Environment, Prehistory & Archaeology of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Greg C. Burtchard
PREHISTORIC SITE DISTRIBUTION & HOLOCENE LAND-USE PATTERNS ON
MOUNT RAINIER & THE SOUTHERN WASHINGTON CASCADES
This chapter has presented two models related to the archaeological
record of Mount Rainier National Park. The first model deals with
prehistoric site types and distribution patterns on Mount Rainier
irrespective of age. Available prehistoric site data and assumptions
relevant to optimal use of Park landscapes were employed to develop a
10-part prehistoric site-type taxonomy. Nomenclature and type
distinctions were selected to exhaust the range of presently documented
prehistoric remains, and to the extent possible, maintain consistency
with forager/collector terminology used by Binford (1980) and with
extant regional site-type schemes. As presently structured, the model
recognizes 1) Residential Base Camps, 2) Field Hunting Camps, 3) Low
Intensity Hunting Locations, 4) Butchering Locations, 5) Lithic
Procurement and Reduction Locations, 6) Stacked Rock Locations, 7)
Culturally Modified Trees, 8) Plant Processing Locations, 9) Trails, and
10) Isolated Lost Artifacts. Text associated with each site-type class
discusses predicted site function, expected assemblage characteristics,
location, and current representation in the Park. Presently documented
sites and tabular summary of remains are organized by site class in
Table 5.1. Readers are encouraged to review that table and relevant text
for a more thorough understanding of the model and the Park's
prehistoric archeological record.
The second model is devoted to developing a broad-scale view of
changing subsistence and settlement patterns through time. It is assumed
that from early to late Holocene times, basic land-use practices have
shifted from mobile foragers with minimal need to rely on mass harvested
and stored food resources, to semisedentary collectors critically
dependent on mass harvest, over winter storage and logistic acquisition
of food resources by limited task groups tethered to a village center.
Substantial attention has been given to developing ecological principles
and historical precedents underlying the model's structure and key
The processual model is divided into six temporal periods. Text
accompanying each period summarizes environmental and land-use
characteristics expected to dominate the region and Mount Rainier during
the interval in question. Anticipated implications for the
archaeological record are considered as well. As with the spatial/site
type ideas, readers are encouraged to consult the text for a more
complete understanding of the model and its critical assumptions. Table
5.3 below closes this chapter by summarizing its more salient
Table 5.3 Mount Rainier Environment, Land-Use and the
|Land-Use Period||Environment||Land-Use Expectations
||Archaeological Expectations||Rainier-S. Wash. Cascades Data|
(ca. 11,000-8,000 B.P.)
|Mount Rainier glaciated early retreating rapidly near
period end; modern habitats established near period end. Megafauna
present in Puget Trough during Everson Interglacial, extinct by period
||Very low population density, foragers east of Cascades
focusing on megafauna habitats. Limited use of Puget Trough and Cascade
foothills. Increased use of Cascade foothills with megafauna extinctions
at period end. Earliest plausible use of Mount Rainier (not
||No archaeological remains expected for Rainier during
the period. Earliest use of southern Washington Cascade (SWC) foothills
and lowlands during the period.
||Extant: No remains dating to period. Clovis
point near Cle Elum may indicate use of foothills or low elevation
Recommend: Samples from deeply stratified cultural deposits.
Mazama tephra provides good 6,800 year temporal marker in places.
(ca. 9,000-6,000 B.P.)
|Full onset of Hypsithermal. Lowland forest density
decreases ungulate habitat improves; upland forest density
increasesungulate habitat restricted.
||Low population density, mobile foraging strategies
emphasizing ungulate habitat in lowlands and Cascade foothills. Minimal
use of Mount Rainier uplands.
||Small residential and hunting camp sites in lowland and
foothill settings. Negligible to very low site density on Mount
||Extant: Modest number of dated sites in foothill
to moderate elevation settings. No documented sites on Mount Rainier.|
Recommend: As above, concerted effort to locate and sample deeply
stratified cultural deposits.
|Semisedentary Rest-Rotation Foraging
(ca. 7,000-4,000 B.P.)
|Hypsithermal climate cools near period end. Ungulate
habitat degrades in lowlands, improves in uplands. Volcanic collapse of
Mount Rainier summit, Paradise-Greenwater-Osceola lahars.
||Slightly elevated population density. Short-term winter
sedentism and storage. Other aspects of mobile foraging strategies
continue. Punctuated increase in use of upland ungulate habitats.
||Site density in lowlands increases with similar site
types. Limited evidence of storage features. Site density on Mount
Rainier rises sharply. Patterned distribution of base camps at upper
forest ecotone, hunting locations in subalpine to alpine settings.
||Extant: Modest number of dated sites in SWC,
none firmly dated on Mount Rainier, though stratigraphy at FS 90-01
indicates use 4,500-2,300 years ago.|
Recommend: Near term data recovery at FS 90-01. Survey and test
rock-shelter locations to gain assemblage, resource and temporal data.
