John Muir Trail Day 17: Clues from Our Ancestors

An unusual artifact

Daily Neet Beat
Today we have a short hike into Muir Trail Ranch where we pick up our resupply buckets, stay in a cabin for 2 nights and clean up. Our check-in time isn’t until 2pm and we only have 5 miles to go so we have a little time. Yesterday afternoon when I was relaxing in camp and catching up on blogging, Ray decided to climb the peak next to Sally Keyes Lake. Well, what do you know…he finds a very strange artifact in an unusual location. So this morning, we first hike around the lake and admire the reflections, and then I hike with him back part of the way up the slope to investigate.
I don’t know what to say about this very unusual object. It is ivory-white, rounded and hollowed, and has clearly been carved. It was at an elevation of around 10,400 feet. Ray marks the coordinates so we can pass on the information.  It was in a drainage and probably washed out from somewhere. We look around in the areas above but do not find anything else. Typically this type of artifact should be left in place but it was in a drainage  and would be washed away in the next major rain event so we leave it next to the drainage in a more protected area with the original coordinates marked.  Ray and I are both geologists but the material this is made of is not readily apparent to either of us. The most interesting possibility is that it is made from a mammoth or mastodon tusk. Other thoughts we toss around: shell material, alabaster, bone, or ?. It makes a slight ringing sound so we don’t think it is alabaster. It doesn’t have the porosity one would expect with bone (it is definitely denser). Shell is still a possibility. If it is shell material it is still very interesting as someone carried it a long way and it is at a high elevation. Not sure what the hollow, rounded, tube-like object was used for. Now that is another whole story to figure out..We ponder this for a while and then work our way back down the slope and head towards Muir Trail Ranch. On the way we pass a historic structure that is being used to measure water levels (in snow equivalencies) in the Sierras. We arrive at the Muir Trail Ranch around 1:30pm and are shown to our cabin.

Just the Facts

From Sally Keyes Lake to Muir Trail Ranch
Miles: 6.5
Total Miles: 178.8
Elevation gain and loss: 2,594 feet down 

Photos of the Day

Reflection at Sally Keyes Lake

Artifacts of some unknown material that has been carved out and hollowed
Historic structure still being used for water level surveys
Small nails used to show date cabin was built


  1. A day of dating. Pleistocene and Plasticene (1956) artifacts. And now you are part of the anthropological record! Is there any chance that the artifact was funerary material washing from a burial site of a great person deserving a high grave? Perhaps previously robbed by an animal?

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