Daniel S. Meatte

(Taken from Prehistory of the Western Snake River Basin (1990) pp.21-38)



The addition of new federal preservation laws beginning with the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (U.S. Code 83 Stat. 852) dramatically changed archaeology as a profession, both at the national and state levels. The creation of a federal hierarchy of archaeological positions charged with inventory and evaluation of cultural resources on federal lands shifted personnel and research interests into new domains. The compliance work generated by the federal agencies, primarily the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, created a flood of projects, which, in turn, generated a wealth of literature, some good and some bad.

During this decade (1970s), archaeological investigations in southern Idaho, eastern Oregon and northern Nevada were dominated by the federal compliance work, although many research projects were undertaken during this time as well. Regrettably, it is impossible to describe here all of the literature pertaining to the study area (summaries can be found in Gaston 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986; Wylie 1978; Wylie and Flynn 1977). The sheer volume of this literature is simply overwhelming. Unpublished reports, manuscripts, and letter reports have increasingly become the standard "currency" of federal and state compliance work. While much of this literature documents the absence of archaeological resources in a prescribed location, it nevertheless represents archaeological data. To a given researcher, absence of archaeological sites within a prescribed area is as important as presence. The need for published bibliographic inventories of federal- and state-generated literature, trivial and substantial, is desperately needed.

Due to the sizable volume of literature, only the more significant reports have been reviewed here. The weighing of this literature as to what is relevant and/or significant was somewhat arbitrary considering the variety of research and management interests that exist. This review focused on excavations and survey projects that contain data relevant to chronology building, subsistence and settlement reconstruction, and or processual explanations. A complete listing of archaeological surveys and excavations conducted within the study area are shown in Appendices I and II.

The first major archaeological excavation to be conducted in the study area under the newly created federal legislation was in 1970. Salvage excavations within a Forest Service road right-of-way were conducted at the Rock Creek site (1O-CA-33), an open camp and workshop site in Cassia Mountains of southcentral Idaho (J. Green 1972; Pavesic and Green 1971). Archaeological work at the Rock Creek site revealed five occupation periods spanning some 8,000 years from approximately 10,500 years B.P. to 2,000 years B.P. (J. Green 1972).

Later, in 1978, unauthorized construction activities in previously disturbed portions of the site area, necessitated an assessment of the damage (Bousman, et al. 1979). Exploratory test excavations, coupled with extensive post-hole augering, were conducted primarily in areas outside the original right-of-way impact area examined by Pavesic and Green (Bousman et al. 1979).

In 1971, Jason W. Smith joined the faculty at Boise State College and initiated a research program focused on southern Idaho archaeology (Smith and Smith 1971). The program began with the creation of the Idaho Archaeological Society, a non-profit association of amateur and professional archaeologists whose purpose was "to provide an organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the cultural heritage of Idaho through the mediums of anthropology and archaeology" (Idaho Archaeological Society Charter). The Idaho Archaeological Society initially served as a forum for group meetings, field trips, and classroom instruction in archaeological field and laboratory methods. Since its inception, the organization has grown steadily in membership and assumed a large role in Idaho archaeology, sponsoring an annual professional conference and publishing a quarterly journal, the Idaho Archaeologist.

In the spring of 1972, Smith organized a regional conference, The 1st International Cordilleran Conference (March 4-5, 1972), at Boise State College to provide a forum for the presentation of current archaeological research from the intermontane west. Sponsored jointly by Boise State College and the Idaho Archaeological Society, the conference filled an important void in the local archaeology by providing an accessible forum for the growing population of archaeologists in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. While the conference was successful in format and content, its intended goal of annual meetings was never realized.

The Idaho State Highway Archaeology program was relocated from Idaho State University to Boise State College in 1973 in an effort to centralize the administrative offices of the Idaho State Highway Department (now Idaho Department of Transportation). Max G. Pavesic, Program Director, integrated the contracting program with educational facilities at Boise State College to provide students with practical job experience working on various surveys and salvage projects across the state. Kenneth Ames directed the program from 1975 until 1978, when the program was absorbed by the Idaho Department of Transportation and an in-house archaeologist, Jenna Gaston, was appointed.