Survey and test subset of base camp and limited-task
(ca. 5,000-1,500 B.P.)
|Climate cools to near modern conditions. Limited
glacial advance ca. 2400 B.P. Closed lowland forests, open uplands.
Mount Rainier C eruptions rebuild summit to present height.
||Elevated population, degrading ungulate habitat;
unstable resource balance with forager system. Shift to river oriented
logistic strategies. Use of fire to improve ungulate habitat. Extension
of territorial claims to uplands; montane use continues with focus on
habitat protection and use of alternative resources.
||Increased site density in lowlands with punctuated
increase in aggregated settlement on salmon rivers and streams. Site
density remains stable on Mount Rainier reflecting decreased per capita
use. Maintenance of base camps at upper forest ecotone, increased site
variety. Decreased elk/deer use, increased use of alternatives.
||Extant: Village complexes in lowlands.
Stratigraphic, artifact and 14C evidence for use of Mount Rainier upper
forest to alpine habitats.|
Recommend: Site survey with subsurface tests to expand database
and improve temporal representation. Test/data recovery at subset of
sites stratified by type to improve view of temporal and site
(ca. 2,500-400 B.P.)
|Early mountain rebuilding vulcanism. Cool climate
continues, glacial advance-retreat ca. 900-500 B.P. Dense Maritime
forests in lowlands, open subalpine associations in uplands.
||Peak prehistoric regional population density. Collector
systems fully established. Increasing use of fire. Territorial claims
vigorously enforced. Extension of trade and other intergroup ties.
Increased social complexity. Elevated intergroup conflict. Exploitation
of lower return storable resources, increasing use of inland valleys and
foothills; high elevation use continues, focusing on habitat protection
and use of alternative resources.
||Maximum lowland site density and dispersal into varied
habitats. Largest aggregated settlements in marine and riverine context.
Storage features and elevated artifact complexity. Higher fraction of
ritual and status goods. Higher fraction of tools for capture of smaller
bodied animals. Montane site density and type remains largely constant.
Due to logistic difficulty, mass Mount Rainier huckleberry harvest for
lowland storage not expected prior to introduction of the horse.
||Extant: Highest regional site density with
largest aggregated villages in lowland settings. General SWC site
density increases sharply. Upland Mount Rainier use evident by 14C,
stratigraphic, and artifact remains.|
Recommend: Survey and test procedures as above. Efforts to
identify and date huckleberry prosessing fea-tures. Pollen profiles for
paleo-environmental reconstruction and ex-amination of carbon
|Mixed Strategy Hunting & Gathering
(ca. 400 B.P.-Present)
|Essentially modern climatic conditions. "Little Ice
Age" 400-100 B.P. Lowland and upland forest patterns near modern
||Rapid population loss to epidemic diseases. Abandonment
of villages in marginal habitats with reaggregation as composite groups
in optimal habitats. Increased intergroup variability in land-use
systems. Equestrian transport and emergence of long distance overland
collecting and trade, particularly on east slope. Increased mass
huckleberry harvest on Mount Rainier. Partial integration into
Euroamerican economy ultimately breaks predominance of forager-collector
||Punctuated drop in site density overall. Continuing but
decreasing number of large lowland villages. Possible shortterm
reemergence of small forager residential camps. Increased frac-tion of
European trade goods and utensils. Mount Rainier use declines then
increases with primary focus on mass huckle-berry harvest and
supplemental hunting. Indigenous use of Mount Rainier for economic
purposes declines in late 1800s/ early 1900s.
||Extant: Decreased lowland site total. Some large
maritime and riverine villages continue. The Dalles trade fairs. Mount
Rainier huckle-berry/hunting use ethnographically documented. Early
historical use suggested at several sites, but data ambiguous. No
huckleberry processing features currently documented.|
Recommend: Survey efforts geared to expand and categorize sample
of early historical remains. Survey test procedures to document
huckleberry processing features. Test procedures at most probable
traditional prehistorichistoric sites, esp. FS 74-01 and 95-10.