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Archaeology

Stone tools
Spring 2014

Sorting debitage from rubble

Up until fairly recently, archaeology of the western hemisphere stopped at about 13,000 years ago. Since the discovery of the beautiful and finely worked Clovis points in 1929, and subsequent discoveries of Clovis technology across the United States, archaeologists generally adopted the “Clovis First” belief, that whoever created these tools must have been the first humans to populate North America.

Over the last few decades, however, a series of dramatic discoveries have pushed the estimated arrival by humans in the Western Hemisphere further and further into the past. Dates that were once considered only on the fringes of academic archaeology are now being discussed seriously … » More …

Terraces in the Andes
Summer 2013

Chicha in the landscape

Terraced hillsides in the Andes are amongst the most beautiful examples of what archaeologists refer to as “domesticating the landscape.” Generally constructed during the Incan Empire, the terraces, many of which are still farmed, are framed by often-elaborate stonework. Perhaps too elaborate for its assumed use, says archaeologist Melissa Goodman-Elgar.

Using techniques such as microscopic soil analysis and geochemistry, Goodman-Elgar explores how humans have transformed natural landscapes and the cultural implications. Much of her work is focused in the Andean highlands of Peru and Bolivia.

In the case of the terraced hillsides, however, she started from her perception as an archaeological soil scientist and explored … » More …

Montana before History cover
Spring 2013

Montana Before History: 11,000 Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains

Montana before history book cover

Douglas H. MacDonald ’94
Mountain Press, 2012

The oldest archaeological site in Montana, the Anzick Site near Wilsall, has been carbon-dated to 11,040 years ago. It is, writes Douglas MacDonald in this fine survey of Montana archaeology, the only Clovis site excavated in Montana. Apparently a ceremonial burial site, it contained the oldest human remains found in North America.

Whether or not they were a coherent “culture,” the Clovis people are … » More …

Winter 2012

Feasting on the Salish Sea

It must have been quite the feast.

No one remembers the host. Or how many guests there were. Or how long it lasted. Or even when it was exactly, though 650 years ago is a good guess. We do, on the other hand, know what they ate—approximately 10,000 sea urchins.

Archaeologist Colin Grier and I are standing at the back corner of what was once a longhouse on the northern tip of Galiano Island at the southern end of the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia.

In 2010, Grier and his crew, intent on another project, had nearly passed on this ancient longhouse. But … » More …

Summer 2012

The Manis Mastodon Site: An Adventure In Prehistory

The following story is reprinted courtesy of Carl E. Gustafson. Read more about the Manis Mastodon in “Bones of contention,” and how new techniques confirmed that the Manis mastodon bone and its accompanying hand-hewn projectile dates North America’s earliest known inhabitants to 13,800 years ago, 800 years earlier than the Clovis people, long regarded as the New World’s oldest culture.

Cover of The Manis Mastodon Site. By Cory and Catska Ench

Cover of the original booklet by Cory and Catska Ench. View a printable, PDF version of the original.

 

This story is as much … » More …

Close up of mastodon bone
Summer 2012

Bones of contention

Thirty-five years ago, Carl Gustafson, an associate professor of archaeology at WSU, rubbed his fingers over a muddy bone and found what looked and felt like a projectile tip. That simple discovery, and the eventual realization that humans hunted mastodons in North America, came to define Gustafson’s career. One can also argue that it is among the most significant discoveries ever to come out of Washington State University.

Last October, new research in the journal Science said the bone and its accompanying hand-hewn projectile dates North America’s earliest known inhabitants to 13,800 years ago, 800 years earlier than the Clovis people, long regarded as the … » More …

Winter 2009

Video: Ancient DNA – bringing the past to life

Taking archeology a step beyond traditional pottery shards, Brian Kemp analyzes ancient DNA (aDNA) from bones, teeth, and desiccated feces (coprolites) to help bring prehistoric Native American cultures alive in ways never before possible. As a molecular anthropologist, Kemp compares archeological findings with genetic information to detect past demographic shifts, population interactions, and movements throughout the Americas.

By plotting aDNA together with artifacts in the ground, specific tribes in the Southwest can be seen to virtually travel across the high desert through the eons. The picture Kemp paints seems so real that one can almost hear the hunter-gatherer songs and shouts drifting in the air.

» More …

Summer 2010

Reply to letter from Herman Goetjen

Letter:

I really enjoyed the article on Bob Mierendorf’s work in the North Cascades National Park.

However, a couple of the photos raise some questions for me if you can pass them on to Bob for me. On page 29, the top two photos show a large culturally modified stone, in the left photo Bob has his hand on it, in the right hand photo it is next to his arm.

What I would like to know is: How did that stone become so modified? And what do you think its purpose was? There are no hints in the article or the caption for those … » More …

Spring 2010

A Cascade Pass Chronology

A timeline of the Cascade Pass from 15,000 years ago to the present.

Return to “Of Time and Wildness in the North Cascades”

North Cascades National Park, National Park Service

by R. Mierendorf and J. Kennedy, 2009

The events below, based on calibrated radiocarbon ages, are in calendar years before present:

15,000?
Glacier ice melts out of the pass.

9600
Early indigenous people camp at the pass and make and repair stone tools, some made from locally-collected stone. Other tool stone is carried in from distant sources, including Hozomeen chert from the upper Skagit River to the north and the … » More …