In 1994, the Nevada State Museum radiocarbon dated a burial recovered in 1940 from Spirit Cave, near Fallon. To everyone’s surprise, “Spirit Cave man” lived over 9,400 years ago. He was over 40 years old, elderly for any culture in the world at that time. He wore a rabbit skin robe and fur moccasins. Very sophisticated, labor-intensive basketry accompanied his burial.

He differs from other prehistoric and historic Nevada Indians. Instead, “Spirit Cave Man” shares characteristics with some Asians and the 9,200-year-old “Kennewick Man” found along Washington State’s Columbia River. The fate of these early Native American populations is still unknown.

Beginning in 1995, many Indians wanted all Spirit Cave Man studies stopped and his remains reburied. State administrators halted consumptive testing of human remains in the museum in 1999. Under One Sky originates from this controversy and seeks to present diverse viewpoints in hopes of understanding one another’s positions.

“Spirit Cave Man” was taken from his eternal resting-place within the ancestral territory of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. Today our former lands are under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, and they control his fate.

The Spirit Cave remains and funerary items have been housed in the Nevada State Museum since their discovery in 1940. Carbon testing was conducted in 1994, which dated the remains to over 9,000 years ago, and then the remains suddenly became important to the archaeologists.

Only in 1995 was the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe formally notified of the existence of these remains. Since 1996 we have been exercising our right under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to have the human remains and funerary items from Spirit Cave returned to us.

The scientific communities and tribal communities disagree on the fate of the man from Spirit Cave. The scientific communities want to conduct further scientific research on the remains and objects while the Tribes want to rebury the remains and associated items to allow the individual to continue on his spiritual journey. Time will tell the outcome.

Donna Cossette, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe
Rochanne L. Downs, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe
Alvin Moyle, Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe


Native American Views: Origins | Archaeological Origins
Early Inhabitants and the Saiduka and Lovelock Culture
Spirit Cave Man | Great Basin Caves | Change vs Continuity
Traditional Lifeways | Wetlands | Seasonal Round
Water Historic Times | Native American Suburbanites | Indian Athletes
Stewart Indian School |
Native Americans Today