Swiftwater Sequel - Passport in Time

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Swiftwater Rock Shelters, the Sequel

Wenatchee National Forest, Washington, 1996
by Susan H. Marvin, Forest Archaeologist, and Becky Stevens, Archaeologist, AHS

During the last three weeks of August 1996, the Wenatchee National Forest, in partnership with Archaeological and Historical Services (AHS) of Eastern Washington University, continued the excavation of a rockshelter begun the previous year as a PIT project. The site is located in the deeply incised Tumwater Canyon, along the banks of the Wenatchee River.

Becky Stevens directed the excavation and was assisted by two archaeologists from AHS and PIT volunteers. Several highly experienced previous PIT volunteers returned to work on the project. Three participated for the entire three-week session, and two stayed for two weeks. The nine other volunteers each worked for one session.

The upper levels yielded much the same variety of artifacts as last year: a mix of prehistoric and historical-period items, typical of rockshelter sites that have experienced looting. From deeper levels, excavators recovered thousands of lithic flakes, several projectile points, ground-stone tools, beads, fish bone, freshwater mussel, and bone points. There appear to be two distinct occupation levels below the disturbed upper levels. The projectile points found suggest a mid- to late-prehistoric occupation. Charcoal samples collected in 1995 have yielded dates of 2460 ± 60 B.P. and 2920 ± 60 B.P. This makes the Swiftwater Rock Shelters site about 2,000 years older than other sites excavated farther upstream along the Wenatchee River.

The excavation concluded in 1996 when all units reached about a level of 170 cm below ground surface and ran into a dense layer of roof fall. The size of the boulders made it impossible to continue excavating in the limited area opened up. However, the one dominant feature that was common to all units was the thick, dense layer of mussel shells that spread across the floor of the entire excavation. Preservation of fish bones was also excellent, and future analyses will hopefully reveal species data.

As a step in educating the public about the area’s prehistoric record, two site tours were arranged. More than 65 people visited the rockshelter on the first tour, making people stand 3–4 deep in order to get a peek inside the shelter to view the excavation. The second tour had only 35 individuals. 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. Several FS employees also toured the site, increasing the awareness of heritage resource management on a district and forest level. The public tours resulted in two front-page articles in the local newspapers, one with the great heading of “Where They Once Ate, Archaeologists Probe”! The tours also generated a listing of about 60 people interested in receiving the PIT Traveler, perhaps to become future volunteers. Presentations also were given to the local high school and community-service clubs.
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