Photo by Ann McCreary Rich Davis, holding a pestle used by early inhabitants of the Methow Valley, will lead a research project for the Methow Valley Interpretive Center that will locate and document similar artifacts.

Photo exhibit planned at Interpretive Center in Twisp

By Ann McCreary

Evidence of the Methow Valley’s earliest inhabitants, such as arrowheads and stone tools, sheds light on who these people were and how they lived.

A new research project launched at the Methow Valley Interpretive Center (MVIC) seeks to locate and document Native American artifacts found in the valley, with the goal of expanding understanding of the valley’s first inhabitants, creating a photo exhibit at the interpretive center and publishing articles about the research findings.

The project is led by Rich Davis, archaeological adviser for the MVIC, who has extensive experience as a trained field archaeologist and specialist in chipped stone tools in the southwestern United States.

Davis, who lives near Carlton, is turning his attention to the Methow Valley, hoping to develop the first detailed record of artifacts found here to document early Native American history.

To do that, he is asking people who possess artifacts found in the Methow Valley, or items they think might be artifacts, to contact him so that he can photograph and study the objects.

“Many of these artifacts, mostly stone, have remained stored and out of sight for generations,” Davis said. “My hope is that all the scattered information that is held in peoples’ basements, in their memories, can come together in a cohesive collection that would be archived at the interpretive center,” Davis said.

“As it stands I can find no cohesive, reliable record of the pre-contact history of the inhabitants of this valley, which is highly unusual and a real opportunity. Nothing’s ever been done like this in the valley before,” Davis said.

“Our hope is that owners of these artifacts will come forward to share this valuable historical information by allowing us to photograph and record the objects. This is an attempt to record the little-known pre-contact history before more information is lost,” Davis said.

“Privacy will be assured and no other obligation is necessary,” he added.

The collection, Davis emphasized, is intended to be only a photo record of the artifacts found in the Methow Valley. The artifacts will remain with the people who possess them, unless the owners chose to make them available for display at the interpretive center.

Davis has found Native American artifacts on his own property, and said he has seen and heard about artifacts found by other residents or passed down through generations.

“Curating, identifying and photographing local collections, as well as publishing numerous articles and books, has made me very aware of the need to treat both owners and their collections with respect in order to establish the trust needed to accomplish this type of project,” Davis said.

Tracing our history

Photographing and studying these objects — such as arrowheads, hammer stones, fish net weights, pounding stones and pestles — can help develop a better picture of when the valley’s earliest people arrived here, where they came from, and how they lived.

Different types of projectile points, for example, can be traced to different time periods, and can indicate where the people using them came from before immigrating to the Methow Valley, Davis said.

Davis discussed the proposed project with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which includes the Methow Tribe, to make sure the project gained the tribes’ approval before moving forward.

Inviting the public to participate in sharing information encourages an approach known as “avocational archeology,” said Aaron Naumann, senior archaeologist for the Confederated Tribes.

Avocational archaeology involves citizens “on the ground exploring the landscape,” Naumann said. “These people are instrumental in providing information to academia and scientists.”

“Having this kind of program that Rich is building at the Methow Valley Interpretive Center really allows it to be a collaborative effort — not only landowners, but tribal collaborators, agencies and the general public. It’s an open information-sharing process,” Naumann said.

“There have been little surveys done here and there” about Methow Valley’s settlement history, but this larger study will hopefully help fill the gaps in understanding the valley’s past, he said.

“This is an attempt at trying to figure out what the true settlement history looks like for the past 10,000 years,” Naumann said.

Naumann will give a free presentation at the MVIC at 5 p.m. Sunday (July 30) about ethical, legal and practical aspects of protecting Methow Valley archaeological resources. Davis will also talk about his project as part of the presentation.

Davis said he is “following leads … rumors and stories” in his efforts to track down and document the evidence of early inhabitants.

“The project will be open forever, as long as I’m alive. No one’s been willing to take the time or had the expertise” to conduct a study like this before, he said. “I hope it turns into a huge project.”

Davis has worked for 25 years as an avocational archaeologist, trained by both the Arizona Archeological Society and the Arizona Site Steward Program.

He has won awards for his archaeological work and authored many professional publications and papers on his fieldwork.  He has trained students and professional archaeologists at an archaeology field school in Montana, and given numerous talks on chipped stone tools and research projects.

To contact Davis, email davisrich@hotmail.com, or call 997-2284.