Turning our backs on History

Hey there every peoples!

Archaeology has long been a side interest of mine. In many ways it’s like paleontology: they  both dig in the dirt for clues that help us learn about the ancient past. And their ideas are constantly changing as new evidence comes to light. And most importantly, both disciplines help us piece together the story of our world and how it came to be the world we know today. Heck, people are even getting them confused (they always ask me “you want to be an archaeologist, right?”). But they also have a less desirable trait in common: they both suffer at the hands of economic interests, be it for sale in the legit/black market or getting in the way of developers.

Ever hear of Blair Mountain? It’s a small peak nestled in Appalachia, in the heart of West Virginia’s coal country. And therein lies it’s violently disputed value. Back in 1921 about 15,000 miners marched on a company jail in Mingo County to free workers imprisoned by state authorities. Except, Blair Mountain stood in their way. Now, a 1,954 foot peak may not seem like much of an obstacle, but Blair Mountain hosted fortifications stuffed with coal industry forces, private detectives, and state police officers. So the miners armed themselves with sub machine guns, rifles, revolvers, and other weapons. They also wore red bandanas on their necks to identify themselves. See, back in those days being called a redneck was actually a complement. It meant that you worked hard earning an honest living, with a sun burnt neck to show for it.

The miners, tired of how the mining companies were treating them (with low wages and dangerous working conditions) stormed the mountain. The battle lasted five days and resulted in the death of dozens of people. Blaire Mountain represented a flash point in the labor movement. It also represents the second largest domestic conflict in American history (the first of course being the civil war). Twelve years after the conflict, Congress passed an act that let workers form unions. Basically all the stuff unions have today are the product of the brave workers who fought for what they thought was right on the slopes of Blair Mountain.

Blair Mountain is seeing conflict once again. Blair Mountain is seeing conflict once again. The Coal Companies have their eyes on Blair Mountain again but not to stop workers from unionizing. Instead, the companies have a mind to strip-mine Blair Mountain for its coal deposits, using the highly destructive method of mountaintop removal (what some refer to as strip mining on steroids). And the resistance this time is from conservationists trying to preserve this important piece of American history. Some claim that the harvesting of the mountain will bring jobs to the region. However, a National Geographic article on Appalachian mining notes “In 1948 some 125,000 men worked in the mines of West Virginia. By 2005 there were fewer than 19,000, and most of these were employed in underground mines.” This is in large part to the development of new machinery that has made the practice of mountaintop removal more efficient and cost effective. Obviously, it wouldn’t bring as many jobs as one might  think. Currently preservationists are trying to get the mountain listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Considering the companies have permits to blast the peak, as well as a supposed list of people allegedly objecting to its listing in the National Registry, the saviors of Blair Mountain are in for a long fight.

As usual, this is simply asinine and unbelievable. Blair Mountain is a big paragraph in the story of our nation. What kind of rational person would want to destroy it? For coal; a finite resource that at best belches greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? Makes you want to head-desk, doesn’t it? Blair Mountain has got me thinking that maybe I ought to include Archaeology in my museum should it ever be built. As already noted archaeology has a lot in common with paleontology. And they both help tell the same story. Paleontology helps tell the story of how life came to be and how far we have come as a species. Archaeology helps put into perspective just how far we have come as a people, how we went from stone to metal, bows and swords to firearms, counting knots on ropes to calculators and so forth. Fossils and artifacts both connect us with our past and heritage. Both deserve to be saved. As for Blair Mountain, you can show your support by wearing a red bandana like the workers did almost 9 decades ago. I am. I encourage you to do the same. What separates us from the mining companies is that we refuse to turn our backs on history.

Till next time!

I'm wearing a bandana. Will you?

Cajon Pass

Hey there every peoples!

Alright, I have a break, so I am going to write a post I have been meaning to write for a very long time but just never got around to it. I have tried to remember as much as I could.

Way back in the early days of april me and my dad attended a second field trip with the San Bernardino County Museum. This trip took us to Cajon Pass, which sits east of Redlands in the “Inland Empire”.  Cajon Pass is a geological and paleontological laboratory, hosting a rich array of fossils and geological features. We spent all day driving around the pass visiting fossils sites and taking in some spectacular views.

The most prominent feature of the pass is the San Andreas Fault. San Andreas is the biggest fault in California and is responsible for many of our worst earthquakes. The falult runs directly across the pass, with the Pacific Plate to the west and the North American Plate to the east.

A view of the San Andreas Fault running across Cajon Pass

The presence of Pelona schist and a sag lake testify to the fault’s presence. Just so you know, a sag lake is a lake that is formed right on a fault when ground water seeps up through cracks created by movement of the fault. In the case of Cajon Pass, this type of lake is represented by Lost Lake. I guess it isn’t really lost if the curators can take people to it.

Another neat geological feature is the Mormon Rocks (or as the curators called them: “Rocks of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints”). This is where we had lunch and a few people had a good time climbing around and exploring the rocks. Me, on the hand, stayed behind with Eric and aggravated Kathleen with our chatter about Diablo II. The Mormon Rocks were once though to be part of the Punchbowl Formation but were later found to be older than said formation. The formation was named after Devil’s Punchbowl, a geologic feature further to the east (we didn’t get to see it).

Mormon Rocks

Cajon Pass has also yielded many fossils. There are many fossil bearing layers through out the pass and because of the constant motion of the earth there, they all jumble together. Take this site for example:

A great jumble of prehistoric rocks

I cn’t remember the name of the formation on the right, but I remember it’s middle miocene in age, abround 16 to 12 million years old. And interesting thing to note is that the formation is a terrestrial deposit but at one point yielded a whale vertebra. How is that possible? Remember, this area has undergone massive remodeling thanks to tectonic boundries. What the curators think happened is that the whale was buried in an older layer at a time when the pass was underwater. The whale died and it’s vertabra was buried. Later, during the middle Miocene, the bone eroded out of it’s origonal geologic unit and was redeposited when the middle Miocene unit was being formed. So instead of a whale finding it’s way inland (like that one whale, Humphry), the vertebra was instead reworked from an older layer. Isn’t geology fascinating!

Now look at the slanted layers to the left. They are cretaceous and paleocene rocks. I don’t remember much but I remember Eric talking about a plesiosaur vertebra being found in those layers, possibly in the paleocene layers. I just can’t remember. Sorry.

Anyway, they even took us to a fossil site with fossils still in the ground! They said that those fossils have been there for 22 years. That’s because they have been left there so that they can take people to the site to see fossils in their original state. The matirx consists of sand mixed with pebbles, which seems like an unlikely place to find fossils. Indeed, the fossils were fragmentary, consisting moslty of teeth:

A fossil horse tooth in situ

Fragment of rhino tooth, possibly Aphelops

And of course, we can’t forget the curators, who braved hell and high water (and me) to take us on another fantastic trip! Can we hear a big round of applause for:

Chris Sagebiel, purveyor of geological wisdom

Eric Scot, Master of Fossil Horses and Pringle Enthusiast

Kathleen Springer, Senior Curator of Geology, Queen of Rocks, Bane of All that is Doug...

Nah, I’m just kidding. She a wonderful person to be around. But all in all, these people really make the trip. Instead of just some tour guide, we get the people who actually work out here. Thanks again for the wonderful trip guys.

Till next time!

Fossils from the Punchbowl Formation, including a horse jaw and a camel skull