Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University
Museum of Anthropology Lind Coulee (45GR97)


The 1950s excavations removed between 30 and 40 percent of the Lind Coulee site (Monseth et al. 1973). In the early 1970s several factors led to additional work at the site. Work at several old sites along the lower Snake River including the Marmes site near the mouth of the Palouse River, Windust Caves, and Granite Point had generated significant interest in early period sites on the southern Columbia Plateau. The multi-disciplinary approach that Daugherty applied by involving geologists and paleontologists during the 1950s had grown in popularity and sophistication. In addition, the use of the Coulee as a runoff channel for irrigation waters had greatly changed the moisture regime and vegetation at the site to a level that archaeologists believed posed a threat to the remaining portion of the site. In 1968 Roald Fryxell and Benny Keel excavated a test pit at Lind Coulee to determine if the site was worthy of renewed investigation (Moody 1978:3). Although no documentation of this test excavation has been located, they apparently found enough evidence to warrant further excavation. Correspondence in the site records between Henry Irwin (who joined the WSU Anthropology faculty in 1967) and the Department of the Interior dated May 1971 discusses the importance of, and the threats to, the site. Irwin reports that in the spring of 1971 faculty from WSU visited the site and observed erosion and dredging activities, as well as fluctuating moisture conditions associated with the use of the coulee for channeling runoff from irrigation projects, that were destroying the site (WSU site file 45GR97.23). In response to this, the Bureau of Reclamation allocated funds for salvage work at the site in 1972, 1973,1974, and 1975.

Plan View of the 1950s and 1970s Excavations at the Lind Coulee site.
Plan View of the 1950s and 1970s Excavations at the Lind Coulee site.


1972 Field Methods

The 1972 field season ran from July 1st until August 16th and was led by Henry Irwin, Roald Fryxell, Carl Gustafson, and Ann Monseth, all of Washington State University. The goals were four-fold (Monseth et al. 1973):

(1) To relocate the areas excavated by Daugherty in the 1950s and to delimit areas disturbed by road construction that occurred after Daugherty’s work.

(2) To expand the geological analysis of the natural deposits at Lind Coulee. Irwin and his team believed that the stratigraphy at Lind Coulee was more complex than had been recognized during the earlier work at the site. The presence of unidentified volcanic ash lenses held promise for dating the cultural and natural history of the site.

(3) To expand faunal studies at the site to include not only determination of what animal species were used by humans at the site but also how study of the record of small mammals and other animals at the site could contribute to interpreting the climatic and vegetational history of the site.

(4) To reconsider and expand on some of Daugherty’s interpretations of the cultural record at Lind Coulee. In particular, they hoped to reexamine the age of the site, as advances in radiocarbon dating techniques had called into question the age of the dates reported by Daugherty. They also expected to expand analysis and interpretation of the chipped stone and bone tools given advances in analytical techniques and the presence of more assemblages in the region for comparison than Daugherty had had in the 1950s.

The 1972 excavations consisted of two trenches mechanically dug at right angles to the coulee wall in an area with no cultural material. The trenches were intended to afford analysis of the natural stratigraphy at the site. In addition, 44 two-meter-square units were dug in a checkerboard pattern at the north end of the site where the greatest concentration of cultural material was expected. Monseth et al. (1973:4) report that 800 cubic yards of sterile overburden was removed, presumably by mechanical means. One hundred fifty cubic meters was then dug by hand. Unit 2E/28N was excavated with special care and the exact locations of all materials were mapped, as was the stratigraphy of the unit. The intent of this process was to experiment with computer graphics in an analysis of the site materials.

1972 Results

The 1972 team had no trouble locating Daugherty’s excavation squares and stratigraphy trenches. They found that the original datum had been lost to erosion, but they were able to reconstruct the lost information and correlate the 1972 and later finds with the earlier materials (Monseth et al. 1973:3-4).

Thirty-two tools (stone and bone), 123 pieces of debitage, 3,000 bone fragments, and 800 pieces of shell were collected. At the time that Monseth et al. (1973) submitted their report to the National Park Service (who at that time administered many archaeological studies for other federal agencies), most of the materials were still under analysis and so no complete description of these materials is presented in their report. Several later works address this aspect of the reporting (Irwin and Moody 1978; Moody 1978).

However, the team made two significant preliminary observations at the end of the 1972 field season. First, they argued that the age of the Lind Coulee cultural materials was at least as old as the oldest floodplain deposits at the Marmes site (ca. 10,000 B.P.). They based this contention on the technological and stylistic similarity of projectile points from the two sites (see Figure 1). That is, the points are generally made on blades or at least flakes “with a central ridge [and] are slightly Plano-convex in cross-section” (Monseth et al. 1973:8) and “in shape are Astemmed, symmetrical (left, right), and usually assymetrical (dorso-ventro)” (Monseth et al. 1973:10). Geologic evidence collected in 1972 was also believed to support this argument in that the character of the earliest culture-bearing deposits indicated a period of greater effective moisture than present, also seen at other sites in the Columbia Basin where radiocarbon dates indicated an end to the moister conditions before 7,500 years ago (Monseth et al. 1973:19).

