Current topics in archaeology, cultural heritage & historic preservation

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Passage to the Columbia II

Over the past few months the Washougal Pedestrian Tunnel has made tremendous progress toward becoming a reality.

Almost certainly the only pedestrian tunnel in the world filled with representations of Indian petroglyphs (let me know if you know of another one!), the image-filled passage is designed to re-connect Washougal with the river and to honor the native people who have lived in the region for eons.

As of late December the tunnel shaft has been cut all the way through Highway 14 and about half of the pre-formed sections have been installed.

The southern river side entrance is almost complete, opening into the riverfront Steamboat Park.

On December 29 Suzanne Bachelder, from the City of Washougal, and I visited the rock yard where the basalt slabs that will line the tunnel were cut and carved.

Each of the seven slabs is a 2000 pound, 3' x 6' work of art.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Ultimate Archaeology Christmas List!

What to get?

Its getting late!

I hate the holidays!

...actually I love the holidays, but shopping for gifts can be a pain!

Here are some ideas that are sure to please that person on your list who's into archaeology:

(click on the blue words for details)

• An Oregon Archaeological Society Membership
Great talks, Screenings, training, access to volunteer projects and much, much can't go wrong with this one!

...or, give a year-end, tax deductible donation in the name of your sweetie to OAS. Just mail a check to:
Oregon Archaeology Society
P.O. Box 13293
Portland, OR 97213

• TAC Tickets: ArchaeologyFest Film Series: Best of 2009
How about tickets to see some great archaeology films...get one for yourself too, then he can't leave you home!

OMSI Tickets & Membership
Cool exhibits, OMNIMAX, the Northwest's largest planetarium...and then there's that submarine!

Clark County Historical Museum Membership
Exhibits, events, newsletter...all in downtown Vancouver USA.

An Archaeology T-shirt
You'll be the hit of the project because some of these are hilarious!

Or, you can make up a gift certificate so your archaeologist can come to the January OAS meeting and get a REAL, AUTHENTIC OAS T-shirt!

Archy Stuff
Bumper stickers, coffee cups, license plate frames...even thong underwear if you're daring enough...or think your significant other should be!

Adult Archy clothing...if you're easily offended don't go here...if you want to get that real "Paisley Cave look" this could be for you...

Your archaeologist will love a day trip to:
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center
Grab a picnic basket, a bottle of wine, and whatever else you need for a road trip and head for The, on the same day you can hit
The Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center
...archaeology overdose! Yes!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Buffalo Bill's Defunct

Mystery, intrigue, petroglyphs, the Columbia River Gorge...what else could anyone interested in archaeology and fiction ask for?

Just check out the cover...stylized Pacific Northwest rock art galore.

Vancouver, WA author Sheila Simonson has blended local cultures and geography with some great characters in a book that I really enjoyed.

Simonson rearranges counties, towns, and cultures to produce a credible facsimile called "LaTouche County" which seems to include a good chunk of the western Gorge. She creates a pseudo Chinookan tribe called the "Klalo" and names the county seat after them. Tribal members, including the female chief, have key roles in the story.

Stolen artifacts, murder, clashing cultures, interesting characters and familiar places combine for an engaging read. You can learn more about the author and her books at her website. The book is available at Amazon and (for well under $15) and, I assume, at local bookstores.

Might make a great Christmas gift!


Friday, November 6, 2009

America's Oldest Artifact: Another First for Paisley Cave

Dr. Dennis Jenkins and the team working at Paisley Cave in Oregon can now claim to have found the oldest known artifact in the Americas.

The tool is a bone scrapper that has been definitively radiocarbon dated at 14, 230 years, significantly older than previously found Clovis artifacts (12,900-12,400 years BP).

In an article published by Nature News Kevin Smith, who actually found the tool, says, "We had bumped into a lot of extinct horse, bison and camel bone – then I heard and felt the familiar ring and feel when trowel hits bone". Smith now a master's student at California State University, Los Angeles went on to say, "I switched to a brush. Soon this huge bone emerged, then I saw the serrated edge. I stepped back and said: 'Hey everybody — we got something here."

Is this the final nail in the Clovis First coffin... or were these people Clovis themselves?...only time and more research will tell.

To be fair, other sites including Monte Verde, Cactus Hill, Meadowcroft, and Topper might also lay claim to the "oldest artifact" title.

Read more about the Paisley Cave discovery at:
Nature News
Little About

More about other very ancient sites in the Americas:
Monte Verde
Cactus Hill

(photo courtesy of

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cupules on the Columbia

Upriver of Vancouver, Washington the Columbia River bank is edged with thousands of rounded basalt boulders.

