Photo by Ann McCreary
Rich Davis holding one of the artifacts on display.

Interpretive Center collection grows with local contributions

By Ann McCreary

A variety of Native American artifacts — from projectile points to stone tools — are helping shed light on the Methow Valley’s earliest inhabitants through a research project launched a year ago by the Methow Valley Interpretive Center.

Local archeologist Rich Davis has examined and photographed more than 60 artifacts found in the Methow Valley that raise intriguing questions about the ancient people who occupied the valley long ago.

“There is evidence that people were here more than 10,000 years ago,” based on artifacts that have come forward as part of the research project, Davis said. “It’s pretty easy to suppose this valley was occupied that early and probably by more than a few people.”

The Methow Artifact Research Project is the first effort to systematically record the “pre-contact” history of the inhabitants of the Methow Valley, said Davis, who is archeological adviser to the Interpretive Center at TwispWorks.

The goal of the project is to encourage people who have Native American artifacts (or what they think may be artifacts) in their possession to provide them to Davis to study and photograph. People may choose to keep the artifacts, loan them to the Interpretive Center for display, or donate them. In some cases where artifacts are not loaned or donated, Davis has made replicas to display.

Davis said more than a third of people who have come to him during the past year with artifacts have chosen to donate them, and those items have expanded the exhibits at the Interpretive Center.

He is especially interested in knowing where artifacts were found, if that information is available. “The location where artifacts are found can often be a clue as to the use of these locations as trade/travel routes or resource gathering camps throughout time,” Davis said. Some people have been able to provide detailed information, even down to GPS coordinates, he said.

Projectile points

Photo courtesy of Rich Davis
Two large projectile points that were provided to the Methow Artifact Research Project for study have raised intriguing questions about the valley’s earliest inhabitants.

The most intriguing artifacts to come forward, Davis said, are two large projectile points, each about 6 inches long, that were found not very far apart in the vicinity of Beaver Creek. They are made in a style similar to projectiles found in only one area of the Washington Columbia Plateau, at a site near Vantage, Davis said. Radiocarbon dating at that site placed their age at 10,200 years BP. (BP stands for “Before Present,” which means before 1950, an abbreviation used by archaeologists and geologists.)

The projectile points raise a number of questions, Davis said. “Why were people here so soon after the ice left? Were they hunting, exploring, living here?”

The points are unusual, he said, because “they are entire and don’t seem to be used at all.” He said he wonders if perhaps they were among objects included in a burial ceremony. “It’s also strange because we don’t have that many projectile points in the valley,” he said. At least one of the points seems to be made from “exotic” stone, which means stone that is not found locally but brought from another location.

“Projectile points are the coolest thing in the world to me,” Davis said. “Each projectile point tells a valuable story. Each projectile point represents both a culture, a style and a chronologic period.”

Artifacts brought in during the past year also include projectile points found on Lucky Jim Peak and near Moccasin Lake; an assortment of chipped stone tools discovered by a Wolf Creek resident while landscaping; fishing net weights and anchors; stone paint palettes and mauls.

The artifacts also include salmon pounders — heavy stone tools used to pound dried fish or meat to a powder that was mixed with fat and dried berries and made into cakes that could be stored as winter or traveling food, similar to pemmican made by Plains tribes.

Got tribes’ OK

Before the project began last July, Davis took his idea to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation to make sure it had the tribes’ approval. In a recent presentation about the artifact project at the Interpretive Center, Davis said artifacts studied and exhibited through the project “will present a more extensive view of how we can integrate the cultural pre-contact history with present-day natural history. Then we can meld all this into the Methow Tribal descendants’ continued ownership of this valley through the reintroduction of their ancient past and displaying their current history and memories.”

Aaron Nauman, senior archeologist for the Confederated Tribes, said inviting citizens to share information augments the work that the tribes can accomplish. “Rich’s project is giving us insights that we wouldn’t otherwise get,” Nauman said.

Davis said he is especially excited about the educational opportunities for students and the general public that are being developed as the Interpretive Center is able to display more artifacts and interpret their significance.

He has worked for 25 years as an avocational archeologist, trained in field work by the Arizona Archeological Society and the Arizona Site Steward Program. He has won awards for his archeological work and authored many professional publication and papers on his fieldwork.

Davis plans to continue his work “as long as I’m alive” to document “little-known pre-contact history, before the information is lost.” Many artifacts may have been passed down by family members and stored out of sight for generations, he said. Privacy is guaranteed to people who want to provide the artifacts to be studied and photographed.

To contact Davis, email or call (509) 449-3796.