Ancient America: Montana Prior to 6000 BCE

While the region of North America known today as Montana entered into written Euro-American histories in the early nineteenth century with the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Indian people had been living in the area for many millennia. Archaeologists often refer to the era prior to 6000 BCE as Paleo-Indian. This appears to have been a time when the people specialized in the hunting of big game.

With regard to the archaeological record for Montana, In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:  “The raw material for archeology in Montana consists largely of campsites (most often entirely lithic in content), workshops, scattered hearths and tipi rings, bison kills and traps, trailside offertory stone heaps, burials, and pictographs. Chipped stone work, often found out of meaningful association, is common while ground stone is rare.”

Briefly described below are a few of the ancient sites which have been uncovered by archaeologists.

Anzick Rockshelter:

 By about 9550 BCE, Indian people were using the Anzick rockshelter (24PA506) near present-day Gardiner for burials. Interred with the burials were finely made bone projectile points as well as both finished and unfinished Clovis-like stone points. Archaeologists uncovered more than 100 stone artifacts and a number of bone tools in this collapsed rock shelter. The artifacts had been covered with a heavy coating of red ochre.

Archaeologists also found human remains at the site. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture, write:  “The remains of a toddler consisted primarily of skull fragments, and the artifacts were all stained with red ochre. The other individual has been shown to be unassociated with the Clovis materials.”

In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel writes:  “The application of a blood-colored pigment to the corpse may have been a symbolic restoration of life.”

Since the children buried here were accompanied by stone tools, it is assumed that these items were gifts rather than items the deceased had used while living. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald, in his book Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains, writes:  “It seems fairly clear that they were placed with the infant as part of a ritual or ceremony.”  The stones had come from a variety of different locations.

Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley report: “Eleven bone rods were among the artifacts collected from the disturbed deposits of the site: two complete rods, four fragments with beveled ends, and five midsections.”

DNA from the remains show that they are related to most modern American Indians.

Mill Iron Site:

 While Clovis points are both well-known today and highly distinctive, there were other lithic technologies being used more than 11,000 years ago. Indian people at the Mill Iron Site (24CT30) were using well-made, bifacial projectile points with a concave base which were neither fluted nor made in a Clovis-style. Archaeologists have classified these large lanceolate projectile points as Goshen. Goshen culture is often associated with bison hunting.

 While contemporaneous with Clovis, Goshen projectile points are not fluted or basally thinned. The Mill Iron site contained 1,709 stone tools. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald reports: “Most of the raw stone at the site was obtained locally.”

The Indian people at the site killed at least 30 bison, all adults and mostly cows, at a spring or early summer event. Archaeologist Douglas MacDonald writes:  “Low-value animal parts dominate at the kill site, suggesting that the hunters took the best parts of the animals with them when they left.”

MacHaffie Site:

By 9000 BCE, Indians using Folsom technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic tool kit included points (including the classic Folsom style), knives, scrapers (several kinds), gouges, and choppers. In his Ph.D. dissertation on the MacHaffie site for Columbia University, Richard Forbis reports:   “The absence of grinding stones at the MacHaffie site indicates a lack of concern with seed gathering and seems to indicate that the early hunters at the site gathered nuts, roots, and berries that did not require grinding to make them palatable.”  The Indians at this site were hunting deer.

By 4900 BCE, Indian people using Scottsbluff technology were using the MacHaffie Site. Their lithic toolkit included points, knives (including a stemmed knife), scrapers, choppers. Richard Forbis reports:  “The MacHaffie site yielded a wide range of Scottsbluff artifacts. Like Folsom, Scottsbluff sites may share little more in common than the distinctive projectile points from which their name is derived.”

Some other sites:

False Cougar Cave: Indian people occupied the False Cougar Cave in the Pryor Mountains by about 12,600 BCE. DNA analysis of a hair from the site is associated with haplogroup X.

Lindsay Site: The Lindsay site (24DW501) was a mammoth kill site which was occupied about 11,000 BCE.

Indian Creek Site: Indian people occupied the Indian Creek site (24BW626) prior to 9000 BCE. This site represents a Folsom adaption to a higher elevation.

Baron Gulch Site: By 7400 BCE, Indian people at the Barton Gulch site (21MA171) were gathering and processing a variety of food plants, including slimleaf goosefoot (Chenopodium leptophllum) and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha). They were using roasting pits to process these foods.

Pictograph Caves: By 7100 BCE, Indian people were using Pictograph Caves near present-day Billings.

Myers-Hindman Site: By 7000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Myers-Hindman site near Livingston. They were hunting pronghorn, deer, elk, and sheep. They also had dogs.

Dawson County: By 7000 BCE, Indian people using Goshen projectile points were occupying site 24DW272 in Dawson County.

Some Complexes and Tool Traditions:

A complex is simply a group of tools and artifacts which are associated together at a number of different sites. Archaeologists use complexes for showing the relationships between different sites. A complex is also a chronological unit and thus can be used for the initial dating of a site.

Goatfell Complex: The Goatfell Complex spread throughout southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana by 9000 BCE. In her M.A. Thesis for the University of Montana, Mary Collins reports:  “It was defined by a preference for black metamorphosed siltstone, large stemmed lanceolate and leaf shaped spear points, and large flake blanks and tools. Biface manufacture was characterized by the removal of large expanding flakes with acute angled, faceted striking platforms.”

Hell Gap Complex: The cultural tradition which archaeologists call the Hell Gap Complex moved into the Northern Plains about 7600 BCE. Hell Gap people were big game hunters with a primary emphasis on bison. The sites tend to be short-term campsites.

Pryor Stemmed Projectile Point: By 6300 BCE, Indian people were using Pryor Stemmed Projectile Points in the Pryor and Bighorn mountain area as well as in parts of central Wyoming.

Cody Complex: The Cody Complex, which included an assemblage of projectile points, scrapers, gravers, wedges, choppers, hammer stones, and bone tools, was associated with bison kill and processing sites. This complex first appears about 8000 BCE. By 7400 BCE, Indian people using Cody Complex tools were using the Mammoth Meadow site for the production of stone tools. They were killing bison as well as other mammals.

Ancient America: The Lower Columbia River Area

In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made its way down the lower Columbia River. This area, from Celilo Falls near the present-day Oregon city of The Dalles, to the Wapato Valley (the Portland Basin), to the mouth of the river, was inhabited by numerous Chinookan-speaking Indian nations. The many villages along the river were linked through trade and through intermarriage. As Lewis and Clark traveled along the lower Columbia River, they found that villages and towns were numerous.

The lower course of the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast adjacent to its mouth have changed significantly over time. During the past 5,000 years dunes have formed, creating a ridged topography. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, explain:  “The Clatsop Plains is a ridged landform of stabilized dune sand stretching between the Columbia River and Tillamook Head. The sand derives primarily from Columbia River sediment that is returned to the outer coast due to high energy waves.”

Earl Dune Site:

 American Indians first began using the Earl Dune site (35CLT66) about 1,350 years ago. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The initial occupation appears to have been on an open sandy beach on the ocean side of the dunes, where marine fishes (primarily hake and sculpin) were harvested, and razor clams were opportunistically collected.”

Occupation of Earl Dune site was short-term. As the dune accumulated more sand, occupation of the site became less frequent and use of the site ended about 1,200 years ago.

Palmrose Site:

The Palmrose site (35CLT47) is located at the southern end of the Clatsop Plains. The site was first occupied about 3,900 years ago and by 2,700 years ago the people had constructed a large rectangular plank house. This is the earliest plank house known on the southern Northwest Coast Culture Area. This house was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) wide and at least 12 meters (40 feet) long. The house was probably similar to the plank houses that early European and American explorers saw in the area.

The Palmrose site was a permanent site and is characterized by a large shell midden. The people who lived here were harvesting horse clam, butter clam, and littleneck clam. Archaeologists also found evidence of 23 species of birds, 23 species of fish, and 14 species of mammals. The remains of mammals included both sea mammals (whales, sea otters, sea lions, and fur seals) and land mammals (deer and elk were most common). In general, it appears that sustenance was largely based on marine and littoral resources.

With regard to tools, the archaeologists found a variety of projectile points, atlatl weights, mortars, stone mauls, antler digging stick handles, antler splitting wedges, composite bone harpoon points, and shark-tooth pendants.

Archaeologists also found a number of carved bone and antler artifacts with motifs similar to those found farther north. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “These similarities show clearly that close contacts were being maintained over great distances up and down the coast by 2,700 years ago. These ancient connections may be a factor in the presence of Salish languages in Oregon, which otherwise dominate the Washington and southern British Columbia coasts to the north.”

The Palmrose site was abandoned about 1,600 years ago.

Par-Tee Site:

 Indian people were occupying the Par-Tee site (35CLT20) near present-day Seaside, Oregon by about 1,400 years ago. The people were exploiting sea mammals as well as fish and shellfish. They were also hunting elk. Some of their tools were made out of modified whale bones. Houses at this site appear to have been circular.

Avenue Q Site:

While Indian people first began occupying the Avenue Q site (35CLT13) about 3,500 years ago, the most intense period of occupation was between 1,700 years ago and 1,000 years ago. In modern times, the site’s shell midden, which was about 10 feet deep, was mined to obtain material for road building.

Indian people at this site had a subsistence focus on marine environments. Fish, particularly halibut, lingcod, and cabezon, predominate. Among the mammal bones found by archaeologists at the site, 73% were from marine mammals (sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and whales).

Eddy Point and Ivy Station:

About 25 miles upstream from present-day Astoria are the Eddy Point (35CLT33) and Ivy Station (25CLY34) sites. Both of these date back about 3,000 years. While deer and elk bone was common at both sites, there were also some harbor seal bones. Archaeologists also uncovered evidence of fish (salmon, sucker, sturgeon, and marine fishes), waterfowl (swan, duck, goose), and marine shellfish. While archaeologists found no evidence of house structures, they feel that both of these were village sites.

 Meier Site:

 At the Meir site (35CO5) archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large Chinook-style plank longhouse. It is estimated to have been 14 meters wide and 35 meters long. Radiocarbon dating shows that it was initially constructed about 700 years ago and that it remained occupied until historic times. The archaeological data shows that the main wall and roof support members had been shored up and/or replaced about eight to ten times during the life of the house.

Down the center of the house were a series of formal boxed hearths. The ethnographic record shows that each of these hearths would have served from two to four related families. Houses of this type were generally occupied by several related families. Each family would have a bedroom area which was a platform attached to the outside wall.

The longhouse at the Meier site had storage pits or cellars along both sides of the hearth area. These pits had been dug, filled, and re-dug many times during the centuries that the house had been occupied. When in use, the pits were probably covered by flooring planks. With regard to the archaeological evidence in the pits, C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report:  “The pits yielded an abundance of fire-cracked rock and tens of thousands of bone fragments from elk, deer, salmon, sturgeon, and other animals, the remains of food that was stored, cooked, and eaten in the house.”

Cathlapotle:

When Lewis and Clark journeyed through the Lower Columbia River area, they encountered the village of Cathlapotle which was across the river from the Meier site in what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Washington. They reported that this was a large village with about 14 houses and a population of about 900. Archaeological investigation of the site began in 1991 and continued until 1996. Dating shows that the site was occupied from the mid-1400s until the 1840s.

The archaeologists found six house sites in two parallel rows on a ridge above the river’s high water level. The houses ranged from 60 feet to 200 feet in length and from 24 feet to 36 feet in width.

As with the longhouse at the Meier site, archaeologists found large storage pits or cellars in the longhouse sites. Some of these were six feet deep and when the houses were occupied, they would have been beneath the sleeping platforms that lined the walls.

With regard to the Cathlapotle site, Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, report:  “So long as a site is not threatened by disturbance, such as from land development or erosion, today’s archaeologists deliberately study only part of it. They leave the rest for the future, a time sure to have new insights, new investigative techniques, and new research questions.”

 

 

Ancient America: A Plateau Clovis Cache

As the ice age was ending in North America, a new hunting technology arose. This technology, commonly known as Clovis after a find in New Mexico, is characterized by a finely made stone projectile point with a characteristic flute which helps in attaching the point to an atlatl dart.

One of the principle weapons used by the Clovis hunters was the atlatl. The atlatl is a wooden shaft with a hook at one end and a handle at the other. The butt of the spear is engaged by the hook. Grasping the handle and steadying the spear shaft with the fingers, the spear can be hurled with great force. Archaeologist L.S. Cressman, in his book The Sandal and the Cave: The Indians of Oregon, notes:  “Thus the atlatl was in principle an extension of the arm and, by the added leverage, gave much greater power to the thrust of the spear.”

Archaeologist Sandra Morris, in her M.A. professional paper at the University of Montana, summarizes Clovis this way:  “Clovis represents a terminal ice-age human adaptation characterized by a hunting technology displaying distinctive, fluted spearpoints and carved bone and ivory shafts.”

The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. In 1987, a number of Clovis points were discovered below the surface in an apple orchard in East Wenatchee, Washington. As in the case of many major archaeological discoveries, these points were discovered accidently by workers installing a new irrigation system. Recognizing that this might be an important find, professional archaeologists were called in.

