Historic site offers insight into lives of Washoe Tribe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Historic site offers insight into lives of Washoe Tribe

Jarid Shipley

Brad Horn / Tribune News Service / Tim Carr, an archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group, digs at the historical site named Wa She Shu Abode by the Washoe Tribe. The site, formerly part of the Lompa Ranch, will be destroyed when Phase 2 of the Carson freeway is built.

CARSON CITY – With a backdrop of the Nevada National Guard Building and a prison, John Hohmann and a team of 25 archaeologists from the Louis Berger Group are hoping to learn from the dirt.

In trenches and holes scattered for a quarter mile, they are searching for information about the Washoe Tribe.

“This is a rare opportunity to find and get to excavate a historical site like this and this size in the Great Basin,” said Hohmann, chief archaeologist on the site.

The site contains multiple family dwellings and storage structures that date from 400 AD to 1500 AD, helping researchers answer questions about how the tribe lived and provide a greater understanding of their everyday life.

“We are finding different types of houses and it helps us determine if the houses evolved over time or if they were using different types of housing during the same time,” said Hohmann.

The site has been under excavation since mid-August and the team hopes to complete the field work by the time snow falls. During the dig, they have unearthed several housing clusters and cataloged everything they find based on 3-foot-by-3-foot-by-2-inch sections. Then the lab work will begin, testing soil samples and doing closer examinations of all collected artifacts.

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“With each stroke of your trowel you are forming a new hypothesis,” said Peg Davis, principal investigator for the site.

Among the samples collected are charcoal scrapings collected from a fire pit used for cooking, that through analysis will tell the researchers what foods the inhabitants were eating.

Researchers are excavating only a small portion of the site, located on land formerly part of the Lompa Ranch, because it is scheduled to be buried when phase 2 of the Carson Freeway is constructed beginning in June 2006. That phase of the freeway is a two-mile stretch that will run from Highway 50 East to Fairview Drive and will require approximately 200 feet of right-of-way running through the site.

“Normally we try to avoid large archaeological sites but sometimes, particularly around urban areas, we end up having to hit a large site like this. When that happens we try to mitigate the effects of that and take care of everything that we can,” said Hal Turner, chief archaeologist for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

The site was discovered by NDOT in the 1980s as it was doing preliminary surveys for the freeway. When the freeway’s final path was set, work on the site was included in the environmental impacts of construction, according to Turner.

“We have known this has been here for 25 years, but it was on private property and so we couldn’t begin working on it until we purchased the land for the right-of-way,” said Turner.

Because of the freeway’s impact on the site, NDOT hired the Louis Berger Group to excavate a portion before the freeway’s construction.

Several of the most beneficial portions of the site are still covered and are scheduled to be excavated next week, including a dwelling from the late 1400s that has intact remnants of the beams used for a building.

“There are burned beams from a structure from around 1400. Those are very delicate and will have to be removed very carefully,” said Davis.

Turner said excavation of the site has received support and interest from the Washoe Tribe, which has named it the Wa She Shu Abode site.

“For us, we still consider these to be our ancestors. This could have been me if not for the last 150 years of development in the area,” said William Dancingfeather, cultural resource coordinator for the Washoe Tribe.

Now that the majority of the excavation is complete and the site can be protected from damage, it will be opened to allow area residents to view the site before it is destroyed.