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13 November 2004
Artifacts reveal prehistoric settlement in Idaho

Thousands of years ago, families lived along Lake Coeur d'Alene (Idaho, USA), fishing for mammoth bull trout in its blue depths and digging water potatoes near the shore. Archaeologists are now gathering evidence of prehistoric lakeside dwellers. In some areas, remnants of ancient villages have been found buried under deep layers of sediment. Some sites, however, have yielded only small flecks of charcoal from prehistoric hearths.
     The archaeological survey began recently in the southern end of Lake Coeur d'Alene and along the lower reaches of the Coeur d'Alene. The survey will now move down the system, ending up along the shores of Long Lake by the end of winter, said archaeologist Brent Hicks.
     Although some of the sites could receive greater formal protection, the secrets of most will never be shared with the public, Hicks said. Sites facing imminent destruction, either from erosion or looters, will be fully excavated and their artifacts put in safe storage. Many sites have already been looted, Hicks explained. Along with military secrets, archaeological site information is one of the few kinds of data collected by the federal government specifically exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. "There's a very active local interest that already has caused people to collect from these sites," Hicks said, speaking from his office in Seattle. "There are massive collections, all in violation of the law. Every week people are picking things up out there."
     Some of the tools being found date back 5,000 years and could still bear blood residue from rabbits, fish, ducks or deer, Hicks said. Eventually, protein residue tests will be conducted on a sample of the artifacts. No human remains have been found. Many of the prehistoric dwelling places along present-day Long Lake, by contrast, were flooded after a dam was constructed in 1915. Only the upper end of the reservoir has its original landforms and will be surveyed for prehistoric sites, Hicks said.
     Unlike most other tribes in the Northwest or Rocky Mountains, the Coeur d'Alene people lived most of their lives in one place, Robert Matt, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's lake manager, said. Family groups made homes at beaches around the lake, often moving to permanent villages at the southern end of the lake for winter. They fished for large cutthroat and bull trout. Ducks and geese were plentiful, as were deer. The river deltas along the southern shore of the lake were prime prehistoric real estate, with wet meadows full of camas bulbs, roots and berries.
     The tribe has an agreement with Avista to store some of the artifacts at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane. The tribe hopes to someday construct its own museum.

Source: The Spokesman Review (12 November 2004)

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