Development of Peoples in Oregon
Oregon is a highly diverse territory in geographical, ecological, and climatic terms. This diversity is responsible for the differences among peoples that populated various areas of the state. One such example of environmental influence on the development of a population group is the Klamath and Modoc tribes which populated the Southern part of Oregon. Geographically, the area is largely defined by the presence of the Klamath River basin. One of the most prominent effects of the river’s presence is the abundance of fishing artifacts such as hooks and stone-pointed harpoons found on archaeological sites in the area. Even more importantly, the geography of the region – a combination of the rocky terrain of volcanic origin and relatively evenly distributed heights – created a setting that was favorable to the vegetation.
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The plants which grew in cavities and were supported by a sufficient amount of freshwater eventually built up and created a soil rich in peat (Aldous et al. 1027). Combined with volcanic deposits, these factors created an environment where both animals and humans could proliferate. At the same time, many shallow bodies of freshwater which could support weed growth eventually turned into marches, which altered the vegetation of the region and the dietary habits of the tribes in the area. For instance, in summer, the peoples who were largely dependent on salmon fishing migrated alongside the riverbank in response to seasonal migrations of their catch. In winter, the abundance of water and vegetation allowed them to settle near freshwater sources to ensure the supply of fish and aquatic plants, such as edible water lilies. The specifics of vegetation also determined the shape of their houses, which were dug in and plastered with the mud, and, therefore, limited in size.
The Chinook peoples from the North-Western part of the state were exposed to a largely similar geographical setting with several notable differences. First, the abundance of certain types of cedar trees offered building material for a distinct type of sloped-roof houses commonly found on archaeological sites in the region. The characteristics of building materials allowed for much larger structures, which could house whole communities instead of small groups. In addition, the technology required for building plankhouses necessitated certain tools unnecessary for Southern areas (Ames et al. 281). Another notable addition to the technology facilitated by the environment was the proliferation of the fur processing methods.
The instruments found at the sites point to the dependence on fur trade – more specifically, a distinct type of elk-hide armor known as clams (Cooper et al. 116). The trade activities were further enhanced by the freshwater infrastructure, which allowed relatively easy access to other groups and encouraged the exchange of goods. Finally, the abundance of resources (indicated by the excessively large cellars characteristic for the region) allowed a seamless exchange of goods with other tribes. Finally, the climatic differences contributed to the Chinook’s cultural development. For instance, the food storage capacity coupled with formidable building techniques discouraged seasonal migrations while snowy winters characteristic for the region encouraged household and artistic activities such as wood carving, and enhanced oral storytelling tradition as well as spiritual ceremonies.
Cathlapotle is an archaeological site that contains one of the best-preserved Chinookan villages. It is located at the major juncture of water bodies, where Gee Creek, Lewis River, and Lake River join the Columbia (Ames et al. 280). It was founded approximately 560 years ago. The main findings associated with the site are hunting and fishing equipment and well-preserved houses with large cellars in the form of a multitude of pits and trenches, characteristic for the region. These cellars, whose volume far exceeds the needs of the estimated population of the house, illustrates the abundance of resources in the region (most likely wapato roots) while the proximity to the river suggests the strong reliance on trade by the inhabitants of the village (Ames et al. 282).
The Burnett site is located within the limits of the modern City of Lake Oswego. It is one of the oldest sites in Oregon, with an estimated age of early Holocene or late Pleistocene (O’Gorman and Burnett 369). The development of the site produced a large amount of artifacts, mostly the stone points of arrows, manufacturing tools, and the stone debris left after the manufacturing process. The blood leftovers in some of the artifacts suggest a diversity of prey, which suggests that natives used the site as a hunting camp rather than permanent settlement (O’Gorman and Burnett 371). What’s more, some of the species suggested by the ecofacts are currently absent from the location, which improves our understanding of changes in paleoenvironmental conditions.
Paisley caves, located in south-central Oregon, is one of the oldest archaeological sites in North America. The recent carbon dating allowed to establish the age of the earliest ecofacts as 14,000 years old (Jenkins et al. 223). The leftovers of fire hearths, remains of bone instruments, and wooden pegs give us insights on the preferred sources of food of the inhabitants of the caves, including giant bison characteristic for the area (Jenkins et al. 226). More importantly, the analysis of DNA obtained from coprolites confirms the migration patterns from Asia to Americas (Jenkins et al. 226), which enhances our understanding of the origin of the local population.
The Meier site is located at the margin of Columbia floodplain. It is a comparatively young site, with an estimated dates of habitation of 1440 to 1800 AD (Ames et al. 276). Since it is among the best-preserved sites of this kind, it contains many artifacts in excellent condition, including hunting and gathering equipment, everyday use items, and, most importantly, fur processing equipment. In addition, the ecofacts such as fragments of deep water fish bones and remains of shells suggest the contacts with coastal peoples while the evidence of fur processing indicates involvement in fur trade (Ames et al. 278).
Cascadia cave, located near the Santiam River in Willamette Valley, is one of the most culturally significant sites. The artifacts recovered at the site include the debris left after the chipping the stone tools and remains of fishing equipment such as harpoons. The dating of artifacts suggests the presence of human activity on site as early as 7900 years ago (Hough 109). Importantly, the cave contains petroglyphs which depict significant moments of the lives of peoples in the region in a symbolic manner. Most prominently, the bear claws (associated with successful fishing) present among ecofacts coupled with fishing artifacts point to the spiritual significance of the site (Hough 110).
The sites differ in their use by the peoples. Cascadia cave and Burnett site are evidently places of utilitarian significance which did not house permanent residents, with the latter being spiritual in nature. Paisley caves illustrate housing conditions of early inhabitants while Cathlapotle and Meier site both serve as examples of later culture. The latter, characterized by smaller housing area and more diverse range of trade-related artifacts, points to greater reliance on interaction with other peoples.
Aldous, Allison, et al. “Soil Phosphorus Release From a Restoration Wetland, Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon.” Wetlands 27.4 (2007): 1025-1035.
Ames, Kenneth, et al. “Household Archaeology of a Southern Northwest Coast Plank House.” Journal of Field Archaeology 19.3 (2013): 275-290.
Cooper, Kory, et al. “Metal and Prestige in the Greater Lower Columbia River Region, Northwestern North America.” Journal of Northwest Anthropology 49.2 (2015): 112-127.
Hough, Susan. “Writing on the Walls: Geological Context and Early American Spiritual Beliefs.” Geological Society, London, Special Publications 273.1 (2007): 107-115.
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Jenkins, Dennis, et al. “Clovis Age Western Stemmed Projectile Points and Human Coprolites at the Paisley Caves.” Science 337.6091 (2012): 223-228.
O’Gorman, Robert, and John Burnett. “Fish Community Dynamics in Northeastern Lake Ontario with Emphasis on the Growth and Reproductive Success of Yellow Perch (Perca Flavescens) and White Perch (Morone Americana), 1978 to 1997.” Journal of Great Lakes Research 27.3 (2001): 367-383.