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Museum of Anthropology Wexpusnime (45GA61)

Excavations 1968 – 1970

The goals of the excavation project, as outlined in the Leonhardy et al. (1971) preliminary report, were to create artifact typologies for each of the two site components, Area A and Area B, and to describe the features located during excavation.

Area A

Area A defines the last phase of the Lower Snake River Sequence based on a large sample size. The Piqúnin Phase, later defined as the Late Harder Phase, dates from A.D. 1300 to A.D. 1750 (Ames et al. 2010; Leonhardy and Rice 1970). Seven random test pits were excavated in 1968. In 1969 the area was gridded and more regularly spaced 2m-x-2m tests pit were excavated. Area A consisted of an open camp above a pithouse village. The open camp contained firepits and earth ovens, with fire-modified rock, bone, debitage, and an artifact scatter. The pithouse village, which was probably a seasonal winter village site, consisted of seven housepits and roughly 80 features. The housepits could be chronologically ordered based on elevation and intrusion sequence. The houses are very variable, but no correlation between house configuration and chronology could be discerned. Most houses are round; one is rectangular and one is sub-rectangular. The uppermost house, House 4, dates post-A.D. 1300. Next in the sequence are House 1 and House 5, which are contemporaneous. House 2 and House 6, also contemporaneous, are later in the sequence. House 7 post-dates Houses 2 and 6 and contained two intrusive burials. These burials and associated grave goods were repatriated in 2010 and are neither pictured nor discussed here.

The open camp occupation above the pithouses contained horse bone and trade beads. The trade beads were the only Euro-American artifacts found at the site. The presence of horse bone suggests that this site is an example of settlement pattern shift that occurred with the introduction of the horse.

“The implication is that the site was abandoned after the introduction of the horse, but before trade goods were introduced into the area. The change in the function of the site, from a winter village to a camp, may reflect a change in settlement pattern associated with the adoption of the horse” [Leonhardy et al. 1971:15].

This settlement shift signals the end of the Piqúnin (Late Harder) Phase, and the beginning of the Nimipu Phase.

A total of 4,286 artifacts were collected from Area A. Of these, 3,740 (87.3 percent) were sorted and classified, but distribution analysis was not conducted at the time. The assemblage was considered very homogeneous in terms of chronology: Seventy artifacts are considered to date to the Cascade Phase, and based on calcified loess adhering to them, are probably intrusive. It is suggested that they were dug up when the features were constructed, and are not described for Area A; the rest of the artifacts are Piqúnin (Late Harder). The artifacts associated with the camp occupation overlying the housepits show no apparent typological differences (Leonhardy et al. 1971:18).

Area B

Area B is an isolated component of the site. In 1969 four 1-x-2-m test pits were excavated to determine the extent of the occupation and a 2-x-14-m trench was excavated for geological context. In 1970, rather than deep stratigraphic excavations, the overburden was stripped to a depth of 60 cm below ground surface to find features. Distinct living surfaces were excavated sequentially. Scattered tools and flakes, but no hearths or other elaborate features, were found.

45GA61 July 1969; Area B, Features 18 and 19, showing horizontal excavation strategy (Source: 1969 Field Season Photo Archive)
45GA61 July 1969; Area B, Features 18 and 19, showing horizontal excavation strategy (Source: 1969 Field Season Photo Archive)

Wexpusnime was the first site on the Snake River where excavators employed this strategy of contiguous horizontal units to expose large areas of occupation surfaces. Each of these methods – test pits, vertical trenches, and horizontal units – is appropriate for different questions. Vertical trenching reveals river bar deposition, cultural chronology, and artifact type variability over time. Horizontal excavation reveals settlement systems, intra-site variability, and activity areas.

The preliminary results for both Area A and Area B focus on chronology and type variability, while Nakonechny (1998) focused his analysis of Area B on intra-site variability and activity area recognition.

Area B consisted of three parallel, superimposed living surfaces. No structures were found. Each living surface was approximately 10 cm thick, separated by 5 to 10 cm of fill. Each contained a homogeneously distributed scatter of artifacts, flakes, and broken rock. The depth of the cultural material was approximately one meter, but only 20-30 cm were excavated.

Artifacts consist of Levallois-style cores, with a striking platform at the top, plus associated debitage that confirmed the technique. The artifacts were located in a paleosol overlain by a thin, ash-rich, silt-loam loess. This loess was overlain by a second, 80-cm-thick, silt loam loess soil. Any artifacts found in overlying deposits were associated with bioturbation. Based on artifact typology and geology, occupation occurred during the Early Cascade Phase.

Judith Bense analyzed and described the artifacts from both components (Bense 1972)

According to Bense (1972:40, 48) “this assemblage has a higher percentage of preforms and implements broken in manufacture than other assemblages.” There were no identifiable faunal remains found in either component. The few small bone fragments and the preponderance of lithics at Area B indicate that it was probably a workshop area. The range of tool forms is limited, but this might be a function of the small sample size. However, there is a complete range of implements at all stages of manufacture and debitage, from Levallois-like techniques from cores to trimming flakes.

Table 1. Artifacts from Area B.
Artifactn =Raw Material Comments/Other
Lanceolate projectile points241212
Stemmed projectile points312
Basal-notched projectile point

Knives (small)330
Knives (large)4636102 complete
Oval-lanceolate biface performs624
Discoidal biface preforms431
Unifacial flakes111011 retouched
Bifacial flakes9185 retouched
Bifacial lanceolate preforms1293
Biface preforms, medial fragments312
Utilized flakes w. knife-like edges: straight or conves903654
Utilized flakes w. knife-like edges: concave1284
Utilized flakes w. straight or convex scraper-like edges37433
Utilized flakes w. steep scraper-like edges404
Utilized flakes w. concave scraper-like edges14014
Utilized flakes w. straight or concave denticulate edges330
Utilized cobble spalls9612 granite
Cobble scrapers12120
Expired top-struck cores330
Crude knife-like biface or preform101
Edge-ground cobbles300Igneous rock
Pounding stones5203 igneous rock
Polished bone fragment100
Ochre fragments300
Miscellaneous flaked pebbles15015
Unclassifiable cobble artifacts16160
Unclassifiable fragments18018
Questionable artifacts/flakes762353
Total (Includes 70 artifacts from Area A)