Western Snake River Prehistory

Daniel S. Meatte

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



Clearly associated with the Midvale complex is a remarkable burial complex recently defined by Pavesic (1985). The pattern dates:

between 4,500 and 4,000 B.P., with possible extensions until 3,500 B.P. Identified cultural attributes include massive turkey-tail and cache blades, caches or obsidian blank/ preforms, large side-notched projectile points, flexed or seminexed inhumations, possible cremation, and canid skull interments. Additional characteristics include use of red ochre, Ohvella shell, pipes, and specular hematite crystals. Human burials are placed in unmarked cemeteries with a preference for high sandy knolls along river terraces. Natural interment features have not been culturally modified, and no tombs or chambers of any type are known to exist. This complex is presumably related to workshops/camps in the Weiser Basin, since there are no excavated village occupations in the immediate region (1985:80-81).

The association of these specialized burial features within the Midvale Complex is based on a number of shared traits including large side-notched projectile points, Cascade and other bipointed projectile point varieties, turkey-tail points and corner-notched points. Also recovered are large numbers of bifacial and unifacial worked basalt production forms plus a variety of tools recognized as scrapers, choppers, cores, and "elongates." (p. 38).

This mortuary complex is strongly expressed at archaeological sites found in and around Weiser, Idaho. A recent discovery of a large burial site near New Meadows, Idaho, has effectively increased the areal extent of the complex and provided effective linkages with similar archaic burials on the southern Columbia Plateau, specifically Marmes Rockshelter (T. Green, Pavesic et al. 1986). An age assessment of 5,965 60 years B.P. (WSU #3426), and the typological composition of the artifact assemblage at the DeMoss site, suggests an earlier assemblage of the elaborate mortuary ceremonialism recognized in the near-by Weiser area (T. Green et al. 1986:38-40).

Just how this mortuary complex developed and was dispersed is unknown. Similar, contemporaneous mortuary complexes are increasingly being recognized across much of North America (King 1970; Sanger 1968; Tuck 1971, 1978). The idea of a pan-continental mortuary network is a provocative and compelling notion worth further enumeration (Max Pavesic, personal communication 1987).

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