The land was owned by Mack Richey and the orchard was managed by his brother-in-law Rich Roberts, and thus the site became known as the Richey-Roberts Clovis Site. Excavation rights were sold to the State of Washington. The scientific excavation of the site was observed by members of the Colville Confederated Tribes as well as the news media.

The initial find at the Richey-Roberts site included 29 items, among which were five large stone points and three short bone rods. To discover more about the site and its overall size, the archaeologists brought in ground-penetrating radar. The radar located a cluster of seven large Clovis points. These points were about twice as large as those found in association with animal remains.

Unlike artifact “collectors” (better described as “looters”) who remove artifacts to display them or sell them, archaeologists pay close attention to the context in which the artifacts are found. At the East Wenatchee site, archaeologists noted that the undersides some of the points had sandy crusts. These crusts detracted from the fine flaking of the points, but provided an important dating clue. A geologist, Dr. Nick Foit, identified the silica in the crusts as originating from a Glacier Peak volcanic eruption. This eruption occurred about 13,000 years ago. The Clovis points had lain on top of the ash when it was still fresh enough to crusts on the points. This meant that the site was somewhat younger than 13,000 years.

The blade surfaces were checked for traces of blood or other animal protein and on one large biface researchers found evidence of both bison and deer. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, explain the findings:  “This does not necessarily prove hunting. Residual proteins have many sources. They can come from the leather of a storage pouch, the leather protecting the toolmaker’s hands, from sinew used for hafting, or from blood, hair, or hoof glue in the hafting mastic.”

One of the puzzles from the site was the large Clovis points. In terms of size, the only other Clovis points of this large size were found at the Anzick rockshelter site in Montana. The Anzik site was a burial site and the large Clovis points appear to have been grave offerings. At East Wenatchee, there was no burial, but there are traces of red ochre on one of the points. Red ochre was generally used ceremonially and thus one of the questions about these points is: Were these large Clovis points ceremonial offerings?

One of the ways archaeologists study stone tools is with the aid of a scanning electron microscope. This allows them to see the wear patterns on the blade which provides information about how they were used. The large Clovis points, however, show no wear patterns, an indication that they were never used. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty ask:  “Was this a cache intended for later retrieval or were the showy points placed as a ritual offering?”

Use of caches is common among nomadic hunting and gathering people. Since goods and weight are oppressive when you are moving regularly on foot, items which will not be needed at the next resource collection area can be cached and then retrieved when the group returns to the area. Writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, David Meltzer reports:  “Befitting wide-ranging hunter-gatherers who lacked animal transport and were able to carry only limited provisions, they often cached stone for later use.”

With regard to the large size, experimental archaeology has shown that the Clovis points frequently break when they are used. They are then re-flaked into usable points which are smaller than the originals. Instead of ceremonial offerings, it could simply be that the large points are unused points which have not yet been broken and re-flaked.

One of the artifacts uncovered at a number of other Clovis sites are bone rods. At the Richey-Roberts site more than a dozen bone rods were found. There is some speculation that these rods, if fitted with antler tips, could have been used as flaking tools. No antler tips, however, were found with the rods.

Excavation at the Richey-Roberts site stopped in 1990. The location of artifacts was marked with copper cutouts, a sheet of protective geofabric was placed over the site, and it was covered with soil so that the apple trees could be replanted. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty write:  “Without knowing the exact location, no one now would recognize that particular section of the orchard as an important archaeological site.”

The items excavated at the Richey-Roberts site were donated to the Washington State Historical Society.

Ancient America: The Northeast Prior to 8000 BCE

The Northeastern Woodlands of North America is a land of heavily forested rolling hills and rounded mountains, salt marshes of waving grass, calm lakes, tumbling brooks, surf-beaten beaches, and rocky coves. This culture area stretches west from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River, and from Virginia in the south to New Brunswick in the north. The era from earliest habitation to about 8000 BCE is called the Early Paleo-Indian Period by some archaeologists. A few of the archaeological findings for this period from the Northeast are briefly described below.

The ice sheets that once covered the northern part of the continent began their withdrawal from the Northeast about 15,000 BCE. Human habitation in the area began when the ice sheet still covered much of the area. David Anderson, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, reports:  “Paleo-Indian groups near the ice sheets targeted large game, particularly caribou, while groups in the Woodlands to the south were more generalized foragers, exploiting a wide range of animals and plant species.”

The overall data seems to suggest that there was initial settlement along major rivers at sites where there was high quality stone for making tools. According to David Anderson:  “These localities are thought to reflect areas of initial extended settlement, staging areas from which the colonization of the larger region proceeded.”

At present, the earliest evidence of human occupation in the Northeast comes from the Cactus Hill site on the east bank of the Nottoway River in southeastern Virginia. The site is about 13 miles east of the Fall Zone. Archaeologists Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, in their somewhat controversial book Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture,  write:  “Sometime between 20,100 and 22,600 years ago, people began to use the sand ridge as a temporary campsite.”

In southwestern Pennsylvania, people were using the Meadowcroft Rockshelter by 17,600 BCE, a time when the Laurentide ice sheet was only 50 miles away.

The earliest people in the Northeast appear to have been hunting and gathering people who were living in small, highly mobile bands. They often used fluted bifacial projectile points (most likely spear points) which had a rough resemblance to the famous Clovis points. Some archaeologists characterize the earliest inhabitants of the region as using “Clovis-like” points and associated stone tools. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, Robert Funk reports:  “The fluted-point hunters probably entered the Northeast from the south and west following the glacial retreat.”

In Virginia, Indian people began to occupy the Cactus Hill site south of Richmond by 15,000 BCE. They were making blades from quartzite cores that had been collected elsewhere. The blades were made by striking the core with a soft stone hammer. They were making lanceolate, unfluted bifacial points that could be used as projectile points or as hafted knives. With regard to the implications of this tool kit, archaeologist J.M. Adovasio, in his book The First Americans: In Pursuit of Archaeology’s Greatest Mystery, writes:  “these appear to have been the work of people who were foraging for a variety of faunal and floral food resources.”

In the western portion of the Northeastern region, Indian people were butchering mammoths at the Chesrow site in Wisconsin by 11,500 BCE. The stone tools used at this site were made from a poor quality stone which is not suited for fine flintknapping. At this time, the good stone in central Wisconsin was still buried under the ice sheets. With regard to the people at this site, archaeologist Alice Beck Kehoe writes in her book America Before the European Invasions:  “They were intrepid pioneers indeed, cutting up wooly mammoths within a few days’ walk of ice fields stretching north beyond the horizon.”  At about this same time, Indian people hunted and butchered a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth in Ohio.

By about 11,000 BCE, Indian people occupied a cave in what is now Ohio. They were using stone tools, including scrapers and gravers. The animals hunted by these people included the short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), a giant, long-legged omnivore; stagmoose (Cervalces scotti), an animal that resembled modern moose except for its forked antlers; giant beaver, (Castoroides ohioensis), an animal that reached up to nine feet in length; flat-headed peccary, (Platygonus compressus), the wide-ranging American pig of the Pleistocene; and caribou (Rangifer tarandus).

By 10,500 BCE Indian people called Early Hunters by archaeologists were settling in the tundra adjoining the southern edge of the Wisconsin ice sheet. As the ice withdrew, spruce woodlands appeared which were utilized by these people.

At about this same time, the Dutchess Quarry Cave in what is now New York was being used for  making fluted points. The people at this site were hunting caribou.

About 10,000 BCE Indian people began to move into New England. Archaeologist Dena Dincauze, in her chapter in The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation, calls these people “Pioneers” and writes:  “Clad in their caribou-skin clothing, carrying infants and household goods and thrusting spears with elegantly shaped points of colorful stone, these are the people who first gave names to the landscape, who explained its special areas and vistas in terms of their own cosmology, and who first explored and exploited its riches for human purposes.”

At about this same time, Indian people were now living in New Jersey. In his book Looking Beneath the Surface: The Story of Archaeology in New Jersey, archaeologist R. Alan Mounier writes:  “Their signature artifact—the fluted point—is among the most recognizable of relics, owing to its graceful shape, its exquisite workmanship, and its celebrity, arising from its relative antiquity.”

About 9500 BCE Indian people established a hunting camp at the Conover Site in Virginia. They were using a variety of chert tools, including fluted projectile points, bifaces, and unifacial tools.

By 9300 BCE, Indian people began moving up the Champlain and Connecticut Valleys into the state of Vermont. Part of their economy was based on hunting caribou. They may have also exploited the marine resources of the Champlain Sea.

At about this same time in New Hampshire, Indian people occupied the Colebrook site. They were using a type of spear point which archaeologists call Michaud/Neponset.

By 9000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Thunderbird site on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in present-day Virginia. The occupants were making and using Clovis-type points. Thunderbird was a base camp and was associated with a nearby quarry. According to Ian Shaw and Robert Jameson  in A Dictionary of Archaeology:  “An important activity was the refurbishing of toolkits with new flaked stone tools manufactured from jasper collected from a nearby quarry.”

By 8900 BCE, Indian people occupied Sheriden Cave in present-day Ohio. In addition to stone tools (identified as Clovis-like), they were also using bone tools.

By 8800 BCE, Indian hunters using Clovis technology were hunting mastodons at the Hiscock site in present-day New York.

By 8600 BCE, the period which archaeologists call the Bull Brook phase in present-day Massachusetts, begins. With regard to material culture, the Indian people at this time were using fluted points.

About 8500 BCE, Indian people established a seasonal site at Vail in present-day Maine for killing caribou. The caribou were killed along a sandy patch of ground near the river and then the animals were processed for hide, meat, and marrow. The hunters maintained their camp across the river from the kill site.

With regard to their tool kit, hunters were using fluted points with deep, concave bases which are similar to those used by the people at the Debert site in Nova Scotia. While the nearest suitable source for stone for making tools is about 25 kilometers away, the hunters and food processors were using stone tools which come from more distant quarries in Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania. The people living at the Vail site were using tents which measured about 4.5 by 6 meters (approximately 15 by 20 feet).

About 8300 BCE, a large group of Indian people established a seasonal camp near present-day Traverse City, Michigan. They were using stone tools which were made from stone from the Saginaw Bay area, 100 miles away.

Ancient America: Coastal Oregon, 13,000 to 7,500 Years Ago

The Oregon coast is a part of the larger Northwest Coast culture area which stretches from the Tlingit homelands in Alaska to the Tolowa homelands in northern California. The cultures along this coastal ecotone (an area between two biomes) share a number of common features, including a subsistence pattern which is centered on sea and littoral (shore, estuary, and headlands) environments. In the northern portion of this culture area (the Alaska Panhandle and British Columbia), the coastline is highly convoluted with many offshore islands and is bordered with steep, high mountains. The coasts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, on the other hand are relatively straight which means they are unprotected and pummeled by unimpeded ocean waves.

One of the current hypotheses for the peopling of the Americas, known as the Coastal Migration Hypothesis, envisions early migrations to the Americas by coastal travelers using boats. It is well known that ancient people have been using boats of some kind for a long time. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write:  “Sea voyages date far back into antiquity. People reached Australia from Indonesia more than 40,000 years ago, and Japanese archaeologists have found obsidian brought to Honshu nearly 35,000 years ago from a small island 20 miles distant.”

The Coastal Migration Hypothesis suggests that archaeologists should expect to find the earliest evidence of the settlement of what is now Oregon along the Pacific coast. Unfortunately, there is little archaeological data along the Oregon coast to substantiate this hypothesis.

Archaeological surveys of early sites along the Oregon coast have yielded very little data regarding human habitation in this area prior to 4,000 years ago. Coastal sites tend to be rare because of two factors of physical geography. First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that sea levels have been rising, particularly over the past 18,000 years. During the last ice age when humans would have been first entering the area, the sea levels were 100 meters (330 feet) lower than they are today. Along the Oregon coast, this means that vast stretches of the continental shelf would have been exposed and the actual coast line would have been several kilometers to the west of its current positions. The camp sites and villages used by the early people are thus underwater today.

A second factor is the nature of the Oregon coast line. It is constantly changing due to the impact of tides and high-energy waves, tectonic uplift, erosion, and landslides. In other words, even more recent evidence of human use is being destroyed by natural forces.

While early archaeological sites are rare on the Oregon coast, data from the north and from the south strongly suggests that this area must have been inhabited. To the north, people were using On-Your-Knees Cave (49PET408) on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island by about 12,000 years ago. The people were engaged in a coastal marine subsistence pattern which includes fishing and the gathering of shellfish. It is also clear that they were using watercraft and were engaged in long-distance trade.

The human remains in On-Your-Knees Cave have DNA which belongs to the D4h3 haplogroup. Members this haplogroup are found exclusively on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Chile.

About the same time people were occupying the coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia, they were also using Daisy Cave in California’s Channel Islands. One again, the archaeological data shows a pattern of using marine resources and knowledge of watercraft.

