Lovelock Culture

Photograph courtesy Eugene M. Hattori.

Decorated, twined willow and tule basket from Kramer Cave, Winnemucca Lake, Nevada. This basket dates to approximately 4000 years ago, and it is associated with the early Lovelock Culture. Basketry styles and technologies changed considerably during the 3000 year span of the Lovelock Period.

About 4000 years ago, Great Basin archaeological cultures blossomed after an interval marked by prolonged droughts. The overall climate at this time was cooler and wetter than that of today. That resulted in the expansion of regional wetlands and lakes, including formation of wetlands in formerly dry lakebeds. This increase in effective precipitation resulted in an abundance of plants and animals that became available as food and necessities used by Native Americans in their daily lives. The increased carrying capacity of the environment also promoted human population increases, and regional and local migration into the valleys supporting the marshes and lakes. In Nevada, this is especially true of the western part of the state. Surrounding areas also benefited from this climate change, particularly California's San Francisco Bay and Central Valley, where Middle Period cultures thrived when local resources increased.

This archaeological culture's name, the Lovelock Culture, has been used to describe these peoples living on the edges of lakes and marshes in western Nevada. Wave-cut caves and shelters yielded a plethora of well preserved artifacts associated with this culture to archaeologists. Principal Lovelock Culture settlements occurred in the Pyramid Lake and Winnemucca Lake basins, the Carson Desert and Humboldt Sink. Lovelock Cave, in the Humboldt Sink southeast of Lovelock, which was excavated by Mark R. Harrington and L. L. Loud in 1911 and 1924, as well as Robert Heizer in the 1960s and 1970s, yielded the best evidence of this way of life, and thus gave its name to the culture.

The people for whom the Lovelock Culture was named successfully exploited lake and marsh resources for food (water fowl, fish, and marsh plants) and for raw material for shelter, clothing, and other purposes. Among the artifacts associated with the Lovelock Culture are the following: distinctive willow and tule baskets, distinctive sagebrush sandals, tule duck decoys, nets, fish hooks, stone, and wooden animal effigies, and large, shaped mortars with conical depressions. In addition to these locally made artifacts, the Lovelock Culture is distinguished by the presence of relatively large quantities of shaped, marine shell beads and ornaments, and lesser quantities of other artifacts exhibiting connections to California Middle Period cultures. It is believed that these exotic artifacts reflect extensive trade between the regions. Nevada was a source of various rocks and minerals and, possibly, animal hides and byproducts not available west of the Sierra Nevada, while California and the Pacific Ocean were sources of many exotic shells.

The Lovelock Culture's disappearance is the subject of some debate in archaeology. Most archaeologists believe that the Lovelock Culture was eventually replaced by Northern Paiutes beginning around 1000 years ago. Northern Paiutes have an oral tradition of describing the defeat of foes who were variously described as red-headed, cannibalistic giants who lived within their territory, sometimes wholly within lakes and marshes. These Saiduka were either driven out of Paiute territory or exterminated. One of the principal battles leading to extermination of the Saiduka occurred at Lovelock Cave. Other Paiutes deny the historical validity of the story, describing it as a "fairy tale."

Further Reading

Llewellyn L. Loud and M. R. Harrington. Lovelock Cave. Series 27(1). University of California Publication in American Anthropology and Ethnology , 1929.

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