Swamp Wells - Passport in Time

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Swamp Wells Site Recording

Deschutes National Forest, Oregon, 2001
by Leslie M. Hickerson, FS Archaeologist

It was a cool and blustery day when a group of 10 volunteers and two FS archaeologists gathered at the Swamp Wells site on June 4, 2001. The weather stayed unsettled into the next afternoon, when rain came down in a steady drizzle for a good soaking. The moisture was welcome in this dry locale, despite the longevity of the springs and seeps that give the place its name. The weather improved throughout the week, although it wasn’t exactly T-shirt weather.

Although the group wanted to get to work right away, a not-so-brief orientation was conducted first, including introductions, a safety talk, and a brief history of the site. Sometime before lunch, we started the actual work by outlining an area to intensively survey. There is a campground on the site, and our approach was to concentrate on the most-disturbed surfaces first. I warned the eager pin-flaggers that there might not be many actual formed tools to be found. When the pin flags threatened to run out, we realized that maybe 3,000 just wasn’t enough and that our idea of impacts needed to be revisited. Of the nearly 2,000 flags that went out in our first survey area of about 4 acres (Area A), eight items were identified as more than just flakes; one was even a small barbed projectile point.

Area B, the second area of intensive survey, yielded more than 1,500 flakes and another 10 tools and flakes of basalt and cryptocrystalline silicate. Considering that this nearly 6-acre plot of ground has long been the focus of salvage logging and thinning, recreation improvements, and repeated recreational use, it was quite surprising to know that evidence of the earliest human occupants still remains. Scraperlike implements, projectile points, and other flaked tools indicate that the site’s inhabitants had a sophisticated knowledge of natural materials, plants, and animals.

These two collection areas make up less than 5 percent of the 217 acres of the estimated site area. In future years, the Deschutes NF’s archaeologists will continue to intensively survey and collect and accurately map the locations of surface artifacts. It is well known that there are portions of the site with even greater artifact densities that will test the limits of our pin flag supply. It is very striking to look over an area after it has been flagged and see a “forest” of pink, red, yellow, and blue flags waving in the wind. This method of visual site identification is helpful, too, for identifying concentrations of tools and flakes.

We were able to make a very fine-scaled map of our collection areas; identify, sketch, and collect some of the formal tools; and complete an updated field site form. In each of the collection areas, we arbitrarily selected two 1-by-10-m surface units for analysis. By sampling portions of the site, we’ll have comparative data from various parts of the site to study.

There were at least two GPS units on-site, so we took a number of readings for a map. FS Archaeologist Don Zettel later gave me finished maps with the site datum, reference points, and collection units all accurately plotted on the appropriate USGS quadrangle map. By Thursday, we determined that there was enough time to excavate a test unit in one of the collection areas. On Friday, we dug a 1-m square down to 70 cm, recovering primarily small interior obsidian flakes. This information will be compiled with the surface data and used to update the site record.

In August 2001, we confirmed evidence that the site served as a prehistoric staging area for visits into Newberry Caldera. Thirty-five of 39 obsidian samples were from Newberry Volcano. The four remaining sources were Wolf Creek, Chickahominy, Glass Buttes 7, and Horse Mountain, ranging widely from Lake County to Grant, Wheeler, and Harney County locales. Interestingly, artifacts found from the Chickahominy source are rarely identified. These four samples lend weight to the notion that the folks using the Newberry obsidian likely came here with material from other sources, and once a tool kit was replenished, the old, worn artifacts were discarded.

The week of volunteer work, combined with other monitoring and analysis of materials from the site, have greatly enhanced our knowledge of this crucially located site. We hope to conduct additional analyses in the future, including botanical and pollen samples from the springs themselves. The environmental evidence such samples can yield is highly valuable in reconstructing the flora and fauna and the habits of the people who depended on them. Without the help of willing and able volunteers such as Chris and Martin Allard, Tiffany Hernandez, Barbara and Nate Hobson, Richard Rice, Joann and Dick Shotwell, Bill Wells, David Wishart, and Gus Wunderly, we would never have accomplished all of our goals for the project with such verve, humor, fun, and genuine interest. Don and I sincerely thank you all for your excellent help and encouragement.
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