Swamp Wells 2003 - Passport in Time

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Swamp Wells Site Recording III

Deschutes National Forest, Oregon, 2003
by Leslie Hickerson, FS Archaeologist

In early June of 2003, under clear skies and warm weather, 19 hardy volunteers continued to map and document the extensive surface material at the Swamp Wells Horse Camp archaeological site, enjoying two weeks of discoveries and drudgery.

Swamp Wells is a 200-plus-acre site nestled in a shallow basin formed by large and small volcanic buttes and cinder cones on the north-sloping flanks of Newberry Volcano. At an elevation of 5,490 feet, it is well below the summit of Newberry Caldera, yet it is only about 8 or 9 miles from the caldera rim. The site was a logical stopping point en route to and from the caldera’s numerous obsidian quarries. This was the third year and the third and fourth weeks of PIT projects hosted at the site.

The survey, dubbed by the volunteers as “drudgery,” involved walking slowly across the survey areas looking for any and all pieces of obsidian debitage and tools. Everything was marked with 36-inch-tall wire pin flags. Tools were also marked with flagging tape for future point plotting, and apparent concentrations were delineated with string. We excavated several test units and also laid out surface analysis units, where each item was examined and classified by size and material.

Among the discoveries were diagnostic projectile points, flake tools, biface fragments, and interestingly, a couple of articulated rounds of ammunition from an automatic weapon. Several volunteers agreed that they were blanks and probably obsolete ammunition. Most of the diagnostic tools appeared to date to the Late Archaic period of 2,000–4,000 years ago. During the second week of the project, we also found evidence of historical-period use, including food cans, glass sherds (some turned amethyst), ceramic sherds, various pieces of metal wire, bed springs, tobacco cans, bottle caps, brass shell casings, and automobile parts.

Another artifact from the historical period was a high-cut stump with strips of metal attached to it that appeared to form some sort of box. Its purpose might have been a feed box used by stockmen, who watered and grazed their animals at the springs. Also near the historical-period materials is a rock-lined pit, now surrounded by immature lodgepole pine trees. Although it is dried up today, it is suggestive of a minor improvement for collecting potable water.

So concludes another great season of volunteer help at this site. I estimate we were able to document another 10 acres. At this rate we’ll be done with the surface recording of this site in another 15 years! Perhaps other areas will go faster, but not if the density is like that seen so far. Regardless, it will continue to be a good project for engaging in both the drudgery and the discovery aspects of site documentation.

Many grateful thanks go to Bruce and Phyllis Allen, Marilyn Hill, Andrea and Greg Foster, Pat Blue Heron, Karen Leeper and Virgil Lee, Don Post, Bud Rice, Susan Gray, Rod and Sherry Hevland, Michele Hjorting, Larry and Gerene Jackson, Sharon Moreland, and Bert and Carol Swift. You all contributed greatly to the project with your curiosity, flexibility, humor, and genuine interest in our archaeological resources. Thank you so much for the help; it would not work without you. Special thanks also go to Linda Day and Crit Joyner, intrepid crew members who suffered in the heat and put up with the yellow jackets along with the rest of us. Your contributions were invaluable. I hope to see some of you next year for another round of pin flagging and flake counting!
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