By Robert Kidd
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Government and science synchronized in perfect alignment in 2003 when a Department of Defense base realignment and closure, or BRAC, action enabled a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers archaeological team to produce an impressive 3,554-acre survey of an ancient hunting site and help transfer ownership of the 69,000-acre-plus former gunnery range back to the state of California -- all in just five months.
Richard Perry, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, tells the story in the recently published "Archaeology in Society: Its Relevance in the Modern World."
Honey Lake, the former target range in Lassen County, was the first conservation conveyance accomplished through BRAC. The state of California had loaned Honey Lake to the U.S. Army in 1933 with a right of reversion to retake possession of the property if the U.S. discontinued using it for "aerial training, military camps, and other federal purposes."
This same land was once home to native tribes including the Maidu, Washoe, Paiute and Pit River People, said Perry. Evidence at the site indicates the area was occupied by prehistoric hunters as long as 10,000 years ago.
"This was an atypical project for both the Corps and me," said Perry. "The average length of time available for a Corps archaeological study of a proposed construction site can be 10 to 20 years. The BRAC office required the Honey Lake transfer project be completed in five months, so archaeological processing had to be done in a very small window."
From an archaeological perspective, Honey Lake is located at the intersection of the northwestern Great Basin and the eastern Sierra Nevada Front. The western boundary of the lake, adjacent to Highway 395, is the remnant shoreline of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan -- a giant prehistoric lake.
"Very little archaeology had been conducted in this location prior to the Honey Lake project, and certainly nothing of this magnitude," said Perry. "The results of the research were beyond our expectations. A total of 116 sites were recorded -- including 75 prehistoric sites, 9 historical period sites and 32 sites containing both prehistoric and historical period components."
Seventy-five resources were recommended as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and findings from the cultural resource survey at Honey Lake generated a report of over 600 pages that has been very well received by the scientific community.
"Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act we are tasked with evaluating various prehistoric and historical period sites for their potential for National Register eligibility," Perry explained. "At the same time I wanted to contribute to what is known about how humans adapted to life in a great basin wetland -- how it affected their economic practices, social system, and worldview."