Lisa Thomas, US Navy archeologist, San Nicolas Island, describes some of the artifacts found.
When we started examining the contents of the two redwood boxes we thought we’d find a dozen artifacts based on the boxes’ sizes. We never imagined it would be closer to 200!
The cache had items in many stages of completion, or manufacture. There were unmodified pieces, such as bird and fish bones, dolphin teeth, and seashells from abalone and scallops.
Some of the abalone shells had the siphon holes plugged with tar, and most likely these were used for bowls. Bone whistles were also found.
We found worked and unworked pieces of rock called lithics. Some were of stone found on San Nicolas Island. Other pieces were steatite, a type of rock found on Catalina Island, so these may have been trade items. Some of the artifacts, like the harpoon toggle points, were from Alaska Natives brought to San Nicolas Island by Russian fur traders to hunt sea otters in the early 1800s.
The stones had various uses. Some were used as drills and some as whetstones, used to give a sharp edge to cutting tools. Burnishing stones were used to smooth out animal skins that were going to be made into leather. Other stones were used as hot tar spreaders. We found stone beads and stone animal effigies.
There were also bifaces, which are pieces of rock flaked to produce sharp cutting edges on two sides. Many were attached to stone handles.
Metal items were also in the cache. The three metal nails found could have been used as pressure flakers, tools used to press against the edge of a stone to remove small, thin chips. The metal barrel hoop could have been used as an abalone pry for removing abalone from rocks.
Based on the identification of many of the items, I believe what we found was a “tool kit” belonging to a native Nicoleño in the 1800s.