The second hypothesis that was proposed at the end of the 1972 field season was that differences in the Lind Coulee and Marmes assemblages might reflect different seasons of occupation between the two sites. Marmes, located in a major river valley, and with a bone tool assemblage noted for its small awls and eyed needles, was suggested as perhaps a winter camp. Lind Coulee, on the other hand, located in the uplands and with a bone assemblage characterized by pieces believed to be parts of fishing or birding leisters, might have been a summer or spring occupation site. Differences in the manufacture of scrapers between the Lind Coulee and Marmes assemblages were also described. The Lind Coulee scrapers show a special preparation – and detachment leaving very thin, large, flat flakes. This is in contrast to Marmes – later Cascade materials where blades and center ridged flakes were used for such tools (Monseth et al. 1973:8).  These differences were seen as suggesting unknown, but not seasonal, differences between the two sites.

1973 Field Methods

The same principals led the 1973 field season at Lind Coulee but the excavation crew was much larger and included a field school from WSU. Field work began on June 16th and continued until September 16th.

The goals of the 1973 season were to determine the horizontal extent of the site, to identify the areas with the greatest concentrations of archaeological materials, and to determine if different areas within the site represented different occupations and if so to sample each of the occupations (Irwin and Moody 1976:6-9).

The work included additional excavations to deepen 15 of the units opened in 1972. These units were not back-filled at the end of the 1972 season, but were lined with plastic and bales of straw. The intent was to be able to expand these excavations in 1973 without having to remove fill. The method however, had limited success and there was considerable slumping of the unit walls over the winter. Therefore the first task for the 1973 season was to screen all of the slump material. Some of the slumped materials were water-screened and the rest was dry-screened through 1/8th inch mesh. The screening was done in such a way as to keep materials from each unit separated.

Nine additional two-meter-square units were opened in areas not sampled in either the 1950s or 1972. In addition to the work intended to delimit the extent of cultural materials at the site, several areas were opened with a backhoe to examine the geologic history. Of particular interest was the presence of several distinctive volcanic ash deposits. In addition to mapping the stratigraphy of each excavation unit, a number of soil monoliths were taken. Excavations were done according to natural strata where possible. Where the micro-stratigraphy could not be readily recognized, excavations were done in five centimeter arbitrary levels. Artifacts and faunal materials found in situ were mapped and absolute elevations were recorded. All of the matrix was water-screened through one millimeter mesh.

1973 Results

At the end of the 1973 field season, geologic and faunal studies suggested at least five distinct cultural levels at the Lind Coulee site although the character of the different components is not described in the 1973 report. The horizontal extent of the archaeological deposits remained unclear (Irwin and Moody 1976:44). The evidence for the various components appears to have been multiple vertically separable concentrations of bone and a number of dark, sandy, A soil horizons that appeared to have formed as a result of organic debris associated with human occupation rather than plant accumulation. The researchers suggested that the deposits were primarily fluvial and may have been laid down over relatively short periods of time, encasing cultural materials representing decades rather than centuries of occupation (Amara 1975:46-53; Irwin and Moody 1976:42).

The geologic studies also provided insight into the age of the Lind Coulee site (Irwin and Moody 1976:34). No cultural materials were found above deposits of Mazama ash, setting an upper age limit of about 7000 B.P.   Tephra found in the artifact-bearing strata was identified as St. Helens J (8,000-12,000 B.P.) or Glacier Peak (12,000-13,000 B.P.).

Faunal studies conducted in 1973 identified four classes of animal remains: small rodents and burrowing animals, large rodents and carnivores, large herbivores, and birds (Irwin and Moody 1976:45). The last three groups were considered potentially culturally significant. Remains included whole skeletal elements as well as fragmentary burned and unburned pieces. The large herbivores were dominated by elk and bison, including immature individuals. The faunal materials indicated that the site was occupied in the spring, during the period of occupation the site was moister than during modern times, and bone, teeth, and possible skins were all used at the Lind Coulee site (Irwin and Moody 1976:52-53).

A number of lithic and bone tools were recovered during the 1973 excavations. Of note were two loci believed to be the remains of chipping stations. These were identified by the presence of very large numbers of flakes of the same raw material with a number of refits possible (Irwin and Moody 1976:13-14). The chipped stone materials included stemmed projectile point basal fragments, bifacial preforms, end scrapers – including two of the steep ended variety that might be equivalent to Daugherty’s keeled scrapers – and flake knives.  The bone tools included a leister or harpoon fragment, awls, a worked piece identified as a needle blank discarded during manufacture, and a very small (3.4mm by 2.9mm) incised fragment thought to be part of larger scored piece (Irwin and Moody 1976).

