CHOWCHILLA – The Fossil Discovery Center has a new exhibit that shows what life was like in California’s San Joaquin Valley thousands of years ago.
At the center of the installation is a model lodge, a permanent dwelling known to have been used by the Yokuts tribe of first people, said to be the largest tribe with the largest territory at one time.Center director Blake Bufford began assembly of a tule grass lodge on the shores of the museum’s pond last June. He and five others created the village from the same materials and with the same methods the Yokuts people would have used, using willow branch framework and 50 mats of twined tules, tied together with willow bark and tule cordage. Bufford refers to the project as “experimental archeology.”
“The Yokuts had permanent villages where they lived all year, and they had temporary shelters. This is a permanent house,” said Bufford. “It would last probably 3, 4, maybe 5 years before it had to be replaced.
“It’s all based on contemporary accounts; eyewitnesses who described the houses, said Bufford. “To my knowledge, no one has built one of these this authentically. It is an archaeological experiment as far as documenting the original contemporary accounts and archaeological excavation and then putting this evidence to use and seeing if it works. So far, it does.”
Bufford and his crew did their best to use the correct primitive techniques. “We didn’t use many modern tools,” he said. “However, we had to dig the hole with a pick and shovel because the ground was so hard. If we’d used a digging stick, we’d still be out there.”
Gathering materials from a wide range of sources took approximately 90 hours, according to Bufford, and using primitive techniques, the home required another 50 hours to build. “Admittedly,” he says, “the Indians would have done it much faster!”
Anthropology and archaeology professors at area universities have expressed interest in the project, and Bufford is “excited to see how the experiment will pan out. It’s a good educational tool for kids.”
The Fossil Discovery Center is located across the street from what is reputed to be the largest deposit of fossils on the West Coast. So far, more than 40,000 individual fossils from more than 40 different species have been found at the archeological dig site, which has been worked for 20 years.
In addition to the Yokuts exhibit, the museum features fossilized remains of several species of animals from the Pleistocene era, 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago.
A 14-foot-tall Colombian mammoth skeleton greets visitors as they first enter, as do the skeletons of a saber-toothed cat, short-faced bear, dire wolf and other animals that once roamed Madera County.
Celebrating their two year anniversary of operation in conjunction with National Fossil Day, Oct. 20, the museum is preparing for its largest public event.
The Fossil Discovery Center opened in 2010 at 19450 Avenue 21 ½ in Chowchilla and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for students. Children under age 3 are free. You can keep up with what’s happening at the Center on their facebook page. For more information call 559-665-7107, or visit their website at www.maderamammoths.org