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Cultural History Phases

ROCKY CANYON PHASE
During this phase, permanent winter villages along major river courses became common. The location of permanent villages in canyon bottoms provided protection in the winter due to the milder climate created by the significant change in elevation from the plateau to the canyon bottom.
 
The people during this phase constructed a semi-subterranean structure often referred to as a "pit house".
 
The floor of the house was excavated into the ground to help insulate against the cold. The pit could range from one to three feet in depth. Poles were then leaned upright and slightly inward from around the outside edge of the pit and lashed together at the top. Finely sewn mats were then attached to the poles. The mats were made of tule or cattail. Often, poles were laid across the outside of the mats to prevent them from blowing in the wind. Sometimes a thick layer of grass (often ryegrass) was put on the mats around the base of the structure, with dirt placed on the grass. This helped to prevent decay of the mats, and the dirt covering added insulation to the structure. A fire was placed in the middle of the floor for heating the house.
 
There were cool, moist winters and warm, moist summers during this period. The appearance of the village indicates that populations had become more permanent. A shift may have occurred in the areas where food sources were procured, with increased use of the upland areas away from the river.
The same general tool kit was used, including grinding tools, net weights, bone tools (possibly used to repair nets), scrapers and projectile points. Projectile points, however, became smaller and more finely crafted and are probably associated with the bow and arrow.

Projectile Points and fragments of the Rocky Canyon Phase. Scale and divisions are in Centimeters. (Source: Cultural Chronology of the Lower Salmon River (pdf), DAVIS, Loren G., Department of Anthropology, Oregon State University)

Read about the
evolution of projectile points.

Projectile Points and fragments of the Rocky Canyon Phase. Scale and divisions are in Centimeters.
 
Salmon and steelhead trout became a major food source and were heavily relied upon during this phase. Salmon and steelhead trout annually migrate up the major rivers from the ocean. Salmon move upriver in the spring and summer and spawn in smaller tributary streams in late summer (August and September) of the same year. Steelhead trout move up the large rivers in the summer, but do not move into the tributary streams to spawn until the next spring (May and June). These fish were caught in the larger rivers as well as the smaller tributary streams using traps, nets, spears and hooks. The fish were an extremely rich food source and were dried and used as a winter food as well as for trade. Many other resident fish such as sucker, sturgeon, whitefish and trout were also utilized.
 
sturgeon
 
Root crops also grew in importance as a food source, especially cous and camas. Cous is found in the canyon-lands in dry rocky soil. Cous was generally gathered in April and May. Camas is found in the moist upland meadows and prairie and was harvested in June or July as well as in the fall. Both cous and camas produce a bulbous root that can be eaten raw or cooked. The roots could be baked and stored in baskets for winter use and were therefore very valuable. A large number of other plant foods were gathered from the canyon, prairie and mountains. Large game animals were still hunted. Deer and elk remains have been found in sites from this phase.
 
Generally, the subsequent seasonal cycle was followed. A shift from the canyon environment to a plateau setting occurred around May when the root supplies were ready for harvest and steelhead trout were caught in the tributary streams. In August, the large social groups split into smaller groups that dispersed into the surrounding mountains. These smaller groups primarily focused on hunting and gathering berries. Salmon were also caught from the tributary streams. The people began moving back down to their winter villages along the river in mid-October.

pit house
pit house


Camas and Cous
Camas and Cous

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

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