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.
Prehistoric Site Types
Reed et al. (1986) have identified classes of archaeological site types for the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory grounds.
These sites contain artifacts indicative of processing of multiple natural resources and stays of fairly long duration. They may contain evidence of dwellings, storage facilities, hearths, and a broad artifact inventory including non-portable items like heavy grinding stones and pottery, and variable small tool types from projectile points to simple utilized flakes. Site stratigraphy can be predicted to be patterned and relatively complex in both vertical and horizontal dimensions. These sites should be situated within short distance of multiple overlapping resource arrays including access to water, firewood, sheltered location, and high density clusters of plant and animal resources.
These sites may or may not contain smaller scale artifact assemblages comparable to those predicted for residential bases. Field camps are defined as being on a smaller scale than the residential bases, as having fewer people involved generally and perhaps reflecting more specialized activities. These sites will most often reflect extraction of single rather than multiple resources. They will include hunting camps where game was butchered and lightly processed, seed-gathering camps where plant parts were reduced and processed for easy transport, and good fishing locations where fish might be filleted and dried for hauling back to a residential base. Field camps will have less patterned site structure with fewer instances of elaborate cultural features beyond simple hearths. Recurrent visits will tend to make occupations difficult to define, and will result in dense artifact concentrations with little pronounced clustering reflecting temporal or functional differences in the assemblage. These sites should be situated within fairly direct proximity to the resources being tapped, often with less concern for access of water, firewood, or sheltered location.
These sites will contain evidence of focused extraction of a single important resource, and should not reflect stays of any duration. There will be no evidence of processing beyond that required for immediate extraction and transport to a field camp, and no evidence of camping activity reflected in features like hearths. Quarry areas for procurement of stone to work into tools and hunting sites exemplified in broken projectile points and light contained scatters of simple expedient tools like utilized flakes will dominate this site type. It is expected that plant extraction sites and fishing sites will be hard to recognize simply because the artifact inventory to procure these resources is highly perishable and suffers little loss in the extractive process. These sites should be located on the resource being extracted with no concern at all for water, firewood, or shelter, except as these may coincide with the distribution of natural resource arrays.
Cache sites are defined as isolated storage locales for significant raw and finished resources. They may not be in direct association with any other site type. These sites may consist of patterned cultural features like prepared holes or cists, or they may be simply natural features like crevices or small overhangs in rock walls. Cultural context supplied in the limited overt patterning of these sites can be invaluable, since it represents discrete prehistoric or historic activity with cultural materials preserved in meaningful temporal and functional association. Artifact assemblages will characteristically show little variability within each cache, but the range across cache sites could show a broad range of economic and social or ideological activities. Encounter of these sites can be judged to be infrequent given their small size and prehistoric and historic efforts to obscure their location. Eroded banks along the reservoir and rock faces or areas of large tumbled stone should be routinely scoured for these types of features.
These sites are defined as information gathering and information transmittal locations like vantage points, cairns, or rock art faces. Portable artifacts may be found and some evidence of camping might be observed, but in general, these sites will be lightly marked by artifact associations and will tend to have obvious correlates with landscape characteristics.
All of these site types may be encountered in archaeological surveys in southeastern Idaho.
Most sites in the residential base or field camp category would have been located where multiple resource arrays emerged. Sources of water, firewood, and sheltered locations will tend to cluster where rivers and streams bend, slow, widen out, or where small to large side streams or drainages feed into main channels, or where constrictions or geological features have altered the river and stream courses. The variables described above would also have enticed historic European activities to overlap with Native American activities. Often, sites selected for homesteads, towns, fishing, grazing, or hunting are those selected for in the past by prehistoric peoples.
To date, there has been little effective, systematic archaeological survey of any significant topographic features on or near the Snake River Plain other than intensive survey work done on the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. The natural environment on the INEL consists of a relatively flat, unbroken volcanic landscape overlain by dunes and flanked by high buttes. Collapsed lava tubes and restricted riparian zones associated with seasonally inundated playas dot the landscape. Prehistoric human activity was channeled by the natural landscape, and therefore limited in scale and scope.
Other major productive resource zones on or associated with the Snake River Plain include the major river drainages and the surrounding mountain masses. Neither major topographic feature has been systematically surveyed for archaeological resources. Swanson's (1972) work in the Birch Creek Valley was limited to understanding geological deposition, environmental change, and cultural chronology. Holmer's (1986) work at Wahmuza in the Fort Hall Bottoms along the Snake River, is invaluable because it sampled a resource environment heretofore untapped, but the work was seriously limited by restrictions put on survey of larger sections of the bottoms along the river and dunes and terraces away from the river or drainages flowing into the Snake.
Any major riverine resource area should produce a variety of prehistoric hunting, fishing, plant gathering, and residential sites of some scale and complexity. The prehistoric record for southeastern Idaho is a relative uknown in this regard simply due to the selective restrictions of past research. The ethnohistoric and ethnographic records offer some tantalizing clues on how Shoshonean peoples used the river or related to it, but to date we have had little opportunity to explore these relationships in any detail. The historical record of early exploration and contact offers some very biased yet invaluable descriptions of Shoshoneans using the riverine environments, describing large camps down on the Snake River, with Shoshone taking fish, gathering plants, and hunting (Clark 1986). The record of early trappers and explorers has also created the opportunity for historical archaeology focused on finding sites of this early historic activity. We know that the Astorians were the first to traverse the Snake River, and that they had multiple accidents, canoe turn-overs, and camp sites along the river. Later trappers were known to have exploited resources along the Snake, and immigrants travelling down the Oregon Trail touched upon the river environments. Still later, early farms and ranches were placed in sheltered, watered locations on the river. So, the riverine environments were an attraction for both prehistoric and historic populations.
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