An obsidian spearhead. An antique hunting knife. A mine claim in a tobacco tin. An ore cart. A mining pick. A wagon wheel.
These are just a few of the Mineral King artifacts hikers discovered in the last few years. Tragically, many of these artifacts are now missing.
Mineral King has a wealth of cultural, as well as natural, resources. Due to Mineral King’s location and unique natural characteristics, it has played an important role in American Indian culture, the silver rush, management of private development on public land, protection of the sequoias, and establishment of a ground breaking Supreme Court decision that still has a profound influence on environmental protection efforts. Mineral King’s artifacts shed invaluable light on these important topics, and enable us to better interpret events that have significance today. Properly handled, these artifacts can help us better understand cultural themes such as community, economic development, and land use.
Unfortunately, many of Mineral King’s artifacts are at risk. Wind, rain, snowmelt, avalanches, landslides, and oxidation are rapidly destroying countless items.
Nevertheless, it is not nature that poses the greatest risk to Mineral King’s artifacts. Instead, it is human action, however well meaning.
David Humphrey, Cultural Resources Program Manager for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, tells a story about his first week on the job, one familiar to many government officials working to preserve and conserve cultural resources. “You get an envelope with an artifact in it that was collected by somebody in the public who was well intentioned,” he relates. “It’s a nice little artifact, but it doesn’t tell us much because we’ve lost the context.”
Simply put, context is the location where an artifact is found. It isn’t just a point on a map however. It includes such information as the kind of site where the artifact was found, the soil, its depth in the soil, and other natural and manmade objects at the location. Context can tell us who owned or used an artifact, when, and why, and can increase our understanding of a place, a culture, and a period. When you separate a historic or prehistoric object from its context, you take away its power to convey meaning. “Without context,” says Humphrey, “a big part of the story is lost.”
“I have a drawer that I inherited from my predecessor that is full of such artifacts,” says Humphrey. If these artifacts are significant in some way, we will never know. If someone picks up an obsidian point lying on the ground, we may never discover that there was a Patwisha encampment there. If someone brings in a hunting trap, we may never know whether it was placed by the storied mountain man Shorty Lovelace, or by a poacher in 1972.
So what should we do if we find an artifact?
1. Leave it be. Do not touch, pick up, or move the artifact. Its exact location and depth in the soil can provide invaluable information. Additionally, handling an object can damage it along with clues about its past.
2. Record it. Take note of the artifact’s appearance and location. If possible, photograph it and its surroundings. If you can, note the GPS coordinates or mark its location on a topographical map.
3. Report it. Notify Park personnel as soon as possible. Report your find at the Mineral King Ranger station and notify Dave Humphrey (Dave_Humphrey@nps.gov, 559.565-3139) and the Mineral King Preservation Society (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Park is required by law to protect, preserve, and interpret artifacts. After we report an artifact, experts will visit the location to assess and document both the artifact and its context. The Park will take any necessary steps to protect and preserve the artifact. One of the Park’s top priorities is public education. Insights provided by Mineral King’s artifacts will enhance the interpretive materials and programs developed and delivered in collaboration with the Mineral King Preservation Society.
With context intact, each artifact has a story to tell, but more importantly, each can help us discover and tell our own story. Mineral King’s historic and prehistoric sites, structures, and artifacts can help us form narratives that have broad cultural significance today. It is the meaning we derive from such narratives that gives us our individual and cultural identity.
We all have an invaluable stewardship role to play in protecting Mineral King’s cultural resources, and helping ensure that our stories aren’t lost.
UPDATE: To ensure that the public has adequate time to review and submit comments, the review period for the Draft Addendum has been extended to June 30, 2014.
After more than two years of fruitful collaboration between the Mineral King Preservation Society, the Mineral King District Association, and the National Park Service, the Draft Addendum to the Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape Registeration Nomination Form is ready for public comment.
Please download the following documents as soon as possible, and submit any comments to the National Park Service by June 30, 2014.
These documents will help us ensure that future generations of visitors to the Mineral King Valley will be able to recognize and experience the unique cultural and physical characteristics of the community that developed during the 1900s. Input from stakeholders like you is essential for these documents to meet this goal.
The first document (Standards for Sustaining the Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District) provides guidance on protecting the Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District. This document expands previous efforts to outline preservation guidance for both cabin permittees and the National Park Service, and covers ongoing maintenance of the buildings and associated landscape features identified within the boundaries of the District. NOTE: The review period for this document closed February 28, 2014. It provides useful context for reviewing the Draft Addendum however.
The second document (Draft Addendum to Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape National Register Nomination Form) describes and assesses outbuildings and landscape features in the Mineral King Road Cultural Landscape District, and designates outbuildings and features as contributing or noncontributing to the District's Period of Significance (1915-1942).
We would like to thank the representatives of the Mineral
King Preservation Society (Stuart Hendricks, Louise Jackson, and
Jim Ingram), the Mineral King District Association (William Martin,
John Crowe, and Guy Woleman), and the National Park Service (Jane
Allen, Dave Humphrey, Jack Vance, Denise Robertson, and Christine Smith) for their substantial contributions to this effort.