Danskin Rockshelter: Sorting through the Past
Boise National Forest, Idaho, 2000
by Marc C. Münch, FS Archaeologist
Located on the Mountain Home Ranger District, Danskin Rockshelter (10EL01) was used by prehistoric peoples as a seasonal stop between the mountains of north-central Idaho and the Snake River plain to the south. This NRHP-eligible site is unique for its rock art motifs, including a shield-bearing warrior, uncommon this far west into Idaho, and a spectacular representation of a heron or crane with a human figure dangling from its beak. Archaeologists from the Boise NF and Boise State University excavated portions of the rockshelter in 1989 to answer questions regarding hunter-gatherer adaptations in southern Idaho.
Unfortunately, a final report on those findings was never completed. In fact, most of the archaeological materials were never examined. The collection was boxed and stored for later analysis. The Danskin Rockshelter PIT project marks the first step toward completing the analysis and preparing a final report.
Of the 27 PIT projects that the Boise NF has hosted, this was both our first winter-spring project and the first laboratory PIT project. We were very excited not only about the chance to work on this amazing archaeological collection but also about conducting a PIT project in mid-February!
During a two-week period, 16 volunteers helped Boise NF archaeologists sort through boxes of excavated material. Among the first week’s volunteers were Heather Rosenwinkel (Oregon); Steven Kramme (California); and Joanne Galbraith, Suzanne Buchan, and Pete and Verla Peter (Idaho). Volunteers during the second week included Patricia McCoy (Oregon); Donna Floyd, Norma Justice, Pete Peterson, Perry Silver, Peggy Wright, and Frank and Barbara Cochrane (Idaho). Ralph and Arleen Schaeffer (Idaho) worked during portions of both weeks.
Volunteers quickly discovered that the work would be very dirty. Paper bags, many of which were torn, were emptied onto metal analysis trays amidst small dust clouds. The task was then to pick through the contents, watching for any cultural material. Among the artifacts recovered during the laboratory project were numerous projectile points, a few scraping tools, ceramic fragments, and pieces of shell and bone (a few of which were culturally modified).
The project was successful in many ways. The volunteers were able to experience a side of archaeology that is often invisible to the public—the tedium of cleaning, sorting, and analyzing artifacts. Volunteers helped the FS take a large step toward completing the enormous task of organizing and analyzing this important collection, which will help answer those questions initially proposed about hunter-gatherer adaptations in southern Idaho. The success of the 2000 Danskin Rockshelter project has prompted the Boise NF to host another two weeks of laboratory work. During the 2001 project (see photos), volunteers and FS archaeologists will sort, clean, and catalog artifacts from the remaining 115 boxes of cultural materials recovered during the 1989 test excavations, create a computer database for the artifacts, and begin work on labeling and illustrating the artifacts.
The volunteers who participated in the first Danskin Rockshelter laboratory project contributed their time, energy, expertise, and patience to help preserve and interpret the past on FS lands. More specifically, they have helped the Boise NF begin the first stage of a project that had languished for many years. To all the volunteers who participated in this first winter-spring PIT project on the Boise NF and to all PIT volunteers in general: Thank you! It is you who make this program so successful!