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History Being Uncovered
Archaeological Investigation of the Bee Hive Rock Shelter

By James Kangas, Archaeologist, Lower Colorado Regional Office

Archaeologists are conducting investigations at the Bee Hive Rock Shelter, located in the Las Vegas Wash, near Las Vegas, Nevada. Finds suggest the site was in use 500 to 1,000 years ago. The analysis of this site will help us better understand the past activities of the people who inhabited this area.

Bee Hive Rock Shelter archaeological markers

The Las Vegas Wash is an archaeologically rich area consisting of a 2,900-acre strip of land that straddles a lush desert wetlands. The archaeological record of human occupation and use of the Wash stretches back 13,000 years into the past, with the majority of the sites dating to the last 2,000 to 3,000 years. This area includes more than two dozen sites eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and it is designated as an archaeological district, called the Las Vegas Wash Archeological District. The boundary of the District coincides with the boundary of the Clark County Wetlands Park.

Archaeologists working at Bee Hive Rock Shelter

The Bureau of Reclamation has conducted archaeological investigations in the Wash for decades. We began working in the Wash in the 1970s with the Navajo-McCullough Project and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Project. In 2000, a second wave of archaeological research was conducted in the Wash, stimulated by projects proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), Clark County, and Reclamation. The surveys and subsequent site excavations led to the discovery of new sites and a greater understanding of the complexity of the archaeological environment in the District.

Measuring the depth of the sample site

Today, we are conducting investigations at the Bee Hive Rock Shelter. The site got its namesake from a swarm of bees that established a hive there. They are the silent guardians of the site. The Bee Hive Rock Shelter site was originally discovered in 1975. At that time the archaeologists suspected that it contained a rich cultural deposit. Unfortunately, they were not able to excavate the site for confirmation. The site was finally excavated in March 2013. The project was led by Reclamation, in cooperation with SNWA and the Clark County Department of Parks and Recreation. The archaeological excavation confirmed the suspicion of the archaeologists who originally discovered the site. The excavation led to the discovery of buried fire pits, pottery sherds, projectile points, and grinding stones. The site appears to have been in use from 500 to 1000 years ago. The analysis of the contents of the fire pits, residues on grinding slabs, and the artifacts will provide a better understanding of people's diets and activities in the past.

Through the Archaeological Resource Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, Reclamation is required to demonstrate the results and benefits of Reclamation-sponsored or permitted cultural resources management activities through heritage education efforts.

For more information about Reclamation’s Cultural Resource Program please visit our Cultural Resources Program website.

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Updated: March 26, 2013