Hidden Cave, Nevada, 1978-79

During the 1978 and 1979 field seasons, David Hurst Thomas and a stalwart crew excavated the Nevada cave occupied in the late Archaic period -- from about 2000 BC to AD 0. The team discovered that the relatively inhospitable cave was used for temporary storing food, tools and other materials.

Artificially lighted underground excavation site at Hidden Cave, Nevada.
Excavations at Hidden Cave

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, Nevada, used by Archaic peoples for storage and burials
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

An outdoor photo of the entrance to an underground cave in Hidden Cave, Nevada. The ground surface is dry and rocky with large boulders and stones all around
A man kneeling beside a rock formation at the dig site in Hidden Cave, Nevada.
Helmeted researcher digging at Hidden Cave, Nevada
Archeologists working at night on a dig with equipment and lights
Group of people with archaeology equipment in Nevada desert.
Young people with trowels sifting dirt that is coming down a slide in an arid outdoor location.
A geologist coming out of a narrow crevice at Hidden Cave, Nevada. He is wearing a red baseball cap with the letters "GMC" on it, a plaid shirt, glasses, and a dust mask.
Man with hard hat with lights exploring Hidden Cave in Nevada as part of 1978-79 Museum research into cave used by humans in late Archaic period

Tool Caches

Twelve arrowheads, two with tips broken off.
Two hands holding in their open palms what appear to be twelve arrow heads or similar small sharp flat triangular serrated tools.
fingers holding small cylindrical tool found by archeologists in Hidden Cave, Nevada
A hand holding a small flat artifact about 2 inches long with a small hole near the top.
An open human palm displaying about ten small artifacts that look like beads, from Hidden Cave, NV.
An open human palm displaying five carved small thin sharp pointed artifacts, from Hidden Cave, NV.
From Hidden Cave, Nevada, a piece of woven cloth, and a small carved pointed object.
From Hidden Cave, Nevada, a piece of woven netting and several small round artifacts that look like beads, being held on a human palm.

Further Visiting

Hidden Cave, Nevada
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.