Ripped from the up-river bedrock thousands of years ago by massive ice-age floods these rocks, once part of the volcanic landscape, were shaped as they rolled downstream in massive torrents of water.

Over a hundred floods, that for a time carried more water than all the other rivers on earth combined, gouged the earth to form what is now called the Columbia River Gorge. The boulders are all that remain of over 50 cubic miles of dirt and rock that were violently flushed into the Pacific.

Rounded boulders shaped by the Missoula Floods.

In the Vancouver area alone, over a hundred of these boulders hold ancient Indian rock art. The most common marks left by the prehistoric people are cupules...thousands and thousands of cupules.

Some individual rocks hold several hundred of these distinctive marks...small (1"-4" across) cup-shaped indentations in the rock that are formed by pounding a hand-held "hammer stone" repetitively against the surface of the boulder.

Why make a cupule? Why do some rocks hold only a single cupule but others have hundreds of these mysterious dimples?

Theories abound...but two seem to hold the most promise.

One, the "Baby Rock" theory holds that ancient women sought the rock powder that was produced as the cupule was formed. The powder was believed to hold spiritual power that, when eaten or rubbed on the body, would help a woman become pregnant. There is significant evidence from similar sites in Northern California to support this idea.

But was it the same along the Columbia?

A second theory proposes that the cupules were formed by Salmon shaman. These shamans were important spiritual leaders whose role it was to call the schools of Salmon back from the ocean every year so that the people could eat, live, and prosper. The Salmon were thought to hear the shaman pounding on the rock and return to where they could be caught to nourish the tribe.

In either case, the point was not the cupule itself...cupules were simply by-products of another important activity.

Both ideas are intriguing...but do they reflect reality? Trying to look into the minds of ancient people is fascinating. Physical evidence can be studied, ethnography can be mined, present day descendants can be interviewed and, of course, opinions abound...but to a significant extent the mystery remains...who were the ancient people of the Columbia, what were their beliefs, and what are the true meanings of the art and the symbols they left behind?

Of course, partial answers can be found to all of these questions, but the true richness of a prehistoric culture can never be fully experienced...and that's a big part of what makes it so appealing.
Temanawas Rock overlooks the Columbia River near Vancouver, WA

As interesting as they are, cupules aren't the only rock art along the lower Columbia River. Stay tuned and we'll continue to explore!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kennewick Man II: Anthropologist Argues That Corps of Engineers Acted Properly

In a Seattle Times opinion piece Dr. James Nason, a retired University of Washington anthropology professor and emeritus curator at the Burke Museum (where the original Kennewick Man is kept), argues that the Corps of Engineers is properly handling the recently found remains.

There are some very interesting comments at the end of the article.

Check it out at: Corps Acted Properly

(Rock art pictured is near Kennewick, WA).


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kennewick Man II Debate Continues

Two bits of recent news on the newly discovered Kennewick Man II bones...

From the Tri-City Herald, Sept. 15, 2009

Anthropologist to study jawbone found in river

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to hire an independent anthropologist to study a jawbone found in the Columbia River in August, said Corps spokesman Joseph Saxon.

The lower jawbone with two teeth was turned over to the Army Corps because it was found on the agency's land in an undisclosed location on the river. The 9,300-year-old bones of Kennewick Man also were found on the Columbia River...

Read the whole story at: Tri-City Herald: Sept. 15, 2009

From the Seattle Times, Sept. 15, 2009

Did U.S. Corps of Engineers learn nothing from Kennewick Man?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers apparently didn't learn much from the experience of the Kennewick Man case, these guest columnists write. The initial Corps decision to turn a jawbone found on the shores of the Columbia over to tribes without establishing a definitive connection is misguided.

GOVERNMENT agencies are often slow learners. A case in point is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' process for protecting human skeletal remains found on Corps-managed federal land.

Recently a partial human jawbone and two teeth were recovered from the Columbia River not far from where the 9,400-year-old Kennewick Man skeleton was found in 1996. Based solely upon visual inspection of these remains, the Army Corps declared them to be Native American, which puts them on a fast track for transfer to local tribes...

Read the whole story at: Seattle Times: Sept. 15, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ancient Images: Deschutes River Rock Art Video

The view from this small Oregon rock shelter is gorgeous...coupled with its spiritual energy it must have inspired hundreds of generations of visitors as they sought its power.

Located above the fast flowing Deschutes River (a tributary of the Columbia) in central Oregon, the shallow cave is filled with rock art, mostly red or white pictographs.

Both vision quest and shamanistic images are found in the shelter.

Polished smooth by millennia of use, a large flat rock surface in the center of the shelter provides a perfect spot to sit or lay as you seek interaction with spirit helpers or mysterious forces.

