NRSW SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND

Rare Artifact Found On San Clemente Island

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The Navy discovered a significant prehistoric artifact 90 miles west of San Diego on San Clemente Island (SCI) located mid-island at a newly discovered archeological site.

A boat effigy made of submarine volcano lava was spotted at the surface of the site during an archeology survey. The boat effigy represents a type of boat used by the California Indians who occupied the California Channels and adjacent southern California mainland at the time of the Spanish “discovery” in the 1500s.

Dr. Andy Yatsko, Senior Archaeologist and Region Southwest Archaeologist for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest in San Diego, who has over 40 years’ experience in prehistoric and historic archaeology finds the boat effigy to be an uncommon find.

“Boat effigies like the one found are exceedingly rare in the archaeological record, with this being my first one recovered during my 30 year tenure with SCI,” said Dr. Andy Yatsko, Senior Archaeologist and Region Southwest Archaeologist for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest in San Diego. “Finding artifacts on the surface of archaeological sites at the island is not unusual, but a rare one like this is always exciting to come across.”

The effigy was created from submarine volcano lava. This lava differs from the lava that flows on the mainland because the vesicles are smaller, making it more brittle and more difficult to handle.

“The vesicle volcanic material used is hard and brittle but somehow they were able to craft a fine little carving out of it to represent an important part of their culture,” said Yatsko. “This is something someone made representing a high skill level. This guy wasn’t just a technician he was an artist. You can hold it and think about someone from 500 to 1000 years ago.”

As a federal agency, the Navy has responsibilities to understand what it owns, in the way of property; in order to meet their expectations the navy contracts archeologist to survey the land to protect rare gems and parts of history such as the boat effigy.

“Naval Base Coronado (NBC) takes great pride in making this discovery that adds to our knowledge of the Native Americans that once called SCI home,” said Capt. Gary Mayes, commanding officer, NBC. “Our cultural and natural resource programs are such that we continue to excel in protecting the natural and man-made treasures entrusted to our care while allowing our operational forces to train as they fight on SCI.”

“If you were to draw a straight line in any direction on the landscape of SCI you would hit an archaeology site within 100-150 meters,” said Yatsko. “But even with the high density of archaeology sites on the island, it’s increasingly used for training without any real constraints on how that is done.”

SCI has the last remaining shore bombardment range, in and out of the continental U.S., where Navy ships can qualify for naval gunfire support by actually shooting from ships to targets on land. It is also the last place where Marine Corps and Navy fire support forward observers can directly train for naval gunfire support roles making SCI critical because the physical dynamics of high-velocity naval gunfire are significantly different. 

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