Bear Valley Cultural - Passport in Time

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Bear Valley Cultural History Project

Malheur National Forest, Oregon, 1997
by Don Hann, Bear Valley District Archaeologist

The fourth year of the Bear Valley Cultural History Project started with a bang, with our largest and most productive winter PIT program yet. We had 10 PIT volunteers, two cultural resource (CR) technicians from the Umatilla Tribe, the archaeologist with the Burns Paiute Tribe, a BLM archaeologist, and a Fish and Wildlife Service archaeologist (as well as three archaeologists and two CR technicians from other districts on the Malheur NF). These folks donated over 650 hours with an estimated value of $7,160 to the Bear Valley Heritage program.

The reason that we attracted this diverse and highly skilled group was that this was a combination lithic-analysis training and lab project. For the last two field seasons the Bear Valley heritage program has been working with lithic technologists Scott Byram and Alex Atkins to test and modify a field-analysis system they have developed. We now feel confident enough with the system that we wanted to train volunteers and interested professionals in its use. The body of “test data” would consist of the debitage recovered during the last three seasons of site testing.

We completed an analysis of debitage samples from 11 sites located throughout Bear Valley. These sites ranged in size from less than 1 acre to over 1,000 acres. The level of testing ranged from one 50-by-50-cm shovel probe to seven 1-by-1-m test pits. Data from four of these sites have already been entered into a computer spread sheet by volunteers. The results of the analysis show that the information gained from the debitage is very useful to confirm (or modify) hypothesized site functions. The data we collect consist of measurements of specific flake attributes that are more easily taken, more informative, and far less subjective than the general flake descriptions usually taken at a site.

Specific results include the identification of two obsidian source types previously unknown on the district: lake-tumbled cobbles and materials from a possible obsidian flow. These add to the already-identified primary ash flow cobbles and river-tumbled cobbles. The lake-tumbled cobbles, identified at only two sites on the northern edge of Bear Valley, were identified from their extremely smooth, rounded cortex (outer weathered surface). This is very strong evidence that Bear Valley was indeed once a lake. The possible flow was identified by the presence of geologic obsidian needles and the discovery of primary cortex on artifacts at a site high in the Strawberry Wilderness.

Although most determinations of site function will have to wait until we have an opportunity to work with the data generated by this project, the following site types have been identified: true obsidian quarries, classic hunting camps, and multipurpose sites with evidence of hunting, plant processing, and extensive stone-tool manufacture.

Once again the PIT program has provided the Bear Valley Cultural History Project with the skilled and motivated volunteers needed in order to better understand and protect the fragile cultural record of life in Bear Valley.

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