Site Analysis

Summary of Early Analysis

wasden-2012_6_3361B. Robert Butler’s primary concern with the Wasden Site was the paleoclimatic implications that the site represented (Butler 1971a, 1972,1973). Butler’s analysis focused on the bison bone bed (layer 17) as an indicator of what he saw as a changing environment. The faunal remains of the bison population captured in the site are representative of a population in flux. The bison represent the change of the population from relatively larger Bison antiquus to the smaller modern form Bison bison at 8000BP (Butler 1968a, 1978). Also captured at Wasden was shift in population from pocket gophers (Thomomys) to rabbits (Sylvilagus) (Butler 1972). This is significant because Sylvilagus thrives in sagebrush areas, which are representative of the modern environment surrounding the Wasden site. Thomomys is more common in wetter environments, along streams, feeding on roots and stems of grasses. Butler (1972), based on the analysis that Guilday (1969)performed on the Wasden material, states that at 7000 BP, within the ratio of Thomomys and Sylivilagus, the Thomomys population declines and the Sylivilagus population increases based on raw bone counts taken from samples at Wasden. Overall both the populations decline at Wasden at this time period. Butler’s interpretation of these data is that at the Wasden site at about 8000-7000 BP the wetter climate was changing to a dryer climate as evidenced by shifts in the representative faunal populations in the area and in the evolving bison population. Further Butler states that such a shift has major implications for the human populations changing the economy of the population from big game hunting to more generalized hunting and gathering (Butler 1972). Guilday (1969) takes a less radical view and states that the decline in Thomomys population is indicative of small changes in the overall vegetative cover. The composition of the vegetative cover does not change, but the ratio of the various plants change in respect to each other. The palynology analysis performed by Charles Schweger of the University of Alberta, on a sample from the lower mammoth layer, gave the following results: Artemesia (sagebrush), 88.6%; Granineae (grasses) 5.0%; Compositae (weeds), 3.6%; Chenopodiaceae, 1.4%; Pinus (pine), 0.7%; Ranunculus Type, 0.7% (Miller 1982:93). This vegetative composition is similar to the current composition of the landscape surrounding the Wasden site giving credence to Guilday’s interpretation of the Wasden, and calling into question whether the shifting environment was a major or minor factor.

In the early analysis of the large faunal material was identified, to species and skeletal element, by members of the amateur society and B. Robert Butler. Microfauna was identified by John Guilday of the Carnegie Museum at the University of Pittsburgh, resulting in a count, by mandible, of 7248 individual small mammals (Guilday 1969:47). During the later investigation of the Wasden site, Miller analyzed the large faunal remains. Miller’s primary concern with the Wasden site was in the early mammoth layer as a prehistoric workshop representing bone modification (Miller 1982, 1989). She framed her analysis in the paleonotological question of how humans act as modifiers of the found faunal remains, or more accurately the differentiation of those features of bone alteration caused by humans from other agencies or processes (Miller 1989:381).

wasden-2012-6-1695Miller states that a reduction sequence is identified for the material recovered from Owl Cave, which shows that human agency is responsible for the patterns on the bone (Miller 1982:91). The patterning suggesting that bone was reduced for marrow extraction and used as raw material for bone artifact production (Miller 1989:381). Mammoth long bones have their epiphyseal and diaphsis removed by direct percussion and leverage. Percussion fracturing, evidenced by radiating spiral fractures, was identified. Isolated bone flakes were recovered, illustrating morphological features, platform angles, bulb of percussion, a lip produced on the ventral surface, and the concavity of the dorsal surface. A bone core was identified with the scars of three overlapping flake removals. Even the bone that was found in this layer of Owl Cave is indicative of human behavior. The selected skeletal elements were dense cortical bone, which is indicative of selective removal from the initial kill location (Miller 1989:391). These dense cortical bones were ideal for the “bone-knapping” that occurred in this occupation of the Wasden site.

The original excavation at Wasden sets the context for the data reclamation that the Wasden Project performed. How the site was excavated, the analyses used influences the type, quantity and quality of the information that is available. The accurate term would be that a meta-archaeology of the Wasden site was conducted. The Wasden documentation was excavated to reconstruct the excavation and to draw out new information. New analyses were used. The new analyses do not contradict the original interpretation of the site, they merely augment the interpretation of the site. The original interpretation of the site was about the site as a paleoclimatic indicator as change occurred from the Pleistocene to the Holocene. The interpretation in this paper is about the site as it pertains to human behavior.