After implementing the Highway Salvage program at Boise State College, Pavesic then focused on establishing research objectives to develop local archaeological resources (Pavesic 1978a). These goals included the formation of a statewide archaeological conference in conjunction with the Idaho Archaeological Society, the development and refinement of the local chronological sequences (Webster 1978; Webster and Peterson 1974, 1975), intensive site survey programs of poorly studied areas (Metzler 1976a, 1976b, 1977a; Pavesic and Meatte 1981; Plew1976a, 1978a), the delineation of an early Archaic burial pattern indigenous to western Idaho (Pavesic 1979, 1985), the reconstruction of aboriginal anadromous fisheries (Meatte 1982, 1983; Pavesic 1986a; Pavesic et al. 1987; Plew 1980f, 1983c), and studies of Shoshone ethnohistory (Meatte 1986b; Pavesic 1978b). Pavesic also implemented an archaeological monograph series entitled Boise State University, Archaeological Reports that continues today. Published on an irregular basis, the series presents "field and laboratory investigation results with either basic or applied research objectives" (Editors' preface).

At Boise State University, the first research project attempted to develop a local chronological sequence. The project was the excavation of Dry Creek Rockshelter (10-AA-68), a small sheltered overhang in the foothills north of Boise, Idaho, (Figure 24). The excavation was conducted in 1975 by Gary Webster, under the direction of Max G. Pavesic (Webster and Peterson 1975; Webster 1978). Webster documented a long, dated sequence of cultural occupations, the first from southwestern Idaho, ranging from 4,100 years B.P. to 1,300 years B.P. The sequence contained a significant collection of material culture and two human burials (Webster 1978:9). Just prior to the excavations at Dry Creek Rockshelter, a small rockshelter (10-AA-67) in the same vicinity was test excavated, but with minimal results (Webster and Peterson 1974).

In a cooperative effort between Boise State University and Indiana University Museum, Mark G. Plew conducted an inventory survey of federal lands along the Camas Creek drainage basin in the Owyhee Uplands of southwestern Idaho (Plew 1976a, 1985). A nearly identical effort was underway some 80 km away. This time, in a cooperative effort between Boise State University and Washington State University, Sharon Metzler conducted an inventory survey of federal lands along the Brown Creek drainage basin in the Owyhee Uplands of southwestern Idaho (Metzler 1976b). These two projects marked the first intensive surveys of the Owyhee Uplands region.

In 1978, Pavesic undertook an inventory survey of a large tract of private land east of Weiser, Idaho (Pavesic and Meatte 1981). In conjunction with this survey, test excavations were resumed at the Braden Burial site (10-WN-1 17), also near Weiser, Idaho. The excavations were intended to relocate and salvage existing cultural materials which were to be affected by a proposed sewer and drainage field (Pavesic 1979:7). These excavations indicated that portions of the site area were still intact as evidenced by the discovery of a possible burial pit containing a cache of large "turkey-tailed" bifaces (Pavesic 1979:9).

In 1979, Pavesic conducted archaeological test excavations at the Hagerman National Fish Hatchery (Figure 25), near Hagerman, Idaho, under contract with the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The investigations assessed the impact of a proposed expansion of hatchery facilities upon archaeological resources within the existing hatchery complex (Pavesic and Meatte 1980:1). Results of the test excavations indicated a significant site area (l0-GG-176) containing buried cultural features, including occupational surfaces, cache pits and several saucer-shaped features judged to be house structures (Pavesic and Meatte 1980:75-79). Age estimates suggested the site was occupied somewhere between 500 to 1,100 years B.P. (Pavesic and Meatte 1980:79). Additional test excavations at Hager-man National Fish Hatchery (lO-GG-176) were conducted by Eastern Washington University, Cheney, Washington, (Landis and Lothson 1983; Lothson and Virga 1981) and Western Heritage, Olympia, Washington, (Daugherty and Welch 1985) to further assess the impact of proposed construction activities upon existing cultural resources. Results of these testing activities reaffirmed the earlier conclusions and interpretations of Pavesic and Meatte (1980), and, in one case, were nullified by the fact that provisions for laboratory analysis were not a requirement of the contract (Lothson and Virga 1982).