With people using watercraft living to both the north and the south of the Oregon coast during the period of the Terminal Pleitocene/Early Holocene (13,000 to 7,500 years ago), we would expect human occupation of the Oregon coast during this time. The actual physical data from the archaeological record for this period is, however, a bit scanty.

At the Indian Sands site (35CU67), there was a scatter of chipped stone artifacts and some burned and broken mussel shells which dated to 12,300 to 8,600 years ago.

At the Neptune State Park site (35LA3) there are a few lithic flakes which were dated to about 9,330 years ago.

The Tahkenitch Landing site (35DO130) has a few stone stools that date to 8,900 to 7,600 years ago. At this time Tahkenitch Lake was an estuary open to the ocean.

Archaeologists Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, summarize the early occupation of the Oregon coast this way:  “The early Holocene culture record to the Oregon coast remains impoverished, and while we can anticipate occasional new evidence of great age, the reality is that the early record will never be robust, given the geological history of Oregon’s Pacific coast.”

Ancient America: Stone Quarries

Like human beings everywhere, Indians used stone as their primary material for toolmaking for thousands of years. At the time of the European arrival on this continent, Indians, unlike Europeans, were still using a wide variety of stone tools.

Stone tools are neither crude nor inefficient. A blade knapped from obsidian, for example, is sharper than a surgical scalpel and some surgeons use obsidian blades in doing surgery. However, stone blades tend to dull quickly. On the other hand, the sharpness of the blade can be quickly renewed.

One important thing to understand about stone tools is that not all stone can be used in tool-making. In flintknapping, Indian people needed stones that would break in a predictable fashion and would provide a sharp edge. Albert Goodyear, in his monograph A Hypothesis for the Use of Cryptochrystalline Raw Materials Among Paleo-Indian Groups of North America, reports:  “It is a general geological fact in most places of North America and probably throughout the world that lithic raw materials of even minimal suitability for flaking do not occur evenly over the earth’s surface. In fact, some environments such as coastal plains and alluvial valleys have no lithic raw materials whatsoever.”

Writing in 1897, archaeologist Thomas Wilson, in his book Arrowpoints, Spearheads, and Knives of Prehistoric Times, puts it this way:  “As all arrowpoints, spearpoints, and knives, except a few of siate, were chipped or flaked into shape and used in that condition, the prehistoric man would naturally seek a material which had the requisites for such working.”

Such material includes obsidian, flint, jasper, quartz, and quartzite. Thus, for thousands of years Native Americans operated quarries to obtain the stone needed for toolmaking. In her article “Tools from the Earth,” in American Indian Places: A Historical Guidebook, Catherine Cameron writes:  “Their quarries were most often simply gravel terraces or rocky streambeds, where they could easily collect pebbles or cobbles, test them for quality, and then fashion them into tools. But they also constructed complex mines with holes, pits, shafts, and tunnels; the debris included tons of broken rock and large stone hammers and hammerstones for rough shaping.”

Some of the larger quarry areas are described below.

Yellowstone National Park was the source for obsidian which was widely traded. Obsidian from Yellowstone can be found in sites such as Cahokia in Illinois.

Flint Ridge, located in Licking County, Ohio, has a flint bed some 10 to 20 feet beneath the surface. Indian miners would dig pits to get at the flint. Thomas Wilson reports:  “This is probably the most extensive and best known of all prehistoric flint quarries in the United States.”

Michael Durham, in his book Guide to Ancient Native American Sites, writes:  “The translucent flint of various colors is of a quality unmatched in the east. In prehistoric times it was a valuable trade item and samples have been found as far away as Louisiana, the Atlantic Coast, and Kansas City.”

Big Obsidian Flow in the present-day Newberry Volcanic National Monument in Oregon was an important source of obsidian, a volcanic glass from which very sharp tools could be made. Large chunks of obsidian could be easily broken off from this ancient volcanic flow. Trade routes carried the obsidian from this site into the Northwest Coast and into California.

In central-eastern Wyoming there were numerous small quarries. One of the larger ones was located about 50 miles east of present-day Badger and was worked to a depth of about 20 feet. Indians working at this quarry did some tunneling.

Glass Mountain in northern California supplied obsidian to many different tribes. In Ancient Tribes of the Klamath Country Carrol Howe reports:  “Evidence indicates that the arrow makers and traders sat around the base of the cliff to chip large flakes or spalls from the glassy stone. These they shaped into large, crude blades called ‘blanks.’”  The blanks were easier to transport and could be then fashioned into the stylized points of the different tribes.

The Coso volcanic field in eastern California was a major site for stone, particularly obsidian, for tool making. In Prehistoric Use of the Coso Volcanic Field Amy Gilreath and William Hildebrandt report:  “The sheer quantity of chipping debris and discarded items found at the major obsidian quarries in eastern California has led many to conclude that production far exceeded the needs of resident populations.”

Tools made from Coso obsidian are found throughout the southern half of California, from Monterey Bay in the north, to the Colorado River in the east, to the Pacific Ocean in the west.

In Florida, Indian people quarried blue flint from the Trouble Creek area which they used in making arrow points and spear points.

Wyandotte Cave served as a flint mine and  tool-making workshop in Indiana.

Alibates Flint is found in layers on a ridge above the Canadian River north of present-day Amarillo, Texas. This flint holds a sharp edge and was widely traded on the Great Plains. Today the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument includes more than 730 large quarry pits. Mining began here more than 10,000 years ago. In Ancient Ruins of the Southwest: An Archaeological Guide, David Noble writes:  “Besides its fine flaking qualities and hardness, Alibates flint had another characteristic that made it a popular tool-making material: its rainbow colors.” Alibates flint was used by both Clovis and Folsom hunters.

Trade networks distributed both stones and stone artifacts over long distances. Writing about the Northwest Coast in Stone, Bone, Antler and Shell: Artifacts of the Northwest Coast , Hilary Stewart reports:  “Craftsmen might go far afield to obtain a particular type of stone or trade with another village or nation for the raw material or even the finished implement.”

Stone quarries and the trading networks for distributing the stones remained important features of American Indian cultures and economic systems until the fur and hide trade made metal goods from Europe more plentiful.

 

Ancient America: Great Basin Oregon, 12,900 to 9,000 Years Ago

About 12,900 years ago there was an abrupt change in climatic conditions known as the Younger Dryas which marked the beginning of cooler conditions in the Great Basin area of present-day Oregon. This climatic change marks the beginning of what archaeologists call the Fort Rock Period which dates from 12,900 years ago to 9,000 years ago. During this time, the American Indians in this region focused their economic activities on the natural resources (plants and animals) found in and around shallow wetland settings.

In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “The period from about 12,900 to 9,000 years ago was one of continued slow drying during which localized shallow-water lakes and marshes with fringing grasslands replaced the previously vast and deep pluvial lakes of the Pleistocene era.”

During this period, human population increased, but remained thinly distributed across the landscape for most of the year. The large game that was utilized by the people included deer, mountain sheep, antelope, and bison. According to Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins:  “People followed seasonal rounds that took them to many varied locations, sometimes covering long distances, as shown by the common occurrence at archaeological sites of obsidian artifacts made of stone from distant sources.”

During the winter, the people tended to live in caves and rockshelters near lakes and marshes. In the summer, the people would migrate to higher elevations where they would hunt large game and collect nuts, roots, and berries.

Fort Rock Cave:

Fort Rock Cave (35LK1) is located on a low volcanic ridge about 1.5 miles west of Fort Rock State Park. The cave, which faces southwest, is about 20 meters deep and 10 meters wide. This site was first excavated by Luther Cressman and a University of Oregon crew in 1938. Below a layer of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama, they found sagebrush bark sandals. The sandals were later radiocarbon dated to 10,500 to 9,300 years ago. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “After his excavations artifact collectors relentlessly mined the cave, removing an undetermined number of additional sandals and no doubt other materials.”

Later excavations also found a mano which was associated with the preparation of pine and grass seeds for food.

Connley Caves:

The Connley Caves site (35LK50) is located about 10 miles south of Fort Rock. The site is composed of eight rockshelters. The site is located near Paulina Marsh and archaeologists working at this site uncovered large quantities of waterfowl bones which were dated to 13,000 to 9,000 years ago. The pine trees which were in this area during this time were Pinus edulis or Pinus monophylla.

During the Fort Rock Period, the Connley Caves were occupied primarily during the winter. The site provided good access to both marsh resources (waterfowl, fish, cattail, bulrush) and to the resources in the wooded hills surrounding the caves (bison, elk, deer, grouse).

Cougar Mountain Cave:

 Cougar Mountain Cave site (35LK55) was totally excavated in 1958 by John Cowles, an avid artifact collector. While a great many artifacts were uncovered, there is a lack of precisely recorded information on artifact associations and a lack of radiocarbon dates. However, the artifacts are similar to those found at Fort Rock Cave and Connley Caves. The artifacts include stone tools (knives, scrapers, abraders, drills, pipes), bone tools (needles, awls, beads), wooden artifacts, basketry, and sandals. One of the tule sandals was radiocarbon dated to 9530 years ago. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “Sagebrush bark sandals were fairly common and frequently muddy, which may indicate wintertime occupation.”

Paulina Lake:

The Paulina Lake site (35DS34) is located about 25 miles northwest of Fort Rock in the Newberry Volcano National Monument. The site is on the boundary between the Great Basin and Plateau culture areas. One of the interesting features of this site is a storage pit which was about one meter in diameter and about 45 centimeters deep. Grass pollen suggests that this pit was probably grass-lined. Pollen also showed the presence of mock oranges (Philadelphus) and willow weed (Onagraceae).

Kenneth Ames, Don Dumond, Jerry Galm, and Rick Minor, writing on the prehistory of the Southern Plateau in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:  “The site also produced a well-defined structure, either a wickiup or windbreak, with a series of radiocarbon dates averaging to 9500 B.C. This is the earliest structure anywhere in the Plateau culture area.”

During the period from about 10,500 to 8,500 years ago, the site appears to have been used as a summer base camp. Here Indian people processed a broad range of plants and animals. The archaeological data suggests that the people stayed at this site for a good portion of the summer. The data suggests that the population was fairly stable, using the Paulina Lake site during the summer and then using the Fort Rock and Connely Cave sites during the winter.

Buffalo Flats Bunny Pits:

Near the east end of the Fort Rock Basin, on Buffalo Flat are four sites (35LK1180, 35LK1881, 35LK2076, 35LK2095) collectively known as the Buffalo Flats Bunny Pits. The pits are hearths or earth ovens which range from as small as two feet in diameter to as large as 8 to 10 feet across. Most of the identifiable animal bones (98%) found at the sites are jackrabbit. The rabbits were probably collected in large drives, such as those described in the ethnographic literature, then processed and cooked. The sites date to 11,500 to 8,900 years ago.

Dirty Shame Rockshelter:

The Dirty Shame Rockshelter site (35ML65) is in southeastern Oregon on Antelope Creek. Occupation of this site began during the Fort Rock period and was a summer-fall based camp. Among the items uncovered by archaeologists were 10 sandals and sandal fragments, matting, cordage, net fragments, small pressure flakes, a lanceolate projectile point, and a flat rock that served as an anvil. The site has been dated to 10,710 years ago.

Tlatilco, an Ancient Site in the Valley of Mexico

For most people the mention of ancient Mexico brings up images of the Aztecs, the Mayas, and perhaps the ancient city of Teotihucán. Ancient Mexico, however, also includes some sites which are much older than these and which are not tourist attractions. One of these is Tlatilco in the Valley of Mexico.

For today’s archaeologically-oriented tourist, accustomed to the great ruins of places like Chichén Itzá, Tlatilco is more than a disappointment. In their book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, archaeologists Michael Coe and Rex Koontz write:  “The visitor to the site today will find nothing but a series of huge holes in the ground, surrounded by factories. In actuality, only a tiny fraction of Tlatilco was ever cleared under scientific conditions.”

Like most archaeological sites around the world, the initial excavations weren’t done by archaeologists. The original excavations at the site, started in 1936, were done by workers who were digging for clay to be used in the making of bricks. In 1942, Miguel Covarrubias led the first scientific excavation at the site.

The archaeological record shows that Tlatilco was settled by about 1300 BCE. It might be described as a large village or a small town that spread over an area of about 160 acres. Its location on a small stream near Lake Teycoc provided its residents with easy access to fishing as well as to the waterfowl attracted to the lake. In addition, the refuse at the site show that the residents hunted and consumed deer.

With regard to time period, the era from 1300 to 400 BCE (2000 BCE to 200 CE according to some sources) is generally classified as the Formative or Pre-classic period in Mesoamerica.

One of the features of the site is the presence of underground, bell-shaped pits. While the archaeologists found these filled with rubbish—ashes, fragments of pottery and figurines, animal bones—they originally served for the storage of grain.

Clay, in addition to being used to make bricks, can also be used for making pottery. In their Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica, Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson report:  “The ceramics of Tlatilco are advanced, and zone rocker stamps (tools for making indented designs) were used.”

