Southeastern Idaho Native American Prehistory and History

by E.S. Lohse

Taken from Manual for Archaeological Analysis: Field and Laboratory Analysis Procedures. Department of Anthropology Miscellaneous Paper No. 92-1 (revised). Idaho Museum of Natural History, Pocatello, Idaho 1993.


Late Period, ca. 1300-150 B.P.

The Late Period is better known than any of the preceding periods in regional prehistory, and most likely represents prehistoric and protohistoric Shoshoneans occupying the Upper Snake and Salmon River country. Two cultural hallmarks are indicative of this period: Shoshonean Intermountain Ware pottery tradition and use of the bow and arrow.

A radiocarbon date from Dagger Falls on the middle fork of the Salmon River for Intermountain Ware pottery fragments places the earliest known use of pottery at about 2010 B.P. (Torgler n.d.). The temper of these sherds is crushed andesite, basalt, and quartzite in composition, most like sherd profiles for Thomas Shelter, Sudden Shelter, and Danger Cave in Utah (Dean 1988, 1991a, 1991b). Fremont pot sherds were also found in these same levels. Distinctions between Shoshonean and Fremont pottery traditions have been difficult to draw in the past. Butler (1983, 1986) has argued that pottery found in southeastern Idaho has often been misidentified as Shoshonean when in fact it is Fremont. It now appears that Fremont pottery types are rarely found in our region, and that the finer Shoshonean wares are similar to Fremont types in surface finish, temper, and rim curvature.

The Late Prehistoric Period is marked by a range of small triangular projectile point types. Corner-notched Rosegate series points extend throughout the period, as do Desert Side-notched series, and Cottonwood triangular points.

Ahvish Phase: The "Ahvish" Phase has deen defined for demonstrably Numic or Shoshonean occupation at the Wahmuza site at Cedar Butte, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation (Holmer 1986). "Ahvish" was chosen by the excavators because it translates in Shoshone as "people from long ago" (Jimenez 1986:227). The phase is suggested to range from about A.D.1300 to 1850 or the arrival of European trade goods in the archaeological record.

Cultural diagnostics include Desert Side-notched and Rosegate series projectile points and grey-ware pottery. Two vessel forms have been identified: a crude flat-bottomed conical pot with coarse surface finish and coarse temper typical of the Shoshonean or Intermountain Ware Tradition, and finely finished globular bowls with fine temper.

Comparable Shoshonean cultural materials have been found in the Dietrich Phase occupation at Wilson Butte Cave, a lava blister on the Snake River Plain in northeast Jerome County, ID (Gruhn 1961). Dietrich Phase materials comprise the uppermost stratigraphic layer radiocarbon dated to about A.D. 1535. Projectile point types included Rosegate series, Desert Side-notched and Cottonwood triangular. Twelve pottery sherds were termed "Wilson Butte Plain Ware" by Gruhn, and are now considered to be representative of Shoshonean Intermountain Ware (Jimenez 1986:229).

Diagnostic Shoshonean materials were also identified in the Lemhi Phase defined by Swanson et al. (1964) for the Birch Creek Valley of eastern Idaho. This was described as part of the Bitterroot Cultural pattern, and based largely on excavation at Bison Rockshelter. The phase is dated at about A.D. 1250-1850. Diagnostic projectile point types are Desert Side-notched and Cottonwood triangular. Grey ware sherds were found at another rockshelter in the Birch Creek Valley, 10-CL-100, and are considered diagnostic of the Lemhi Phase.

Other excavated sites with late Shoshonean components include Polly's Place (10-LH-44), a rockshelter in Meadow Canyon, Birch Creek Valley (Ranere 1971); Jackknife Cave (10-BT-46), southern end of the Lemhi Range overlooking the Snake River Plain (Swanson and Sneed 1971); Meadow Creek (10-BV-22) and Willow Creek (10-BV-32) rockshelters in the Willow Creek Canyon of southeastern Idaho (Powers 1969); Poison Creek (10-BM-50), a large open site on Wilson Creek at the north end of Blackfoot Reservoir (Miss 1974); the Meacham Site, a rockshelter burial in the Snake Rive Canyon above Shoshone Falls; Pence-Duerig Cave (10-JE-4), a large deep alcove in the basalt rim of the Snake River Canyon northeast of Twin Falls (Gruhn 1961); site 10-AA-15, a rockshelter in the Snake River Canyon below Swan Falls Dam in southwestern Idaho (Tuohy and Swanson 1960); the Monida Pass Tipi Ring Site (10-CL-85), an open site on a terrace overlooking the conlfuence of Beaver, Stoddard and Daisy Creeks south of the Continental Divide in eastern Idaho (Ranere et al. 1969); the Challis Bison Jump (10-CR-196), a multicomponent site at the base of the Salmon River Mountains overlooking the Salmon River south of Challis (Butler 1971); and Aviators' Cave (10-BT-1582), a collapsed lava tube on the Snake River Plain, National Engineering Laboratory, southeastern Idaho (Lohse 1990; Lohse 1991).

Aviators' Cave is a unique site with phenomenal preservation of perishable materials. Analysis has not been completed, but stratified deposits reveal an upper activity surface with Desert Side-notched Sierra subtype, general Desert Side-notched, and Cottonwood triangular projectile point types, and finely finished, fine-tempered grey ware pottery of the Shoshonean Intermountain Ware Tradition. The artifact inventory is typical of the Ahvish Phase, and includes feathers, hair, fur, hide, and seed and other plant parts absent from the Wahmuza site. Identification of these items to species level should supply dramatic insights into Shoshonean subsistence strategies in southeastern Idaho in the late prehistoric or protohistoric period.

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