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John Day/ Umatilla Region

Table of Contents:

Fossil Bed NM
Murderer's Creek
Indian Canyon
Strawberry Canyon
Umatilla Site
Tub Timber Sale
BLM Fence Project
Gable Creek
Coyote Ridge
Porter Creek
John Day


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John Day Fossil Beds NM

In a survey on the >John Day Fossil beds National Monument, Davis recorded a possible housepit 4.8 by 3.4 meters 20 centimeters deep and outlined with rocks. He troweled a looter pit, but found no artifacts (Davis 1976: 7).

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Murderer's Creek Projects

A 1997 volunteer survey on Murderer's Creek by John Zancanella (1997:2) with the BLM in Prineville described a village with six circular depressions: #1 was 3 paces wide and 10-20 cm deep; #2 was 4 paces across and 30-50 cm deep; #3 was 3 paces by 20-30 cm; #4 was 3.5 paces by 20-30 cm; #5 was 6 paces by 50 cm; and #6 was 3 paces by 10-20 cm deep. He estimated his paces at 1.4 meters. The smaller houses formed an arc along a tributary stream on a terrace, and the large house was above the apex of the arc and farther away from the tributary stream looking something like this:" ).".

Thomas recorded a village site with at least 3 and perhaps 6 depressions during the Murderers Creek bypass road project. The site was given site number 35GR1530. The depressions were between 4 to 6.5 meters in diameter (Thomas 1993a: site form).

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OSMI Projects: Indian & Jones Canyons

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry sponsored an archaeological field school for gifted children in the 1970's. From 1971 to 1975, Brian Gannon (1975) supervised excavations in Indian and Jones Canyons under a NSF Student Science Training grant. The Jones Canyon-2 site (35WH21) contained two shallow depressions five meters in diameter. In 1972, a layer of refuse was interpreted as a house floor and a rocky cluster as a house rim. Later excavations found house floors about 75 cm below the surface in both depressions. House pit 1 burned, and the log fragments were found along the western side of the house. They were 1-15 cm in diameter. Charred grass was interpreted as mat fragments. Milling stones were found on the east side inside the rocky rim. Three dates for the houses were obtained: 300&plunnm;75 (QC-136), 390±65 (QC-138), and 875±115 (QC-134). Gannon used the mat house illustration from Butler (1966:76) as a model for the superstructure for these two houses. Since only portions of the house were exposed, its size was not established but the exposure was 6 by 8 meters and only one corner of the house was found. Knapp (ND) summarized the work for OMSI in 1979, and felt that a cluster of rock in 35WH13 may have been from a sweat lodge rather than an oven, but the evidence was ambivalent, as no sweat house structural remains were found.

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Strawberry Island

While not in Oregon, the WSU work on Strawberry Island just above the confluence of the Columbia and Snake would apply locally (Schalk 1983). One of the most important research questions for this project related to housepit village occupation and settlement patterns. They were concerned over the issue of contemporaneous use, accretion of housepits and patterns in size and structure of the villages. They noted that the depressions were in two major clusters on the island. In 1951, 131 housepit depressions were counted by Osborne and Crabtree, and a mapping project by WSU in 1976-7 identified 133 depressions.

"The most salient characteristic is that the two clusters of depressions on either side of the island differ markedly in the spacing of individual depressions with respect to each other and in their average sizes. The right bank cluster contains numerous subclusters of 4-10 depressions. In at least three of these subclusters there is a well-defined circular arrangement of depressions around one or two centrally placed depressions. In another subcluster there is a rectangular compound-like arrangement of housepits surrounding two that are centrally positioned."

"On the right bank of the island, depressions are densely packed in close proximity. Both large and small depressions occur throughout the entire right bank cluster. Within the left bank cluster, there is minimal indication of smaller subclusters with spatial coherence. Spacing between depressions is noticeably greater and depression sizes are larger on the average than those on the right bank. Mean depression are for the left bank is 50.3 m2 but only 36 m2 on the right bank. Very small depressions which are so frequent on the right bank are virtually nonexistent on the left bank. The largest depressions tend to be centrally positioned within the entire left bank cluster" (Schalk 1983:13).

After sampling, they concluded that the houses on the left bank were multi-floored saucer shaped structures with fauna emphasis on rabbits. The houses on the right bank were steep-sided and dominated by salmonid fauna (Schalk 1983:90). They also found that the shallow saucer depressions tended to be later than the steep-wall depressions (Schalk 1983:93). "from all analysis to date, it appears the steep-walled houses are strongly associated with salmon dominated assemblages and the saucer-shaped houses are associated with rabbit and pronghorn dominated assemblages. Because the steep-walled house forms occurring in the earlier occupation are frequently overlain by subsequent occupation from the later occupation interval, faunal assemblages from depressions that contain residues of both intervals of occupation tend to be intermediate in terms of faunal signature" (Schalk 1983:94). They could not define the structural system, but there were some large post molds associated with the steep-walled houses, and none with the saucer shaped. They also noted that the floors of the former were poor in artifacts and debris while the latter were well defined by organic lenses and debris (Schalk 1983:150-151).