At Tlatilco, the ancient potters’ art shows many animals: armadillo, wild turkey, frogs, bears, rabbits, opossum, fish, turtles, and ducks. The Tlatilco potters made two kinds of figurines. One of these was large, hollow, and painted red. The smaller figurines were usually solid. Both male and female figurines were made. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz report:  “What an extraordinary glimpse of the Pre-classic aristocrats is provided in their figurines! We see women affectionately carrying children or dogs; dancers, some with rattles around the legs; acrobats and contortionists; and matrimonial couples on couches.”

One of the features of ancient Mexican cultures is the ball game. While archaeologists have not found a ball court at Tlatilco, the figurines show players wearing the traditional protections for the game which suggests that they may have had the ballgame.

Some of the figurines show masked individuals who may have been shamans as well as deformed people. Some of the figurines show two-headed people; heads with three eyes, two noses, and two mouths; and hunchbacks.

Burials provide archaeologists with a great deal of important information about ancient societies. At Tlatilco archaeologists uncovered about 340 burials which were accompanied by offerings, especially the clay figurines. Some of the burial goods, such as marine shells, iron-ore mirrors, and pearl oyster pendants show that long-distance trade was being carried out. The burial of luxury items with children suggests that Tlatilco had a hereditary class system and inherited social inequality.

Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson summarize Tlatilco this way:  “Tlatilco is an important archaeological site because its finds demonstrate advances in ceramics during the Early Formative Period.”

 

Ancient America: Florida, 1 CE to 940 CE

American Indians occupied, utilized, and developed the peninsula known as Florida for thousands of years. Our knowledge of the ancient past—of Florida, from 2,000 years ago until about 1,000 years ago—comes primarily from archaeology. Unfortunately, archaeology tells the story of the past based on material remains, which means that these remains must have endured for more than a thousand of years, then be found, and finally interpreted. As a result our picture of ancient Florida is not complete, but rather a series of seemingly disjointed snapshots. Briefly described below are some of the archaeological findings from Florida from 1 CE through 940 CE.

In 1 CE, the Calusa built a 2.5 mile canal across Pine Island. The canal was 18-23 feet wide and 3.5 feet deep so that it was large enough to handle most Calusa canoes. To control the water flow in the canal, the Calusa used a series of 8 stepped impoundments which functioned like locks and a series of auxiliary channels which diverted excess flow.

By 100, Indian people were occupying Mound Key. The shell mound which they constructed reached a height of 30 feet. Fish and shellfish provided them with a plentiful supply of food.

In 200, Indian people began construction on two canals around the rapids on the Caloosahatchee River. The canals, which were about seven miles long, facilitated fishing and transportation.

In 200, Weeden Island ceramics began to appear at the McKeithen site. The site has three mounds. Philip Kopper. in The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians: Before the Coming of the Europeans, reports:  “The horseshoe-shaped, forty-seven-acre village was located on a low sandy ridge in forest-and-brush country that provided an excellent habitat for the animals and plants upon which the hunting-gathering people depended.”

The population was a little more than 100. Weeden Island ceramics also began to appear at sites in southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia.

In 300, the ancestors of the Calusa and Mayami built a seven-mile system of canals and a large pond in the shape of a baton. The canals were dug using wooden tools and shells. They were an average of 20 feet wide and 4 feet deep and provided easy canoe access to the Ortona village. In addition, the canals bypassed a series of rapids on the Caloosahatchee River.

Along the Gulf Coast area of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, villages which were exploiting marine fish and shellfish were creating embankments in the shape of rings, horseshoes, and rectangles by the year 300. These embankments seemed to be a way for disposing refuse in an orderly manner outside of the residential area. Within the rings, the villages had a plaza and both platform and burial mounds. On the east side of the burial mounds, the people deposited groups of finely painted ceramics, many of which were effigies of humans, animals, or plants.

In 300, the Weedon Island people began occupying the Crystal River ceremonial site. The ceremonies became more complex.

In 350, Indian people at the McKeithen site began construction of two residential mounds. The mounds were planned to allow the rising sun at the summer solstice to be observed and calculated from Mound B. The two residential mounds are rectangular and fairly low—1 meter and a half meter in height. A residence was built on top of one of the mounds and a pine post screen was erected across the other. In the area behind the screen, exhumed human bones were cleaned, treated with red ochre, and prepared for storage in the charnel house. A third mound, which was circular and less than a meter in height, had a charnel house for the storage of cleaned human remains.

By 400, the Indian people of Weeden Island had developed a new level of cultural complexity and diversity. They showed social stratification in their burials, some of which now included outstanding works of pottery and carving. There was also an expansion of the population.

In 475, the structures on the platform mounds at the McKeithen site were burned and removed. The mounds were capped. While this marked the end of mound use at the village, the village itself continued to be occupied.

In the Upper Apalachicola area of Florida Indian people were raising corn and squash by 500, but were still relying on gathering wild plants and hunting for most of their subsistence.

In 600, Mound A was constructed at the Crystal River site. It was about 30 feet high and served as a temple platform.

In north-central Florida, the culture which archaeologists call Alachua began about 600. There was a migration of people from south-central Georgia who replaced the indigenous Cades Pond people. Alachua appears to be associated with the Ocmulgee culture in Georgia. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book The Timucua, writes:  “the people of Ocmulgee culture may have been the ancestors of the Timucuan groups in at least a portion of south-central Georgia, but that remains very uncertain.”

In 690, Indian people began construction of Turtle Mound. The mound consisted of two connected cones which were about 35 feet high. The mound covered more than an acre and measured 180 feet by 360 feet. It was constructed from oyster shells. According to Michael Durham, in his book Guide to Ancient Native American Sites:  “The mound towers over the flat terrain and possibly was used as a lookout tower by the peoples of the late St. Johns culture and their successors, the Timucuan Indians of historic times.”

By 940, a Mississippian society began to emerge in the Fort Walton area in northern Florida. According to archaeologist John Scarry, in his chapter in The Mississippian Emergence:  “They were simple chiefdoms, with clear social distinctions between high status and low status individuals—distinctions revealed in residential segregation and the extraction and allocation of community surplus labor.” He goes on to point out:  “The people relied on cleared-field agriculture for a significant portion of their diet.”

Ancient America: Florida, BCE

With exciting new finds coming from the OldVero Ice Age Site in Florida which are providing evidence of human occupation 14,000 years ago, this is a good time to review some of the ancient (before 2,000 years ago) archaeological sites in Florida.

By 11,000 BCE, Indian people were living by hunting and gathering in northern Florida and southern Georgia. The sea levels at this time were 350 feet lower than present. This means that the land mass of present-day Florida was much larger. Water sources, particularly those in deep springs, were important for both human habitation and for the animals which they hunt. At this time, the Indians were hunting mastodon, mammoth, horse, camel, and giant land tortoise.

In 10,030 BCE, Indian people at the Little Salt Spring were hunting turtles and the giant land tortoise, Geochelone Crassicutata. The turtles were killed with a stake and then cooked in the shell. These people were also using an oak throwing stick or boomerang. They also had a deer-antler which had its roots and points cut off and 28 parallel notches cut into it. This is one of the earliest examples of counting time in North America.

In 9000 BCE, Indian people near the Wacissa River killed a Bison antiquus.

In 8500 BCE, people living near Mineral Springs buried their dead near the edge of the springs. One was a man, 30-40 years of age, who was 5’4” tall and weighed about 110 pounds. He had worn and abscessed teeth. Another was the body of a middle-aged female. As the sea level rose at the end of the ice age, so did the water within the spring. By the time the skeletons were discovered by archaeologists, they were under water.

In 7500 BCE, the Archaic Period began with an increase in population and new settlements around freshwater sources. The way of life shifted from nomadic to a more settled form. Artist Theodore Morris, in his book Florida’s Lost Tribes, writes:  “With a settled lifestyle and new animals to hunt, different types of stone tools were made. Trade networks, some encompassing much of the Southeast, sprang up.” During this time, Florida’s climate is growing warmer and wetter.

In 7300 BCE, Indian people left a spear at the Little Salt Spring site.

In 6120, Indian people began burying their dead in the Windover Bog Site. While anthropologists managed to obtain DNA samples from some of the bodies at the site, the mtDNA lineages which were found are not present in any contemporary American Indian populations.

In south Florida, Indian people were living on the dune ridges of Horr’s Island by 5000 BCE.

In south Florida, Indian people began building a large mound with layers of white sand, charcoal-stained sand, and oyster shell on Horr’s Island about 2900 BCE. By 2800 BCE Indian people were living in a year-round settlement on Horr’s Island. Their small houses were made from poles and thatch. The conical sand mound reaches about 6 meters high and was used for burials.

By 2500 BCE, Indians in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida began making fired pottery. According to archaeologist David Hurst Thomas in his book Exploring Ancient Native America: An Archaeological Guide:  “The earliest ceramic vessels look like flowerpots, remarkably similar to the earlier steatite (stone) bowls from the same area.”

Indian people by 2400 BCE were making sea voyages between South America and the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

In 2400 BCE, Indian people at the Summer Haven site (8SJ46) constructed four circular structures. The people who occupied this site were practicing cranial deformation (a deliberate modification of head shape which begins by binding the head of an infant shortly after birth).

In south Florida, Indian people were living on Useppa Island in the Pine Island Sound by 2000 BCE. They were making fiber-tempered pottery.

Indian people in Florida began making decorated pottery known as Tick Island decorated pottery by about 1600 BCE. The Tick Island decorated pottery resembles the pottery found at Barlovento on Colombia’s northern coast and this pottery, in turn, appears to be derived from the Valdivia pottery of Ecuador.

In 1580 BCE, the Rollings Shell Ring was constructed. It is 7 meters in height (about 23 feet) and 250 meters (825 feet) in diameter. The ring was built up quickly and there are few artifacts within it.

In 1500 BCE, Indian people at the Joseph Reed Shell Ring site (8MT13) were making sand-tempered pottery. This represents one of the earliest intensive uses of pottery in south Florida. According to archaeologists Michael Russo and Gregory Heide, in their chapter in Early Pottery: Technology, Function, Style, and Interaction in the Lower Southeast:  “The pottery at Joseph Reed consists of both sand-tempered and chalky wares at a time when most archaeologists believed these wares were unknown in Florida.”  They go on to report:  “In terms of migration/diffusion, the pottery from Joseph Reed has nowhere to migrate from. It is not tempered with fiber as is the pottery of the site’s nearest contemporaneous pottery-producing neighbors to the north. Thus, a direct connection cannot be made with those neighbors in terms of paste and temper (design and form, however, cannot be ruled out until more data are obtained).”

In 1300 BCE, a type of decorated pottery known as Orange Incised began to appear. Archaeologists note that Orange Incised is similar to the Machalilla pottery found in Ecuador and suggest that this style of pottery diffused northward from South America.

In 1000 BCE, Indian people living along Fisheating Creek were building linear earthworks which were designed to raise living quarters above the floodwaters.

In 1000 BCE, Indian people in the St. Johns River area were making pottery . They were using freshwater sponge spicules in the pottery paste which resulted in a chalky feel. These sponge spicules were an intentional temper which was added during the manufacturing process. The pottery was made with a coiled technique.

People began to occupy a site near the Crystal River in Florida in 537 BCE. The site includes two large temple mounds with ramps, a smaller residential mound, a plaza, and two burial mounds. There appears to have been contact with the Hopewell people in Ohio as evidenced by flint knives and other artifacts.

In 500 BCE, Indian people from the Deptford culture began to occupy the Crystal River site.

In northern Florida, the period which archaeologists call St. Johns I began about 500 BCE. The people were establishing both freshwater and coastal villages. They were also occupying smaller, seasonal camps for fishing and shellfish gathering.

The Timucua began to occupy the sub-tropical areas of Florida about 500 BCE.

In south Florida, Indian people began making a thick, sand-tempered plain pottery by 500 BCE.

The Tequesta were living in the area near present-day Miami, Florida by 500 BCE. They constructed a number of round houses, including a chief’s house or council house, using a post framework.

In 300 BCE, the Crystal River site was established as a ceremonial center. Construction began on Mound F which served as a burial mound. It would eventually rise to a height of 20 feet. About 1,000 people would eventually be buried here.

In 50 BCE, Indian people occupied the Fort Walton site.

In 30 BCE, Indian people along the Crystal River began construction of a series of shell mounds which have astronomical alignments. The mounds and stone pillars can be used to observe the solstices and equinoxes.

Ancient America: The Columbia Plateau, 2000 BCE to 500 BCE

The area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana is known as the Plateau Culture area. From north to south it runs from the Fraser River in the north to the Blue Mountains in the south. Much of the area is classified as semi-arid. Part of it is mountainous with pine forests in the higher elevations. This is an area which is drained by the Columbia River.

While much of the Plateau Culture Area constitutes a dry region characterized by a sagebrush-Juniper steppe area with pine forests at the higher levels, there are portions of the area which do not fit this description. In the northern portion of the Plateau Culture Area, there is a temperate rainforest with higher precipitation. At the headwaters to the Columbia River in British Columbia, the terrain is cut by steep mountain ranges with long, narrow lakes in the valleys.

Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, James Chatters and David Pokotylo report:  “For the past 4,000 years, most Plateau cultural adaptations have emphasized the mass harvest and long-term storage of three key resource groups: fish (usually anadromous salmonids), edible roots, and large ungulates.”

Archaeologists generally divide the prehistory of the Plateau into three broad periods: (1) Early (before 6000 BCE); (2) Middle (6000 to 2000 BCE); and  (3) Late (2000 BCE to 1720 CE). In the section below, we will look at the Plateau during the Late-Early Subperiod (2000 BCE to 500 BCE).

Just prior to this subperiod, in 2500 BCE, regional temperatures began to decrease. With this there were glacial advances and a decline in the temperature of the Columbia River. By 2000 BCE, the Indian people in the Plateau area were adapting to this climate change with storage-dependent collector activities. In some areas, small villages began to appear.

In 2000 BCE, Indian people began using Dagger Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in present-day Idaho as a salmon spearing station.

In 2000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Alpowa site in present-day Chief Timothy State Park.

At Kettle Falls, Washington, there was an increase in population about 1600 BCE. This marks the beginning of what the archaeologists call the Skitak period.

Around 1500 BCE, the period which archaeologists call the Early Riverine phase began. In his book Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau, archaeologist James Keyser reports:  “During this time, pit house villages become commonplace, roots, salmon, and shellfish were the primary good sources for Columbia Plateau groups.”  Long-distance trade also increased. Wood- and bone- working became more important.

At this time, refugees from the retreating boreal forests in the north begin to enter into the Plateau area, bringing with them some new cultural items. These new items include the stone pipe, copper objects, stone carvings, effigy figurines, and the use of burial mounds.

In southeastern British Columbia and northwestern Montana, the period which archaeologists call the Inissimi Complex began about 1500 BCE. The Inissimi stone points have an expanding stem, a convex base, pronounced shoulders and excurvate blade edges.

In the Calispell Valley of Washington, Indian people began a more intensive use of camas (a bulbed plant used for food). In addition, fishing became more important.

In Idaho, Indian people began year-round occupation of the Middle Salmon River canyon area. There was also an increase in the hunting of buffalo and mountain sheep.

In the Plateau area of British Columbia, the archaeological period known as the Shuswap Horizon begins. This is a period of cold, wet weather. Mike Rousseau, in his chapter in Complex Hunter-Gatherers: Evolution and Organization of Prehistoric Communities on the Plateau of Northwestern North America, reports:  “small, moderately mobile bands established winter residential base camps on valley bottoms where food and material resources were abundant and varied.”

In his University of Montana M.A. Thesis A Timeline in Stone: Lithic Indications of Social and Economic Change at Housepit 7 of the Keatley Creek Site, Terrence Godin reports:  “It signifies the first regular, widespread use of semi-subterranean winter pithouses on the Canadian Plateau.”

The houses are relatively large with an average of nearly 11 meters in diameter up to a maximum of 16 meters. They are circular to oval with flat-bottomed, rectangular shaped floors.

According to Terrence Godin:  “Shuswap people utilized elk, deer, mountain sheep, black bear, numerous species of small mammals, fresh water mussels, salmon, trout, and various species of birds, but did not rely on plant resources to any great extent.”  Their projectile points were generally lanceolate and/or triangular in shape. They were probably used on thrusting spears or atlatl darts.

Along the Middle Snake River in Idaho, hunting began to be more important about 1000 BCE.

In 1000 BCE, Indian people were burning large areas to encourage the growth of good deer forage and to improve oak groves for acorns. In the mountain areas of northern Oregon and southern Washington, Indian people were burning areas to maintain the huckleberry patches.

In 1000 BCE, the Kootenai were hunting mountain sheep high in the mountains of what is now Glacier National Park. At this time, the Kootenai were quarrying chert for making stone tools about 3 miles upstream on Bowman Creek from its confluence with the North Fork of the Flathead River.

At Kettle Falls, Washington, the period which archaeologists call the Takumakst period began about 800 BCE. This is associated with Salish people. The material culture at this time included steatite tubular pipes with thin, flaring bowls. People were living in pit houses which were dug one to two meters deep. They were cooking with earth ovens and used pits for storing food.

People in southeastern Oregon were using pole-and-thatch huts or windscreens about 625 BCE. These structures are described by archaeologist Luther Cressman in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “Paired vertical willow branches were placed at intervals around a shallow, dish-shaped depression about 5 m in maximum diameter, forming a circular framework. Bundles of grass, laid horizontally, were then attached by U-shaped willow pins to these uprights.”  The structure was then shingled with bundles of grass placed vertically. Rock slabs anchored the structure.

In the Plateau area of Washington and Idaho, villages became larger about 500 BCE with some of them having as many as 100 pit houses. However, the pit houses tended to be somewhat smaller than they were previously. These larger villages were on rivers such as at Kettle Falls in Washington and in the Hells Canyon area of Idaho.

Along the lower Snake River in eastern Washington, the Harder phase began to replace the Tucannon phase about 500 BCE. The people were using fairly large—20 to 40 feet diameter—pit houses. As in the Tucannon phase, the subsistence pattern was based on hunting and fishing. They were now hunting mountain sheep and had domesticated dogs.

In the southeastern Plateau area, the Nez Perce occupied a number of villages by 500 BCE. Historian Alvin Josephy, in his book Nez Perce Country, reports:  “Most of the settlements were small, containing from one to three structures.”

At this time, the people had intensified their hunting of buffalo, which were found in great numbers in the area.

In the Calispell Valley of Washington, the use of camas decreased in 500 BCE because of drought damage to the moist meadows. The Indian people of this area began to use fire as a tool to increase food production in the higher elevations.

Ancient America: Corn, Beans, Squash

The domestication of plants is something that happened independently in many different regions of the world. The domestication of plants marks a fundamental change in the way people interact with and perceive their environment. Domestication is basically evolution which has been directed through human intervention. By the time of the European invasions in the sixteenth century, the Indigenous peoples of Mexico had already domesticated more than 50 different plants, ranging from avocados to yucca. Three of these plants—maize (corn), beans, and squash—became the focus of American Indian agriculture in North and Central America. Among the Iroquois these three plants were known as the Three Sisters.

Maize (Corn):

 Maize (Zea mays), commonly called corn in the United States, is undoubtedly the most important plant domesticated in Mexico. In their book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, Michael Coe and Rex Koontz write:  “Maize was and is the very basis of settled life in Mexico, and, in fact, throughout the regions of the New World civilized in Pre-Columbian times.”

Archaeologists debate several questions with regard to the domestication of maize: (1) What was the wild ancestor or ancestors of maize? (2) When did the fully domesticated maize first appear? And (3) how did maize cultivation spread both north and south into other regions of the Americas?

Maize is a grass and there are no known wild forms of this grass. In the highlands of the Mexican state of Chiapas and Guatemala, there is, however, a grass called teosinte (Zea Mexicana) which grows as an unwanted weed in and around Indian cornfields. Long before archaeologists had the tools of modern genetics and DNA, they hypothesized that teosinte was the probable ancestor of maize. Maize may have evolved through the human selection of teosinte plants. Some researchers assuming that teosinte was the progenitor of maize have suggested that maize originated in the Balsas River Drainage in western Mexico by about 7000 BCE.

Gary Crawford, writing in the Oxford Companion to Archaeology, reports:  “How corn was domesticated is problematic. As a grass, its fruit in the form of a cob is a monstrosity.”

Teosinte does not have a cob and this has led some researchers to suggest that the ancestor of maize may have been a wild plant, now extinct, which had a cob. Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson, in their Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica, write:  “The wild maize plants altered by mutation were collected by early inhabitants of Mesoamerica and slowly domesticated. The wild form appears to have become extinct, possibly through backcrossing with domesticated forms.”

However, this hypothesized plant, has not yet been found in the archaeological record. Nor is there any evidence that ancient humans harvested teosinte.

It was once thought that the people who oversaw the evolution of teosinte into maize were the Maya, but there is no direct evidence that the Maya were the overseers of this evolutionary transformation.

Dating the appearance of maize in the archaeological record has presented a few problems. At the present time some of the earliest findings come from phytoliths (fossil evidence of plant cells) found at San Andrés on the Gulf Coast of Tabasco near the Olmec site of La Venta. These date to about 4800 BCE and since there are no known wild species of Zea in the region, it suggests that they were introduced by humans. There is also some evidence of large-scale forest clearing at this time, an activity usually associated with the cultivation of maize. According to Michael Coe and Rex Koontz:  “If this Tabasco material is true maize cultivation, then it would be the earliest record of such activity that we have.”

Maize cobs found in caves in Tehuacan, Pueblo, were originally thought to date to 5000 BCE, but newer dating methods have revised this to 3500 BCE. At the present time, the earliest date maize cob comes from the Guilá Naquitz cave in Oaxaca which is dated to 4300 BCE.

 Beans:

While maize was the most important food staple in ancient Mexico, beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) were second in importance. Beans seem to have been originally domesticated in Mexico and Guatemala and then diffused, along with maize, to other parts of the Americas. With regard to beans, Michael Coe and Rex Koontz write:  “Its nutritional importance stems from the fact that its proteins complement those of maize.”

Beans supply the amino acids lysine and tryptophan to complement the amino acid zein from maize.

Beans seem to have been originally domesticated in Mexico’s Lerma-Santiago basin about 6,000 years ago. Beans were not grown in any significant quantities until they became a part of the diet that included maize and squash. Beans were also domesticated independently in the Andes.

Squash:

While maize was the most important plant in ancient Mexico, squash appears to have been domesticated earlier than maize. The earliest evidence of domesticated squash (Cucurbit pepo) dates to about 8000 BCE. This evidence comes for Guilá Naquitz cave in Oaxaca. This early squash is a distant relative of today’s pumpkin. There are three major species of squash in Mexico: pumpkin, warty or crookneck squash, and walnut squash. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz write: “The origins of all of thee from wild ancestors or through hybridization are very little understood, although a very early domesticate has been identified, and the sequence of their appearance in Mexico is now established.”

Between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, domesticated squash diffused north into Northern Mexico and the Southwest.

Early Oregon Sites

The earliest period of human occupation in the Northern Great Basin region of Oregon is called the Paisley Period by archaeologists. The period, which is tentatively dated from about 15,700 years ago to 12,900 years ago, is named after the Paisley 5 Mile Point Caves site (35LK3400) near Summer Lake.

During the Paisley Period, Native peoples in Oregon adapted to the Northern Great Basin environment at a time when the ice ages were ending and the region was undergoing dramatic climatic and environmental changes. Jeff LaLande, writing for The Oregon History Project, describes the environment: “By the time of these earliest arrivals, the region’s glaciers had melted into small remnants, and many of the great Ice Age lakes had begun to shrink into shallow but plant- and animal-rich lakes, marshes, and wetlands.”

The people at this time were hunting and eating bison, camelids, horse, deer, mountain sheep, pronghorn antelope, and sage grouse. They were gathering a wide variety of different plants, including goosefoot (Chenopodiacea sp.), sunflower, cactus, rose hips, and desert parsley. They were making and using a variety of stone and bone tools.

While the Paisley Caves site is the best-known of the most ancient Oregon sites, there are a number of other sites which also date to this era.

Dietz Site:

Located in Central Oregon’s Alkalai Basin to the east of the Fort Rock area near Wagontire, the Dietz Site (35LK1529) dates to the end of the Paisley Period. This is an interesting site as it represents a Clovis intrusion into the region. At one time the Clovis tradition with its characteristic fluted points was thought to represent the earliest people in North America. In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “The Dietz site is currently one of only three recorded Clovis-era sites in Oregon where multiple artifacts have been recovered, though Clovis fluted points are reported widely as isolated surface finds.”

The Clovis materials at the site have been dated to about 13,200 years ago. The Clovis artifacts recovered at the site include fluted points, flute flakes, and biface projectile point blanks. Horse Mountain, located about a mile from the site, is the source of much of the obsidian used for the stone tools.

In addition to the Clovis materials, the archaeologists also found large stemmed and shouldered points associated with the Western Stemmed tradition. Also associated with these artifacts were some grinding stones. Some archaeologists feel that the Clovis and Western Stemmed artifacts represent two different groups of people. The Clovis materials generally represent a narrowly focused hunting adaptation, while the Western Stemmed is a more generalized gathering and hunting adaptation. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “Based on what we know of broader associations, the Western Stemmed people attested at the Dietz site may have been more broad-spectrum and opportunistic in their subsistence strategies, and the Clovis folk relatively more focused on following and hunting large game.”

The Western Stemmed tradition is older than Clovis in the region.

Sage Hen Gap:

Another  Clovis site is located north of the Dietz site. Artifacts found at the Sage Hen Gap site (35HA3548) include fluted points, a single Western Stemmed point, fluting flakes, gravers, and lots of obsidian flakes. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “The site appears to have been a good ambush location for hunting large game as they funneled down from higher terrain through narrow, steep wash bottoms cut into a high ridge.”

