Test Excavations at Salt Creek
Six Rivers National Forest, California, 1996
by Ken Wilson, Heritage Resources Program Manager
Over the last three summers, the Six Rivers National Forest has successfully partnered with three different, federally recognized tribal groups to offer PIT projects aimed primarily at American Indian youth. This year the project again focused on tribal youth, but also invited PIT volunteers from across the United States. Through a Participating Agreement, the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the Forest Service conducted a PIT project over three days during June 1996. The project was carried out by a diverse crew of 38 individuals, including 10 youths and 6 adults representing the Round Valley Tribes and local Wailaki, 14 PIT volunteers, and 8 Forest Service employees.
The project area, located in the Mad River Ranger District, Trinity County, northwestern California, is within ethnographic Wailaki territory. The project involved test excavations at two archaeological sites along Salt Creek and the North Fork of the Eel River, mapping the Salt Creek site with the latest laser equipment, and two campfire programs.
The project was an overwhelming success. Test excavations focused on the Salt Creek site, and yielded abundant cultural materials including chert flakes, obsidian flakes, fragments of ground stone artifacts, projectile points, drills, and a soapstone pendant or money piece. The most unique artifact was a tiny, unifacially flaked obsidian projectile point that may have been decorative or used as a projectile.
We also visited the Raglan Homestead, where an interesting ethnographic pit feature, believed to be associated with the Big-Head Dance, was located. Discussions with tribal members proved invaluable in understanding this and other dances, such as the Ghost Dance. Perhaps the most rewarding experience of this PIT project was the interaction and dialogue with tribal members concerning traditional and contemporary values of American Indians, in particular the relationship between Indians and archaeologists. Tribal members helped establish policies for the treatment of archaeological sites and cultural materials.
The project also generated creative ideas for protecting the main component of the Salt Creek site, which is threatened by damage from vehicles. We agreed to monitor the site over the next year to ensure that our presence did not draw the attention of artifact thieves, to erect barriers to prevent vehicles from entering the site area, and to use natural or artificial cover to keep the site hidden and protected.
The last task was to rebury the excavated cultural materials in their original units. Tribal participants blessed and purified the units, cultural materials, and excavators with the smoke from smoldering sacred root. The involvement of American Indian youth in these activities is crucial because they will be the ones to carry on the culture of their tribes and remain sentinels for the cultural heritage contained in the archaeological sites in our National Forests.