You can share a little of this ancient experience in the video below. (Remember to turn on your sound, click the "full-screen" option for a larger view of the video. The photos in this post can also be enlarged by clicking on them).

(Please be aware that YouTube will show you several "recommended videos" at the bottom of the screen when Ancient Images is over. Some of these are interesting, others may be completely inappropriate. Sadly I have no influence or control over what YouTube chooses to promote at the end of my video. Viewer beware.).

Please remember to preserve and protect unique and irreplaceable cultural treasures like this small rock shelter. It is still sacred to the people who used it...and continue to use it even now.

This rock art has been here for hundreds, if not thousands, of years...with your help it can still be here thousands of years from now.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Kennewick Man Update-Deja Vu All Over Again

The parallels with the first Kennewick Man event continue with the second set of human remains found washed out of the bank of the Columbia River last month.

National Public Radio's station KPLU (Seattle/Tacoma) reports that the Army Corps of Engineers plans to repatriate the bones to "Northwest Tribes" we go again.

Read the whole story at: Old Jawbone Found in Columbia River to be Repatriated to Northwest Tribes

Also, see my post below from August 25, 2009 (Breaking News! Second Kennewick Man May Have Been Discovered)

Rock Art Site Etiquette

Visiting a rock art site can be a great experience!

If you're privileged to go to a site here are some guidelines that will help you protect the site while you enjoy it.

  • Treat the site and the rock art with the same respect you would give a religious or sacred place…that’s what it is.
  • Don’t touch the images. The oils from your skin will damage them over time and the abrasion of your fingers can actually remove images from the rock.
  • Don’t remove anything from the site. That cigarette at the foot of the cliff may not be litter but a tobacco offering; that dollar bill was not “lost”…they may have been left by modern Indians to honor the spiritual power of the rock art (of course if you're sure its litter, take it out with you).
  • If there is a trail stay on it. If there is not a trail try not to make one.
  • Don’t trespass on private property.
  • Don’t share the location of non-public sites with others.
  • Don’t make “rubbings” or “contact prints”. This very often causes irreparable harm.
  • Do take photographs or make sketches of the images and feel free to show them to your friends and family.
  • Final Note: Have a good time, be safe, and act responsibly. Take time to enjoy the setting, the culture, the fresh air… and remember, its about appreciating, respecting, and preserving prehistoric rock art that is sacred to the people who made it.
The rock art has been there for thousands of years… with your help it can still be there a thousand years from now.

(The images above are from rock art sites along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Breaking News! Second Kennewick Man May Have Been Discovered

In a story eerily like the first Kennewick Man's, a second set of old bones has been found washed out of the bank of the Columbia River near the town of Kennewick, WA. The bones are now housed at the Benton County, WA Coroner's office awaiting transfer to forensic experts in the state capitol at Olympia.

Read more details by clicking below:
Original Story
More info & photos
Seattle PI Story
Tri-City Herald Story

Watch for updates!


Friday, August 21, 2009

Creativity Unleashed!

The Washougal pedestrian tunnel itself is completely engineered and construction is well underway...but what about the Columbia Plateau rock-art-inspired panels that are a major part of its creative design?

Well, I'm here to tell you that the creative energy of the Petroglyph Team's student interns was released BIG-TIME at our most recent meeting.

Each of the Washougal High students on the Team had been chartered by artist Rex Ziak with creating a personal vision of the rock art that would fill the tunnel.

Students Emily Carroll, Kirstin Peterson, Patrick McCarthy, Sarah Walker, Chloe Kilgore, Brian Price, Paige Wade, Chris Norton, and Heather Mattole each prepared a detailed creative plan for the 7 basalt slabs that will line one wall of the tunnel.

I'm not sure what I expected when the assignment was given out...but whatever it was, reality significantly exceeded any expectations I might have dreamed about! You would think that in a group of 9 busy high school students there would be a few creative would be wrong!

Designs (above and below) laid out for review...

These kids, none trained in art as far as I know, each came up with an innovative, creative artistic plan for the tunnel. Honestly I think all the adults in the room, including Rex, were amazed. The deep thought and artistic concepts were inspiring.

Emily Carroll, Brian Price, and Kirsten Walker (above) present their designs.

Patrick McCarthy commands the attention of the audience, including artist Rex Ziak (center left), as he presents his vision for the tunnel's rock art.

Paige Wade, Chris Norton, and Chloe Kilgore explain their designs.

Heather Mattole (left and center below) captures the imaginations of Team members Patrick McCarthy, Paige Wade, Chloe Kilgore, Rix Ziak and Robert David (left to right).

Now the focal point of the artistic process moves to Rex Ziak. He will consider the ideas of the students along with his own creative thoughts and begin to finalize the images that will make this tunnel anything but pedestrian.

Stay tuned...