Publications in Salvage Archeology, 6: Hells Canyon Archeology


Archeological investigations in the Hells Canyon area of the Snake River (Figs. la, b) have a chequered past. Like much of the Northwest, the great gorge forming the boundary between northeastern Oregon and central Idaho was substantially unknown until the advent of the postwar archeological salvage program. An initial reconnaissance of the upper canyon was completed by the River Basin Surveys of the Smithsonian Institution during August of 1950 (Shiner 1951). The survey was undertaken in anticipation of the construction of a high darn by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. This would have impounded water from a point deep within the canyon upstream to the vicinity of Weiser, Idaho, a distance of some 89 miles. Construction was deferred, however, and with the Hells Canyon Dam in abeyance, archeological investigations were delayed for several years.

During the interim, the Pacific Northwest Power Company proposed construction of darns at two sites, Mountain Sheep and Pleasant Valley, both in the lower canyon (Fig. 1b). A survey of the proposed reservoirs, subsidized by the licensee, was carried out in the autumn of 1955 by George L. Coale, then of the University of Washington (Coale 1956a). The following summer, under continued support by the Pacific Northwest Power Company, Coale excavated selected sites (101013, 101014, 101020) and tested an additional four (Coale 1956b). Concurrently, and in lieu of the original federal project, the Idaho Power Company planned construction of three darns in the upper canyon at the Brownlee, Oxbow, and Hells Canyon sites. Archeological investigations were supported by the Idaho Power Company by means of a grant to the River Basin Surveys of the Smithsonian Institution.

Field investigations were undertaken by Warren W. Caldwell during the summer of 1956. Robinette Village, Robinette Cave, and the Ray Site were excavated, and work was begun at Big Bar and Allison Creek Shelter. Before these excavations were completed, Caldwell was transferred to the Missouri Basin Project of the River Basin Surveys at Lincoln, Nebraska, and the investigations were brought to a close by Coale after completing excavations in the downstream reservoirs to the north. Limited time and funds precluded exploitation of a number of promising sites at this time. Work was resumed in the spring of 1963 when, under an agreement with the Smithsonian Institution, a field party from the Idaho State University Museum, Pocatello, continued excavations of the Big Bar Site (Pavesic et al. 1964). Subsequently, Idaho State University has maintained interest in the area and a number of sites have been excavated under its on going archeological field training program.

Cite this Record

Publications in Salvage Archeology, 6: Hells Canyon Archeology. Warren W. Caldwell, Oscar L. Mallory, Jerome E. Petsche, Warren W. Caldwell. Publications In Salvage Archeology ,6. Lincoln, NE: Smithsonian Institution. 1967 ( tDAR id: 169532) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8M909J1

Spatial Coverage

min long: -117.449; min lat: 44.288 ; max long: -116.296; max lat: 45.714 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Sponsor(s): Smithsonian Institution

Record Identifiers

Publications in Salvage Archeology(s): 6

NADB document id number(s): 1290753

NADB citation id number(s): 000000030843

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