The Lind Coulee Site (45GR97) is important for a number of reasons. It occupies an important place in the history of archaeology in the interior Northwest as one of the first places to demonstrate the antiquity of humans in the region. It remains one of the few early period sites to have been found and excavated in an upland as opposed to a riverine setting. Radiocarbon dates on materials excavated at the site in the early 1950s were not only among the first successful applications of the radiocarbon dating technique, but also the first concrete evidence for the antiquity of humans on the Plateau. The record of bison (Bison bison) procurement and processing at the site was an early indicator of changes in the environmental history of the plateau.
The bison hunters at Lind Coulee were probably not part of a specialized big game hunting economy (Ames 1988) but the site does offer evidence of the role of big game in an early diversified hunting economy.
Lind Coulee, and the Marmes site (45FR50), located on the lower Snake River, are among the few sites on the southern Columbia Plateau with occupations dating to the Western Stemmed complex (Willig and Aikens 1988) from which large, well preserved faunal and lithic assemblages have been recovered from buried contexts. Furthermore, both of these collections were made employing techniques that garnered very detailed information through the use of microstratigraphic excavation techniques and very fine mesh water screening.
Recent curation efforts sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation in the case of the Lind Coulee collection and the Walla Walla District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the case of the Marmes Collection (Collins and Andrefsky 1995) have made a new era of study possible for these collections.
The Lind Coulee site was discovered in 1947 when F. A. Riddle and Richard Daugherty were doing Smithsonian River Basin Survey (RBS) work at the near-by O’Sullivan/Pot Holes Reservoir (Moses Lake).
Daugherty credits Professor of Paleontology George Beck of Central Washington University (then College) and a number of local citizens with first recognizing the potential of the Lind Coulee site and bringing it to the attention of the archaeological party working nearby. Beck had been collecting paleontology specimens from the site for a number of years. He and a number of local residents had on numerous occasions picked up chipped stone artifacts and debitage from the coulee floor (Drucker 1948:18-20; Daugherty 1956:223). When Daugherty and his crew visited the site in 1947 they collected a small amount of bone, which was examined by Dr. C. Lewis Gazin of the Smithsonian Institution who identified the material as bison and mastodon (Drucker 1948:18-19).
Daugherty also noted four chalcedony flakes in situ in the lower portion of the fossil-bearing stratum. This association of the flakes with the deep fossil bed (about 14 feet below the surface) and the heavily mineralized state of the bones led to recommendation that the site be tested because of its possible ancient age (Daugherty 1956:223; Drucker 1948:19).
Daugherty and his RBS crew visited the site in 1948 and 1950. On one of these visits, they found a basal portion of a stemmed projectile point embedded in the coulee wall. Within a few days of this discovery, Louis Caywood and John Corbett of the National Park Service arrived at the excavations at Moses Lake. Daugherty took them to the Lind Coulee site to get their opinions on the possibility of the site being very old. While at the site Caywood discovered a large keeled scraper projecting from the coulee wall. This discovery and the stemmed point base led to requests for funds for excavation of the site. Although the site was outside the Pot Holes Reservoir area it was within the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project Area (the Coulee ultimately became a runoff wasteway) and so the Moses Lake crew shifted their attention to Lind Coulee for the last 10 days of the 1950 field season (Daugherty 1956:224).
The 1950 party dug two deep trenches into the coulee wall in the areas where the keeled scraper and stemmed point base had been found. They found highly mineralized bone fragments, chipped stone debitage, and several artifacts, leading Daugherty to interpret the location to have been a campsite. He believed the site had considerable antiquity because it was located deep in the sediments (Daugherty 1956:224). As a result, Washington State College (now Washington State University) awarded Daugherty a research grant to excavate at the site in 1951. The University of Washington and the Smithsonian Institution provided additional support. A grant from the National Park Service funded excavations in 1952.