The earth oven features found at the Gee Creek sites provide evidence for processing resources in bulk. The oven features were found to contain predominantly nuts, seeds, berries, and root crops. The larger ovens may have been used to cook or dry these and other foods that could then be stored specifically for use at a later time. At the Gee Creek sites, such features span the Archaic Period (ca. 13,000 to 7,000 years ago) and the Pacific Period (ca. 7,000 years ago to AD 1775).
Using a stone-lined fire pit or earth oven to cook food . Artwork by dAVe burlingame, Cowlitz Indian Tribe.
Analysis of organic residues from artifacts (stone tools and fire-modified rocks) and sediment recovered from the Gee Creek sites using FTIR analysis suggests that early peoples in the area used many types of food resources. Residues from nuts (possibly acorns and hazelnuts) and oily seeds (possibly tarweed) were found associated with nearly every oven feature discovered at the sites. This may represent a pattern of resource use at the sites, or it may represent a background signal of general environmental conditions. Either way, this residue signifies the presence of nuts and seeds in the general area at the time that the land was being occupied. Fruit residues, probably from berries, appeared in many of the features, as well. Evidence of a root crop in the lily family, very likely camas, was also detected in the residue record for two of the oven features found at the sites.
The record of vegetation from 9,500 to 4,500 years ago indicates an environment in the vicinity of the Gee Creek sites with few trees; the area was dominated by grasses and other plant species that suggest open-canopied woods and grassy slopes and meadows. Pollen from camas (Cammassia) and bracken fern (Pteridium) spores is commonly found in sediment dating to this time period, suggesting their availability to people for food.
||Example of a charred camas bulb from an earth oven feature found at an archaeological site in western Washington (45LE611), near to the Gee Creek sites (scale bar = 2 cm)|
||The wooded portions of the landscape would have included stands of oak trees, providing acorns, a good source of protein|
Ethnographic accounts of many place-names from the Gee Creek vicinity are associated with rootcrops (including camas) and berry patches. Berries such as strawberries, serviceberries, huckleberries, and other berries were collected by the Cowlitz people in upland prairies.
Gooseberries, camas, and strawberries (above) were likely gathered by the people living at the Gee Creek sites and may have been dried and processed using the earth ovens found at the sites
The technological assemblages found at the Gee Creek sites suggest that animal hunting and processing took place, but may not have been the primary activity. Relatively few pieces of stone waste flakes associated with the manufacture and maintenance of hunting toolkits were found at the sites. Projectile points, which are commonly associated with hunting, were scarce. The presence of scrapers suggests some hide preparation, but scrapers were fewer in number than projectile points. Some scrapers may have been used to process other types of materials, including plants for food or other uses. Some of the hammerstones, anvils, and a pestle fragment also may represent plant food processing.
Archaeologists bailing water out of an excavation unit during archaeological excavations at the Gee Creek sites. A high water table at the sites led to poor preservation of organic materials, such as bone, in the archaeological deposits.
It is no surprise that archaeological deposits exposed to Pacific Northwest weather conditions and a fluctuating water table over several millennia contain poorly-preserved animal bone. Only small and fragmentary pieces of prehistoric bone were identified at the Gee Creek archaeological sites, and none of these was sufficiently diagnostic for classification beyond mammal size class. The mammal size classes represented at the sites included small and medium-sized animals. Small mammals are generally considered rabbit-sized and smaller, and medium-sized mammals are larger than rabbits and smaller than dogs or coyotes. The paucity of animal bone found at the site is predominantly due to the poor preservation conditions at the site, but together with the relatively rare finds of projectile points, may also indicate that animal hunting and processing were not the primary activities at these sites.
Organic residue analysis suggested that animals ranging in size from large to small mammal were processed in many of the features. Residues matching bird blood also were found in many of the features, including the oldest dated feature found at the site, which dates to nearly 8,000 years ago. Bird hunting has been documented in archaeological, ethnographic, and historic records pertaining to the Gee Creek vicinity.
Large mammals, such as deer, were hunted by the people living at Gee Creek
The use of turtle for food in the Gee Creek area is suggested by the detection of turtle blood using FTIR analysis. Two species of turtle are native to western Washington: western pond turtles and the western painted turtle, the latter confined mostly to areas east of the Cascades. Western pond turtles (Clemmys marmorata) are a water-oriented species that inhabit streams, ponds, lakes, and wetlands. Historically, pond turtles were commonly found in lakes and ponds of the Puget Sound region and within the Columbia River Gorge, but the pond turtle is currently listed by the state as an endangered species.
Maps depicting locations of Indian place names in the vicinity of the Klickitat Trail (a trail found to the east of the Gee Creek sites that links the Vancouver area to the Cascade Mountains via Chelatchie Prairie) include a place called alaši’k-aš, which is translated to mean “turtle place” in Sahaptin. This place name suggests the presence, and importance, of turtles to Native Americans living in the area during this time. Fishing for turtles also was mentioned during the testimony of Thomas Umtuch regarding areas of resource use by pre-contact/post-contact Cowlitz Indians during the trial of Simon Plamondon, on Relation of the Cowlitz Tribe of Indians vs. The United States of America (1955).
Archaeologically, the remains of at least three turtles (Testudinidae sp.) were recovered at the Meier Site in Columbia County, Oregon, located approximately 14 km (9 mi) due west of the Gee Creek sites. The turtle remains were found associated with archaeological deposits that are up to 700 years old.
Residues matching fish blood were found in many of the features, including the oldest dated feature found at the site, which dates to nearly 8,000 years ago. Recent biological surveys have identified cutthroat trout, juvenile coho, and Chinook salmon within Gee Creek. Historically, chum and coho salmon and cutthroat trout were reported to have been found in Gee Creek and its tributaries. Several different species of trout also inhabit the waters of the Portland Basin. It is likely that such fish species occupied the stream and its tributaries in the past, as well, and these fish would have been utilized by people inhabiting the area.
Many ethnographic and historical accounts of fishing activities by tribes within the Portland Basin exist. The Chinook Indians were known to occupy the areas closest to the Columbia River in the Portland Basin and much of their economy was centered around fishing activities. The Cowlitz and Chehalis tribes also centered much of their subsistence economy around the acquisition of fish along the tributary streams and rivers of the Columbia. Salmon, chub, suckers, smelt, eels, sturgeon, and other varieties of fish were caught during various seasons of the year.
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The information provided on this website is modified from the manuscript Archaeological Data Recovery for the I-5/SR 502 Interchange Project, by Michele Punke, Terry Ozbun, Jo Reese, and Brian Buchanan (2009). Archaeological Investigations Northwest, Inc. Report No. 2273. Prepared for Washington Department of Transportation Southwest Region, Vancouver, Washington.