Findings may be linked to Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

The unburied entrance to the cave believed to be the home of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.

Photo by Steven Schwartz / NAVAIR

The unburied entrance to the cave believed to be the home of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.

One of the two redwood boxes found recently on San Nicolas Island is excavated in a lab on the island. The boxes were brought from the field intact and were excavated in the lab to ensure they were handled carefully.

Photo by Bill Kendig

One of the two redwood boxes found recently on San Nicolas Island is excavated in a lab on the island. The boxes were brought from the field intact and were excavated in the lab to ensure they were handled carefully.

After 150 years, the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island may finally be giving up her secrets.

Immortalized by the half-century-old children’s book “The Island of the Blue Dolphins” — still required reading for California fourth-graders — the Nicoleño Indian lived alone on the island that is now part of Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) for 18 years before being “rescued” and brought to Santa Barbara in 1853, only to die seven weeks later of dysentery.

Fueled in part by the popularity of Scott O’Dell’s book, the questions about her 18 years on the island have remained a haunting mystery.

Did she tame a wild dog and turn it into a pet, as happened in O’Dell’s book? Where did she live? What did she eat? What did she wear? And how much contact did she have with Russian fur traders and explorers who stopped by the island during those 18 years?

Two recent archeological discoveries on the island and other research findings filled an entire day of presentations at last month’s 8th California Islands Symposium in Ventura.

Featured speakers included Steve Schwartz and Lisa Thomas-Barnett, archeologists for the Navy, and a handful of archeologists who have spent decades researching Native American life along the Southern California coast.

Generating the most excitement was the announcement of two recent discoveries: the cave where the Lone Woman is believed to have lived and a redwood box containing dozens of artifacts believed to have been her tools, hairpins and pendants.

Schwartz discovered the cave by piecing together two documents dating back to the 1800s. For years, he had known about an 1879 survey map that showed “Indian Cave” near the already-explored Cave of the Whales, home to ancient petroglyphs.

“Twenty years ago I started looking for that cave,” he told the rapt audience. “But year after year, I couldn’t find anything.”

Two years ago, out of the blue, he got a call from a researcher who had the field notes to that survey. The additional information helped pinpoint the location, but all Schwartz could see there was sand. Could it be that after all these years of wind and waves and erosion, the cave had simply filled with sand?

Students from California State University, Los Angeles, have spent years studying archeological sites on San Nicolas Island, and they teamed up with the Navy in the search for the cave. It wasn’t long before they uncovered the entrance. Then a bottle was found that had been used by seafarers in the mid-1800s to hold pepper sauce — a perfect fit on the timeline.

“We are 90 percent sure this is the Lone Woman’s cave,” Schwartz said. “Everything looks very good. I think we’ve got it. The whole quest to find it was quite a journey in itself.”

The second find announced during the symposium was a redwood box cache filled with artifacts made of bone, dolphin teeth, shells and stone.

“Every time I go to San Nicolas Island, I find something that knocks my socks off,” said Jon Erlandson, an archeology professor and executive director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. “This find may be the most amazing of all.”

Erlandson was walking a remote part of the island with other archeologists when the group spotted what looked to be a broken surfboard sticking out of a cliff.

“It was a late fall day,” Erlandson said, every detail a clear memory. “It was a case of being in the right place at the right time.”

Erlandson scrambled down the cliff to take a closer look. From out of the face of the cliff he pulled what he thought was a fossil, then a piece of whale rib. Then he realized there were pieces of redwood surrounding the find.

Immediately, the team went into emergency recovery mode because the items were exposed to wind, blowing sand and ocean spray. The cache actually held two redwood boxes, which were carefully moved to the island’s environmental lab. There, Thomas-Barnett began overseeing a detailed dissection. More than 3,000 photographs were taken during a two-day in-lab excavation, and an artist was called in to sketch the findings.

The redwood appeared to be recycled canoe planks held together with asphaltum, a glue Native Americans made from naturally occurring tar that washes up on the island. There were also two water bottles consistent with those used by the Nicoleño.

