One of the 2013 OSU Archaeology Field School will conduct excavations at the Cooper’s Ferry Site in the lower Salmon River canyon of western Idaho to address several research questions:
1. How long have humans lived in the lower Salmon River canyon?
This question will be answered by collecting archaeological information about the nature of cultural patterns through time in the canyon. Specifically, we will use excavation techniques that emphasize the recovery of information about cultural changes across long periods of time. The Cooper’s Ferry site contains a record of pre-contact human occupation that spans the end of the Pleistocene Epoch and the beginning of the Holocene Epoch. This early archaeological record provides critical information about the timing of human occupation in the canyon, the Pacific Northwest, and possibly even the New World.
2. How did hunter-gatherers use canyon environments through time?
To answer this question, we will look to various categories of archaeological information recovered during our excavations. For example, information about human use of resources can be seen in the plant and animal remains recovered at different levels in a site. Evidence for the particular techniques employed to acquire, handle, process, and preserve various resources is recorded in the artifacts and features encountered in sites. These information sources will ultimately tell us about the sorts of decisions past people made to use the canyon environment as well as providing indications of natural resources available for use. We can also look at the geologic record of a site, which reflects indicators of local environmental conditions and their changes through time (for example see Davis & Schweger 2004). By considering the material expressions of human activities reflected in artifacts, ecofacts, and features along with their corresponding environmental context we can develop informed interpretations about the reasons behind human use of the canyon through time.
3. What is the relationship between the early archaeological patterns at Cooper’s Ferry and other early sites in the New World?
The technological patterns revealed in the forms, types and assemblages of artifacts left behind by the site’s early human occupants provides a basis for comparison with other early archaeological sites. Comparisons of technological patterns can be used to explore the spatial and temporal distribution of adaptive ideas or culturally transmitted concepts. Previous research at the site has revealed the existence of Western Stemmed Tradition (WST) technologies. Many researchers suspect that the WST represents a different people bearing different cultural patterns that overlap and may predate the Clovis Paleoindian pattern in North America. We will seek to answer this question at the Cooper’s Ferry site by recovering and studying its extensive collection of WST lithic artifacts.