Cottonwood Field Office

Lower Salmon River Cultural History

Archaeological Field School on Lower Salmon River Site in Idaho 
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Want to learn first-hand how an archaeological dig is conducted? Each summer, Oregon State University and the BLM conduct an archaeological field school at Cooper’s Ferry just south of Cottonwood, Idaho. Cooper’s Ferry contains some of the earliest evidence of humans in the Pacific Northwest. Students from across the country have participated in this eight-week long course since 1997 and have cataloged over 30,000 items to-date.

OSU Professor Dr. Loren Davis leads the field school program. His past research has shown there was human occupation of the canyon dating back to nearly 11,500 years ago. The field school is carefully uncovering layers of that history, “piecing” together generations of past uses. "We know that many people are interested in the history of the river canyon, just as we are,“ said David Sisson, BLM archaeologist who assists with the field school. “This is a unique opportunity for the public to see the excavation process and learn how the various layers of sediment provide clues to the lifestyles of previous canyon inhabitants.”

Visitors are welcome to visit the dig, free of charge charge during the field school.

If you’re unable to visit the excavation site, you can earn more about the river canyon on BLM’s website; take a “virtual visit” on the Cooper’s Ferry YouTube channel; and check out photos of the fossils, tools and more on the OSU Pinterest. For more information about the archaeological field school, contact the BLM’s Cottonwood Field Office at 208-962-3782. 

  excavate an area and gather data about how people lived in the canyon thousands of years ago. 

The Cooper's Ferry site is located in the beautiful lower Salmon River canyon of western Idaho and contains some of the earliest evidence of humans in the Pacific Northwest. The 1997 OSU excavations at the Cooper's Ferry site revealed a long record of repeated human occupation, beginning with a Western Stemmed Tradition assemblage associated with radiocarbon dates of 11,370 and 11,410 14C years BP. These dates are controversial and, if true, support arguments that peoples bearing the Clovis tradition were not the first to settle the Far West. 

OSU's work at the site is building upon the exciting information collected already and is seeking to address many archaeological questions related to the evolution of technology, economic patterns, and environmental conditions during the late Pleistocene to early Holocene period (ca. 13,000-13,000 cal BP). Ultimately, these new excavations at Cooper's Ferry will hopefully contribute critical data to answer many questions about the first peoples of the Pacific Northwest and, by extension, the Americas.

Rocky Canyon Phase Grave Creek Phase Craig Mountain Phase Coopers Ferry II Phase Coopers Ferry I Phase Camas Prarie Phase Historic Phase
More Links / OSU Field School

Summary of Early Idaho Archaeologic Sites

Cultural Chronology of the Lower Salmon River (pdf), DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

Measuring Late Quaternary Geoecological Relationships In The Lower Salmon River Canyon, Idaho, DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

Geoarchaeological Perspectives and Archaeological Interpretations of Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Cultural Behavior in the Lower Salmon River Canyon, Idaho, DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

Central place foraging and the winter village: a settlement pattern analysis in the Lower Salmon River Canyon in Idaho, CARLISLE, Kendra, (pdf thesis) Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University

More research by Loren G. Davis

Our Cultural Heritage (967kb. pdf) A Fragile Record of the Last 12,000 Years along the Lower Salmon River

Mussel shells record paleoclimates   Rafters gather to listen to the archaeologic hsitory of the Lower Salmon River

Evidence of the past can be easily damaged by current activities. Along the Lower Salmon River the degree of damage from various sources of deterioration is accelerating. Thus, public land users must be more aware of what the cultural resources represent, how irreplaceable these resources are, and what actions each person can take to ensure evidence of past human activity is not destroyed. We hope your activities along the Lower Salmon River are enjoyable and that the people who preceded you left the environment in a condition suitable for your use, as we hope you leave it for those who follow you.

OSU Archaeology Camp educates recreational boaters on the Lower Salmon River
Cooper's Ferry Archaeological Dig Site

 The Nee-Me-Poo Seasonal Round

Nee-Me-Poo Seasonal Round

This image represents the Nez Perce Tribe's seasonal round. It is a small fraction of the natural resources used prior to 1877 by the Nez Perce. Each month is in the Nez Perce and English languages. In 1877, the U.S. Army pursued the non-treaty Nez Perce people from Idaho into Montana over 1,100 miles. The Nez Perce were relegated to reservations after 1877 where resources were not as accessible. Congressional designation memorialized this incident as the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail.