Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lake Manix Acheulean tools

Last Summer my wife and I drove along Interstate 40 between Barstow and Needles, California, we were surprised at how desertic the whole area was. It reminded us of some very arid places in Western Argentina and Northern Patagonia, with shrubs, sand and even extinct volcanoes and black volcanic slag. Then, while crossing a hilly sector close to Needles, the dark stormy clouds overhaed burst in a heavy downpour that slowed the traffic along the highway and flooded some side roads. It was indeed a contrasting event: dry desert and summer thunderstorm.

Only later would I recall that famously controversial Calico site was just a few kilometers northeast of Barstow, along Interstate 15 towards Las Vegas. I also remembered that when I had read and written about Calico, I had asked mysef what were paleoamericans doing in such a dry and desertic place. Now I know: the area was full of lakes until 20,000 to 8,000 years ago, then it dried up and became the desert we see today.

Yesterday I came across a blog post, by Thomas Venner [1], where he summarizes a paper he co-authored with James G., Duvall in 1979 [2], (A Statistical Analysis of the Lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California), which, as its name indicates, deals with that site. However today's post is not about Calico, it is about another site mentioned in Venner's blog and paper: the Lake Manix Basin in California.

Where now there is sand, once there were lakes

The currently arid region that spans Nevada, parts of northwestren Utah and the Mojave in California, was not always parched. During the Pleistocene glaciar periods, ice melt and rainfall created many large lakes in this region (Paleolakes). All of the modern lakes (Great Salt Lake, Carson Lake, Lake Tahoe, etc.) in these states are actually the shrunk remnants of those grand archaic lakes. As the following map, by the U.S. Geological Survey [3] shows, there were large surfaces of freshwater in the Southwest of the US in those days:

Paleolakes Nevada Utah and California
Pleistocene Lakes California, Nevada, Utah, From [3]

At the end of the Pleistocene, deglaciation accompanied by climate change and global warming led to increased evaporation which in turn caused the gradual desiccation of those bodies of water. Their level dropped and they broke up into smaller lakes. Most of them dried up quickly while others shrunk to their current size some 8 kya. Their ancient coasts are marked along the valleys that were once filled with freshwater.

Lake Manix

The Manix basin is part of the Lower Mojave Valley which is set right in the center of the Mojave Desert to the north of Interstate 40. The Mojave river flows sporadically through the area, from the San Bernardino Mountains in the west, draining the region towards the east.

Sediments laid down during the Holocene and even earlier, during the Pleistocene have buried the possible remnants of ancient lithic assemblies made by pre-Colvis people. The rainfall events like the one I experienced moves silt and erodes the slopes, covering superficial objects.

However, at the Manix basin some environmental factors have worked to keep sedimentary layers spanning 350,000 years of geological history, accesible to archaeological studies.

The lake itself formed about 400 - 500 kya, and disappeared during the late Pleistocene. Its level rose and fell with the dry and wet periods. The last period of maximum lake surface ended 18,100 years ago when it drained suddenly breaching its terminal dam perhaps due to an earthquake or excessive water inflow. At that time it covered a surface of 236 km2 or 91.1 sq. mi.

It has a "T" shape, with Coyote arm on the northwestern part of the "T", Troy Arm on the southeastern part, and Afton Arm as the main body with a norteastern orientation. Calico Site is just to the west of th base of Coyote arm. Interstate 15 runs along the middle of the paleolake's bed.

Fossils of Pleistocene animals are found in the sediments around the ancient lake: mammoth, horse, bear, coyote, saber-tooth cat and many birds spanning a period from 20 to 350 kya.

It is logical to assume that water and such a collection of potential preys would have attracted human hunters to the region, and stone tools have been found in the area.

Stone tools from Manix

The image below [4] shows some tools found along the ancient shores of Lake Manix:

Lithic assembly from Lake Manix. From [4]

The tools look rather coarse, roughly hewn, primitive and have caused debate. As Venner writes: [1]

"Thousands of rocks that bear a strong resemblance to prehistoric tools have been found at the site, both on the surface, and up to 8 m (26 ft) below the surface. Scientifically dated to over 200,000 BP, the excavated subsurface objects are many times older than the traditional date of the first human entry into the Americas, approximately 11,000 BP.
The Debate – The debate centers on whether the “tools” were made by humans (i.e., artifacts), or through typical geological processes (i.e. geofacts). The general scientific consensus is that the subsurface items are geofacts.
" [1]


The original study on the Manix Lake Industry was conducted by Ruth Simpson in 1942. She surveyed the area leater between 1954 and 1964 and wrote papers in which she provided evidence for an ancient date for the stone tools found in the Manix area:

"She noted that the sites of the Manix Lake Industry occur on or above the highest beach lines of Lake Manix, whereas "Playa" and later industries were found along lower beach lines. Since Manix Lake Industry sites were on higher beaches relative to the other assemblages, Simpson reasoned that the Manix Lake Industry was the oldest Simpson also asserted that her conclusion was supported by the absence of projectile points in the Manix Lake Industry and by its typological similarity to the Paleolithic of the Old World. Furthermore, radiocarbon dates on tufa from the highest beach line of Manix Lake dated to 19,500+⁄-500 and 19,300+⁄-400 years ago..."[5]

The primitive aspect of some tools led to the argument that they were not paleolithic implements but refuse. Furthermore Simpson was accused of not collecting more "advanced" tools, thus skewing the study by making it appear to contain "older" artifacts.

Cores, axes and bifaces

What I find interesting is that: "... a large number of bifaces [and] cores ... Large bifaces. broken and complete, both roughly flaked and finely flaked. were found in all of these sites..." [5]. Big bifaces and cores spell out, in my opinion (as a layman, not an archaeologist): archaic lithic traditions, not the work of modern men, but ancient technology applied by pre-modern humans.

Could these sites along Lake Manix be the quarries or workplaces of archaic humans? It could be possible...

Yet orthodoxy argues the opposite They look old but are modern: "... the bifaces may have been made from necessity rather than choice. This creates the further possibility that these bifaces may represent the convergence of two or more independent technological trajectories." [5], in other words, not primitive but modern using primitive techniques due to restrictions in the features of the quarry.

N. Nobora Nakamura studied the area in 1966 but remained unpublished until 1991 [6]. He too noticed the coarseness and simplicity of the Manix Lake Industry and gave the following explanation: tools that have the same shape may have three different origins: (a) they are really ancient, primitive tools -i.e. Lower Paleolithic implements. (b) They look primitive because complex tools have moved towards a simplified shape either because the available stone is of poor quality or because the makers are seeking more specialized toolage. (c) They are "Juvenescent artifacts", which are unfinished tools and they are not finished because of faulty materials or because they were used in an unfinished form out of necessity.

N. Nakamura argues that although they look primitive, they may be new, recent tools and not ancient ones. They are the work of modern humans. [5]

As expected, instead of accepting the most parsimonious explanation (if it barks and wags its tail, it is a dog - if it looks old it is old), orthodoxy must defend a recent peopling of America at all costs. The tools are dismissed as being either geofacts or, if man made, they are recent, even though they look very primitive.

It is interesting to point out that in 1958, the Lake Manix tools were shown to European scholars, familiarized with archaic toolage (Neanderthal and older) and, these [7]:

"European scientists agreed that the specimens brought from America were man-made, were different and probably older than any American material they had seen previously. The concensus of opinion was that, until stratigraphic relationships can be established for the desert lithic material, no age determination should be attempted; that it should be considered in its own right as a separate American industry with Lower Paleolithic-like attributes. The speaker therefore now designates the Mojave Desert hand axes and related implements as the Manix lithic assemblage, in recognition of the type site: Pleistocene Lake Manix." [7]

But, after 1958 and the mid 1960's initial studies, the tides turned slowly against these strange findings: Calico flourished under L. S. B. Leaky and soon overshadowed the Lake Manix site; and later, when Calico became a hotly debatable issue, Manix was almost forgotten: Pleistocene peopling of America became tabu and those supporting it faced heavy flak. The whole issue was left alone, no deep studies were conducted, no funding was obtained. Manix was forgotten and until today remains an open question.

I have read some posts in blogs (which I will not cite since they don't mention their sources), that attribute a 200,000 year age to the Lake Manix tools. Venner also mentions this date in his blog post (200,000 BP) but does not give any Manix specific reference (Calico es mentioned, but Manix is not). Perhaps these dates are reasonable, considering the rise and fall of the lake's water level over the past 350 - 400 ky. It is also reasonable that lacustrine sediments would have buried any tools left on its shores by early hominids. So the subsurface stone tools would be old if they are accepted as being man-made and not the outcome of natural processes.

Let's try to figure out who was the maker of the Manix cores and hand axes. The technology is Homo erectus, the dates (200 kya) are quite recent (compared to their Asian remains), but not improbable. Another alternative would be the Neanderthals, they were living in Eurasia at that time but their Mousterian technology is different to H. erectus' Acheulean industry. So, if these tools were made by humans, it was the work of Homo erectus, in America, 200,000 years ago.


[1] Thomas Venner, (2010). A Statistical Analysis of the Lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California”, Journal of Field Archaeology, Winter 1979. Posted July 6, 2010
[2] Duvall, James G., and Venner, William Thomas, (1979). A Statistical Analysis of the Lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California. Journal of Field Archaeology, Winter 1979: Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 455-462.
[3] U.S.G.S., Paleoclimate Variability of the American Southwest
[4] Lake Manix and Calico lithic industries. Topic ID #807 posted 4/13/2007 9:29 AM [5] Claude N. Warren, (1996) The Manix Lake Lithic Industry in Historical Perspective. Proceedings of the Society for California Archaeology. 1996, Vol. 9, pp. 120-126.
[6] N. Nobora Nakamura, Mark Q. Sutton, (1991). The Baker Site: a Non-Projectile Point Assemblage at Pleistocene Lake Mojave. In Papers on the Archaeology of the Mojave Desert:2. Pp. 11-42: Coyote Press. 1991 (tDAR ID: 261259)
[7] Proceedings of the Academy. Bulletin, So. Calif. Academy of Sciences Vol. 58, Part 1, 1959. pp. 54.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 

1 comment:

  1. Talk to Fred Budinger-he gave my wife and I private tour of Master Pits 1 and 2, at the Calico site,in 2011, and shared many insights into Calico and the Manix Lake lithic industry. My wife and I were volunteer diggers at Calico, but had to get out of there because of the near violent atmosphere of suppression-when Fred gave a little talk at Calico on National Archaeology Day in 2011, the Friends of Calico folks were jeering and deriding him, telling him to "take it out back" when referring to the antiquity of the site.
    Thanks, and good luck,
    Arne LoCelso


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