Catlow Cave:

Some ninety miles south of Burns, in the southern end of the Catlow Valley, Luther Cressman found some extinct Pleistocene horse bones at Catlow Cave in the late 1930s. Cressman, lacking any precise scientific dating methods at this time, suggested that this site had been occupied at the same time as the Paisley Caves. Human bones were also found at this site, but they were found in gravel so there was no way to prove their age. In the late 1970s, plans were made for a reinvestigation of the site, but the site was destroyed by mining and artifact collectors before any scientific excavations could be carried out. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “This sorry event took place in defiance of signs and barriers erected at the mouth of the cave by the Bureau of Land Management to safeguard its archaeological evidence. The human bones themselves, never directly radiocarbon dated, were repatriated and reburied under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.”

 Fossil Lake Camelid Kill Site:

Located at the northern end of the Fort Rock basin, the Fossil Lake Camelid Kill Site (35LK525) contained camelid bones (probably Camelops hesterenus) and fragments of a projectile point. The collagen from the bones was radiocarbon dated to about 12,000 years ago.

Ancient Newfoundland and Labrador

The eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador was not only the first area of North America encountered by Europeans, but it also had a long history of aboriginal occupation. The province includes one of Canada’s largest islands—Newfoundland—and the mainland area of Labrador. Described below are some of the archaeological sites which document the aboriginal settlement of the province.

By 6,000 BCE, native people had begun to occupy the rugged mountainous coastline area in Labrador.

In 5,580 BCE, the body of a twelve year old child was buried in a low artificial mound in Labrador. The body, covered in red ochre, was laid in a prone position with the head turned to the west. The grave was about three feet deep and was covered with earth and stones. Grave goods included stone and bone spear points, ochre and graphite stones with a pestle to grind them for making paint, a walrus tusk, a bone pendant, and a flute made from a bird bone.

In 5,300 BCE, on the present-day border between Quebec and Labrador, the body of an adolescent was laid face down between two fires. Around the body’s neck was a bone pendant and a whistle with three stops. A number of objects were placed next to the body: a walrus tusk, a harpoon, some stone and bone weapon points, three stone knives. In addition, red ochre, graphite pebbles, and an antler tine—materials needed to make the ochre into paint—were also buried with the adolescent. The grave was covered with a stone slab and two short rows of upright slabs were set up above the grave. These were then covered with sand and boulders to form a burial mound.

By 5,000 BCE, a way of life that archaeologists call the Maritime Archaic Tradition had developed in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Maine. Subsistence activities focused on sea mammals such as seals (harp, ringed, harbor, gray, and bearded seals), walrus, porpoises, and whales. They were also taking fish and sea birds. In the southern Maritimes and New England they were harpooning swordfish.

The Maritime Archaic people were equally at home on the sea coast and the interior. During the early spring, the Maritime Archaic people were on or near the coast where they could easily take the sea mammals on the pack and landfast ice. In the summer, the sea mammals were less available, but the people stayed on the coast to fish—particularly for Atlantic salmon—and to take birds. At the first snow, they withdrew from the coast to inland hunting locations where they hunted caribou, moose, and elk.

With regard to the stone tools used by the Maritime Archaic people, archaeologist James Tuck, in his chapter in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:  “Stone was manufactured into spears and lances as well as into axes, adzes, and gouges, which in turn bespeak a heavy woodworking industry, the products of which probably included frames for shelters, weapon and tool handles, boats, dugout canoes, and wooden bowls.”

Spirituality at this time included hunting magic (evidenced in the wearing of charms and amulets) and a well-developed burial ceremonialism. Burials involved the use of red ochre as well as many grave offerings. Graves tended to be oriented toward the east.

In 5,000 BCE, gravediggers in Labrador made a circular pit more than 30 feet in diameter at the L’Anse-Amour site near the Strait of Belle Isle. They placed the body of a child about 12-13 years old in the pit. In The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians: Before the Coming of the Europeans, Philip Kopper reports:  “They lit fires on either side of the body, which was covered with a flat rock and provided with knives or spear points of stone and polished bone; a cosmetic kit of red ochre, graphite paint stones and antler pestle to grind the paint; a walrus tusk; a bone pendant; a bird-bone whistle and a harpoon point. The grave was heaped with sand and then covered with three layers of boulders.”

In 3,350 BCE, Indian people established a coastal village at what is now called the Gould Site in Newfoundland. Their tool kit included gouges for woodworking, projectile points, and fish spears.

In 2,450 BCE, people living along the coast of Newfoundland began a practice of elaborate burials which included offerings of tools, animal bones, carved animal effigies, and small, white quartz pebbles. The offerings were covered in red ochre which would lead archaeologists to call them the Red Paint People. The offerings show that their economy and lifestyle was oriented toward the deep sea. Their tool kit included woodworking tools for making houses and boats, finely made bone and ivory fishhooks, harpoons, lances for hunting whales and walrus, and fish spears.

In 2,400 BCE, more than 100 people were buried at Port au Choix in Labrador. The burials included an equal ratio of men and women. In his book Prehistory of the Americas, Stuart Fiedel reports:  “The bodies had been coated with red ochre, and were provided with tools and ornaments.”

Among the grave offerings were ground slate bayonet points which may have been used for whale hunting. Other tools included harpoons, barbed bone fishing spears, and slate woodworking tools.  Stuart Fiedel also reports:  “The dead were also provided with daggers made of walrus ivory, caribou bone and antler, and with bone awls, needles, tubes, combs, hairpins, whistles, and pendants.”  Shell beads were sewn onto skin garments.

By 800 CE, the Point Revenge culture began to develop in Labrador. According to William Fitzhugh, in his chapter in Cultures in Contact: The European Impact on Native Cultural Institutions in Eastern North America, A.D. 1000-1800, these people “probably spoke a variety of Algonquian languages, used canoes rather than kayaks, painted their bodies and tools with red ocher, and hunted caribou in the interior during the winter and caught fish, birds, and seals on the coast during the summer.”

In making their stone tools, the Point Revenge people used Ramah chert which is found in Ramah Bay in northern Labrador. This chert was also traded to peoples to the south and is found in sites in Novia Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England.

In Labrador, the Late Dorset Eskimo began to establish themselves north of the Port Revenge cultures by 900 CE. According to William Fitzhugh:  “Late Dorset peoples inhabited coastal locations throughout the year and made use of the entire northern coast, including the region around Ramah Bay.”

Like the Point Revenge people, they were using Ramah chert for making their stone tools. Unlike the Point Revenge people, however, they used kayaks rather than canoes. They also had richly developed shamanistic and secular art traditions.

By 1,000 CE, Thule culture groups began to migrate into Labrador from Alaska. They were practicing a maritime adaptation which focused on hunting large marine mammals, particularly the bowhead whale. According to Susan Kaplan, in her chapter in Cultures in Contact: The European Impact on Native Cultural Institutions in Eastern North America, A.D. 1000-1800:  “The newcomers arrived with dog-drawn sleds, large skin boats (umiaks), and single-man boats (kayaks). With this equipment people and heavy gear could be transported long distances with speed.”

In the fall and winter, the people lived in small, subterranean houses built out of stone, sod, wood, and whale bone. During the whaling season, several settlements would pool their resources in a cooperative endeavor. In the fall, the people would hunt caribou using fences and drives. In the spring they would fish using stone weirs to entrap the fish.

 

Occupation of Paisley Caves in Oregon

The earliest period of human occupation in what is now Oregon is called the Paisley Period by archaeologists. The period, which is tentatively dated from about 15,700 years ago to 12,900 years ago, is named after the Paisley 5 Mile Point Caves site (35LK3400) near Summer Lake.

The Paisley Caves are located in the Summer Lake basin in south-central Oregon on the highest shoreline of pluvial Lake Chewaucan. The initial archaeology at the site was carried out during 1938 and 1940 by Luther Cressman and his students. In Cave 3, Cressman and his students found a U-shaped living area which had been cleared of stones and outlined with boulders which lay well below a layer of volcanic ash from Mount Mazama (the eruption which created Crater Lake). The Mount Mazama eruption would later be dated to 7,600 years ago.

At the time Cressman was working at Paisley Caves there were no precise chronometric methods for dating archaeological sites. One of the major advances in chronometric dating came with the development of radiocarbon dating. This dating method was developed in 1949 by Chicago chemist Willard Libby as a result of the Manhattan Project (i.e. the development of the atomic bomb during World War II). It is based on the principle that radioactive carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by all living things. At death this absorption stops and a steady decay of carbon begins. Since the half-life of the radioactive carbon is known (5,568 years), measuring the amount of carbon remaining can determine the age of the material.

In Cave 3, Cressman and his students found the bones of Pleistocene camel, horse, bison, and waterfowl. While Cressman felt that these remains were associated with the human occupation of the site—that is, they had been killed and eaten by these early Indians—many archaeologists at the time were more than a little skeptical, feeling that human occupation of the Americas could not be this ancient.

From 2002 through 2010, new archaeological excavations were conducted at the Paisley Caves by the University of Oregon’s Northern Great Basin archaeological field school. As in the earlier study, the archaeologists found the bones of now-extinct Pleistocene camel and horse and were able to establish a direct link between these remains and the human occupation of the site. The cut marks on the bones of these ancient animals showed that they had been butchered by the Indian occupants of the site.

One of the features found in Cave 5 was a small pit containing camel, horse, mountain sheep, waterfowl, and fish bones. Called the “Bone Pit” by the archaeologists, the pit was covered by a stone slab. A second stone slab stood on end at the southern rim of the pit. Bones can be radiocarbon dated and the bones from inside the pit and near the pit returned dates ranging from 16,190 years ago to 13,030 years ago.

Also present in the cave were coprolites (dried feces). The coprolites were identified as human by DNA analysis and radiocarbon dated to 14,500 years ago. In the news report on this discovery, Tamara Stewart wrote in American Archaeology:   “Rather than the traditional view that first Americans entered the New World via the Bering Strait, these new findings suggest it is more likely that people came down the coast by boat or that they were south of the corridor before the Last Glacial Maximum closed the route.”

DNA from the coprolites shows that the occupants of the cave were Native Americans with close genetic ties to Siberian and Asian populations. Coprolites also provide direct evidence of prehistoric diets. One of the coprolites also gave chemical evidence that meat from bison, fox, and sage grouse had been consumed.

The stone tools at the site belong to the Western Stemmed Tradition. Obsidian hydration dating on some of the tools shows that they were made between 13,500 and 16,500 years ago. A protein residue analysis on a polished hand stone found near the “Bone Pit” showed that it had been used to process horse meat. In other words, this stone tool had been used for pounding or grinding dried horsemeat or had been used to crack open horse bones to extract the marrow.

In addition to stone tools, the site also contained bone tools, including a bear bone with saw-like teeth which was dated to 14,230 years ago.

In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins sum up the archaeological finds at the Paisley Caves:  “While one could wish there were more artifacts from the deepest and oldest deposits, it is abundantly clear that occupations at the Paisley Caves were always very brief, leaving behind only thin scatters of stone, bone, and fecal matter, of which little survived the depredations of illegal artifact mining to be recovered by archaeologists.”

With regard to the importance of the Paisley Caves site, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins write:  “In sum, the Paisley Caves site is extremely important because it is the first place in the New World that incontrovertible human traces—including human DNA in dried feces on the one hand, and obvious stone and bone artifacts on the other—have been directly dated in excess of 14,000 years ago.”

Alaska Before 6000 BCE

Archaeologists usually classify the period between 25,000 BCE and 6,000 BCE in Alaska as Stage 1, an era in which the first evidence of human habitation occurs. During much of this time, much of North America was under glacial ice and the sea levels were much lower. In the lower forty-eight states of the U.S., the time period known as the Archaic begins about 6,000 BCE. By 5,000 BCE, the ice had retreated and the sea levels had risen to approximately their current levels.

In general, the archaeological data for human occupation during this time tends to be scarce. Don Dumond, in a chapter in the Handbook of North American Indians, summarizes the data:  “Excepting some few bone artifacts that can be placed only inferentially within a wider cultural context, debris that is of clearly attested antiquity and of absolutely indisputable human origin is almost totally confined to stone assemblages that are largely composed of products of the plentiful production of microblades and blades from cores of a certain variety in size and shape, but with some significant portion of the blades pressed or struck from well-formed cores of carefully constructed wedge shape.”

Microblades are fairly small stone blades which are usually placed in a wooden or bone handle to form a spearpoint, knife, or other cutting tool. Overall, the stone tools from this time are similar to those found in Siberia from the same time period.

Listed below are a few of the archaeological sites in Alaska from this time period.

By 13,000 BCE, people were occupying the Trail Creek Caves on the Seward Peninsula. They were hunting bison and horses. In order to prevent their dogs from damaging the animal hides while hunting, they broke the canine teeth. At this time, Alaska was still connected to Asia by the Bering Land Bridge.

By 12,000 BCE, Indian people were occupying the Swan Point site in the Tanana Valley. With regard to artifacts, they were using microblades.

In 11,600 BCE, Indian people were using the Mesa site.

