Late archaic variability and change on the southern Columbia plateau : archaeological investigations in the Pine Creek drainage of the Middle John Day River, Wheeler County, Oregon
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A major concern of Columbia Plateau archaeology has been the development of the ethnographic "Plateau pattern." Observed during historic times, this lifeway focused on permanent riverine winter villages and intensive use of anadromous fish, with ephemeral use of interior tributaries and uplands for hunting and root gathering. Constrained by a salvage-driven orientation, past archaeological research on the Plateau has been biased towards major rivers, leaving aboriginal lifeways in the interior to be interpreted on the basis of ethnographic analogy, rather than archaeological evidence. The present study utilizes museum collections from the Pine Creek basin, a small tributary of the John Day River, to provide information on prehistoric lifeways in a non-riverine Plateau setting. Cultural assemblages and features from two sites, 35WH7 and 35WH14, were described, classified, and analyzed with regard to temporal distribution, spatial and functional patterning, and regional ties. At 35WH14, evidence of semisubterranean pithouses containing a rich and diverse cultural assemblage suggests long-term and repeated residential occupation of this site by about 2600 B.P. This contrasts with the ephemeral use predicted for the area by ethnographic accounts. Faunal remains identified from 35WH7 and 35WH14 show a persistent emphasis on deer, and little evidence for use of fish; this non-riverine economic base represents a further departure from the ethnographic "Plateau pattern." At both 35WH14 and 35WH7, large pithouses are not evident in components dating after 900 B.P., reflecting a shift to shorter sojourns at these sites. Use of the Study Area as a whole persists, however, and is marked by a proliferation of radiocarbon-dated occupations between 630 and 300 B.P. Clustering of radiocarbon dates from ten sites in the Study Area shows correlations with regional environmental changes. Both taphonomic and cultural factors are discussed. Reduced human use of the area after 300 B.P. is reflected in an abrupt decline in radiocarbon-dated occupations and the near-absence of Euroamerican trade goods. The role of precontact introduced epidemics is considered. Further consideration of spatial and temporal variability in Late Archaic Plateau prehistory is urged.
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