1974 Field Methods

The 1974 field season was led by Ann Monseth Irwin, with Henry Irwin serving as project archaeologist and Ula Moody as project geologist.  A number of WSU graduate students served as work supervisors.  The excavation crew consisted of field school students and volunteers.  Work began on June 16th and extended until August 8th.  The primary objective of the 1974 season remains defining the site’s horizontal extent and refining the depositional history of the site.  As with the 1973 season, work began with screening materials that had slumped into the unfilled trenches over the winter.  The slump material was screened through either 1/4th or 1/8th inch mesh.  Work was concentrated in areas that had proved most promising in 1973.  A good deal of effort was spent in facing and describing the walls of backhoe and narrow slot trenches excavated in 1974 as well as during earlier seasons.  Of particular interest was the stratigraphic placement of a volcanic ash discovered in 1973, because a concentration of flakes was found above the ash and a bison scapula was found immediately beneath the ash (Irwin and Moody 1977:8-9).

1974 Results

Some of the site boundaries were defined by the end of the 1974 field season.  A backhoe trench excavated in 1974 near the eastern edge of the main excavation area was found to contain no significant materials, indicating to the researchers that the eastern boundary of the site was near the eastern edge of the excavations.  The coulee formed the western boundary of the site.  Daugherty’s 1950s excavations had defined the southern edge of the site.  The northern boundary remained undefined in 1974.

The geologic studies performed in 1974 determined that the volcanic ash located in 1973 was associated with the St. Helen’s J eruption of 8,000 to 12,000 years ago.  Ash found below the culture-bearing strata were defined as St. Helen’s S dated to 12,000 to 18,000 years ago.  Thus the age of the Lind Coulee site was established at between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago (Irwin and Moody 1977:41-42).  Attempts were made to collect pollen from sediments collected in 1974 but analysis indicated that pollen preservation was very poor (Irwin and Moody 1977:65-67).

The faunal studies performed in 1974 continued to show the dominance of elk and bison remains.  Of particular interest was the discovery of a nearly complete bison skull with horn cores.  The size of the skull suggested that it was probably B. bison bison as the horn core spread was too small for Bison antiquus (Irwin and Moody 1977:60).

The stone and bone artifacts recovered in 1974 were similar to those found in earlier seasons with the exception of a number of bone needle fragments.  The presence of bone needles had been suggested earlier but the first piece to exhibit a true eye was not found until 1974.  Two chipped stone artifacts found in 1974 were considered notable. The first of these (WSU inventory number 5779) is a long ­ more than 10cm ­ bi-pointed piece made of a very fine-grained black and brown chert.  The piece was composed by re-fitting four fragments.  Irwin and Moody (1977:18-19) note that it was not clear to them which end of the point was the hafting end.  They also describe considerable wear or polish on all of the flake scar ridges but sharp edges to the piece.  The second piece (WSU inventory number 373) is the medial portion of a large basalt biface.  Irwin and Moody (1977:19) believe the piece is a preform but note that it might also be a projectile point.  It was considered notable for its similarity to a large shouldered biface found in the lower levels at Marmes Rockshelter and because, if used as a projectile point, it is unlike any of the other projectile points from Lind Coulee.  The artifacts recovered in 1974 also led the researchers to question their interpretation of some of the 1973 finds as representing single event chipping stations.  Rather, in 1974, the amount and variety of debitage led them to believe that individual events were not so clearly recognizable (Irwin and Moody 1977:16).

1975 Field Methods

The final season of field work at Lind Coulee was directed by Ann Monseth Irwin.  Ula Moody was again the project geologist and Wilma Hunt was the laboratory supervisor.  The work began on June 17th and continued until August 19th.  Some additional stratigraphic work and back-filling on the entire site was done in November of 1975.  The emphasis of the 1975 field season was study of the stratigraphy in the site itself and areas adjacent to the site.  In particular, additional hand-dug and backhoe trenches were excavated to create continuous east-west and north-south cross sections.  Effort was made to locate the northern boundary of the site.  A single two-meter-square unit was excavated as a control block for mollusk studies.  All of the matrix for this unit was water-screened through 1mm mesh and all of the mollusk remains were collected.  Finally, in hopes of increasing the artifact sample size, excavations were also continued in those portions of the site that appeared to have the greatest potential for yielding cultural material.

1975 Results

The northern boundary was defined by analysis of the depositional record as well as the distribution of cultural materials.  The result was that the northern boundary of the site was determined to be at about the 27N grid line.  Not only were cultural materials no longer encountered In this area, but it was determined that the sediments which bore the cultural material were also absent (Irwin and Moody 1978:143).  Furthermore, it was determined that between 80 and 90 percent of the site had been excavated (Irwin and Moody 1978:261).

No new categories of stone or bone tools were encountered during the 1975 excavations, although two pieces were found that re-fit with pieces excavated by Daugherty in the 1950s (WSU inventory numbers 77 and 98).  A possible chipping station was defined in square 10E/10N (Irwin and Moody 1978:21).  Sixty-five microstratigraphic units were defined at Lind Coulee.  Analysis of the mollusk control block excavated in 1975 demonstrated that these units were stable for only a few years suggesting that “the sedimentary sequence containing the occupation debris at the Lind Coulee Site represents a maximum of some 100-150 years of sedimentation” (Irwin and Moody 1978:143).