Swiftwater Rock Shelters
Wenatchee National Forest, Washington, 1995
by Susan Marvin, Forest Archaeologist, and Becky Stevens, Archaeologist (AHS)
During the last three weeks of September 1995, the Wenatchee National Forest, in partnership with Archaeological and Historical Services (AHS) of Eastern Washington University, conducted an excavation of a rockshelter at the Swiftwater Picnic Area in Tumwater Canyon.
The excavation was conducted in response to the dual concerns of increasing vandalism by pothunters and damage caused by the Hatchery Fire complex of 1994. Previous test excavations of the six rockshelters at the site yielded cultural materials including lithic debitage, ground stone tools, projectile points, bone points, salmon bone, and a graphite pendant.
The excavation was under the field direction of Becky Stevens, who was assisted by two archaeologists from AHS. Three Forest Service archaeologists also were present each day to provide assistance. Most of the 14 volunteers worked one week (about 40 hours), although two dedicated individuals volunteered for two weeks.
The original Swiftwater data-recovery plan called for excavating three rockshelters. However, excavations at the largest rockshelter revealed complex stratigraphy and a high density of artifacts. As a result, the decision was made to focus on this most vulnerable, and most vandalized, rockshelter for the entire three weeks.
From the top levels, excavators revealed a mix of prehistoric and historical-period artifacts, typical of rockshelter sites that have been looted. From deeper levels, excavators recovered thousands of flakes, several projectile points, ground stone tools, beads, fish bones, freshwater mussel shell, and bone points. There appear to be two distinct occupation levels below the disturbed historical-period level. Some of the projectile points recovered suggest a mid- to late-prehistoric occupation. Charcoal samples were taken and should provide a more accurate time frame.
As a step toward educating the public about the prehistory of the area, site tours were arranged each week. Over 65 people visited the rockshelter and observed volunteers at work. In addition to heightening the public’s awareness of the nature of archaeological work, tours stressed the importance of protecting the area’s cultural heritage. The tours also provided an opportunity for community members to relate additional information about the rockshelter that would assist the archaeologists.
As fate would have it, one of the more exciting finds happened during the last week of excavation. Lying underneath a large rock at the base of the deepest unit, about 170 cm below ground surface, was an articulated fish skeleton about 60 cm long.
We plan to continue this project during the 1996 field season!