By 9,800 BCE people were occupying sites in the Nenana and Tanana River Valleys. They were making fluted projectile points, bifaces, and unifacial end and side scrapers. They were hunting mammoths as well as other now-extinct Ice Age mammals.  They were also eating cranes, ducks, swans, wild geese, beaver, squirrel, and caribou. At the Broken Mammoth site, Indian people had a microblade industry.

With regard to the now discredited idea that Clovis people were the first Americans, anthropologist James Dixon, in his Bones, Boats, and Bison: Archeology and the First Colonization of Western North America, writes:  “The differences between the type of artifacts from these sites and Clovis sites to the south suggest to some archeologists that these early sites are not directly related.”

Some anthropologists consider the Nenana industry in Alaska to be similar to the Upper Paleolithic industries which are found in Siberia.

In 9,710 BCE, Indian people at the Swan Point site in the Tanana Valley were making a variety of stone tools, including microblades, dihedral burins, pebble hammers, and split quartz pebble tools. They were also shaping mammoth ivory.

In 9,710 BCE, Indian people at the Spein Mountain site were using lanceolate points which resembled the points at the Mesa site.

By 9,660 BCE, Indian people had re-occupied the Mesa site on the north side of Brooks Range. Among the tools being used at this time were lanceolate projectile points, thin bifaces used as knives, and hammer and anvil stones. Most of the projectile points—80%—were bifaces. The projectile points have a concave base with some thinning, although this is not true fluting, and they have heavily ground proximal edges and bases.

Some anthropologists feel that the Mesa Complex tools are similar in technology to the Agate Basin and Hell Gap points which are found on the High Plains of the Lower Forty-Eight and Canada. However, the Mesa Complex points have concave bases which are like the Goshen and Plainview points, which are also found primarily in the Lower Forty-Eight.

In 9,500 BCE, Indian people at the Upper Sun River site had a subsistence pattern which included fish, birds, and small game. They occupied a seasonal semisubterranean house at the site in the summer. A three-year-old child—dubbed Xaasaa Cheege Ts’eniin (Upward Sun River Mouth Child, in Athabascan) was buried at the site.

In 9,470 BCE, Indian people began to occupy the Putu site on the north flank of the Brooks Range. They were using both fluted and non-fluted points. The fluted points were made from obsidian and chert. They were also using burins and flakes similar to the Denali complex.

In 9,470 BCE, Indian people began to occupy the Healy Lake Village site in the Tanana Valley.

In 9,000 BCE, people using a microblade tradition reached the western portion of the state from Asia. Archaeologist Stuart Fiedel, in his Prehistory of the Americas, reports:  “The Paleo-arctic tradition was clearly derived from northeastern Asia, where similar microblades, struck from small wedge-shaped cores, were present in the Dyuktai culture of Siberia by 14,000 B.C., and were used in northern Japan by 8,000 B.C.”

In 9,000 BCE, people using the Chindadn tool complex were using the Dry Creek site in the Nenana River Valley.

In 8,740 BCE, people using microblades occupied the Dry Lake site. Their tool kit included burinated flakes, lake biface blades and smaller bifaces that were used as knives.

In 8,343 BCE, Indian people were now occupying the Hidden Falls site on Baranoff Island. The people were using a microblade technology.

In 8,300 BCE, Indian people occupied the Broken Mammoth site. They were hunting bison, elk, river otter, Dall sheep, porcupine, ground squirrel, marmot, red squirrel, goose, duck, and ptarmigan. They were also involved in fishing.

By 8,320 BCE Indian people were living at Ground Hog Bay in southeastern Alaska.

In the interior of Alaska, Indian people occupied the Panguingue Creek site by 8,200 BCE. They were using lanceolate projectile points.

In 8,050 BCE, Indian people began to occupy the Spein Mountain site east of the present-day town of Bethel. At this time there were no trees in the region.

In 7,907 BCE, the Akmak site was occupied. The stone tools included end scrapers, gouges, knives, and shaft straighteners. Douglas Anderson, in the Handbook of North American Indians, writes:  “Narrow grooved shaft straighteners of basalt suggest that bows and arrows were used.”

The microblades at the site were of a type found in sites in Siberia, Mongolia, Japan, and central Alaska. Douglas Anderson writes:   “During the last centuries of the Bering land bridge and for several millennia afterward, Arctic groups throughout eastern Siberia and Alaska must have remained part of a broad interaction network.”

Akmak was a dwelling site. Douglas Anderson writes:  “The Akmak people who used the site carried out a wide range of activities including hide preparation, butchering, carving on hard and soft materials (perhaps on ivory), planing, chopping, and the manufacture of weapons. Stone tools apparently were finished and resharpened at the site but were blocked out or made elsewhere.”

In 7,700 BCE, Indian people at the Onion Portage site were using the Akmak assemblage which includes microblades.

In southeastern Alaska by 7,500 BCE, Indian people were engaged in a coastal marine subsistence pattern which includes fishing and the gathering of shellfish. Almost all of the diet was based on marine foods. With regard to On-Your-Knees Cave (49-PET-408), anthropologist James Dixon writes:  “Discoveries at this site inferentially demonstrate that humans living along the coast of Southeast Alaska were using watercraft, were primarily dependent on marine foods, had established trade networks, and were capable of intercoastal navigation by 9,200 B.P.”  (note: B.P. means “before present,” which means before 1950—when radiocarbon dating began. B.C.E. means “before current era.”)

The DNA from the remains of one individual in the cave carries markers which were found in people living on Siberia’s Chukotka peninsula.

Indian people with a maritime economy were living on Prince of Wales Island off the coast of Alaska by 7,200 BCE. The obsidian for the microblade tools which they were using comes from Mount Edziza, which is on the mainland about 120 miles away.

By this time, the trading of obsidian and quartz crystals by watercraft routes was widespread along the northwestern Pacific Coast from the Queen Charlotte Islands to southeast Alaska.

In 7,120 BCE, the Indian people using the Trail Creek caves had a microblade technology. The caves at this time were serving as shelter and a lookout for caribou hunters.

Indian people using microblades were living on Baranoff Island in southern Alaska by 7,110 BCEE.

The tiny southern Aleutian island of Anangula was occupied by 6,750 BCE. Philip Kopper, in The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians: Before the Coming of the Europeans, reports:  “The place was virtually barren of vegetation—no trees and only a few berries and greens in summer, together with indigestible grasses. Fish, shellfish, birds, and sea mammals sustained the people.”   Kopper also reports:  “In Anangula the houses were small, oval, semi-subterranean structures with frames of driftwood covered with matting and live sod rooted in an insulating layer of earth.”

About 75 people lived on the island. The village was not a seasonal camp, but was permanently occupied.

The stone technology is a core and blade tradition which looks like it was strongly influenced by the stone technology of northeastern Asia. Allen McCartney, in the Handbook of North American Indians, writes:  “The Anangula core and blade assemblage is the oldest known evidence of human occupation in the Aleutian chain.”  McCartney also reports:  “The Anangula assemblage is dominated by small to large blades struck from polyhedral cores of wedge and other shapes, and flakes and platform tablets from this manufacturing technique.”

At the time of first occupation, Anangula appears to have been an island which means that the first inhabitants would have had to have boats. Allen McCartney writes:  “The location on the Bering Sea coast, of course, suggests that Anangula people were marine-oriented, but there is no direct evidence that they possessed boats or the degree of maritime expertise expressed by later Aleuts.”

In the interior of Alaska, Indian people were using the Carlo Creek site in the Nenana River Valley as a fall and winter hunting camp by 6500 BCE. They were hunting caribou, sheep, and ground squirrel.

In 6,500 BCE, Indian people at the Goldstream Creek site near the present-day town of Fox were using bone projectile points. According to anthropologist James Dixon:  “Similar large bone projectile points, possibly atlatl dart points, may have been an important component of Northern Paleoindian tradition weapon systems.”

In 6,500 BCE, Kobuk complex hunters were using campsites along the edges of the Kobuk River. Douglas Anderson writes:  “The ancient hunters made camp fires of willow branches and, in some cases, of caribou bone. Their fires were relatively small and frequently did not get hot enough to oxidize the moist sand upon which the fires were built.”

The tiny southern Aleutian island of Anangula was abandoned when volcanic ash blanketed the island in 6,250 BCE.

 Indian people in southeastern Alaska were using a variety of stone tools, including microblades, anvil stones, hammerstones, and whetstones by 6,230 BCE. They were gathering shellfish, including horse clam and sea urchin. They were hunting seals, sea lions, and beaver.

 

Aztec Metalwork

The concept of working with metal to fashion ornaments and tools did not originate in Mesoamerica but seems to have diffused into the region sometime in the seventh century from the south—Panama, coastal Ecuador, or Peru. Metal working seems to have diffused initially into West Mexico through maritime trade. According to Dorothy Hosler, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology:  “These maritime traders primarily transmitted technical knowledge, although they sometimes traded artifacts, which were then copied using local materials.”

As a result of this diffusion of knowledge, the Mexican metalworkers and artisans developed their own distinctive artistic and aesthetic style. This style emphasized the symbolic possibilities of metal.

From West Mexico, metalworking diffused to the east and was present in the Valley of Mexico by the eleventh century. By the time the Aztecs rose to power in the Valley of Mexico in the fourteenth century, metalworking was well-established among the Mesoamerican civilizations.

The technology of alloying tin or lead with copper was unknown in the Valley of Mexico, so the Aztec metalworkers worked with soft, lustrous metals such as copper, gold, and silver. None of these metals were found in the Valley of Mexico and had to be imported from distant areas.

Metal smiths melted copper and gold nuggets in fairly simply charcoal-fired furnaces. In order to maintain high and even heat in the furnaces, relays of workers would blow through a tube to provide air to the flames.

Aztec society was highly stratified with groups of artisans living in their own residential quarters. Archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book The Aztecs, writes:  “This close-knit residence pattern enabled the artisans to organize their own people in ranked guilds and to train their successors in organized apprenticeships.”

The metalworkers were ranked among the highest of the artisan guilds and the products which they created were reserved almost exclusively for the nobility. These products included necklaces, ear plugs, masks featuring animals and humans, plaques, and other ornaments. Brian Fagan also reports:  “The ruler restricted the privilege of wearing gold and silver ornaments so carefully that many metal-workers enjoyed a special relationship with the palace.”

Some objects were created using a lost wax technique in which the artisan would first create a mold using ground charcoal and clay. This likeness would then be covered with a skin of melted beeswax and then the entire object encased in a shell of ground charcoal and clay. After drying thoroughly, the mold would be heated so that the beeswax would flow out of special holes. The molten gold or silver would be poured in to replace the beeswax. When completed, the artisan would have a fine duplicate in gold or silver of the original prototype. In extracting the final product, the mold would be smashed and thus each object would be unique.

Relatively little Aztec gold and silver artwork exists today. The Spanish were more interested in the metal than in the art, so they simply melted it down.

The Avonlea Complex

The common stereotype of Plains Indians sees them as horse-mounted buffalo hunters. The reality is, of course, that Plains Indians did not adopt the horse and its equestrian lifestyle until the eighteenth century. There were, however, bison hunting Indian peoples long before the arrival of the horse.

On the grasslands of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, archaeologists have found evidence of early bison hunters who specialized in bow hunting which has developed by 200 CE. Aboriginal people began to use the bow and arrow somewhat earlier than this, but they used it as a supplement to the atlatl. Archaeologists Ian Dyck and Richard Morlan, writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:  “Avonlea people were the first to rely almost exclusively on bows and arrows.”

With regard to the use of the bow and arrow, J. Roderick Vickers, writing in Plains Indians, A.D. 500-1500, reports:  “It is hypothesized that this technology diffused from Asia, perhaps through the mountain interior of British Columbia.”

Archaeologists consider Avonlea as a complex, which means that it is a group of artifact types which are found in a chronological sub-division. Avonlea does not, therefore, refer to a specific tribe. There are some who feel that Avonlea is ancestral to the Athapaskan peoples, including Chipewyan, Beaver, and Sarcee.

While archaeologists have not uncovered any Avonlea bows, they have found arrowshafts and a distinctive arrow point. The Avonlea arrow points are small and thin, with tiny side notches. These points were originally found at a site in Saskatchewan and were thus named Avonlea after the site. The fine craftsmanship shown in the Avonlea projectile points suggests that strong social control was exercised in their production. J. Roderick Vickers writes:  “Assuming that Avonlea competitive success was partly grounded in their innovative weapon system, there may have been magico-religious sanctions associated with production standards and use of the bow and arrow. That is, they may have been an attempt to prevent the spread of their weapon technology, at least in detail, to others.”

Avonlea first appears along the Upper and Middle parts of the Saskatchewan River basin and during the next 200 years spreads into the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone River basins in present-day Montana. From its beginnings about 200 CE, Avonlea seems to reach its peak about 800 CE and by 1300 CE it has disappeared.

With regard to subsistence, bison seem to have been a major factor in the Avonlea diet. Ian Dyck and Richard Morlan write:  “Avonlea hunters were adept at communal hunting methods that allowed them to bring together and dispatch dozens of animals at one time.”  Communal hunting included the use of pounds and jumps, such as the buffalo jump at Head-Smashed-In.

