Prehistoric Architecture of Oregon

By Dr. Leland Gilsen

This paper is derived primarily from unpublished gray literature on file at the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in the archaeological report files. I searched roughly 17,000 unpublished and published reports on file at the SHPO. Each regional summary is linked below.

Replica Clatsop house at Fort Stevens State Park
Replica Clatsop house at Fort Stevens State Park

What is a house? A common definition is a structure serving as a dwelling for one or more families used for shelter or storage. A structure is defined as something constructed by bringing together material parts. Certainly a house has some kind of boundary that separates humans from the rest of the environment. Such a boundary can separate groups from the physical environment, and/or the biotic environment, and/or the cultural environment of cooperative and non-cooperative other human beings.

A cave, for example, may be house-like in that it can be cooler than its physical environment in the summer and warmer than that same environment in the winter. It clearly can act as a separator from other human groups, but it fails somewhat the test as a structure. A cave is a natural formation, and is not made, but it can be modified. A dugout is a structure and therefore can be a house. A house, because it is constrained, tends to contain a limited set of human activities and related material culture. Houses, because they are structures, have some investment levels of time, materials and energy. Houses tend to have value relating to that investment. Houses also help define group structure, and thus have cultural, economic and political values. Houses can reflect relative economic and political power.

In this paper on prehistoric (before written records) architecture (houses), I initially sorted the data into drainage basins as natural ecological/economic units of past human adaptation. Some basins were then combined into the seven larger regional units listed below. The names of the combined basins and counties are noted in the seven regions.

This combining of data was done primarily because of the small amount of information in some drainage basins. I also suspect it better reflects broad traditions in house building. These traditions relate to the physical and ecological environments of the regions.

Proceed to the first section or choose from the links below:

1) Coast Region:

The coastal basins (North, Central and South) have been combined into a Coastal region. This region essentially includes the following counties: Columbia, Clatsop, Tillamook, Lincoln, parts of Lane and Douglas, Coos and Curry.

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2) Willamette Region:

The Willamette and Sandy basins have been combined. This region includes Washington, Multnomah, Yamhill, Clackamas, Polk, Marion, Benton, Linn, and Lane counties.

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3) Deschutes Region:

Includes both the Hood River and Deschutes drainages which include the following counties: Hood River, western Sherman, Wasco, Jefferson, Crook, Deschutes, and northern Klamath.

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4) John Day/Umatilla Region:

This is the John Day and Umatilla basins and includes eastern Sherman, Gilliam, Morrow, Umatilla, Wheeler, and Grant counties.

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5) NE Region:

Includes the Grande Ronde, Burnt and Powder basins and Wallowa, Union and Baker counties.

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6) SE Region:

Consists of the Malheur, Owyhee, Malheur Lake and Summer Lake basins and Malheur, Harney, and Lake counties.

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7) SW Region:

Includes the Klamath, Rogue, and Umpqua Basins and Douglas, Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties.

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Summary and bibliography.

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