Hidden Cave, Nevada, 1978-79

Excavations at Hidden Cave

During the 1978 and 1979 field seasons, David Hurst Thomas and a stalwart crew were dedicated to the excavation of this Nevada cave used during in the late Archaic period -- from about 2000 BC to AD 0. The team discovered that the relatively inhospitable cave was used for temporary housing -- a place store food and cache tools and other materials.

Archaeologists have excavated parts of Hidden Cave since the 1920s and have found literally thousands of artifacts, evidence of food, and dozens of coprolites (desiccated human feces). These latter data showed that Archaic people were eating pinion nuts, bulrush seeds and fish. These data and evidence of different kinds of pollen found in the cave indicate that it was used during all seasons of the year. 

Map of Hidden Cave

Hidden Cave presides over central Nevada's now-arid Carson Desert. Gouged out about 21,000 years ago by the waves of rising Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Hidden Cave is sealed beneath the cemented surface gravels of the Stillwater Range. The cavern floor was alternatively flooded and exposed until shortly after 10,000 B.C. During relatively brief intervals since then, American Indians crawled into Hidden Cave, leaving behind a well-stratified, well-preserved record of their presence. Natural and cultural deposits continued to accumulate inside until the cave entrance was virtually sealed off by a debris cone. Hidden Cave was rediscovered in the 1920s, and teams of archaeologists excavated there in the 1940s, 1950s, and late 1970s.

The dust and darkness inside Hidden Cave created abysmal working conditions for Archaic people and archaeologists alike. Because nobody could actually have lived inside the cave, it seems clear that the rich artifact assemblage buried inside must have been deliberately stored away, carefully cached for the future rather than discarded as garbage. Hidden Cave provides important, if unusual clues about Desert Archaic lifeways.

Digging at Hidden Cave

Tool Caches

Further Visiting

Map of Grimes Point Archaeological Area

HIDDEN CAVE (Fallon, NV); 12 mi (19 km) is today part of the Grimes Point Archaeological Area. The Churchill County Museum and the Bureau of Land Management co-sponsored guided expeditions inside Hidden Cave. By the way, nobody has to crawl their way inside anymore. Thanks to foresighted Bureau of Land Management engineers, you barely have to bend over to get inside. Visitors can also take a self-guided hike along a petroglyph trail outside Hidden Cave.

Further Reading

Heizer, Robert F.
1967. Analysis of human coprolites from a dry Nevada cave. University of California Archaeological Survey Reports, no. 70, pp. 1-20.

Heizer, Robert F., and Lewis K. Napton
1970. Archaeology and the prehistoric Great Basin lacustrine subsistence regime as seen from Lovelock Cave, Nevada. Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility, no. 10.

Janetski, Joel, and David B. Madsen
1990. Wetland Adaptations in the Great Basin. Museum of Peoples and Cultures Occasional Papers No. 1. Provo: Brigham Young University.

Thomas, David Hurst
1985. The archaeology of Hidden Cave, Nevada. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. 61, part 1, pp. 1-430.