35MU1 housepit profile
Minor & Toepel 1986:21
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Umatilla Village Site

During 1985 evaluations of a bank revetment project at the Umatilla site, a housepit was found in profile in an eroded area. The face was profiled and drawn. The house width was 5.4 meters, but both ends had been disturbed, one by a later fire hearth and the other by an historic drain pipe. "The housepit floor is situated approximately 70-78 cm below the present ground surface. The housepit outline indicates a central depression approximately 3.05 cm (SIC meters?) long and 30-35 cm deep flanked by benches on both sides. No superstructural remains were observed. The overall shape of the housepit could not be ascertained from the exposed profile. It could easily have been circular to subrectangular in shape like the houses at the Wildcat Canyon site (Dumond & Minor 1983:34; 104-113)... The housepit had a single floor in the center of which was a charcoal stain and associated fire-cracked rocks presumably representing a central fire hearth (Feature 1). A separate fire hearth (Feature 2) occurred on the elevated bench on the upstream side of the housepit. Charcoal from the central fire hearth yielded a date of 1220±70 radiocarbon years: AD 730 (Beta-16050). Charcoal form the fire hearth on the bench yielded a date of 1770±80 radiocarbon years: AD 180 (Beta-16051)" (Minor & Toepel 1986:18-23).

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Tub Timber Sale

In the Tub Timber Sale, Martin Rosenson and Velma Lemco recorded a possible depression as site 35GR1002. The depression was 6 meters in diameter and was in a large scatter of obsidian and basalt flakes.

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BLM Fence/Seeding Project

There is a cautionary tale in a BLM report for a fence and seeding project prepared by Stephan Matz and Linda Clark. They recorded a lithic site where "24 circular vegetative signatures co-occur with the prehistoric artifacts found in the site area. These circular features contain cow dung and organic materials which appear to be the reason for the differences in vegetation. Even though the circular features resemble prehistoric house features, personal communication with the previous land owner, Bill Smith of Bend, Oregon, revealed that these features are probably the result of feeding cattle with round hay bails" (Matz & Clark 1988: site form).

Site map
Matz & Clark 1988:site form
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Bridge/Gable Creek Project

During a survey for the PLRTF Bridge/Gable Creek project, John Zancanella and Scott Goodman recorded a possible housepit (35WH147). The house was within a scatter of flakes and tools. The house was 9.6 meters by 8.3 meters and 30 cm deep. It overlooked Bear Creek on the end of a small finger ridge (Zancanella & Goodman 1990: site form).

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35CR2432 Crook County

Mary Maercklein wrote up additional material on site 35CR242, which contained 10 depressions. A test hole was placed in one depression which indicated it may have been a roasting oven. The measurements on the depressions were: 1 was 14 feet by 12.5 inches deep; 2 was 17 feet by 12.5 inches; 3 was 20 feet by 8 inches; 4 was 15 feet by 8 inches; 5 was 17 feet by 8 inches; 6 was 17 feet by 4 inches; 7 was 15 feet by 40 cm; 8 was 16 feet by 20 cm; 9 was 15 feet by 20 cm; and depression 10 was 7 feet by 60 cm deep (Maercklein 1990: site form).

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Coyote Ridge Trailhead Project

The Coyote Ridge Trailhead project recorded site 35UM105 with two depression s: "One of these depressions measures 8 meters wide (outside berm) (5 meters wide-inside berm) x 48 cm deep x 12 cm high berm. The other depressions measures 5.3 meters wide x 20 cm deep and has no real berm present" (Lucas 1990: site form).

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Pine Creek basin

The archaeological survey of the Pine Creek basin by OSMA recorded a number of sites with house depressions. Site 35WH42 had 2-3 depressions, but had been heavily potted just after discovery. Site 35WH172 contained 5 depressions: 1.9 x 2.3 and 40 cm deep, 1.4 x 1.5 and 20 cm deep, 1.7 x 1.8 and 25 cm deep, 1.9 x 1.9 and 25 cm deep, and 1.8 x 1.7 and 25 cm deep. These five depressions are small, and may not be housepits. Site 35WH46 also had 5 depressions: 5.1 x 6.4 and 40 cm deep, 4.4 x 5.3 and 40 cm deep, 3.8 x 4 and 40 cm deep, 3.1 x 3.3 and 40 cm deep, and 31. x 3.9 and 40 cm deep (Endzweig 1991).

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Porter Creek

In the report on testing of the Porter Creek sites, O'Neill and Endzweig (2000: 40-45) summarized work done at the Snabel sites in 1946. A crew working under Cressman, and directed by Carl Huffacker, tested two small village sites (35WH54 and 35WH55). One house was completely dug and a second was sampled. The sampled house was 13 feet in diameter and about 2 feet deep with three occupation levels. The projectile points included both arrow-sized and dart sized points that were used from about 2500 to 600 years ago:

Snabel 2 house 2
O'Neil & Endzweig 2001:41
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John Day River

"The presence of four separate clusters of houses suggests a substantial residential presence along the John Day River's tributary creeks. Cressman comments in his field notes that, The size of the pits indicated a lot of work was done on them, too much for them to be just tipi rings or temporary places (August 13, 1946), and elsewhere he refers to them as real pit houses (August 12, 1946). An extended sojourn, at least reuse of these small hamlets is suggested by the presence of such site furniture as large grinding stones. Multiple occupations are also indicated by the presence of three floors in the Snabel 2 house... The question of seasonality cannot be resolved, although the absence of a discrete hearth may indicate that the houses were not used during the winter." (O'Neill & Endzweig 2000: 45).

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