It is not yet 6:30 a.m., March 16, 2009.  The sky is still more dark than light as I carefully back the Lincoln into the customer’s driveway. I have driven this man several times, and  have been looking forward to seeing him again ever since I read in the local paper that he had found buried treasure in his yard.

    I’m just hoping he will want to talk about that treasure.

*     *     *

Driving Into a Prehistoric

    As a professional driver, I know my role is to show up on time, load the bags, offer a bottle of water, and to then concentrate on the business of providing a safe, comfortable, timely ride to the passenger’s destination. To talk or not is best left to the passenger. But for me, the real excitement of this work comes from briefly connecting with fascinating people I would otherwise not meet.

    My passenger opens the front door of his house mouthing, “Five minutes,” giving me time to walk around the car, open the trunk and to then peer into the shadows of the garden. I breathe deeply as I note the recent landscaping of this attractive garden. There is a fountain and soft, ground-level lights along sandstone paths. The trickle of water in the fountain reminds me that — oh yes — there would have once been a stream flowing here!

   I remember this space as a natural, wild, bushy area leading down an incline to an even b
ushier ravine behind the house. I recall once watching a fox dart into those bushes, returning moments later with a squirrel in its mouth and prancing triumphantly up the street with breakfast for the family.

  My memory jumps to yet another morning when I was startled by a rustling sound in the tree branches above. I had looked up to see large, black birds stretching their huge wings: a flock of just-awakening turkey vultures had roosted there overnight. I knew that these birds always returned to Boulder late each summer and could be watched circling various parts of town for a week or so, gradually drifting off on their journey toward the east. I smile as I recall an image some might consider ominous: black wings circling in the updraft from the University of Colorado power plant just as a new crop of freshmen arrives for orientation.

    Now as I wait — savoring this quiet, pre-dawn spring morning — my thoughts return to the mystery this new garden has revealed and I again smile at another fleeting thought:

Just how long have turkey vultures been around and how many generations of this particular flock have made the annual flight through what is now my home town. For that matter, how long have monarch butterflies been making their multi-generational circuit across the continent, over these Rocky Mountains and on to their very special forest in Mexico?

    It seems fitting that this garden has raised my curiosity about nature and the cycles of time. My wandering thoughts are brought back to the present as my passenger strides out of his house, bag in hand, and hurries toward the car. I manage to transition back to business just in time to load the suitcase into the trunk as he opens the car door and settles into the back seat.

    “I read about your discovery,” I venture, turning the wheel and pulling out of the driveway, hoping these few words will be enough to strike up a conversation.

    “Oh, you mean the tools,” he answers. “Quite the experience.”

    Wanting to keep the conversation going, I accidentally blurt out my first thought about another spring morning when drenching rains were rushing down this very street, “Wouldn’t there have been many floods over the years, washing everything away?”

    “Actually,” he responds, “A geologist told me that this area has been quite stable on that time scale. In geologic time, yes, there would have been many changes, but not on the human scale.”

    He goes on to tell me more of the discovery that had first caught my interest in that local news account about a cache of prehistoric hunting implements dug up in his yard.

    “What was it like when you first reached into that hole,” I venture. “How did you feel as you first began to understand that you were holding something in your hand for the first time since...”

    There is a moment of silence. He takes a breath. Then his voice quickens with excitement.

    “I knew they were old. At first I thought Indians left the tools, maybe a couple hundred years ago.” He pauses, “They were carefully packed together in a hole about the size of a large shoebox. Eighty-three in all. No spear points or arrowheads. These were all implements for cutting, for butchering large animals. We found tissue remnants on a few. Tests confirmed proteins from camel, horse, sheep and bear. You know, there were once camels living right in this area, but they all went extinct around 13,000 years ago, along with the elephants, North American horses and giant ground sloths.” Another pause, followed by a chuckle, “It’s a little disconcerting when I think of a caveman butchering a camel in my own yard.”

    He continues, “Whoever made these tools was a skilled craftsman. There was probably only one individual in the community capable of making these.”

    We drive on. Again, a short silence. Then his words emerge from the shadows of the back seat and take my breath away: “It may have been an astronomical event,” he says. “Human populations in all of North America were decimated around the same time that the big animals disappeared.”

