While many archaeologists dig for clues to antiquity, a California state archaeologist has collected and catalogued the remains of a much more recent but equally curious civilization: a 1960s hippie commune. E. Breck Parkman is in charge of a collection from the wreckage of the Olompali commune in northern California that includes “melted sneakers, scorched fabric, broken plates, a tube of 40-year-old face cream [and] red Monopoly hotels,” Archaeology magazine reports in its July-August issue. Which doesn’t sound as exciting as, say, purple velvet bell bottoms, lava lamps, and skull bongs, but hey, they’re still sorting through it all.
Known to most as the Ranch because it was located on a 680-acre horse ranch, Olompali was at the epicenter of 1960s hippiedom, with folks like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and the Grateful Dead hanging out and 60 young hippies rooming at the property’s 22-room mansion. (The Dead even were pictured at the Ranch in an iconic photograph on the back of their 1969 album Aoxomoxoa, accompanied by a 6-year-old flower child named Courtney Love.) The party started in 1967 and was over by the end of ’69 as members fell into infighting and the mansion burned down. (Bummer, man.)
Now part of a state historic park, the old haunts have been picked over by Parkman, who has long bucked resistance to his scholarly approach toward sorting through “hippie trash,” as some have called it. As far back as 1981, he drew laughter at a public hearing for suggesting that the hippie era was one of the important periods in the park’s history. Now, in order to save precious state budget money, he has enlisted several museum curators and two former commune residents to help him winnow down the collection.
Despite the hedonistic nature of their subject, Parkman and his helpers have done their archaeologists’ work diligently and soberly, packing up the remnants of the whole long, strange trip into neatly labeled office boxes. Among the keepers: about 30 pieces of butchered cow and pig bones that might be from the mansion’s final communal feast.
Asks Parkman: “Where else do you have the last supper of a hippie commune?”
Image courtesy of California State Parks.