As a result of mitigation needs, Kenneth Ames of Boise State University conducted salvage excavations of The Narrows Site (10-EL-296), an open campsite along the Snake River near Glenns Ferry, Idaho, (Ames 1976). The salvage excavations recovered no definable features and a rather small collection of artifactual material. Based on the presence of diagnostic artifacts, Ames estimated the site was sporadically occupied over the past 5,000 years (Ames 1976:10).

Downstream from The Narrows Site, near Swan Falls Dam, Kenneth Ames conducted test excavations at the Swan Falls Dam site (10-AA-17) for the Idaho Power Company (Ames 1982b). These test excavations (Figure 26) exposed a well-preserved, late prehistoric wickiup approximately three meters in diameter and covered with a thick mat of rye grass (Ames 1983:22). Radiocarbon dates obtained from the rye grass matting were contradictory, but Ames postulated a probable age of 600 to 800 years B.P. (1983:29).

Along the South Fork of the Payette River in west-central Idaho, Ames conducted test excavations of several sites recorded earlier during a survey of a proposed highway corridor between Garden Valley and Lowmen, Idaho, (Ames 1982a; Moore and Ames 1979). Results of these testing activities were relatively meager with low artifact densities and few time-sensitive artifacts recovered (Ames 1982a).

Ames also conducted test excavations at a series of sites within a proposed transmission line route running southward from the North Fork Hydroelectric Project along Squaw Creek to Montour, Idaho, and a site at the proposed Hydroelectric Project on the North Fork of the Payette River (Ames 1980, 1982a). These test excavations produced a limited amount of diagnostic artifacts suggesting sporadic occupation in the region for possibly the past 5,000 years (Ames 1982a:77).

Ames and Plew co-directed test excavations at the Silver Bridge Site (10-BO-1) on the North Fork of the Payette River north of Banks, Idaho. Data recovered from the test excavations revealed uniform sediments containing a small assemblage of diagnostic artifacts (Plew et al. 1984:66-67, 97). An age range of 2,000 to 5,000 years B.P. was estimated for the occupations based on point typology, obsidian hydration dates and a single radiometric date (1984:51).

In 1986 and 1987, Mark Plew directed the Boise State University field school at a late prehistoric campsite along the Snake River, near Glenns Ferry, Idaho. Excavations at Three Island Crossing (10-EL-294) revealed the presence of a small house structure (wickiup?), two living surfaces, and a large collection of pottery and anadromous fish remains (Meyer and Gould 1987). Three radiometric dates placed the age of the house structure at approximately 900 years B.P. (Mark Plew, personal communication 1988).

Also, Plew and members of the Idaho Archaeological Society conducted test excavations at Nahas Cave (10-OE-1674) on Pole Creek in Owyhee County, Idaho (Figure 27). The excavation was undertaken to recover a long, dated occupation sequence for the Owyhee Uplands region (Plew 1980f, g, 1981a, 1986b, 1987a; Plew and Woods 1985b). Results of the excavations indicated that Nahas Cave had been sporadically occupied for the past 6,000 years (Plew 1986b:98). The Nahas Cave chronology appears to substantiate an earlier four-phase chronology for the Owyhee Uplands developed by Plew (1979b).

Thomas Green of the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office, in conjunction with the Idaho Archaeological Society, undertook a long-term research project to describe and assess the culture history along the Snake River region in southwestern Idaho (T. Green 1982a; Moe 1978). This project focused on a series of sites at Givens Hot Springs, along the Snake River in southwestern Idaho (Figure 28). Beginning in the summer of 1979, excavations revealed a large number of house pit features associated with a wealth of artifactual debris ('I'. Green 1982a:41). Age assessments for the various house structures and their associated features range from 700 years B.P. to 4,000 years B.P. (T. Green 1982a:42). The house features range in size from small, saucer shaped basins (3.75 m in diameter), to large, steep-sided pit houses (6.75 m in diameter) containing internal roof posts (Green 1988). Additional work has been conducted by Green at a nearby site, Mud Springs (1O-OE-2614), revealing similar house structures (Figure 29) (Davis and Green 1988).

Idaho State University continued to conduct archaeological investigations in the study area primarily in the context of state and federal compliance work (Butler 1976, 1977, 1978a, 1982a, 1984; Butler and Murphey 1982a, 1982b, 1983; Butler and Waite 1978a, 1978b; Cinadr 1976; Polk 1974; Struthers 1976a, b; see Appendices I and II).

