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An Anthropological Evaluation of William Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
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Keys' Ranch as a prehistoric resource,
by Thomas F. King

Jefferson (1973) and Anderson (1973) observed that the historic features at Keys' Ranch overlie and are associated with a large and complex prehistoric component. Historic land modifications and structures, together with normal aggradation of the alluvial cone on which the site lies, have obscured the features of this component to a considerable extent and it has never been sampled or fully mapped. A rich, dark midden appears to begin near the schoolhouse and the large new trailer south of the ranch nucleus and to extend up-slope to the north to a point below the stamp mill site, where it is lost under tailings. A rockshelter and bedrock mortars are associated with this locus. We noted a Desert Side-Notched arrowpoint in the garden next to the ranch house (Hickman and King 1975). This area was partly reclaimed by Keys after severe flood erosion (Black 1975: personal communication), so that the artifact may not have been in situ. Elsewhere among the buildings, many patches of discolored soil could represent a midden layer sporadically exposed through recent alluvium, but the lack of associated artifacts, fire-cracked rocks or other typical debris suggests that they are products of natural organic weathering, concentrations of feldspar-rich granitic sand and/or oil spills. At least one cave with a spirit stick is known in the vicinity (Camper 1975: personal communication; Anderson 1973). Prehistoric artifacts are sparse on the surface of the site, but this is not surprising, as Frances Keys' hobby was artifact collecting (Perkins Papers). Several metates and boxes of sherds around the Keys' house may have been collected from the immediate environs of the ranch; of course, their provenience was lost with Mrs. Keys' death.

A fairly extensive sampling program would be required to determine the horizontal and vertical boundaries of the prehistoric component and to define its internal organization. The active (though locally variable) aggradation processes at work on the cone make this a very likely place to expect stratified occupational deposits, which could be useful in chronological sequence building. The size of the component suggests that it represents a major settlement, whose study could contribute to an understanding of local social, settlement and subsistence practices (cf. King 1975).

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Last Updated: 04-June-2007