Western Snake River Prehistory

Daniel S. Meatte

(taken from the Prehistory of the Western Snake River Basin (1990) pp.63-70)



The Midvale Complex was first defined by Warren, Wilkinson and Pavesic based on excavations conducted at a series of sites near Midvale, Idaho (Warren et al. (1971). The sites displayed a range of activities that included the quarrying of basalt nodules for stone tool production, and manufacturing, hunting, and root and seed processing (Bucy 1971b, 1974; Warren et al. 1971:50). The Midvale Complex was defined on the basis of a distinct artifact assemblage bearing perceptible areal and temporal relationships (Warren et al. 1971:39). The assemblage contained large side-notched points (Bitterroot), Cascade points, leaf-shaped points with side notches that form an expanding stem, scrapers, choppers, edge-ground cobbles, elongate scrapers, and a variety of unifacial and bifacial blanks or roughouts (Bucy 1971b, 1974; Ruebleman 1973; Warren et al. 1971:51). Also present in this assemblage are pestles, manos, milling stones, two forms of mortars, gravers, drills, pitted pebbles and possibly edge-ground cobbles (Warren et al. 1971:51). Age assignments for this complex are placed at 4,500 to 2,000 years B.P. based on typological cross-dating (Warren et al. 1971:52).

At the time of writing (1971), only one other site was known to contain a similar assemblage of artifactual materials, the Stockoff Quarry near LaGrande, Oregon (Bryan and Tuohy 1960). Since then, the temporal and spatial definitions of the Midvale Complex have been greatly refined. The assemblage has been documented at a variety of sites throughout eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho (Arnold 1984; Brauner 1985; T. Green et al. 1986; Mead 1975; McPherson et al. 1981; Pavesic 1979, 1985; Pavesic and Meatte 1981; Plew 1977c; Ruebleman 1973; Wonfack 1975,1977; Wylie 1984).

Currently, the geographic distribution of this complex now includes most of the Blue Mountains region in eastern Oregon, Hells Canyon along the Idaho-Oregon border, and much of southeastern Idaho. The temporal span of this complex appears focused between 4,500 to 2,500 years B.P. (2,500 B.C. to 500 B.C.) but subsistence and settlement characteristics of this complex remain poorly documented (Warren et al. 1971:53). Recently, the Midvale Complex has been linked to the newly defined Western Idaho Archaic Burial Complex found in southeastern Idaho (Pavesic 1985). This linkage has added valuable information to the Midvale Complex about obviously complex social dimensions in burial practices at this time interval.

Though not completely understood, it appears the Midvale Complex marks the coalescence, by 4,500 years B.P., of a regional subsistence and settlement pattern focused on regional exchange (Pavesic 1985:81). Among its characteristics are the simultaneous appearance of large pit house structures (T. Green 1982a), an array of highly stylized point types (Ruebleman 1973; Warren et al. 1971), diversification of ground stone tools (T. Green 1982a; Warren et al. 1971), and cemeteries containing elaborate burials with a wealth of burial furniture (T. Green et al. 1986; Pavesic 1979, 1985). The development of this pattern is contemporaneous with a broader pattern noted for most of the Columbia Plateau (Ames and Marshall 1980-81; Bense 1972; Ruebleman 1973; Schalk 1980; Sehalk and Cleveland 1983). This pattern is characterized by increased residential sedentism associated-with intensified resource exploitation, primarily salmon and root crops (Ames and Marshall 1980-81; Schalk 1980; Schalk and Cleveland 1983).

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