Monday, June 2, 2014

Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology

To understand why the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology (WCAP) is located in the rolling hills behind Hemet, CA, it is important to look at the past. The area is rich in history and starts with the Soboba Band of Lusieno Indians who first inhabited the area. The Domenigoni family, who were some of the first settlers, arrived in the area in the 1880's. For more than 100 years, the family farmed the area. However, even before that, the valley was populated with animals from the ice age. Saber tooth tigers, mastodons, giant sloths and many others roamed what is now Diamond Valley Lake.

When the Metropolitan Water District started their search for a new reservoir, they settled on the Domenigoni Valley. However, when scouting the area they found more than 90 sites that contained Indian artifacts and ice age fossils. This became the most interesting archaeological and paleontological dig ever. It came down to a basic cooperation between giant earth-movers and people with small brushes. As they unearthed artifacts, the earth-movers shifted to other areas giving the archaeologists and paleontologist’s time to unearth, preserve, catalog and move the specimens.

From the excavation, they removed more than 1,000,000 specimens. The WCAP opened as not only a museum but also a learning center. Half of the WCAP is dedicated to research labs and curation facilities. Scientists and researchers have the ability to advance their learning with state-of-the-art, climate-controlled labs. The labs are complete with 12 foot roll-up doors, equipment for heavy lifting, floor drains and water outlets. With this equipment, they are able to study the specimens. The WCAP is the repository for all the material excavated from Diamond Valley Lake. WCAP welcomes scholars, researchers, curatorial staff and cultural groups to study the collection.

The Museum is kid-friendly but appeals to adults as well. You can view two short movies that are entertaining and informative. One explains the animals in the museum and the people who lived there and the other is about the excavation. The screen wraps around more than half of the room and holds the attention of even the smallest of children.

Once in the display area, there are many things to do. You can make your own fossil. There is a place to unearth fossils using brushes. Built into the floor is a re-creation of the burial site of "Little Stevie", a juvenile mastodon. "Max" is the largest mastodon even found in the western United States. "Xena" is a 16,000-year-old mammoth and the giant sloth is called "Sammy". There are displays of the excavation and how all that earth was moved.

Many schools come to the WCAP for field trips. They provide additional programs for the children. In a classroom like setting, the children are given bags of matrix containing teeth, shells and other small fossils. They pour the mix into screens and sort the fossils. Given tweezers, the children are instructed not to touch the fossils. They also have a magnifying glass to examine them more closely. Each is given a guide to match the specimens. These are real fossils and the children feel empowered that they are allowed to work with something so special.

The museum also has on-going learning programs. For children 6 to 9 years old, they have a Super Science program. Children 11 to 15 years old can work in a simulated dig site in the Adventures in Archaeology program. There are programs for people 15 years or older, including Basic Forensic Anthropology. Scouts are welcomed to earn badges working with the education staff. WCAP has something for everyone.

As you leave the WCAP Campus, you might want to cool off at the Aquatic Center. It is directly across the street. It has a heated outdoor pool. There is a zero depth entry with fountain sprayers for the smaller children and a water slide for those more adventurous.

Before leaving the area, drive west to Winchester Road and go south to the entrance to the "Clayton A. Record Jr." Viewpoint. It overlooks the Diamond Valley Lake with views of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California's tallest mountain peaks. After visiting the museum, try to imagine the people and the animals that lived there. There is no admission cost. There is a paved walkway to the top but it still is quite a climb for elderly folks and young children.

The Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology reminds us that we have a very rich history and it's just a fun place to visit. 

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