Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Washington State University
Museum of Anthropology Wexpusnime (45GA61)

Lyle Nakonechny’s Analysis of Area A


Lyle Nakonechny (1998) employed a spatial archaeology approach, using visual pattern-recognition of Area A occupation features to 1) aid in recognition of activity areas, and 2) provide understanding of intra-site variability along the Lower Snake River (Nakonechny 1998:7). Spatial patterning reflects behavioral patterning and can be used to reconstruct those behaviors. The spatial patterns within sites can reveal relationships between areas of the site and address different kinds of behavioral questions such as site seasonality, site function, population size, group composition, household interaction patterns, kinship organization and division of labor.

Nakonechny based his strategy on David Brauner’s (1976) analysis of the culture history of the Alpowa Locality on the Lower Snake River in Asotin County, Washington. The complex of sites in this locality were inundated with the construction of the Lower Granite Dam. Brauner found that non-random distribution of cultural debris plus an understanding of tool function could lead to statements about human behavior. He plotted the distribution of artifacts and used ethnographic data to understand how these artifacts were used by the people.

Nakonechny’s analysis used two strategies. First, the distribution of all formal tools was plotted. Second, using theories of site formation process (Binford 1964; Binford 1979; Binford 1981; Binford 1983; Clarke 1977; Flannery and Winter 1976), house remains and features were compared with the remains of the camp. Fauna, lithic debris, and historic materials are not included in this analysis.

Nakonechny also developed hypotheses based on ethnoarchaeological studies, which enabled him to construct behavioral inferences from material remains. These studies include Janes (1983), Koch (1968), and Lange and Rydberg (1972).


The People

Wexpusnime is within or very near the border of historic Palus territory. Other tribes living in the area during the historic period were the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla. A trade center at the Dalles, one of four proposed by Galm (1994) would have been most accessible to Palus people.

Lewis and Clark passed the site on October 11, 1805 on their way west. They probably saw long mat lodges and circular mat lodges constructed of wood, grass, tule, and soil – not animal skins, bone, or fabric.

Descriptive accounts of native people of the Inland Northwest can be found in Lewis and Clark (Thwaites 1959), as well as Ray (1933, Ray 1939), Spinden (1908), and Teit (1900, Teit 1930).


Geologic History and Natural Environment

Reverse current created flood bars in the Snake River canyon when Glacial Lake Missoula and other glacial lakes emptied. When reverse flow ceased, point bars were created. The high terrace along the Snake River consists of point bars formed about 8-10 thousand years ago during moist, warm Anathermal. The low terrace formed 2.5-4 thousand years ago during the dry Altithermal and Medithermal.

Parent materials in the vicinity of the site consist of recently deposited “Aeolian silt loam and slightly sandy loam sediments” (Nakonechny 1998:49) with little or no soil development noted in Area A. In Area B, some soil development was noted. A silt loam alluvium was capped with Mazama ash. About 80 centimeters of mixed loam and ash covered the ash layer.

Fauna and flora around Wexpusnime would be similar to Squirt Cave. A wide variety of faunal resources, including seasonal salmon runs, year round fish species, turtles, ducks, and other migratory birds. Any wood found at the site would have been valued. Wood was scarce on the Lower Snake River, as villages upstream had the first opportunity to collect drift wood. Wood processing tools and wood debris from processing are found at Wespusnime, but there is no evidence of specialization in either plant or animal processing.

Cultural Site Stratigraphy

The uppermost layer at the site is the Plow Zone, which contains protohistoric and historic cultural deposits. The Plow Zone was an orchard within the last 50 or 60 years, and deposits found are homogenized. The first 5-15cm of soil show disturbance in the soil structure. Historic disking created patterned scar grooves 2-3 cm deep at the boundary between the disturbed plow zone and the underlying intact site sediments. Historic artifacts and debris were present within the buried patterned groove disturbances. Deeper sediments do not appear to have been disturbed by further plowing.

A Late Prehistoric open camp (“Late Camp”) was found 14-30cm below the ground surface. Historic materials at this depth are only found in rodent disturbances and plow scars.

An earlier camp (“Early Camp”) is located 20-45 cm below the ground surface. Materials found were deposited by inhabitants of the latest house and post-abandonment camps.


Site Chronology


  • House 4. the earliest house, dates to 1050±100 BP (WSU #4996). This predates Leonhardy’s estimate by 500-800 years (Nakonechny 1998:52)
  • House 1 and House 5 were constructed after House 4.
  • House 6 was constructed after the House 1 depression had filled and is intrusive into it (Nakonechny 1998:52)
  • House 2 dates to 1190±60 BP (WSU #4997) but is considered later than House 4 based
    on stratigraphy
  • House 7 intrudes into House 2; House 7 has a very different structure from House 2 and is more similar to houses from other sites ca. 1500 A.D.
  • Early Camp is right above House 7
  • Late Camp is dated post-A.D. 1720, based on the presence of horse bone. No historic materials were found in the Late Camp, therefore it probably dates pre-A.D. 1790.