One of the ways Indian people hunted buffalo was to drive them over a cliff. Scattered across the Northern Plains are thousands of these buffalo jump sites. Many of them were used only once, while others were used repeatedly. For the buffalo jump, several hundred people (sometimes more than a thousand) would come together. Archaeologist Jack Brink, in Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains, writes:  “Not only were buffalo jumps an extraordinary amount of work; they were the culmination of thousands of years of shared and passed-on tribal knowledge of the environment, the lay of the land, and the behavior and biology of the buffalo.”

The buffalo pound was a way of harvesting large numbers of bison in a similar fashion to the buffalo jump. However, the final kill location was not a cliff, but rather a pound or corral made of wood. Pounds were located in the lightly wooded areas that surround portions of the Great Plains. Here the hunters could find enough wood to build the pound. Using techniques similar to those used in the buffalo jump, the herd would be lured over many miles and then driven into the pound where they would be killed with bows and arrows and spears as they milled around.

In addition to hunting bison, the data from the Avonlea archaeological sites show that they also hunted pronghorn antelope, deer, beaver, river otter, hares, and waterfowl. The Avonlea people also used weir fish traps during the spring spawning runs.

Like the later horse-mounted Plains Indians, the Avonlea people used tipis. Archaeologists have found tipi rings associated with Avonlea material culture at several sites. The tipi coverings were held down with rocks and thus the archaeological remains are simply a ring of stones, sometimes with a hearth inside. For Indian people using dogs rather than horses to carry loads, the tipis were smaller than those used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Avonlea people also made and used pottery. Several pottery types—net-impressed, parallel-grooved, and plain—have been found at Avonlea sites. Pottery vessels usually have a conoidal or “coconut” form.

There are a number of hypotheses about what happened to the Avonlea people. One hypothesis sees them having migrated south where they would later emerge as the Navajo and Apache people. Another sees them as staying on the Northern Plains where they contributed to the Old Woman’s phase, which is associated with the North Piegan, Blood, and Gros Ventre. Some feel that Avonlea may have contributed to the Tobacco Plains phase of the Kootenay Valley of the Rocky Mountains. There is also speculation that they were involved in the formation of the village cultures of the Middle Missouri tradition. Ian Dyck and Richard Morlan write:  “It is, of course, possible that the fate of the Avonlea culture took more than one twist.”

J. Roderick Vickers summarizes Avonlea this way:  “In the end, archaeologists must plead ignorance in understanding the appearance of Avonlea on the Northern Plains. It seems we can state that Avonlea is a culture of the western Saskatchewan River basin and that it expanded southward into central Montana, westward over the Rocky Mountains, and northeastward into the forest margins.”

 

The Hoko River Complex

The Hoko River originates in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains (Washington State) and flows for about 25 miles to the Pacific Ocean. It flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca about 16 miles east of the Makah town of Neah Bay. By 3,000 years ago, the Makah were using the area around the mouth of the river for a wide range of sea, river, and forest resources. The Hoko River Archaeological Complex is composed of three site areas: (1) a riverbank wet site, (2) dry campsites adjacent to the wet site, and (3) a rock shelter at the mouth of the river.

The Hoko River sites first came to the attention of archaeologists in 1967 when people reported to Washington State University that they were finding artifacts in the area. An archaeological survey found that a large site ran some 600 feet along the river and that much of the site had already slumped into the river. Full-scale investigation, however, did not begin until 1977. Initial financial support was provided by the Makah Tribal Council and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Some additional support was provided by Jean Auel, the author of a series of archaeological-based novels.

Wet sites provide some interesting challenges for archaeologists. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, Gary Wessen from the Makah Cultural and Research Center describes the Hoko River wet site:“Most of the wet site is situated within the range of tidal fluctuations, and much of it can only be examined during low tides.”

Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, describe the problems in working with the wet site:  “Excavation entailed pumping water from the river and spraying it out through garden hoses to gently wash artifacts free from the riverbank mud that held them. Conventional troweling, no matter how careful, might damage a wooden or fiber artifact before it could be noticed.”

Wet sites, however, have an advantage as the artifacts have stayed wet for millennia and have been spared from decay. Once they are excavated from the site, they must remain wet. For preservation and analysis, the artifacts are bathed in polyethylene glycol which soaks into the waterlogged tissue, replacing the water with wax.

The excavation at the Hoko River Wet Site yielded many fiber artifacts, including baskets, hat, mats, nets, and cordage. Nearly 70% of the material from the site was cordage. Some of the baskets uncovered at the site had been coarsely woven which allowed water to drain out. According to the Makah elders from Neah Bay, these baskets would have been used for packing salmon from fishing weirs upriver to drying racks at the camp at the river mouth.

One of the other interesting finds was a fishnet with two-inch mesh. This artifact was uncovered in deposits which dated to 3,200 years ago. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report:  “Scanning electron microscope examination of cell structure identified its fiber as split spruce root or bough, most likely bough, which is stronger than root and absorbs water less readily.”

Ethnographies of Northwest Coast Indian nations, such as the Makah, report that one of the symbols of nobility, of high-class status, was a woven hat with a knob on top. At the wet site, five of these hats were recovered, which suggests that social stratification in this area was much older than previously thought.

The wet site also yielded a number examples of tule mats which were used for many different things including mattresses, canoe cushions, partitions within the long houses, and so on. As a part of the archaeological efforts to understand the past, Makah tribal elders instructed the archaeological field school students in making tule mats. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report:  “The goal of the early Hoko River people must have been to make high-quality, long-lasting mats, and therefore, even an experienced mat-maker must have needed three or four days to gather materials for a single mat, prepare them, make the string, and do the sewing.”

Tule mats were used to cover the sides of temporary shelters. The postholes found at the dry site were used to estimate the size of the temporary shelters and it was determined that six to eight mats would have been needed for these shelters. Each mat would have been about four feet by eight feet.

At many sites along the Northwest Coast archaeologists have found small stone blades known as microliths. It was assumed that these microliths had been hafted in some fashion. At the wet site, the archaeologists found hafted knives in which thumbnail-size stone flakes had been placed in between five-inch splints of red cedar and then bound with spruce root and wild cherry bark. Working with the Makah elders, experimental archaeology showed that these knives were used in butchering fish.

At the dry campsite, archaeologists uncovered the bones of rockfish, cod, dogfish, flounder, halibut, salmon, and other fish. The deep-sea species are evidence of off-shore fishing. This means that the people who used the Hoko River sites had watercraft. In addition to fish bones, the archaeologists also found several hundred wooden fishing hooks. These fishhooks date from 1,700 to 3,000 years old and show little change through time.

The dry campsites, located in the forested area back from the river, are composed of three sites dating to 3,400 years ago, 3,100 years ago, and 1,700 years ago. Stone debris shows that some toolmaking was done here. There are also stone-lined storage pits.

The rock shelter at the mouth of the river dates to about 1,000 years ago and shows evidence of seasonal use. The rock shelter had been originally formed through river and wave action and over time had been uplifted by 30 feet, which made it usable for human occupation. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report:  “The placement of the hearths suggested that people lived in the northern part of the rock shelter, where prevailing winds would tend to clear out smoke or blow it to fish-drying racks set up in the southern part of the cave.”

Sea mammal bones found at this site include fur seal (69% of the sea mammal bones), elephant seal, porpoise, and whale.

Tula, the Toltec Capital

By the time the Spanish had conquered Mexico, the Toltec (also known Tolteca) were revered as mythical rulers of a golden age. They were regarded as the cultural heirs of the great city of Teotihuacán. In his book The Aztecs, archaeologist Brian Fagan writes of the mythical reputation the Toltec:  “They were expert herbalists, jewelers, the originators of calendars and year counts—righteous, wise people in every way, it was claimed. The oral histories depict the Tolteca as tall people who excelled in all the arts and sciences. Hunger and unhappiness were unknown. Tolteca farmers even grew colored cotton and huge ears of maize.”

Prudence Rice, writing in the Dictionary of Archaeology, notes:  “Much of what is known about the history of the Toltecs in Mesoamerica is filtered through later Aztec myths and histories, which they wrote and rewrote to glorify their own accomplishments, and many contradictions complicate the picture.”

While the various accounts of Toltec history are somewhat contradictory, Wigberto Jimenez Moreno pieced together a sequence that is accepted by most scholars. In the late eighth century C.E., the legendary ruler Mixcoatl (Cloud Serpent) had led his people through what is now northern Jalisco and southern Zacatecas to settle in the Valley of Mexico at Culhuacan. According to the stories, Mixcoatl was a Chichimeca (barbarian from the north) who married a noble woman at Culhuacan. After his death, Mixcoatl was deified as the patron of hunting.

While many scholars view Mixcoatl as a mythical or semi-mythical figure, Topilzin is generally felt to have been a real person who was born in the year 1 Reed (935 CE or 947 CE). He is often identified as Mixcoatl’s son and heir. One of the first things Topilzin did was to move the capital from Culhuacan to Tula. While Tula is sometimes translated to mean “place of the reeds,” its meaning implied “the city” (from the idea that people were crowded together as thick as reeds).

The accounts of Tula and the Toltec which were collected by the early Spanish chroniclers, such as Bernardino de Sahagún, seem almost mythical. Unlike the great ancient city of Teotihuacán, there were no immediately observable ruins of Tula. Was Tula myth or reality?  The answer came in 1941 when Wigberto Jimenez Moreno and Jorge Acosta identified the archaeological site of Tula in the state of Hidalgo about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City. Prior to being adopted by the Toltec as their capital, Tula had been a small farming community which had been first settled about 650 CE. As the Toltec capital, it became an urban center covering about 7 square miles (11 square kilometers) with a population of about 30-40,000 in the urban core and perhaps as many as 120,000 in the urban region.

The archaeological site of Tula is not as impressive as many other Mesoamerican sites. First, the city had been burned and sacked by an unknown group. Second, the Aztecs had looted the site for its sculptures, friezes, and other items which were then re-used in Tenochtitlan and other Aztec cities.

On a high promontory, the Toltec constructed a ceremonial precinct which was dominated on the north side by a pyramid (designated as Pyramid B by archaeologists) to Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent God, in his role as the God of the Morning Star.  Archaeologist Brian Fagan describes the pyramid this way:  “Its workmanship is crude compared with that of the pyramids of Teotihuacan. Great warrior figures with flat heads supported the roof of Quetzalcoatl’s temple. The shrine stood on a pyramid faced with panels of walking jaguars and eagles consuming human hearts.”

Pyramid B was built in six successive stages. It is a stepped pyramid platform with a colonnaded hall in front. Archaeologists Michael Coe and Rex Koontz, in their book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, write:  “An ancient visitor would have walked through the colonnade, climbed the stairway and passed through the entrance of the temple, flanked by two stone columns in the form of Feathered Serpents, with the rattles in the air and heads on the ground.”

The major construction of this civic/ceremonial center, known today as Tula Grande, is traditionally dated to 950-1150 CE, with most of the absolute dates at the clustering in the 900 to 1000 range.

Also included in the ceremonial complex are a coatepantli (“serpent wall”), two ballcourts for the ceremonial ballgame, and a Chacmool sculpture. The coatepantli is located to the north of the pyramid and serves to demark the edge of the ceremonial district. The friezes on the wall show a snake devouring a human except for the head.

Chacmool is a type of stone sculpture of a reclining human figure with a bowl or plate held on the stomach. These sculptures are found at the entrances to temples throughout Mesoamerica. The bowls or plates served as receptacles for human hearts.

Adjacent to Pyramid B is the Palacio Quemado (Burnt Palace). This feature has colonnaded halls with sunken courts in their centers which probably served as spaces for ceremonies and meetings.

In spite of the Aztec stories, archaeology has not uncovered any evidence showing that the Toltec actually controlled a large empire. They did, however, participate in the large trading networks that spread throughout Mesoamerica and into the American Southwest. They also appear to have controlled the obsidian mines which had once been controlled by Teotihuacán.

According to the Aztec stories, Topiltzin had been a priest-king dedicated to a peaceful Feathered Serpent cult. He opposed human sacrifice. On the other hand, there were those in Tula who worshipped Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror), the giver and taker of life, the patron of the warriors. As a result of the struggle between the pacifistic Topiltzin and the warriors, Topiltzin and his followers fled the city about 987 CE. As a result, there developed many legends about the migrations of Topiltzin and his people.

The archaeological reality of the Toltec and their capital at Tula is somewhat different than that reported by the later Aztecs to the Spanish chroniclers. Brian Fagan reports:  “The Tula excavations reveal a battle-scarred, militaristic Toltec civilization, one in which oppression was a way of life and human sacrifice second nature, a far cry from the Golden Age of Aztec legend.”

With regard to the Toltec legacy, Prudence Rice writes:  “For the Aztecs, the Toltecs played a critical role as a great ancestral civilization. In order to legitimize their kinds and establish their own noble lineages, the Mexica—likewise of Chichimeca ancestry—contrived to marry into the descendents of Toltec nobility in the basin of Mexico.”

After 1100, prolonged droughts and attacks from new invaders from the north brought an end to the Tolteca.