Discussion

wasden-2012-6-1503The Wasden site, overwhelmingly, consists of faunal remains, and as such those take the primary role in influencing the interpretation of the site. The Wasden site is a predominately a natural animal trap that was used by activity groups for differing purposes over the past 11, 000 years. The earlier use is that of a short term campsite in which modification of proboscidean bone occurred (Miller 1982, 1989). A later use, the bison drive, was that of butchering episodes, with out any evidence that people stayed within the cave for any length of time (Butler 1978). Found in the archaeological record for this occupation of the Wasden site is the disarticulated remains of over 70 bison, estimated (Butler 1986:129).

Along with these disarticulated, and arguably arranged, remains, are 62 artifacts. These artifacts appear to be expedient tools used for the butcher of the bison. Most of the tools are formed projectile points, which appear to be the tools that were used for the butchering process. They were the only tools present and even though they are not ideal for butchering are functional for that purpose. The only tool that Butler (1968:12-13) identifies as being useful for the butcher of the bison is a flesher (specimen 76271) made from the nasal bone of a bison. Butler (1968b:13) does not propose the possibility that the projectile points could have been used for the butcher of the bison. However, the only tools present are these tools. It is the expedient use of those tools that were at hand for the butcher of the bison.

wasden-2012-6-816Wasden is the reconstruction of specific behaviors and event centered history, but in so far as that may be all that can be said of the site at this time. The archaeological record for the surrounding area lacks the documentation for this time period to articulate the Wasden site with into a larger construction. In Idaho, few of the published reports of sites have the time depth of Wasden and most of these lack the material recovered at Wasden. Wilson Butte Cave, by example, in the Wilson Butte II assemblage has only a few points (N=5) that have been described as Plano, but have almost no faunal association (Gruhn 1961:118-119, Plew 2000:37). The only faunal associated with Wilson Butte Assemblage II is a fragment of a grooved bird bone (Gruhn 1961:119). Bison and Veratic Caves (Swanson 1972)also have Plano material, but once again are without faunal association. Only at the Haskett site (Butler 1965), where Haskett was recovered along with fragments of enamel from bison teeth, is there any indication of faunal remains in association with similar artifactual materials. This leaves the Wasden site as the only dated site, for the time period, in which there is a possibility of recovering human behavior. The Wasden site is thus a reconstruction of specific behaviors, until more information is introduced for the region allowing some level of synthesis.The significance of the Wasden site cannot be overstated. The two published layers represent unique events in the archaeological record. The archaeological record often consists of secondary or tertiary refuse (artifacts discarded away from their primary use location) and as such losing much of their direct behavioral information (Schiffer 1985). The Wasden site, in contrast, presents primary behavioral information in the remains recovered from layer 17. The two published layers are unique discrete events, and are important in understanding hunter-gatherer ecology on the Snake River Plain. The spatial analysis of the Wasden site based on the patterning of meat procurement. The Wasden site offers an interesting glimpse into paleoindian hunting and gathering economy. The bison bone bed contains over 70 bison (Butler 1986:129). It would seem to have evidence that would point to bison procurement (entrapment, disposal), butchering practices, and further it should have implications to what are culturally preferred eating practices in meat preference.

Figure 32. Specimen 76269.

Figure 32. Specimen 76269.

Figure 33. Specimen 76269 close up of residue.

Figure 33. Specimen 76269 close up of residue.

 
Figure 14. Specimen 75478.

Figure 14. Specimen 75478.

 
Figure 15. Specimen 75478 close up of polish.

Figure 15. Specimen 75478 close up of polish.

 
Figure 16. Specimen 76305.

Figure 16. Specimen 76305.

 
Figure 17. Specimen 76305 close up of grinding.

Figure 17. Specimen 76305 close up of grinding.

 
Figure 18. Specimen 76276.

Figure 18. Specimen 76276.

 
Figure 19. 76276 close up of striation.

Figure 19. 76276 close up of striation.

