Environment, Prehistory & Archaeology of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The first known report of prehistoric archaeological remains is found in former Park naturalist and guide Floyd Schmoe's book A Year in Paradise (Schmoe 1967). Returning from a climb in the early 1920s, Schmoe found an obsidian projectile point tip in an alpine goat wallow southeast of Lane Peak in the Tatoosh Range. While he credits the presence of this artifact to a fanciful hunt for the last Mount Rainier mountain sheep (Schmoe 1967:132), he was nonetheless aware of the implications of the high elevation setting that his find occupied. Other early reports of lithic remains from Van Trump Park south of Mount Rainier (Schmoe 1926:80 in Smith 1964:207-208) and Spray Park to the northwest (Richards 1930:7 in Smith 1964:208), also are situated in alpine settings, suggesting that hunting for goat or other alpine fauna was widely dispersed across the Park during the prehistoric past. At least one of these early findsa chalcedony biface tipis preserved in Mount Rainier collections in Longmire (catalog number 59, see Appendices A and B). While credited to Schmoe, the find more plausibly is Richards' Spray Park "white quartz" find.
Over the years, various other Park employees also have reported a wide variety of prehistoric and historic remains. Like the biface noted above, an unknown fraction of prehistoric artifacts, some with location data, some without, have made their way into the Park's collection (Appendices A and B). While dominated by dart and arrow-sized projectile points and lithic debris, this casual collection also includes several heavy ground stone tools suggesting that a variety of tasks, some involving short to moderate-term seasonal residence, also were being pursued within Park boundaries.
The first formal archaeological resource study of Mount Rainier National Park was as a combined ethnographic study and archaeological inventory conducted in 1963 by Allan Smith and Richard Daugherty affiliated with Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman. Smith's thorough ethnographic and literature review (Smith 1964) was intended to provide background to an archaeological record he hoped would emerge through field inventory. Based on interviews with local Yakama, Taidnapam, Nisqually and Muckleshoot informants, supplemented by ethnohistoric accounts and Park Service records, Smith postulated early historic territorial boundaries and suggested that Park land-use strategies focused on late summer huckleberry collecting and supplemented by hunting primarily in 4,500 to 6,000 ft Hudsonian (subalpine) life-zone settings (Smith 1964:esp.253-256). While Smith did not anticipate discovery of a large number of archaeological sites, he believed that his data would help build the Park's archaeological record by focusing attention on the subalpine to alpine berrying and hunting settings so clearly emphasized in his informant and literature sources.
Richard Daugherty directed the archaeological study in the late summer of 1963. Unmindful of Smith's subalpine focused results, and apparently unaware of ecological reasons to expect a subalpine land-use focus, Daugherty's reconnaissance emphasized major river drainages with only limited inspections of higher elevation landscapes (see Daugherty 1963:8). Given the valley floor bias, it is not surprising that the project's brief report noted discovery of only two prehistoric localities. These were Fryingpan Rockshelter (FS 63-01 or 45PI43) at the forest/subalpine ecotone on Fryingpan Creek;  and IF 02-63, an isolated ovate dart point exposed in a parking lot cut-bank near subalpine Bench Lake on the south face of Mount Rainier. No mention was made of additional archaeological properties in Mount Rainier National Park.
In 1964, David Rice and Charles Nelson excavated a test unit into the floor of Fryingpan Rockshelter found the previous year (Rice 1965). From a 1.25 x 1.85 m unit at the eastern edge of the shelter, they recovered 13 formed tool fragments, 100 pieces of chipped stone debitage and 100 bone and tooth fragments in two levels. A pumice pipe bowl had been collected the previous year. Rice argued that the relationship between cultural and natural stratigraphy in the cave were consistent with use between 1,000 and 300 years ago. Based on stylistic attributes of two projectile points, he inferred use by populations originating from the Columbia Plateau east of the Cascades. Rice suggested that the bone fragments were deer.