Inside the boxes, what Thomas-Barnett thought would be a dozen or so artifacts ended up being closer to 200 trinkets and tools, including fishhooks and beads. Some were made from the bones of albatross, eagle and goose. An abalone shell, which the archeologists nicknamed the “jewelry box,” held 21 ornaments made of shell and stone. Some stone pieces had been sharpened, others had been shaped to resemble sea mammals. There was even a button.

Questions remain.

Were the sharpened stone pieces drills, projectiles or scrapers?

If some of these artifacts were pipe stems or whistles, can DNA be extracted?

And the biggest question of all: Did the boxes indeed belong to the Lone Woman?

“It is a reasonable hypothesis that she cached this on the island,” Erlandson said.

Currently, there are no active archeological excavations on the island. Digging stopped in April so that Capt. Larry Vasquez, who in February became NBVC’s commanding officer, could review the archeological research program. There is no projected date for resumption of work at this time.

S

© 2012 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Print

Comments » Disabled

Lighthouse News Front Page

Lighthouse Info

Commanding Officer

CAPT. LARRY VASQUEZ

Chief Staff Officer

CAPT. SCOTT LOESCHKE

Lighthouse Editor

ANDREA HOWRY, 805-989-5281

Public Affairs Officer

KIMBERLY GEARHART
Ventura County Star - 805-437-0000

Publisher

MARGIE COCHRANE, Ventura County Star

Niche Publications

JOHN GARCIA, 805-437-0365

Advertising

To submit a story

The Lighthouse publishes every other Thursday. All stories and photos must be submitted no later than the Thursday prior to publication. To submit a story or photo request, call the Lighthouse editor, Andrea Howry, at 989-5281 or send an e-mail to lighthouse@navy.mil.
THE LIGHTHOUSE IS PUBLISHED AT NO COST TO THE GOVERNMENT EVERY FRIDAY BY VENTURA COUNTY STAR, OF CAMARILLO, CA. VENTURA COUNTY STAR IS A PRIVATE FIRM IN NO WAY CONNECTED WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE OR THE UNITED STATES NAVY, UNDER WRITTEN CONTRACT WITH NAVAL BASE VENTURA COUNTY. THE LIGHTHOUSE IS THE ONLY AUTHORIZED CIVILIAN ENTERPRISE NEWSPAPER FOR MEMBERS OF THE U.S. NAVY, CIVILIAN EMPLOYEES, RETIREES AND THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE VENTURA COUNTY AREA. CONTENTS OF THE PAPER ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE OFFICIAL VIEWS OF, NOR ENDORSED BY, THE U.S. GOVERNMENT, AND THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, OR THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY AND DO NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT THEREOF. THE APPEARANCE OF ADVERTISING IN THIS PUBLICATION INCLUDING INSERTS AND SUPPLEMENTS, DOES NOT CONSTITUTE ENDORSEMENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, THE U.S. NAVY OR VENTURA COUNTY STAR, OF THE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES ADVERTISED. EVERYTHING ADVERTISED IN THIS PUBLICATION SHALL BE MADE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE, USE OR PATRONAGE WITHOUT REGARD TO RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN, AGE, MARITAL STATUS, PHYSICAL HANDICAP, POLITICAL AFFILIATION, OR ANY OTHER NON-MERIT FACTOR OF THE PURCHASER, USE, OR PATRON. IF A VIOLATION OR REJECTION OF THIS EQUAL OPPORTUNITY POLICY BY AN ADVERTISER IS CONFIRMED, THE PUBLISHER SHALL REFUSE TO PRINT ADVERTISING FROM THAT SOURCE UNTIL THE VIOLATION IS CORRECTED. EDITORIAL CONTENT IS EDITED, PREPARED AND PROVIDED TO THE PUBLISHER BY THE LOCAL INSTALLATION PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICES UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE NAVAL BASE VENTURA COUNTY PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE.
NSWC Port Hueneme and representatives from eight allied, international navies joined forces on April 7 to establish a unified strategic plan for modernizing and sustaining the MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) on a global scale, yielding enhanced worldwide fleet readiness and collective maritime strength against ever-evolving threats.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
MORE YOURNEWS

Facebook Friends