Interpretation

wasden-2012_6_3421Layer 17 is a dense bison bone bed. These occur from between 200 and 250 centimeters in depth, within the Wasden Site. These remains have been reported to be the results of two separate drive occurrences. As has already been noted above, the site itself, has 7757 large faunal remains recovered, numbered, and in the master Wasden database. The database includes faunal remains identified to be camel, mammoth, bison, and various carnivore species, bear, coyote as well as badger. From this larger group those remains from layer 17 represent 6113 of the total. Most of the faunal remains from the entire site are from layer 17. Layer 17 is overwhelmingly bison remains. Of the 6113 remains only 29 are identified as being other than bison, 14 called carnivore, 9 called canine, 2 coyote, 1 badger, 1 marmot, 1 dog, and 1 bird. This leaves 6084 faunal bison remains in a layer that is between 20 and 50 centimeters thick, an extraordinary amount of material in a small space. Of these 1882 are identified as being in grid units E4D and E4E, and 1827 in the four grid units E1B, E1C, E2Cand E3C, giving a total of 3709 faunal remains in six grid units. These six units, E4D and E4E, and E1B, E1C, E2C, and E3C, are indicative of the bone piling mentioned by Butler (1986:129).

Wasden is a site unlike any in the archaeological literature. It represents quite clearly the contingent nature of the archaeological record. The Wasden site represents what appears to be a natural animal trap. The animals needed little or no inducement to enter the cave. The hunters at Wasden drove the bison into Owl Cave in two separate events. These events occurred closely in time, as no visible separation between the two events is present in the site stratigraphy. The two separate drives were reported by Butler (1986:129)to represent :

wasden-2012_6_3368[T]wo different kills were involved, one just before the onset of the calving season and one just after. . .a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spear thrust into the body cavity and then systematically butchered.

Butler states (1986:129, citing a 1978 personal communication with George Frison) that this is similar to a pattern found in the northwestern plains in sites of similar age, based on material remains. This is similar to the pattern found by Speth (1983:163), which indicates that female bison would have been preferred during the early winter, due to fat concentrations being higher in females during the early winter than that of males, with the reciprocal being true in the early summer. The two different kills are evidenced by the inclusion of fetal bone material, indicating a late winter to early spring (Miller 1989:383), and a late spring or early summer, evidenced by the inclusion of material deemed to be juvenile. The evidence of the separation is in the presence of fetal and juvenile bison in the recovered remains. Each drive has the remains of roughly thirty bison. Parts of the bison were removed and taken away from the site, either because of cultural preference or because they represent discrete food packages, that are easy to take to residential site.

The separation of the two drives is in where fetal material is recovered. The activity group probably drove the bison in this layer into cave, given the numbers of bison recovered from the layer. They butchered the bison, and utilized the bison over a few months in the case of the winter kill, and the fact that some of the bone seems to have been utilized for marrow extraction. Some part of the bison was removed from the site.

Figure 30. Provenience of fetal bones recovered from the Wasden site.

Figure 30. Provenience of fetal bones recovered from the Wasden site.

The Wasden site is the convergence of contingent factors. It is a natural animal trap, allowing Paleoindian groups to gather a large amount of animal flesh in a short period of time. In the site the butchering practices seem to reflect the fact that with a large amount of available food the most desirable pieces would be removed and consumed first, and possibly at all. Some of the faunal material was broken indicative of marrow extraction. Due to the quickly perishable nature of marrow it may be that these were broken at the time of butcher and the marrow consumed. Metacarpals, metatarsals, and phalanges were removed and placed into the waste piles. Each of the tests that were run, as well as observations of the data itself yield, more of the data to build the narrative of what happened at the Wasden site over a short period of time around 8000 years ago.

