matting, clothing items and human mummies. Archaeologist Llewellyn Loud from the University of California was sent out to conduct excavations and recover the artifacts before they were all destroyed or taken by looters. He collected 10,000 specimens from the cave that were divided between the University of California and the Nevada Historical Society.
It is known that many priceless artifacts and even some human mummies were taken from the cave by weekend curio hunters during the next several years. In an effort to stop the ransacking of the cave, Archaeologist Mark Harrington arrived at the cave in 1924 along with Mr. Loud and a crew of local Indian assistants and conducted a comprehensive excavation of the cave to recover the remaining artifacts and thoroughly document the material they collected.
Loud and Harrington wrote a book titled “Lovelock Cave” that was published in 1929. I have a reprint copy of the book which contains many photographs and drawings of the artifacts and human remains they had recovered. One of the most amazing artifacts they found was a basket of eleven duck decoys buried in one of the many storage pits inside the dry cave where they were perfectly preserved. Unfortunately for us, many of the artifacts have been taken to museums outside the area. No one knows for sure how much stuff was looted from the cave before archaeologists completed their excavations.
Early reports concerning the items found in the cave included stories of giant skeletons and mummies with red hair. Authors such as Sarah Winnemucca added to the myths by repeating some of the mythical stories. It does not seem possible that these giant skeletons and mummies with red hair were anything more than tall tales in view of the fact that not a single specimen of anything like this still survives today.
I have written about Lovelock Cave in several of my books but I clearly show that the stories of redheaded Indians and giant skeletons are fictional stories unless someone can come forth with some actual specimens. In reading the archaeological information compiled by Loud and Harrington, I have never seen any reference to such items. Had they made such a discovery, it would have been written about just as the discovery of the amazing duck decoys were.
Should any of my readers like to attend the presentation I will be making at the Nevada Historical Society, it will be on June 4th between 10:00 and 11:00 am. I will be signing books and showing pictures of the cave and the things found there. I believe the docents will have some of the actual artifacts out where we can see them.
WHAT: Learn the Secrets of Lovelock Cave
WHERE: Nevada Historical Society, 1650 North Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada
WHEN: 10-11 a.m. Wednesday, June 4