Descanso, Calif. — As a Forest Service archaeologist, Margaret Hangan finds history inashes.
She scours the smoldering moonscapes left by wildfires for signs of long-gone civilizations.
After the Horse Fire burned through forest land just east of San Diego last summer, Hangan found remnants of a tribe’s village.
As she works, an oak tree still burns nearby. Its solid trunk is a living ember.
Hangan said of the village, “This place was happening. They had water, food, grass for baskets _ everything they needed.”
Forest Service archaeologists have found more than 318,000 historic sites in federal parkland. Thousands more have been unearthed by workers in state parks.
Experts say the majority of historic site discoveries are made after fires and often reveal the artifacts of villages and campgrounds.
Archaeologist Richard Fitzgerald says fires are a double-edged sword.
“They can be very destructive, but after a big fire you can find new sites, even in areas that have been surveyed before.”
Fire crews last month found an abandoned gold mining camp and an adobe homestead from the 1800s while battling the gargantuan Day Fire. It burned for nearly a month in Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles.
Archaeologists hope more can be found from the area of the intense-burning fire in the future.