Archaeological investigations in the study area by the University of Idaho are limited to several cultural resource surveys (Knudson and Pfaff 1980; Moe et al. 1980; Murphey 1977a, b), and a salvage excavation of a prehistoric campsite (Figure 30) situated within a proposed spillway addition to the existing Lucky Peak Dam, near Boise, Idaho, (Knudson 1977; Sappington 1982). Salvage excavations were conducted by Lee Sappington in 1977 at the Lydle Gulch site (10-AA-72) after initial test excavations indicated a sizable site area existed within the proposed construction area (Sappington 1982:1-2). Sappington documented six natural stratigraphic units containing two cultural components (Sappington 1982:iii). Radiocarbon dates placed the age of the upper component at 800-1,200 years B.P., but no absolute age assessment was determined for the lower component (Sappington 1982:177).

Idaho Archaeological Consultants, Boise, Idaho, performed test excavations in several localities along the Snake River in southwestern Idaho. At the Snake River Birds of Prey Natural Area, in southwestern Idaho, seven sites (10-AA-28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, and 166) were test excavated for the Idaho Nature Conservancy (Plew 1980c). These excavations indicated the presence of a possible house structure in association with an assemblage of late period diagnostic artifacts dating to approximately 700 years B.P. (Plew 1980c:40).

Upstream, near Bliss, Idaho, Idaho Archaeological Consultants undertook extensive test excavations at four prehistoric sites (10-GG-1, 1O-TF-352, 354, and 350) within a proposed reservoir pool area (Figure 31). These test excavations produced a wealth of cultural material representing three distinct temporal components spanning some 4,000 to 5,000 years (Plew 1981c:167).

B. Robert Butler Associates, Pocatello, Idaho, undertook a resurvey of the proposed Dike Hydroelectric project along the Snake River near King Hill, Idaho, (Butler and Murphey 1982b). During this survey, test excavations were performed at an unnamed site (10-EL-216) near Bancroft Springs. These excavations revealed a housepit associated with late archaic artifactual materials that were interpreted as "probably Fremont in origin" (Butler and Murphey 1982b:12). The following year, test excavations by B. Robert Butler Associates at the Kanaka Rapids locality (10-GG-273, 275, 278, 1O-TF-320, 529, 531), some 56 km upstream from Bancroft Springs, recovered a small but varied collection of cultural material including projectile points, pottery, ground stone artifacts, faunal remains and a house structure (Butler and Murphey 1983:32-36).

Members of the Hagerman Valley Historical Society, under the direction of Kelley Murphey, Castleford, Idaho, conducted salvage excavations at the Crutchfield Site (10-00-191), along Billingsley Creek north of Hager-man, Idaho (Murphey and Crutchfield 1986). These excavations revealed four possible house features together with an assortment of diagnostic artifacts and faunal remains. Age assessments based on four radiometric dates indicated the site was occupied intermittently from 4,600 to 600 years B.P. (Murphey and Crutchfield 1986:92-95).

The Museum of Anthropology, University of Kansas, conducted an assessment of archaeological resources in the Montour Wildlife/Recreation Area in Gem County, Idaho (Artz 1983). The investigations centered on the assessment of six prehistoric sites (10-GM-SO, 55, 56, 59, 60, and 61) recorded during a previous archaeological inventory of the project area (Hart et al 1975). Results indicated a number of buried components dating from the past 5,300 years B.P. (Artz 1983:146). Of particular interest was the presence of a buried house pit at one of the sites (10-GM-61), dating approximately 3,000 years B.P. (Artz 1983:110).

In Oregon, John Fagan of the University of Oregon, conducted dissertation research in 1970 to assess the nature of Altithermal occupations in spring localities throughout the arid highlands of southeastern Oregon (Fagan 1974:5). Though most of the reconnaissance and test excavations were conducted within the confines of the Great Basin drainage area, five sites (35-AM-24, 25, 26, 30, and 33) within the Snake River drainage, along the upper tributaries of the Owyhee River were examined (Fagan 1974:7). Based on the results of test excavations at these and other sites in the area, Fagan concluded that the region was not completely abandoned during Altithermal times (7,000-5,000 years B.P.). Instead, he proposed that localized conditions and resources were far more important determinants of habitation patterns (Fagan 1974:105).

