Field Camp 1957
by Tim Steury | © Washington State University
Richard Daugherty—"Doc"—can't remember where exactly the site was in relation to the present reservoir created by Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River. He'd been holding out a little hope that maybe there would be some sign of the work he had supervised during that summer 50 years ago.
"It's sure good to see it again," he says, but admits that he doesn't recognize much. The native village that he and his students had excavated now lies under 30 or 40 feet of water. Many of those former Washington State College students now stand around with him in the early summer heat and reminisce, picking out geologic features, remembering the sweat and sunburn and—judging by the many stories floating around—the great fun they had while they were making their contribution to archaeological knowledge.
"Where's the railroad?" asks one former worker.
Underwater, says Bill Harder, whose land we are on and who is the source of the Harder Site's name. Harder had met the group in Kahlotus, the nearest town, and led the way down to the river.
This visit to the site is the conclusion to a reunion of the former students and archaeologist who labored under the eastern Washington sun all those years ago. One field camp member has since died, and another couldn't be tracked down, says Marilyn Dillsi, who seems to have been the chief instigator of this reunion. But most of the rest had heeded her suggestion they regroup and recall their summer together.
Daugherty and his student crew excavated two large house pits, each nearly 40 feet in diameter. Like others in the area, the 1957 dig was an attempt to assess the history of native people of the area before the series of dams on the lower Snake buried the ancient villages under water. In spite of efforts by Daugherty and geoarchaeologist Roald Fryxell, only a portion could be surveyed, and much evidence is now submerged. Just within the reservoir created by Lower Monumental Dam, there were maybe 30 other occupation sites, says Daugherty.
Once Congress approved the building of four dams on the lower Snake, archaeologists surveyed the area for sites that would be destroyed by the reservoirs. Eleven habitation sites were recommended for excavation. Yet undiscovered was the Marmes rock shelter upstream, which would be frantically excavated by Daugherty and Fryxell in a race against the flooding by the completed Lower Monumental Dame in 1968. The Marmes shelter revealed that humans had occupied the area for at least 11,000 years, far longer than what had previously been thought. Tragically, an attempt to protect the site against the rising reservoir with a dike failed, and whatever additional knowledge we might have gained about the region's earliest inhabitants now lies beneath 40 feet of water.
"Down at the mouth of the Palouse was a big village," Daugherty says, "but this was more recent and smaller."
The results of the 1957 dig became the subject of a thesis by Monte Kenaston ('66 M.A.) several years later. Carbon dating of the lowest occupied layer dates the first occupation between A.D. 187 and A.D. 687. A great number of artifacts had been retrieved from the site, including stone projectile points, knives, and scrapers, and bone awls. Kenaston concluded that residents of the site probably depended heavily on elk and bison, which later disappeared from the area, but also ate fish and fresh-water mussels.
The field camp was notable not only for its heat and dust, but also for being the first sponsored by WSC to include women. It included seven males and eight females. Dillsi credits Daugherty for the breakthrough and praises him for encouraging female graduate students.
A mixed-gender camp undoubtedly added to the sociability of the summer. Monita Engvall Horn wrote home regularly and shared her epistolary account with the others. Although the work itself got some mention, most of her letters deal with the heat and the pranks and interaction of the group: "After the digging began in earnest we had fun," she writes. "Whenever the wind blew, and there was almost always a breeze, the dust came with it. After leaving the pits we were coated with dust and looked more like coal miners . . . than archaeologists. The river was the first place everybody headed. It was swift and later became shallow and warm, but at the time it was cold. Most of us would rather freeze than remain mudpies. There were very few flowers in the area. When we arrived the hills were overgrazed and parched and when we left they were more parched. There was very little time to collect flowers and with the heat and rattlesnakes, less ambition."
But now, 50 years later, in spite of the memories, it's hot here on the flank of the canyon. Hot and dusty. The decision is unanimous to head back to Kahlotus for shade and lunch.
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