17 December 2006
Dig shows Spokane was inhabited 8,000 years ago
A new archaeological dig shows the Spokane area (Washington, USA) to be one of the oldest areas of continuous human habitation in the state. According to evidence verified by radiocarbon dating, people may have lived at the confluence of the Spokane River and Latah Creek for some 8,000 years, said Stanley C. Gough, archaeology director at Eastern Washington University in nearby Cheney. "This documents for the first time people actually living here at this age," said Gough, who has been excavating a 25-by-60-foot site downstream from Spokane Falls. The Spokane River findings are no surprise to Indian tribes in the area, whose oral history says ancient peoples fished along the river thousands of years ago.
The oldest known habitation site in Washington is thought to be the Marmes Rockshelter at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse rivers, where evidence was found that it had been used for shelter, storage, and burials for more than 11,000 years, according to Washington State University documents. The site was flooded when the reservoir behind Lower Monumental Dam filled in the late 1960s.
Gough led a five-month dig in the alluvial delta downstream from the falls. He said his team found 60,000 artifacts, including spear tips known as Cascade points that were in use throughout the region as far back as 8,000 years ago. Radioactive carbon dating also showed three samples of charcoal 4 to 7 feet below the surface were 8,000 years old, he said.
The $430,000 dig was the result of a state order to install overflow tanks for sewer and stormwater lines for the city. The vast majority of the artifacts consisted of broken animal bone and rock chips, but there was also an arrow point made of obsidian, or volcanic glass, from eastern Oregon and an ax blade made of nephrite, a type of jade, from the Wenatchee area. Also found was an oven hearth lined with river mussel shells, showing how food was cooked and eaten, said Sara Walker, another archaeologist on the dig.
The dig uncovered rocks fashioned into weights for fishing nets at a layer indicating they were about 3,500 years old. The weights indicate an effort to increase the fish catch, either for drying and storage, or possibly for use in trading, Gough said. No evidence of winter shelters was found, and the presence of bones from mammals that hibernate during the winter, such as marmots, also indicated that humans were present only during warm-weather months, he said.
Sources: Associated Press, Seattle PI, The Spokesman-Review (14 December 2006)