In 1973, Dave Cole and C. Melvin Aikens, of the University of Oregon, undertook a large-scale excavation at Dirty Shame Rockshelter (35-ML-65) in southeastern Oregon to recover a long chronological sequence. Their excavations revealed a deeply stratified rockshelter containing a wealth of perishable and artifactual materials (Figure 32). Well-preserved house structures, storage pits, floral and faunal remains, and dietary information recovered from human coprolites, provided a detailed information about the shelters' aboriginal occupants. Divisible into six cultural zones, the deposits evidenced human occupations spanning the past 9,500 years with the exception of a hiatus from 5,900 to 2,700 years B.P. (Aikens et al. 1977).

Richard Pettigrew, Oregon State Museum of Anthropology, University of Oregon, conducted salvage excavations at ten sites straddling Stinkingwater Pass, near Buchanan, Oregon, (Pettigrew 1979). Seven of the sites excavated by Pettigrew lie within the Snake River drainage basin (35-HA-69, 70, 71, 72, 74, 75, and 76). Results of these excavations indicated that intensive use of the Stinkingwater Pass area began approximately 4,500 years B.P. and lasted until historic times (1979:59).

Ted Long, of Treasure Valley Community College, conducted excavations at the Moore Ranch site (35-ML-66) near Vale, Oregon (Long 1974, McNeill 1978b). Excavations at the open campsite revealed at least two discreet occupation areas containing a variety of lithic debris and late period projectile points (Long 1974; McNeill 1978b). A small test excavation was conducted by Patrick McNeill of the Bureau of Land Management, Vale District, at the Butler II Site next to Rhinehart Butte, at the confluence of the Malbeur River and Bully Creek, near Vale, Oregon, (McNeil 1978a). The test excavations produced a limited assemblage of cultural material with few or no diagnostic artifacts (McNeill 1978a:1).

In northern Nevada, archaeological test excavations were conducted at the Twin Valley Springs Shelter (26-HU-1075) to assess the context of a possible Pleistocene mountain sheep skull recovered during construction activities at Twin Valley Spring (Madsen 1979). Though results of excavations could not substantiate the Pleistocene age assignment for the mountain sheep skull (Webb and Miller 1979:18-19), they indicated the site was occupied between 8,500 to 2,500 years B.P., and served as a "short-term hunting camp" (Madsen 1979:13).

Most archaeological activities conducted within the study area in the 1970s were cultural resource inventories and assessments of developmental impacts. Due to their somewhat more random distribution over the landscape, these studies were productive in providing archaeologists with new insights into geographic settings previously considered unproductive or marginal. The rapid growth of cultural resource assessments in the 1970s continued into the early 1980s, as a shift toward documenting eligibility of recorded sites was undertaken, usually in the form of exploratory test excavations or of mitigation oriented excavation. The advent of the U. S. economic recession in 1982, however, signaled a decline in state and federally sponsored cultural resource management projects. By 1985 the number of impact studies was reduced significantly to the pre-cultural resource levels of the 1960s.

With the growth of the regional data base during the 1970s, a more refined chronology emerged (T. Green 1982a; Plew 1981c, 1982b; Webster 1978). Commensurate with these developments was a perceptible shift toward formulating regional research designs and developing specific research questions (Ames 1982c). Long-term research programs designed to describe areal settlement patterns were undertaken in the Owyhee Uplands (Plew 1976a, 1978a, 1979b, 1980a; Moe 1978; Murphey 1 985a) and along the South Fork of the Payette River (Ames 1982a; Plew et al. 1984). More specialized analyses involving problem-specific or trait-specific questions have examined archaic burial patterns, such as the Western Idaho Archaic Burial Complex (T. Green et al. 1986; Pavesic 1985), the evidence for fishing in the archaeological record (Meatte 1982, 1986a; Pavesic 1978b, Plew 1983c, 1987a), lithic technology (Plew and Woods 1985c; Woods 1987; Woods and Titmus 1985), and analyses of Shoshone and Fremont pottery (Butler 1979a, 1979b, 1980d, 1981b, 1981c, 1985b, 1987; Plew 1979d, 1980d, 1980e, 1981d).