Exploring Nevada’s mining past involves traveling through the historical corridors revealed by documents, landscapes, architecture, and the archaeological record. Each pathway follows an independent source of information that can be combined and used interactively with the others to construct models of the past (Deetz 1988). One source of information, like written documents, can provide a preliminary model of a mining technology, household, or community. The archaeologist or historian can derive hypotheses from the model and test them with data acquired from new research into the archaeological record, architecture, landscapes, or documents. The new information helps modify the preliminary model, leading to the identification of new hypotheses that can be tested and used to revise the model further. In this manner, the construction of mining’s past from several independent sources of information is cyclical and continuously evolving.
One corridor into Nevada’s mining past is through written and pictorial documents (image 1). Community plats, cartographic sources, iconographic and pictorial material, company records, records of social service workers, professional and technical journals, consultants’ reports, governmental publications, newspaper accounts, census records, and city directories are the most common documentary accounts of mining (Alanen 1979).
The Townsite Surveys of the General Land Office are one of the most important sources of plats for mining camps. Plats are available for several Nevada mining settlements, including Esmeralda, Aurora, Washoe City, Austin, American City, and Mineral City (Reps 1975). In addition, Sanborn fire insurance maps of several mining towns, including the Comstock towns of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, and Dayton, are available