If you think cooking is a chore, you might want to visit the Lost City Museum in Overton, Nev.
Stones used to grind corn into flour by hand, and a mortar and pestle used for pounding dried mesquite bean pods, offer perspective on how much easier it is to feed ourselves in modern times. The remains of atlatl spears and arrowheads hint at what it must have been like to hunt down wild game.
Squeamish about cutting up raw meat? Think of what it must have been like to kill it, drag it home, skin it and butcher it before you could sit down to dinner.
The ancient Anasazi who lived near what is now Lake Mead probably devoted much of their day to finding, growing and preserving food. Their survival depended on it.
A few weeks ago, I visited this small museum, about 40 miles south of Mesquite. If you’re on your way to Disneyland or Las Vegas, it makes an interesting side trip, especially if you combine it with a picnic lunch at the nearby Valley of Fire State Park.
The museum holds artifacts from Anasazi Indian sites that are now submerged under the waters of Lake Mead; hence the title, “Lost City.”
When the Hoover Dam was completed in the 1930s, the water from the Colorado River began rising behind it. To save this valuable part of history, archaeologists and the Civilian Conservation Corps excavated the ruins and built the adobe brick museum to house the objects that were found.
The objects are proof of the settlers’ perseverance and innovation to survive in a harsh, unforgiving desert.
Water may have been hauled from the Muddy River in woven jugs that were coated with pine pitch for waterproofing. One display told how plants and meats were placed in a woven basket with water. Heated rocks were then thrown into the basket to cause the water to boil, cooking the food.
Archaeologists have found piles of fractured rocks broken by rapid cooling after being dropped into liquids. Some of the wild foods they gathered were pinon, sunflowers and amaranth. Also, there was evidence that corn was grown after A.D. 200.
According to the movie shown at the museum, there’s speculation that people of the Lost City mined and exported salt, since salt caves were found with well-preserved items.
Outside the museum, there is a reconstruction of what their homes might have looked like. They are single-story, and partially underground, so they would have been 15 to 20 degrees cooler than outdoors. By A.D. 1150, the Anasazi had abandoned these homes, maybe due to a drought.
The ancient Lost City artifacts aren’t the only historical items found in the museum.
Since the waters of Lake Mead began receding in 2003, items from the abandoned town of St. Thomas have been found. Most of the Mormons who settled it in 1865 left in 1871, when the state line of Nevada was shifted and made them residents of Nevada instead of Utah or Arizona. The state demanded the past five years of taxes, payable only in gold, and the residents decided to leave rather than trying to come up with the money.
St. Thomas later enjoyed a short-lived boom in the 1910s when Arrowhead Trail, the first automobile road between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, came through the community.
The construction of Hoover Dam and the resulting rise in the waters of the Colorado River forced the town’s final abandonment. But in the past decade, a prolonged drought has caused the water level to recede, yielding remnants of a town buried underwater for more than 50 years.
On display in the museum are several culinary items from St. Thomas: a silver-plated spoon made by Rogers Bros. between 1862 and 1898; a broken bowl made by the Wallace China Company; and a piece of a glass bottle made by Anheiser Busch circa 1904-1907.
The museum, at 721 S. Moapa Valley Blvd., is open Thursday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and costs $5 for adults. Those under age 18 are admitted for free.
Yes, ancient cooking was difficult; but the improvements made in just the last 100 years are pretty amazing. I found proof of that at the Virgin Valley Heritage Museum at 35 W. Mesquite Blvd. in Mesquite. If you happen to get tired of the golf and gambling that Mesquite is famous for, this eclectic little museum offers a nostalgic small-town romp down Memory Lane.
A kitchen display shows a wood-burning stove and a wooden Hoosier-style cabinet instead of today’s built-in cupboards and smooth countertops. And, admission is free. You can browse through some of the other household items, such as treadle sewing machines, washboards, and a wind-up Victrola that still plays half-inch-thick records.
I felt really old when I saw a collection of telephones that included the black Bell dial-up phone of my growing-up years, and manual typewriters similar to the one that I used to write my first published stories.
Perhaps someday, someone looking through a museum of 21st-century artifacts will feel sorry for those of us who were equipped only with electric stoves and microwaves, or who had to use refrigerators to preserve food.
Perhaps the ability to download a recipe from a smartphone will be considered as archaic as typing one on a typewriter seems now. Progress certainly marches on, but let’s hope good food never goes out of style.
Valerie Phillips blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.