John Day Fossil Beds
Historic Resources Study
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Chapter One:

Cultural Resources Summary

Aboriginal use of the lands around and within John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is today actively affirmed by residents of the Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Burns Paiute reservations. Resident tribes have expressed interest in participating in discussions with the National Park Service regarding the management of cultural resources important to their heritage. This would include any efforts to document and interpret tribal histories in the region (Mark 1996: 237-238). To date, there has been no ethnographic study of lands in or around the Monument; thus, there remains an opportunity to identify any traditional cultural properties, and/or any possible stories or oral traditions associated with the dramatic landforms of the region.

In 1993, the National Park Service contracted for an inventory of archaeological sites within the Monument. This resulted in the re-evaluation of sites already on file at the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, and a new survey of linear transects in all units of the park. Twenty-five new prehistoric and historic sites and six isolated artifact localities were located, bringing to thirty-six the total of archaeological sites recorded in or immediately adjacent to Monument boundaries. The sites located thus far include lithic scatters, stacked rock features or cairns, and a few rock shelters. Since these are considered to represent only a sampling of potential archaeological resources on Monument terrain, the Burtchard report provided direction for further investigation (Burtchard, Cheung, and Gleason 1994:1-10).

By far the most significant prehistoric sites associated with indigenous peoples thus far found within the boundaries of the Monument are the Picture Gorge pictographs. These are a series of six painted panels of rock art located on the sheer rock walls of the canyon at the south end of the Sheep Rock Unit. First reported in the 1930s by Luther Cressman (1937: 32) in his larger study of Oregon petroglyphs, the Picture Gorge pictographs have since been photographed, documented, and analyzed by various scholars and archaeologists.

Cressman noted stylistic similarities with Great Basin pictographs, but postulated that the designs were introduced by Sahaptin-speaking tribes — the influence perhaps coming out of the east from Nez Perce territory or from the Snake River country further south (Cressman 1937: 69). In 1990, a visiting member of the Warm Springs Reservation informed Monument staff that the pictographs had particular spiritual significance to the Wasco Indians. To date there has been no definitive proof of either the origin or age of the rock art at Picture Gorge (Mark 1996: 237, 249). Burtchard, et al., recommended that the pictographs be more comprehensively recorded, and that steps be taken to interpret, protect, and minimize impacts to the most highly visible and accessible rock art. The Burtchard report also notes the Picture Gorge Pictographs as eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (1994:165-178).

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Last Updated: 25-Apr-2002