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Washington State University
Museum of Anthropology The Marmes Rockshelter Site

Introduction and Overview

An aerial view of the Marmes Rockshelter excavations and the surrounding area to the south and west.
An aerial view of the Marmes Rockshelter excavations (lower right) and the surrounding area to the south and west.


The now-flooded Marmes Rockshelter site (45FR50) is located in Franklin County, Washington, on the west side of the Palouse River Canyon. The site consists of a shallow, south-facing rockshelter, 12 meters wide and 8 meters deep, the slope directly outside the rockshelter, and the floodplain area in front. Excavations at Marmes Rockshelter were initiated during archaeological reconnaissance and salvage work associated with the anticipated flooding of the Palouse River Canyon following construction of Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Marmes Rockshelter prior to 1968-1969 excavations, when the trenches in the floodplain were dug.
Marmes Rockshelter prior to 1968-1969 excavations.

Excavations were by conducted by Washington State University from 1962 through 1964 with Richard Daugherty as Principal Investigator. Additional excavations were conducted by Washington State University from May 1968 through February of 1969 with Roald Fryxell as the Principal Investigator.

Marmes Rockshelter is important in the history of Columbia Plateau archaeology for several reasons.

  • At the regional level, the time-depth and the archaeological remains recovered provide a rich and detailed picture of the culture-history and lifeways of the Native American people of the southern Plateau. The site became the basis for many important developments in the study of pre-contact Plateau history, serving as the type locality for a definition of the Windust and Cascade Phases of Leonhardy and Rice’s (1970) Lower Snake River Chronology (Bense 1972; Rice 1972). This chronology remains the basic pre-contact cultural sequence for the southern Plateau.
  • At the national level, the project generated a great deal of public attention. The efforts of the Principal Investigators, particularly Richard Daugherty, to secure funding helped to stimulate government support for Cultural Resource Management.
  • At the professional level, the project represents one of the first applications of the interdisciplinary approach to a site in the Northwest, in which archaeologists, geologists, zoologists, and paleoanthropologists collaborated in research design, excavation, and material analysis to answer specific questions about culture, landscape, climate, and human adaptation.