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Museum of Anthropology Squirt Cave (45WW25)

The 1964 Excavation

John Combes (1969) describes the process of excavating the cave. Combes served as the field director for the project. Access was difficult and the fine, dry fill made it necessary to install a generator-powered blower system as well as lighting (Combes 1969:6). Combes and his crew excavated 21 units ranging in size from 1 meter square to about 2 meters square. Most excavation was done in 20 cm levels. All eight storage pits were located in the uppermost stratigraphic level, which consisted of layers of dried grass within loess (Endacott 1992:34). The seven excavated pits were lined with grass, cedar, stones, and woven and woven and sewn matting, either alone or in various combinations. Four of the pits (numbers 2, 3, 4, and 7) represented either a single use or had been completely cleaned prior to reuse. Pits number 1 and 5 had five distinct layers indicating that reuse was shallower. Pit number 6 had four layers.

Planview of Squirt Cave (45WW25) showing excavation units (Endacott 1992:33, Figure 5)
Planview of Squirt Cave (45WW25) showing excavation units (source: Endacott 1992:33, Figure 5)

Planview of Squirt Cave (45WW25) showing location of storage pits (source: Endacott 1992:40, Figure 10; adapted from Combes 1969:27, Figure 2).
Planview of Squirt Cave (45WW25) showing location of storage pits (source: Endacott 1992:40, Figure 10; adapted from Combes 1969:27, Figure 2).

Profile view of all storage pits excavated (source: Combes 1969:31, Figure 4).
Profile view of all storage pits excavated (source: Combes 1969:31, Figure 4).

 

Endacott’s Reanalysis

Combes (1969) submitted a preliminary report to the National Park Service. Dr. Neal Endacott (1992), then a graduate student at WSU, reanalyzed 165 of the 421 artifacts recovered. He submitted samples of plant remains which had served as lining for four storage pits for radiocarbon dating and obtained absolute dates ranging from 1750±150 B.P. to 405±80 B.P. He integrated this information into inferences about site function and its relationship to other sites along the Lower Snake River and concluded that pre-contact use of the site took place primarily during the Harder Phase (2500 B.P. to 700 B.P.). Possible earlier use during the Tucannon Phase is based on projectile points found below the radiocarbon dated material (see Leonhardy and Rice 1970 for Lower Snake River Typology).

Storage Pit Dimensions (source: Endacott 1992:41, Table 1; modified from Combes 1969:8).

Pit #Maximum Depth Below Surface (m)Diameter (m)Comments
11.01~ 1.5Five or more grass-lined layers;
1A Elymus sp.;
1D Equisetum sp.;
Deeper (earlier) layers had larger diameters
20.70?~ 1.9Maximum depth uncertain;
Lined with grass, matting, and possibly sagebrush bark (Artemisia sp.)
30.52~1.0Line with sewn tule (Scirpus sp.)
40.700.25Small pit, placed in Pit #6
51.201.5
Five or more successive layers; one burned grass liner found;
Layer 1 lined with unidentified grass;
layer 3 lined with Elymus sp.
Deeper (earlier) layers had larger diameters
61.00~1.3
Four layers; lined with grass, wood, and stone;
Deeper (earlier) layers had larger diameters
70.461.3Grass-lined; reached bedrock
8??Railroad fill and unstable sediments; not excavated

Faunal Remains

Most faunal remains from Squirt Cave were not analyzed in detail and remain unanalyzed. Endacott (1992) briefly inspected these in order to describe the kinds of remains recovered. These include medium and large mammal bones which had been butchered but not charred. One bison bone, a second phalanx, was identified and suggests local procurement of bison.

Other fauna recovered include freshwater mussels, a coyote skeleton, rodents and other small mammals. Twelve fish vertebrae were recovered, of which eleven are from salmon. One of these came from storage pit number 5; the others could not be clearly associated with a storage pit.