Current topics in archaeology, cultural heritage & historic preservation

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rare Chinook House Stone Re-discovered!

Kloshe Nanitch
The Guardian of Altoona

In April Portland a
rchaeologist Melissa Darby connected me to Kari Kandoll, the curator of the Wahkiakum County Historical Society Museum in Cathlamet, WA. Cathlamet is a small community about 65 miles west and down the Columbia River from Vancouver and Portland.

Kari and her staff had recently uncovered a small, interestingly carved boulder in the storage area of the museum. The boulder had been donated long ago by a local resident and since forgotten among the thousands of items in the museum's collection.

Late in June Kari brought the stone to the CultureWatch NW office in Vancouver where we took the photos included here.

After some research we concluded that the stone was a Chinook house stone. This rare carved stone figure is believed to have stood outside a Chinook Indian longhouse (similar to the one in the "Floor Plan drawing to the right) in the vicinity of Altoona, WA.

The figure probably represents a mythological character important in the Chinookan spiritual belief structure. Such carved figures, in stone or wood, were erected outside longhouses to protect the occupants from evil spirits and influences.

Note the tapered lower end of the stone which would have been buried in the earth, securing the stone in an upright position near the front of the house.

Also notice the triangular ribbed carving on the back of the figure. In several other examples of Chinookan carving this shape represents the exaggerated tail of an animal (a beaver or mountain sheep) providing another indication that perhaps the human-like face on the front of the stone is not actually human, but a protective spirit figure.

Once we had identified what the carved stone was we wanted to come up with a suitable name that would recognize its significance and honor its purpose. After consulting a Chinook Jargon Phrasebook I suggested the name "Kloshe Nanitch", The Guardian of Altoona.

The words mean "take care, stand guard, watch out"...suitable terms for a house stone that would have protected occupants of a long house hundreds of years ago.

Now Kloshe Nanitch is headed for a place of honor on display in the Wahkiakum Museum near where it served its original purpose guarding the Chinook people of Altoona.

Historic Cathlamet is an easy day trip from Portland or Vancouver and is well worth visiting. While you're there you can stop in at the Historical Society Museum, check out Kloshe Nanitch and enjoy an extensive exhibit and photo collection, including logging, fishing, maritime, farming, families, towns, and genealogy records.
65 River Street, Cathlamet, WA
360-795-3954 or 360-849-4353

May 1 - Oct 31, Saturday - Sunday, 1 - 4pm
Admission: $3 (18-54 yrs); $1.50 (55-plus)
FREE: WCHS Members and Children under 18

If you visit the weekend of July 16, Cathlamet will be holding its Bald Eagle Days festival, a traditional small town event with fun for everyone!