Dennis Cassinelli: Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians

Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians has always been my bestselling publication. This book is the story of the Cassinelli/Perino artifact collection. I grew up on a ranch on Glendale Road in Sparks that happened to be on the site of a large Indian village complex along both sides of the Truckee River that had been inhabited several thousand years ago. The ranch was where Baldini’s Casino is now located. As a boy, I often found arrowheads, projectile points, manos and metates, especially after the fields were plowed or following a flood. I also had an aunt and uncle (Clare and Al Perino) who were avid weekend artifact hunters. All this was before the 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act made these activities illegal on public land. When the Perinos passed away, I inherited the large collection they had acquired. I combined the two collections together and donated it to the Carson Valley Historical Museum in Gardnerville where it can be seen today.

The book contains ink drawings I made of each of the several projectile point types found in Nevada. An ink drawing shows more detail of the chipping of an artifact than a photograph, which is often just a black silhouette. In addition to the ink drawings, there are hundreds of photographs that show the many different types of stone artifacts that we have found in the Great Basin. People who are artifact enthusiasts have told me that Preserving Traces is the Bible for Indian artifact collectors. In addition, there are many drawings and photographs of the various types of knives, scrapers, beads, pendants and household items used by the Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone Indians throughout the state. In the book, I show how I was able to identify and date more than 1,000 projectile points that I have identified and dated with a method used by professional archaeologists known as the Thomas Key method. Some of the stone points have been dated in excess of 10,000 years.

Chapter 4 tells about the famous Spirit Cave man that was found in the Grimes Point area near Fallon that proved to be one of the oldest partially mummified human remains ever found in North America The remains have since been repatriated back to the local tribes for reburial. This discovery was the inspiration for me to write my prehistoric novel, Legends of Spirit Cave. This is an excellent companion book to Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians. Chapter 10 tells the amazing story of Lovelock Cave, the greatest archaeological resource ever discovered in Nevada. Much of what we know about the Great Basin Indians is from material that was found in Lovelock Cave. This included well-preserved clothing items, weapons, duck decoys, human remains and well-preserved perishable household items. Human remains and grave goods are protected wherever they are found in respect to the native American Indians. Caves and known archaeological sites are off limits to artifact hunting.

Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians contains copies of federal and Nevada state laws relating to artifact collecting and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. There is an interesting fold-out chronology chart in the back of the book that shows on a time scale what types of projectile points have been used in the Great Basin for the past 12,000 years. Anyone interested in Indian artifacts would be interested in a copy of Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians as a birthday or Christmas gift.

Chapter 11 is a humorous fictional account that tells how the Indians were able to make arrows from the sticks and stones they found in their natural environment. I once had a call from the Folsom College in Folsom, Calif., for 24 copies of the book. When I asked why they wanted so many, they said the professor had seen the book and wanted it to be the textbook for his class on Great Basin anthropology. I had never considered it would be used as a college text, but stranger things have happened.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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