The Wasden Excavation

Excavation at the Wasden Site

Owl Cave opening looking into the cave.

The Wasden site proper consists of three proximal caves created by collapsed lava tubes. In the published literature “Wasden” is used interchangeably with Owl Cave to discuss the work done there. Of the three caves, Owl Cave (10BV30), Coyote Cave (10BV31), and Dry Cat Cave(10BV32), only Owl Cave has been extensively excavated. Coyote Cave received preliminary work, but because of heavy rock fall was never fully excavated. Dry cat cave received only initial testing. Starting late in 1965 work at Wasden consisted of limited pedestrian survey of the landscape surrounding Owl, Coyote, and Dry Cat caves.

The excavations of the site were continued in 1975, until 1977, under Susanne Miller and carried out by an Idaho State University field school with members of the Upper Snake River Prehistoric Society.

Owl Cave opening looking out of the cave.

Owl Cave opening looking out of the cave.

Of the two published occupations at Owl Cave there are very limited artifactual assemblages. The Bison bone bed had 62 artifacts, including flakes, organic material, projectile points, and worked bone. Butler (1968b:12) describes most of the projectile points being similar Agate Basin points (c.f. Sharrock 1966:52), which are included in the Plano series (Lohse 1995:20-21). The mammoth kill layer has a fluted point association. These points, based on the time of the occupation, are assumed to be folsom (Miller 1982).

Excavation of layer 17, “the Bison Bone Bed.”

Excavation of layer 17, “the Bison Bone Bed.”

Bison Bone Bed.

Bison Bone Bed.

However of the approximately 1600 artifacts recovered from Owl Cave, nearly the entire culture-historical sequence from Idaho has been found. The material culture of the past has specific biographies to be explored to tell us more about the past, or more accurately the specific way in which particular things were used in the past (Kopytoff 1986)

Method of Excavation

In the excavation at Wasden in 1965 the grid system was set up using two-meter excavation test units, with a North-South axis and an East-West axis. As such the grid system was labeled with a three character name, eastern side of the site carrying an “E” designation, western side of the site carrying a “W”, followed by a number (x-axis) and a letter (y-axis). 

Excavation unit at Wasden.

Excavation unit at Wasden.

Most of the excavation took place in the eastern section of Owl Cave, at five centimeter arbitrary excavation levels. Although the unit that was selected for the recovery of microfauna, due to its location under ledge assumed to be used as a prehistoric owl roost (Guilday 1969:47), was screened in 10 centimeter arbitrary levels. The excavation used 3/8″ screen. Later excavations used the same grid system, but using varied excavation levels and screen.

Excavation of layer 17, “the Bison Bone Bed.”

Excavation of layer 17, “the Bison Bone Bed.”

The western part of the cave went unexcavated due to heavy rockfall uncovered less than meter below site surface (Butler 1968b:7).

 

Figure 34. Wasden grid, Butler 1968b figure 6.

Figure 34. Wasden grid, Butler 1968b figure 6.

Stratigraphy of the Wasden Site

The stratigraphy of the Wasden site exceed six meters in depth, and are made up of finely stratified, horizontally bedded loessial sediments (Butler 1968b:7). The strata held abundant microfauna, bird, and large faunal remains. Deposition consisted of fine laminae of wind blown and water deposited sediments broken up by periodic episodes of rock-fall caused by frost weathering of the laminar basalts constituting the walls and overhang.

Figure 9. Stratigraphy of the Wasden Site, from Butler 1968b, figure 7.

Figure 9. Stratigraphy of the Wasden Site, from Butler 1968b, figure 7.

Figure 10. The “c-trench” from the Wasden site, from Butler 1968b, figure 8.

Figure 10. The “c-trench” from the Wasden site, from Butler 1968b, figure 8.

 

Dating of the Wasden Site

wasden-2012_6_4690The Wasden site has been dated using thirteen radiocarbon, fourteen obsidian hydration, and the inclusion of redeposited Mt. Mazama ash (Butler 1968b:7). The Mazama ash gives a date of 6900 B.P. for layer 15 in the Owl Cave stratigraphy, which is roughly a meter below the surface of the site. Layer 17, the bison bone layer is from two to two and half meters below the surface. Radiocarbon dates bracket the layer between 7800 and 8200 B.P. (Butler 1968b:8, Dort 1968b:34). A series of radiocarbon (N=7) and obsidian hydration (N=14) dates frame the temporal sequence for the lower levels, from four and half to five and half meters, which Miller worked. The dates range from 10,000 to 12,000 B.P. (Plew and Pavesic 1982, Miller 1989, Dort and Miller 1977, Butler 1972).

Figure 11. Table of Radiocarbon and Obsidian Hydration dates from the Wasden site.

Lab and #, or specimen # Date Material Feature Reference
WSU-561 3340±575 Charcoal Layer 13 Butler 1968b: 7
WSU-680 “modern” Unknown Layer 14, Layer15 Butler 1968b: 7
WSU-641 7750±219 Charcoal Layer 16 Butler 1968b: 8
M-1853 7100±350 Bone Layer 16 Butler 1968b: 8
WSU-560 8160±260 Bone, burned Layer 18 Butler 1968b: 8
WSU-758 *8000± Bone Layer 18 Butler 1968b: 8
WSU-2485 10145±170 Bone 4.52-4.54 m b.o.d. Plew and Pavesic 1982
WSU-2484 10470±100 Bone 4.70-4.80 m b.o.d. Plew and Pavesic 1982
76465 11627±375 Obsidian 4.72-4.82 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
WSU-1259 12250±200 Bone 4.80-5.10 m b.o.d. Butler 1971
76439 11938±499 Obsidian 5.05 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
76439a 11587±422 Obsidian 5.05 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
76439b 11657±494 Obsidian 5.05 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
WSU-2483 *9735±115 Bone 5.10 m b.o.d. Plew and Pavesic 1982
WSU-1786 10910±150 Bone 5.09-5.14 m b.o.d. Dort and Miller 1977
76438 11733±431 Obsidian 5.09 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
76436 11424±206 Obsidian 5.12 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
D4 11206±315 Obsidian WS Miller 1989
D2 11627±267 Obsidian WS Miller 1989
76394 12008±285 Obsidian 4.80 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
76437 12293±435 Obsidian 5.19 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
D3 12078±215 Obsidian WS Miller 1989
D5 12151±431 Obsidian WS Miller 1989
D1 12654±589 Obsidian WS Miller 1989
76464 11587±564 Obsidian 5.22-5.32 m b.o.d. Miller 1989
WSU-1281 12850±150 Bone 5.20 m b.o.d. Butler 1972
AA-6833 10640±85 Charcoal 5.2-5.4 m b.o.d. Miller unpublished m.s.

Redeposited Mazama Ash Layer 15 (c.6900 B.P.)