The bone remains, however, may not have been deer at all. Fauna from Fryingpan Rockshelter were reanalyzed in the early 1980s in a general study designed to address the presence of prehistoric elk populations in Mount Rainier National Park (Gustafson 1983). Gustafson (1983:27-28) was not able to identify any of the fragmentary bone, but was able to identify tooth remains as either goat (Oreamnos americanus) or bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). It is reasonable to assume that some or all of the bone was goat (sheep have not been observed at Mount Rainier) rather than deer as previously suspected. These results, while limited, are particularly intriguing given the site's ecotonal forest/subalpine location and proximity to alpine tundra goat habitat in Mount Rainier's Panhandle Gap area.
Figure 3.1 and accompanying Table 3.1 summarize the distribution of prehistoric sites in Mount Rainier National Park as established by reports dating from Park inception in 1899 through 1970. In part, the low count reflects the absence of intensive efforts to locate such remains (other than the 1963 Daugherty survey), and the general tendency for casual observers or collectors not to report their finds. To some extent, it also reflects the self-fulfilling belief that the mountain was simply too large, too daunting, too remote, with too few resources to be used other than cursorily by prehistoric populations. Despite Schmoe's (1967:140-141), Smith's (1964) and others accounts of early historic use of subalpine meadows, the primary archaeological focus remained firmly fixed on the lowlands; particularly on salmon-bearing rivers and streams. The mountains tended to be viewed more as a backdrop or travel barrier, rather than as a productive environment to be integrated into an effective seasonal round by populations residing in their vicinity.
Table 3.1 Reported Prehistoric Sites and Isolates, 1899-1970 (also, see Appendix A)
Between 1964 and 1986, new archaeological information from within the Park came primarily from site and artifact reports by Park employees, and from internal site-specific clearance inventories. In the 1970s and early 1980s, site-specific surveys were conducted in association with the proposed Ashford sewage system, Paradise sewage system, White River entrance station, and utilities installation at Ohanapecosh (see Bohannon 1974, 1975; Teague 1981). These surveys failed to document clearly cultural remains in the areas in question, though Teague alludes to a "...possible flake scraper ...found as an isolated occurrence" and several 20th century hearths at the Paradise treatment plant. These remains were not considered significant and related project clearances were issued. Interestingly, professional reports reflect the then current assumptions, reinforced by Daugherty's negative results, that "aboriginal remains [in the Park] are few and far between," (Bohannon 1974:1) and that prehistoric use tended to focus on riverine resources with only brief forays into the uplands (Bohannon 1975:1). Informally reported finds, however, were beginning to indicate a very different pattern.
By the 1980s, reports accumulating from Park employees and other interested individuals suggested that prehistoric remains, if not abundant, were at least widely distributed across subalpine landscapes. John and Lois Dalle-Molle, for example, were most active in reporting archaeological observations. A 1978 memo (Dalle-Molle and Dalle-Molle 1978) to the Superintendent lists and provides map data on 12 locations, most of which have since been documented formally as sites and isolated finds.  Figure 3.2 shows the developing site distribution pattern as it would have appeared in 1980 had existing records been consolidated; Table 3.2 lists reported sites and isolates from 1971-1980.
Table 3.2 Reported Sites and Isolates, 1971-1980 (also, see Appendix A)
Formal archaeological studies resumed in 1986. In late August of that year, Eric Bergland, Jane Evans, and Park Service regional archaeologist James Thomson completed a brief inventory originally intended to reexamine Fryingpan Rockshelter (Bergland 1986:1). Early in the project it became apparent that prehistoric sites were more numerous than assumed. Through discussion with Park employees and examination of collections, Bergland (1986:3) consolidated information on 14 potential prehistoric site locations. In recognition of the Park's varied archaeological record, the group chose to document two of the most promising of the reported localities, rather than focussing exclusively on Fryingpan Rockshelter. These sites were the Frozen Lake lithic scatter (FS 86-01 or 45PI407), situated in an alpine tundra setting west of the Sunrise visitor's center; and Berkeley Rockshelter (FS 86-02 or 45PI303), a double talus boulder shelter with both prehistoric and historic period remains in upper Lodi Creek canyon (see Burtchard and Hamilton 1998). Berkeley Rockshelter was tested further the following year.