Butler (1986:129) noted that the faunal remains in the bison bone bed at the Wasden site seem to have been piled. The rational explanation seems to be that these remains were separated and piled by the people who were butchering the bison in the cave. Therefore these piles seem to represent primary context for human behavior. As people were butchering an excess of meat, the Wasden site represents the remains of over 70 butchered bison (Butler 1986), they were selecting those parts that were deemed culturally acceptable, or those that returned the greatest investment for time invested in transport given the variables of distance, meat utility, and weight. These parts were processed and some, such as the ribs, which were recovered in much lower numbers than the other elements, were removed from the site. There were only 60 rib fragments recovered in the over 6000 skeletal fragments recovered at the site. The ribs seem to have been removed from the site as a preferred food item. There is an analogous reference in the archaeological literature that could explain the lack of ribs recovered from the Wasden site. Both Binford (1978) and Friesen (2001) use indices to calculate which portions of an animal will be selected for the purpose of drying meat, based on proportion of meat to marrow and fat. The Meat Drying Index (Friesen 2001), a simplification of the Drying Utility Index (Binford 1978), for caribou usage among the Nunamiut, finds that ribs were ideal for the purpose of dried meat given a normed score of 100 in a scale of 100 (Friesen 2001:321, Figure 2). Speth (1983) does not calculate a Drying Index for Bison, but uses Modified General Utility Index to determine the use of other elements within the Garnsey Site in New Mexico. The ribs do not score well in the Modified General Utility Index, based probably on the fact that they do score well in the Meat Utility Index, which calculates the amount of useful flesh to be harvested from particular skeletal elements. Speth (1983:86 Fig. 28) does, however, show that only 18.7% of the ribs given a minimum number of individuals of 35, were recovered from the Garnsey site. At Wasden only 3% given a minimum number of individuals of 70, were recovered from the site.

Figure 31. Provenience of ribs recovered from the Wasden site.

Figure 31. Provenience of ribs recovered from the Wasden site.

wasden-2012_6_4396Using the indices as a measure of possible use for the Wasden material, it becomes apparent that the Wasden material is follows the general trends that the indices seem to bear out. Metacarpals, Metatarsals, and phalanges, occur in large numbers in the large bone piles that may have been used as waste piles during the butchering process. These elements score extremely low in the indices, and given the large numbers of bison harvested by the activity group at Wasden, it appears that these would have been discarded with minimal use accounting for the high recovery rate.

The discard pattern of the bison remains represent the contingent choices of an over abundance of meat. Those pieces that have less value were discarded. Fetal remains were basically unused and discarded immediately. Speth (1983:114-115) suggests that perhaps due to low levels of subcutaneous, intermuscular, intramuscular, and marrow fat, immature bison were not utilized by processing groups. Those bones outside of the large piles received additional modification, only 32.6% are complete. These bones were broken apart either for marrow extraction or to be used for the creation of bone tools. The site itself represents the cultural patterning of individuals in the archaeological record.

wasden-2012_6_4579An alternate explanation that could be advanced is that of Wasden as the site of processing, not that of a bison drive. In Bunn and Kroll (1986:434 citing Lartet and Christy 1865-75, and popularized by Perkins and Daly 1968 as the “schlepp effect”) the “less nutritional and heavier axial skeletal elements tend to be left at the site of death or butcher and the more nutritious and lighter elements are moved to consumption and processing sites. The “schlepp effect” is used to distinguish between camp sites and kill or butchery sites (Bunn and Kroll 1986:434). At Wasden the axial skeletal elements are under represented, in ribs and skull elements, and perhaps in vertebrae. Which indicates that at Wasden the site was used as for processing of large numbers of bison, but not as a drive site for the bison themselves. This assumes that parts of an estimated seventy bison were moved into the cave at Wasden for processing away from the primary kill site. This does seem unlikely.

Taphonomic processes have influenced the material remains at the Wasden site to an unknown degree. Decay and fluvial sorting seem not to have played a major role at the Wasden site. The site seems to have had excellent preservation of the accumulated faunal remains. Carnivore damage is found in the material remains, but no qualification nor quantification of the extent of damage has been made. However, based on discussions of taphonomic processes, specifically carinvore damage (e.g. Marean et al.1990, 1991;Orloff and Marean 1990; Marean and Spencer 1991), in which carnivores tended to preferentially destroy vertebrae, ribs and pelves, the fact that the pelves and vertebrae were recovered in higher numbers than the ribs may point to the fact that indeed the carnivore damage is low, probably confined to some superficial puncture and gnawing damage.

More work needs to be done in the area around the Wasden site. The site itself is the only archaeological work that has been done in the section and in some of the contiguous sections. If the elements were removed from the site for the purpose of drying else where, that site may be closely associated in an as of yet uncovered location. It would be this site that explains how those removed portions were ultimately utilized. If the Wasden site is that of processing then the kill site may be in adjacent to the site. In either event Wasden would explicate more about the hunter-gatherer economy in Southeastern Idaho at 8000 BP.