Technical Report

Environment, Prehistory & Archaeology of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Greg C. Burtchard

Chapter 5:


Preceding discussions have included a variety of arguments related to prehistoric use of Mount Rainier with associated implications for the Park's archeological record. Particular attention has been given to resource structure and causal links with prehistoric human use of Park landscapes. These arguments suggest that throughout the prehistoric past, hunter-gatherers routinely favored use of subalpine and alpine landscapes. Related discussions have considered the suite of montane resources believed to have been of critical importance to populations using Mount Rainier; discussed why such resources tended to be most abundant in settings of low ecological maturity; discussed resource implications of mid-Holocene climatic changes to these habitats, and addressed how effective exploitation of the critical resource base determined the character of the archaeological record of Mount Rainier National Park.

I have argued that Mount Rainier was most effectively used by small task-specific groups operating out of short to moderate term residential base camps set near the forest/subalpine ecotone. Earliest use, perhaps dating to appearance of post-glacial floral associations about 8,500 years ago, should have been linked to mobile foraging populations moving to higher ground from lowland settings in late summer to avail themselves of seasonally abundant animal and plant resources in montane habitats. Possible expansion of forest cover in subalpine habitats during the protracted mid-Holocene warming period circa 7,500 to 4,500 years ago is not expected to have significantly altered upland use patterns due to the relative ease with which forest encroachment could be controlled by fire. As regional population density increased, however, it is reasonable to expect uncoordinated inter-group use of the mountains to have become increasingly unreliable. Increasing population density (with or without environmental change), at some point, would have forced a change in regional subsistence systems by virtue of increasing predation pressure on finite, unmanaged animal and plant resources. It is most plausible that use of Mount Rainier shifted away from use by mobile foraging populations to use by more limited-task collection groups emanating from, and returning to, more nearly sedentary lowland villages. Use of higher elevation areas appears to have continued throughout the Holocene (perhaps with a mid-Holocene hiatus), though per capita use may have declined in the face of increased stress on limited resources and conflicting summer season work obligations in the lowlands.

This chapter develops these general arguments into two formal models. The first emphasizes variation in prehistoric site distribution and function across space (irrespective of age). The second addresses changes in subsistence and settlement systems through time. The following section develops the first model by building on reconnaissance results and environmental assumptions relevant to Mount Rainier. The concluding section builds on extant ecologically oriented explanations of longterm land-use patterns in the Cascade and greater Pacific Northwest to model changes in Holocene land-use systems, with implications for Mount Rainier and the southern Washington Cascades.

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Last Updated: Monday, 18-Oct-2004 20:10:54
Author: Natural & Cultural Resources Division

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