Western Snake River Prehistory

Daniel S. Meatte

(taken from the Prehistory of the Western Snake River Basin (1990) pp.63-70)



Six major research concerns relevant to the study area were briefly examined in light of available data. These topics reflect a developing understanding of the basic characteristics of the archaeological record within the study area.

A three-stage evolutionary model is proposed for organizing the archaeological record from the Western Snake River Basin. This model was originally developed for the Columbia Plateau to identify basic evolutionary changes in adaptive subsistence and settlement systems (Schalk and Cleveland 1983). This model is applied to the study area with only minor alterations of temporal chronology. The three major adaptive systems are: (1) Broad Spectrum Foraging (11,500-4,200 years B.P.) characterized by mobile foragers who used simple tool inventories and exploited a wide variety of food resources; (2) Semisedentary Foraging (4,200-250 years B.P.) characterized by foragers who were able to extend residential stays during the winter months by storing foods. The extended duration of residential stays facilitated by use of stored foods is evidenced in the archaeological record by the presence of housepits, storage facilities, diverse artifact assemblages, presence of cemeteries, and increased reliance upon fish resources; (3) Equestrian Foragers (250- 100 years B.P.), characterized by an increase in mobility facilitated by the introduction of the horse which permitted the formation of large coordinated horse-mounted groups that pursued bison outside the local foraging range for extended periods of time.

In applying this model to the study area, all three adaptive systems were easily distinguished in the archaeological record, subsuming previously recognized patterns in the region such as the Midvale Complex (Warren et al. 1971), the Western Idaho Archaic Burial Complex (Pavesic 1985), the South Hills culture (Swanson 1974), the phase sequence for the Owyhee Uplands (Flew 1979b), and for Southern Idaho (Butler 1986). Further, the temporal developments of these adaptive systems were relatively synchronic with those described by Schalk and Cleveland for the Columbia Plateau.

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