Friday, June 17, 2011

Archaeology book news

Guess what! An Archaeology of Desperation: Exploring the Donner Party's Alder Creek Camp is now available for pre-order at, Barnes&Noble, and, no doubt, other fine emporia. The publisher is the University of Oklahoma Press, the ISBN is 1806142103, and the release date is October 20, 2011.
Dr. Kelly Dixon is just checking the last set of galleys, and then that puppy's going to bed!

This isn't a trade book, so Amazon and B&N aren't offering any discounts off
the list price of $34.95. But it's worth it (IMO) for a hefty tome (~350 pages), with a lot of variety (10 chapters, 18 contributors), and a lot of new and exciting information. Here's the table of contents:

  • Sufferers in the mountains: the Donner Party disaster / Kristin Johnson
  • The aftermath of tragedy : the Donner camps in later years / Kristin Johnson
  • Historical perspectives on the archaeology of the Donner Party / Donald L. Hardesty
  • An archaeology of despair / Kelly J. Dixon
  • A family in crisis : archaeology of a survival camp / Julie M. Schablitsky
  • What remains : species identification and bone histology / Gwen Robbins and Kelsey Gray, with contributions by Guy L. Tasa, Ryne Danielson, and Matt Irish
  • Man and beast : skeletal signatures of a starvation diet / Shannon A. Novak
  • The delicate question : cannibalism in prehistoric and historic times / G. Richard Scott and Sean McMurry
  • Under watchful eyes : Washoe narratives of the Donner Party / Jo Ann Nevers and Penny Rucks, with contributions by Lana Hicks, Steven James, and Melba Rakow
  • "All remember the fate of the Donner Party" : history and the disaster at Cannibal Camp / Will Bagley and Kristin Johnson
  • Concluding thoughts / Kelly J. Dixon and Julie M. Schablitsky
Plus there are illustrations, maps, tables, etc.

A note on the cover: the illustration first appeared on the New Yorker of April 24, 2006, which contained Dana Goodyear's article, "What Happened at Alder Creek? Investigating the Donners."

Standard disclaimer: I have no financial interest in the book, alas. Although it will probably sell well (for a scholarly book), there are so many contributors that a division of the royalties would net each author a mere pittance, so the proceeds are being donated to an archaeological organization instead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New museum

At last work has begun on the new museum at Donner Memorial State Park. The planning started back in 2002 or earlier -- the old museum, which opened in 1962, had become too small for current operations and is not structurally sound or ADA-compliant. The federal grant and the state parks bond that provide the funding have been in place for some time and cannot be used for anything else, so despite California's parlous economic climate, construction has begun.

The present museum will be open during construction.

To read more about the project, see the
Sacramento Bee article of June 13, 2011. There's also a concise overview here, but if you like exhaustive details, see the PDF of the General Plan and Environment Report.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Long time, no blog

It's been quite a while since I last blogged -- I came down with an acute attack of RLS (Real Life Syndrome) and got out of the habit. I haven't given up on the Donner Party, though -- all sorts of things have been going on.

Back in October I visited Alder Creek for the first time in ages. It was great to be back! John Grebenkemper and I -- mostly John, actually -- have been checking out some new leads that might help locate the missing Donner camp.

As y'all are aware, the 2003-04 digs at Alder Creek established the presence of a hearth in the meadow, some distance from the "George Donner Tree." The artifacts recovered date it to the mid-nineteenth century, indicate that it was not an Indian or transient camp but a Euro-American domestic camp, occupied for some time, and that the residents were starving. In other words, it can only be a Donner Party camp. Although we don't know if it was George's or Jacob's, one of the brothers' camps remains undiscovered. (There's no good evidence that a third camp, the so-called "teamsters' wigwam," ever existed.)

At any rate, armed with new evidence, John thinks he knows the general area where the missing camp was located. We'll be publishing our findings eventually, and with any luck we might interest another set of archaeologists in excavating at Alder Creek some day.