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Washington State University
Museum of Anthropology Marmes Rockshelter Site (45FR50)

Conclusions about the Occupation of Marmes Rockshelter Site

Hicks’ (2004) questions about the function of the site include:

  • What was the nature of the material culture, what changes are apparent over time, and what does this tell us about how people used the site?
  • What kinds of changes can be seen in resource use over time?
  • Are there indications of seasonal use?
  • What changes might be observed in the use of terrestrial species?
  • What is the contribution of fish to the diet, and which species were utilized?
  • What changes in the use of plant foods can be observed?

Following Binford’s (1980) model, Hicks looked for a transition from mobile foraging to a more semi-sedentary lifestyle and attempted to pinpoint the timing of this change. Could Marmes be identified as a seasonally “tethered” site, or a field camp within a collector strategy?

The original research design, which focused on vertical culture-historical investigation, constrained a more horizontal, spatially oriented settlement pattern approach. Hicks also wanted to avoid an oversimplified, ethnographic analogy with local post-contact cultural groups.

Hicks found that there was differential use of the floodplain and the rockshelter. The floodplain contained more debitage and only about 5 percent of all tools. All of the bone needles were found in the floodplain deposits. Ninety-five percent of all tools were found in the rockshelter.  Additionally, the storage features containing botanicals in the upper levels suggested a storage focus in the later part of the occupational sequence.

The site had been used for habitation on a continuous basis over a long period of time. The evidence for this includes tool manufacture and maintenance, food procurement, and processing of food as well as other materials. With the exception of Stratum IV and Stratum VIII, the site was a residential camp. It may have been occupied during the winter based on location, the density of artifacts, the density of fire-related features inside the rockshelter, and the heavy use-wear on tools.

The early use of the floodplain, as well as Stratum I and Stratum II in the rockshelter, probably consisted of generalized activities in the rockshelter and specialized manufacturing activities on the floodplain.

There is a small amount of evidence to show the relationship between use of the floodplain and rockshelter. The cremation hearth suggests use as a socio-religious structure, but this does not appear to be the main focus of the occupation. Many other hearth structures reflect day-to-day occupation. These features, plus intensive tool use, exhaustion of tools, and disposal of exhausted tools suggests use as a mobile forager base camp. Later cultural activities appear to be restricted to the rockshelter, probably with “significant fluctuations in the intensity of the occupations” (Hicks 2004:411). The most intensive occupations, as evidenced by tool manufacture, occur in Stratum III and Stratum IV.

Early subsistence patterns show use of large and medium-sized mammals, fish, and shellfish, consistent with function as a residential base camp in a mobile foraging system. There is no evidence at this time that large mammals were over-exploited. Later, there is evidence of more use of small mammals, an increase in the use of fish, a decrease in the use of shellfish, and an increase in storage of plant foods. This is consistent with a function of field camp in a logistical collecting system. It is possible that the site was related to a pithouse village (45FR36C) at the site of what became Palus Village (45FR36A). In the late prehistoric period, there is little material that fits a logistical collector model.

Unfortunately, there is not enough salmon bone in the assemblage to determine whether the site was used as a salmon processing location. Plant food remains are also rare in the assemblage, but this is more a result of the original research emphasis on environmental change, rather than an indication that few plant foods were processed at the site.