Southeastern Idaho Native American Prehistory and History

by E.S. Lohse

Taken from Manual for Archaeological Analysis: Field and Laboratory Analysis Procedures. Department of Anthropology Miscellaneous Paper No. 92-1 (revised). Idaho Museum of Natural History, Pocatello, Idaho 1993.


Archaic Period, ca. 7800-1300 B.P.

Shortly after about 8000 B.P., the lanceolate point types characteristic of the preceding Plano Period were replaced by Bitterroot or Northern Side-notched points and stemmed-indented base points. As defined by Willey and Phillips (1958), the Archaic Period is the stage in North American prehistory characterised by generalized hunting-and-gathering economies in physical environments basically similar to those of today. Hunters took modern forms of bison, mountain sheep, deer, and small game. Plant resources were an important, dominant part of the diet. It is assumed that the atlatl and dart weapon system enters the archaeological record during the Archaic Period, and that this is reflected in the smaller and more variable types of projectile point types.

The stemmed-indented base point type appears to be older than the Northern Side-notched. It is found in deposits immediately overlying the Late Plano occupation at Owl Cave (the Wasden Site), and radiocarbon dated at about 7750 B.P. Stemmed-indented base points were also recovered from occupations at Wilson Butte Cave radiocarbon dated at 6890 B.P. Northern Side-notched points enter the sequence at Wilson Butte Cave in deposits dated about 6500 B.P. (Gruhn 1961). At Veratic Rockshelter in the Birch Creek Valley, Northern Side-notched points are found in strata thought to have dated about 8200 B.P. and continue on in the record to about 3450 B.P. (Swanson 1972). An excellent stratigraphic context is preserved for Northern Side-notched points at the Jimmy Olsen Rockshelter, where characteristic Northern Side-notched points were found in multiple activity surfaces lying just above redeposited layers of what is thought to be Mazama Ash. The bottom two strata have been radiocarbon dated at about 5420 B.P. and 5300 B.P. (Lohse 1991; Beta Analytic 43627 and 43626). Similar sequences have been recorded at Weston Canyon Rockshelter, southern Idaho, where stemmed-indented base points mark the earliest occupation dated about 8000 B.P., are replaced later by Northern Side-notched points from about 7800-5500 B.P., and then Humboldt Concave Base points after 5500 B.P. (Miller 1972).

The "Western Idaho Burial Complex" is distinctive pattern of burial marking the Archaic Period (Pavesic 1983). The best known site is the Braden burial site near Weiser, ID (Butler 1980; Harten 1980). Large bifaces, some of the "Turkey-tail type" with very low side notches, large corner-notched points, large side-notched points, obsidian preforms, and red ochre were found as characteristic burial associations. This complex is thought to date about 6000-4000 B.P. Similar point types have been found in southeastern Idaho, but without the obvious burial context.

The earliest use of subterranean dwellings is found at the Givens Hot Springs site on the Snake River in southwestern Idaho, dated at least 4300 B.P. (Green 1982). The houses are 6-8 meters in diameter, have floors over 1 meter in depth, and multiple roof support posts. Northern Side-notched and Humboldt Concave base projectile points were found in association with hopper mortar bases on the house floors. Later house floors have Elko point types in association with hopper mortar bases. Occupations appear to have been during the winter months, and the inhabitants ate deer, rabbits, and river mussels (Gonidea angulata). Dwelling sites appear to have been small during this time, consisting of two or three houses at locations scattered up and down the Snake River and its tributaries.

Reed et al. (1986) have divided the Archaic Period into three subperiods: an Early Archaic (7500-500 B.P.), marked by use of Northern Side-notched type projectile points and the large bifurcate or stemmed-indented base projectile points also labeled Pinto series; a Middle Archaic period (5000-3500 B.P.), marked by a proliferation of projectile point types rather than any one point type but including McKean like lanceolate and stemmed points, Elko series points, and Humboldt series points; and a Late Archaic (3500-1300 B.P.), marked by a number of projectile point types including Pelican Lake points, Besant points, and Elko series points.

The Archaic is characterised by an Altithermal climatic shift toward warmer and drier conditions, which Reed et al. (1986:110) suggest prompted bison hunting populations of the Plains to enter the upper Snake River Basin and begin hunting mountain sheep as well as bison. Certainly, as defined by Willey and Phillips (1958), the Archaic in this region documents a highly diversified subsistence. Butler (1978) argues that as the Altithermal reached its maximum about 3800 B.P., grasses essential to large bison herds began to fail, and bison hunting populations must have experienced some dietary stress than could be expected to prompt changes in subsistence strategy. As documented by Green's (1982) work at the Givens Hot Spring site our earliest evidence of the use of housepits is roughly coincident with the proposed Altithermal maximum as well, and is fully characteristic of significant changes in human adaptive strategy emerging during the Archaic period on the Snake River drainage.

Next II Back