The History of Prehistory:
Since Valley of Fire lacks springs and streams, the idea that people once lived here was not considered seriously. Archeologists thought that the people who used this waterless area came only occasionally, probably from the "Lost City" villages of the Muddy River Valley. In 1924, when scientific excavation first began in this region, the focus was on those pueblos.
During the next several decades, some attention was paid to the petroglyphs here, and in 1961 the State Museum conducted an official survey of Valley of Fire archeological sites for Nevada State Park System. Not until 1976, fifty years after Harrington visited here and named Atlatl Rock, was a scientific excavation finally undertaken in Valley of Fire.
In 1976, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Department of Anthropology conducted archeological excavations in Valley of Fire. This dig produced unexpectedly rich remains, yielding a glimpse into native life over 4000 years, a far longer span of time than expected.
Excavation of three sites in the summer of 1976 yielded somewhat different materials from each. One site, which on the surface did not appear to be especially important, proved to be very deep. It contained evidence of continuous human use, sometimes for a long period of time, from 4000 years ago up to quite recently. Such finds are very rare in the Mojave Desert. They tell us people could survive and even thrive in places that people today avoid unless they have air conditioning and piped-in water.
Springtime was the favorite season for Valley of Fire use. Water came from natural tanks and possibly a small, now-dry spring. Food resources were the same as the Valley of Fire offers today: tortoises and big horn sheep; hares and rabbits, lizards, birds, eggs, and insects; seeds, nuts, flowers, and gourds.
Some of the remains received in 1976 are exhibited in the replica dig on this panel and on the table behind you. These objects were analyzed by many specialists; archeologists, botanists, zoologists, paleontologists. Their separate reports combined to produce this picture of human life in the Valley of Fire from 4000 years ago about 1400 AD.