    We are now on the highway leaving Boulder and I accelerate under the still pre-dawn sky that is just beginning to brightening up ahead. “There is a theory — controversial but fascinating — that a comet colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere may have caused the extinctions.” Another pause and then he continues, “The climate had been warming for a long time, but then there was a sudden return to ice-age temperatures lasting well over a thousand years.”

    Stars have faded, but deep shadows remain. Looking across the field we are now passing, I feel a shiver in my spine. I remember what I once saw looking across this very field late one night while driving another passenger.

  1. It was a bright purple fireball splitting apart in the sky to the south. Were any fragments of that meteorite ever found? Strange there were no sounds to accompany such dramatic fireworks. Might the person burying those tools have seen something similar followed by devastation beyond comprehension?

    My passenger continues, “A comet would have broken up in the atmosphere with the force of many nuclear explosions, and would have spread fire everywhere, basically igniting the continent.” He adds that a scientific team may analyze the soil from around the artifacts in search of microscopic nanodiamonds which would have been formed by the intense heat and pressure of a comet exploding in the atmosphere. “There is a narrow layer of dark material above the artifacts, about 18 inches underground. There is sandy gravel above and below but then there is this dark band above the tools.”

  1. Diamonds? North America on fire? Mass extinctions possibly caused by a comet? Physical evidence right here in this man’s garden? Does this somehow speak to the challenges of our world today? I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how it must have felt to reach into a backyard hole and actually touch something purposely put there by another human so very long ago.

    We drive over the hill toward the orange glow of the almost visible sun.

  1. I feel something akin to an empathetic connection with a fellow human being across the rather wide gulf of thirteen thousand years.

    The conversation with my passenger now strikes me as a “friend-of-a-friend introduction” to a stone-age craftsman arranged by the man now sitting in the back seat of my car, a man who had personally brushed away ancient soil from the tools carefully hidden so very long ago.

    The sun has emerged above the horizon, first as an intensely bright speck, now looking like a small line of fire. Soon there will be a disk painful to the eye.

  1. How many times has that sun risen over these fields during those 13,000 years? A million, two million? Perhaps even more. I again wonder, why did the ancient one so carefully pack away such valuable tools but never return to retrieve them? Could it be that his (or her) world came to a sudden end? Or were the tools simply misplaced and forgotten? In my feelings of connection, it seems that somebody should know the answers, but there is no one from that time left to ask.

    My passenger makes a call on his cell phone. I put on my sunglasses.  The sky has become a pale blue as this moment, too, passes beyond the gateway of the “present” to take its place alongside all the other moments we humans have defined as “the past.”

Gil Campbell


Click on Titles to Explore . . .

Where Do We Go From Here?
Most of us will do anything we can to avoid the loss of stability — indeed, the pain — of crisis. Yet, it is within this this time of disruption that a new beginning can be found.

Flowing With The Four Winds
Show Up
Be Receptive
Speak Your Own Truth
Don’t Be Attached to the Outcome

Driving Into a Prehistoric Dawn
This article is the start of a series
that takes a long view of our place
in history triggered by a personal experience of touching the distant past.

Something Strange Happened
Scientists debate the possible causes and meanings of a major crisis that occurred about 13,000 years ago. This second article in the series explores what is known of the rapid changes of that time, and explores possible causes.

What Might They (Someday) Think of Us?
After looking back to prehistoric events, consider now how our present time may be viewed from the far distant future.

The series concludes by checking in on some special artifacts of our own time awaiting discovery by those 13,000 years in the future.

Eating Away at Plastic Pollution
A Canadian teen gets tired of plastic bag clutter and finds a way to help nature 

Friendly Skies of Rufus 
Customer satisfaction may be at an all time low, but sometimes one person really can make a difference.

Future Articles . . .
The Hero’s Journey
Do we answer the Call of the Hero’s Journey or slip back into a continuing complacency?  The choice is ours as a society, and especially as individuals in choosing who we are and who we shall become.

Unintended Consequences
Galileo cautioned that protective efforts may lead to even greater damage. 

Today’s solution may become tomorrow’s problem.

New Neural Networks

Bottom/Up Planning

The Problem with Panic
The responses that cause panic attacks today helped our ancestors survive and get us this far, but times have changed

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NEXT:  Something Strange Happened 12,900 Years Ago

Another time of change that was completely beyond the

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