Mack Canyon

Archaeological site

About 2000 years ago, people along the Deschutes river near Mack Canyon were hunting big horn sheep, deer, and mountain goats. They lived in circular houses about 20 feet in diameter, built over shallow pits. From the animal bone remains and house pits, archaeologists conclude that this was a winter village from which people traveled to other places to obtain many of their foods. Chert, which occurs near the village, was a material often used to make stone tools.

About 20 miles above the Deschutes' confluence with the Columbia is the Mack Canyon Site, where 29 housepit depressions have been mapped along an alluvial terrace overlooking the stream (Cole 1967, 1969). Excavations in three of these depressions suggest the nature and age of occupation there. House pits 1 and 3, most extensively dug, represented shallow circular pithouses essentially identical to those known along the Columbia. The housepit floors measured roughly 20 feet and 15 feet in diameter respectively, and were made with a more deeply excavated central area, encircled by a less deeply excavated bench. In the depressed central area were found the remains of fires, and such domestic tools as hopper mortars, pestles, milling stones, pounding stones, flaked stone cutting and scraping tools, and projectile points. Some artifacts were also found scattered on the upper benches. No doubt these concentrations reflect use of the central portion of the floor as the main domestic activity area, while the raised bench around it probably served for sleeping and storage.

Over 1000 pieces of bone were excavated at Mack Canyon. Most were so broken up that the species represented could not be determined, but the identifiable specimens were of deer, elk, bighorn sheep, jackrabbit, cottontail, beaver, coyote, and bobcat. Rare fish bones and fragments of freshwater mussel shell also indicated the taking of aquatic fauna.

The artifact inventory from Mack Canyon was quite large and varied. Projectile points belonged to the Snake River Corner-notched, Columbia Valley Corner-notched, and Wallula Rectangular Stemmed types defined for the late Harder Phase of the southern Plateau region. Correspondingly, they closely resemble those of the Wildcat Phase from the mouth of the John Day. Other flaked stone specimens were scrapers, knives, drills, and gravers. Food-grinding implements included hopper mortars, pestles, and milling slabs. Bone awls, bone beads, and a fragment of a composite harpoon were also recovered. A 14C determination of 1900 BP on charcoal from the floor of House Pit 1, and a date of 700 BP from the floor of House Pit 3, are congruent with the Harder Phase age indicated by the projectile point types.