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Burnet Cave
Rocky Arroyo Cave of Wetmore
Location Eddy County
Height variation 21 m

Burnet Cave (also known as Rocky Arroyo Cave of Wetmore) is an important archaeological and paleontological site located in Eddy County, New Mexico, United States within the Guadalupe Mountains.

Physical details

The cave has a southern exposure and is reported as being 21 m (70 feet) from the canyon floor. It has an elevation of 1402 m (4600 feet) according to Shultz and Howard (1935).

Archaeological finds

Excavation began in Burnet Cave under returning student E. B. Howard who was working under Alden Mason's Southwestern Expeditions sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. The first southwestern trip was in 1929 and Bill Burnet showed them this cave on one of the first trips west. The early field seasons at Burnet Cave were 1930, 1931, and 1932, and they went back again in 1936 and 1937 (Howard 1936:22, 1943b). Additional survey work in the Guadalupe Mountains was done in 1934 as well but no new early sites were found (Howard 1935).

The first Clovis point found in the modern era was excavated in situ at Burnet Cave five feet, seven inches below ground surface on the edge of a hearth with burnt bison and musk-ox bones in August 1931(UPenn Museum catalog # 31-47-36) (Boldurian and Cotter 1999:73). This find predates the Dent Site, Clovis, and all others pretending to be the first in situ Clovis find in the Americas. Howard brought this Clovis point to the 1931 Pecos Conference and showed it to several people, including Frank H H Roberts (discussed in Woodbury's Pecos history- 1983).

Until about 1950 Burnet Cave was considered to be among the handful of truly reliable intact Clovis sites but around that time it seems to have fallen out of favor because it was a cave, with an unusual Clovis faunule, that lacked the dramatic visions of the Mammoth-killing big game hunters myth then coming into vogue.

Burnet Cave was the first multi-component Paleoindian site excavated, though no additional. The Clovis layer was four feet below the lowest layer containing Basketmaker material. The fine dirt was run through a ¼" screen at the front of the cave, something quite unusual for archaeological fieldwork at this time (Boldurian and Cotter 1999:7). The poet Loren Eiseley was a member of Howard's crew and wrote scathingly about his experiences in the Guadalupe Mountains.

Paleontology finds

  • Emslie, S. D. 1987. Age and diet of fossil California condors in Grand Canyon, Arizona. Science 237:768-770.
  • Harris, A. H. 1985. Late Pleistocene vertebrate paleoecology of the West. University of Texas Press, Austin, 293 pp.
  • Hester, J. J. 1960. Late Pleistocene extinction and radiocarbon dating. American Antiquity 26:58-77.
  • Howard, E. B. 1932. Caves along the slopes of the Guadalupe Mountains. Texas Archeological and Paleontological Society 4:7-20.
  • Howard, H. 1962. Bird remains from a prehistoric cave deposit in Grant County, New Mexico. Condor 64:241-242.
  • Howard, H. 1968. Limb measurements of the extinct vulture, Coragyps occidentalis. Pp. 115–128, in Collected papers in honor of Lyndon Lane Hargrave (A. H. Schroeder, ed.). Papers of the Archaeological Society of New Mexico 1.
  • Howard, H. 1974. Postcranial elements of the extinct condor Breagyps clarki (Miller). Contributions in Science, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County 256:1-24.
  • Howard, H., and A. H. Miller. 1933. Bird remains from cave deposits in New Mexico. Condor 35:15-18.
  • Rea, A. M. 1980. Late Pleistocene and Holocene turkeys in the Southwest. Contributions in Science, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County 330:209-224.
  • Rickart, E. A. 1977. Pleistocene lizards from Burnet and Dark Canyon caves, Guadalupe Mountain, New Mexico. Southwestern Naturalist 21:519-522.
  • Schultz, C. B., and E. B. Howard. 1935. The fauna of Burnet Cave, Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 87:273-298.
  • Schultz, C. B., L. D. Martin, and L. G. Tanner. 1970. Mammalian distribution in the Great Plains and adjacent areas from 14,000 to 9,000 years ago. AMQUA Abstract, 1st Meeting, 1970:119-120.
  • Wetmore, A. 1931. The California condor in New Mexico. Condor 33:76-77.
  • Wetmore, A. 1932. Additional records of birds from cavern deposits in New Mexico. Condor 34:141-142.
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