If one is interested in prehistory in California there's no beating the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Another excellent archaeological site is the Calico Early Man Site in San Bernardino County in the Mojave Desert. If one does visit the La Brea Tar Pits, read up about the poorly understood La Brea Woman - the only human to be found in the tar pits.

There are many interesting archeological sites in the United States including famous places like Poverty Point and Cahokia. The story of early man in North America is one at is continuing to be remolded as more and more is discovered about the past.


What To Know About the Calico Early Man Site

The Calico Early Man Site is located in an ancient Pleistocene lake and has many Pleistocene formations (the Pleistocene is roughly the Ice Age period). If one had stood there around 20,000 years ago, one would have seen a large lake surrounded by sandy beaches, marshes, and mudflats.

It also has petroglyphs from the Holocene (the Holocene is the period of humanity after the Ice Age).

The Calico Early Man Site includes around 900 acres of land in the Mojave Desert. The site has been excavated more or less continuously since 1964 and has been a valuable source of understanding of the prehistory of the region.

  • Location: In The Mojave Desert 16 Miles East of Barstow

What The Prehistoric Lake Was Like And Fossils

In prehistoric times, people lived here and made use of the lake's then-abundant resources. At those times, the climate was much wetter than today and the alluvial fans around the lake were likely covered with juniper, sagebrush, creosote bushes, and similar plants.

  • Fossils: Fossils Of Many Familiar North American Animals Have Been Discovered There

The lake's shores would have been full of bison and other large animals while the air would have had many storks, pelicans, and flamingos. Some of their bones have been preserved in what was the soft mud which was then fossilized.

Fossils of ground sloths, mammoths, dire wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, scimitar cats, horses, camels, llamas, antelopes, mountain sheep, and bison have been found here.

Related: Visit White Sands NP: Where Early Human History Is Being Rewritten

The Controversy Around Human Tools At The Site

The Calico Site was a quarry and tool production site and many prehistoric tools have been found made of the rocks there. Human remains have not been found there but plenty of their tools have. Thousands of rocks that appear to be prehistoric tools have been found at the site.

These have been found both on the surface and some 26 feet or 8 meters below the surface. Some of the tools are believed to be over 10,000 years old. There is also some debate as to whether the tools were manmade or formed naturally.

The site is a very odd one. If it really was humans making all these "tools" then it would mean that humans have been in North America for more than 30,000 years. It would also mean that we would have over 60,000 tools by some accounts. That would make it one of the most important (and dismissed sites in North America).

Or the tools or most of them are just natural occurrences. That would mean that much of the hype around the site would be something of a hoax. It would be where some anthropologists got carried away misinterpreting a lot of loose gravel and rocks for very early evidence of man.

Some of the main (uncontroversial) artifacts from the site include:

  • Artifacts of the Lake Manix Lithic Industry: These Lithic Artifacts Are found Around The Ancient Shoreline
  • The Rock Wren Biface: A Large Prehistoric Stone Tool With Two Faces (The Longest Used Tool in Human History) Dated to 14,400 ±2,200 Years Ago

It is thought that the tools of the Lake Manix Lithic Industry and the Rock Wren are likely human-made.

Related: The Skara Brae Prehistoric Village Is Home To Another One Of Britain's Neolithic Stonehenge Sites

Visiting The Calico Early Man Site

The Calico Early Man Site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management but as of the time of writing (April 2022) the site is under re-construction and is closed to the public.

When the site reopens, hike the Dorothy Bowers Nature Trail. It is an easy-to-walk trail less than 2 miles long with printed guides to introduce the visitors to the landscapes surrounding the site.

  • Dorothy Bowers Nature Trail: An Easy-To-Walk 2 Mile Long Informative Trail

In 2021 the BLM was proposing the remnant archaeological excavation features of the site to counter their risk to visitors to the site. They are suggesting installing air gates, backfilling, and other solutions so that they can reopen the site to the public.

The site has been closed since 2017 and the BLM is looking to re-open it to the public for self-guided tours.

Next: Prehistoric Cave Paintings Prove The Sahara Was Once Green