Eric Bergland completed a limited test excavation and surface collection at Berkeley Rockshelter in August 1987 (Bergland 1988). He collected surface remains and excavated a 1 x 1 m unit in the larger lower shelter and a 0.5 x 0.5 m unit in the upper shelter. Surface historic and subsurface prehistoric remains were found in each shelter. Prehistoric debris included predominantly late-stage lithic debitage, arrow points and a low density assortment of bifaces, used flakes, cores and miscellaneous lithic remains. The subsurface samples also contained highly fragmented bone and charcoal; all overlying what appears to be Mount Rainier C tephra (circa 2,300 B.P.). Three stratified radiocarbon dates from the lower shelter were consistent with late Holocene use.  Unfortunately, the predominantly burned bone was too fragmented for identification beyond "large mammal." Recognizing the tentative nature of inferences based on such a small sample, Bergland nonetheless suggested that Berkeley Rockshelter functioned as a seasonal hunting camp, with at least three occupational events dating between approximately 1,000 to 300 years ago. As did Rice 23 years before, Bergland (1988:22) used stylistic attributes to infer cultural affiliations with the Cascades foothills and the Columbia River to the south and east. Historic period remains are attributed to early 1900s Park Service, sheepherding, prospecting and/or hunting camps.
In 1988, Park employees Chris Jensen and Steve Freitas reported a lithic scatter west of Tipsoo Lakes near Chinook pass on the eastern Park boundary. It was recorded formally by Rick McClure as FS 88-01 (45PI406) later that year. The following year, surveys for two proposed construction projects were conducted in the northeastern park quadrantone for parking lot paving at Tipsoo Lakes, the second for expansion of Highway 410 adjacent to the White River north of the Sunrise turnoff. The Tipsoo Lakes results (Forrest 1989) confirmed McClure's observations and added reference to a small distinct lithic concentration south of the largest lake. This second Tipsoo location remained undocumented until found again by Gregg Sullivan and recorded as FS 95-01 (45PI426) during the current reconnaissance.
The first phase of what was to become the present project was begun in 1990. Rick McClure, then an archaeologist with the Randle District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, was contracted through interagency agreement to provide a general archaeological overview and research design for Mount Rainier National Park. Award of the project recognized the Park's need to develop a systematic framework to interpret and manage its growing archaeological record. McClure interviewed Park employees, and with the assistance of Janet Liddle and Cari Kreshak, conducted site inspection surveys that resulted in formal documentation of four new prehistoric sitesa dense lithic scatter on the flanks of Sunrise Ridge (FS 90-01, 45PI408); two subalpine to alpine limited use lithic scatters near Sarvant Glaciers (FS 90-02, 45PI409) and at Windy Gap (FS 90-03, 45PI410); and a chert quarry on Tum Tum Peak (FS 90-04, 45PI411). McClure (1990) also completed an introductory overview to the archaeology of Mount Rainier and adjacent areas. Table and Figure 3.3 provide a summary description and show the distribution of both reported and formally documented prehistoric sites and isolates through 1990.
Table 3.3 Reported Sites and Isolates, 1981-1990 (see also Appendix A)
Despite its productive beginning, the 1990 project was not completed as envisioned. Site forms for the four newly documented sites were prepared and registered with the Washington Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (OAHP), and an archaeological background draft was written (McClure 1990). The final overview and research design document, however, was not finished.
The present project grew directly from the desire to build on the foundation begun in 1990; and to complete the overview/research design in a manner that would assist continuing management obligations and improve our understanding Mount Rainier's place in larger regional and temporal contexts. Archaeological procedures and results of the present Mount Rainier effort are discussed in detail in Chapter 4. In the following section, we consider the character of the southern Washington Cascades archaeological record in the in the vicinity of the Park.
Last Updated: Monday, 18-Oct-2004 20:10:54
Author: Natural & Cultural Resources Division
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