By Joanna Bastian
We have great detail about the history of the Methow Valley from 1880 onward, as settlers to this area kept journals, wrote newspaper articles, took photos, and many of their descendants are still living and can provide detailed memories. We know from oral history and a few archaeological finds that there was a vibrant population in the valley for thousands of years prior to the 1880s, but the story is only in bits in pieces — like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle.
The reasons for this incomplete picture are many — but there is an opportunity for many of us to help piece the puzzle together through the Methow Artifact Research Project.
Rich Davis, archaeologist with the Methow Valley Interpretive Center (MVIC), is leading the Methow Artifact Research Project. The goal is to create a photographic record of found artifacts to enrich the archaeological record of the Methow Valley and enhance the legacy of the Methow people.
Since the project began a year ago, 60 new items have been shared. Tools including atlatls, a large spear used to hunt big game, date human occupation in the valley to at least 9,000 years ago and earlier. Tools made of obsidian and petrified wood are rare finds in the valley, or anywhere. The location of these pieces, along with comparable findings elsewhere, point to a robust trade route through the valley.
In a letter, Rich postulates a theory based on the available evidence: “There was a long human presence of several thousand years here in the mid-valley area just after the ice receded. The valley appears to have been an extremely early trade route or passage to the Upper Skagit. The lack of available and suitable projectile point toolstone materials may have made projectile points not only a more valuable import, but a more precious commodity, less likely to be wasted.”
The most valuable artifact that will yield the most clues about a human timeline in the valley is a projectile point. There are many scientific methods to date an object, but projectile points are the most telling time capsules, says Rich.
“Every period in prehistory had a unique style of projectile point that originated in different geographical areas,” he says.
A projectile point can identify a myriad of details about a people including a timeline of use, routes traveled, and available resources.
The artifacts shared to date are remarkably old and in pristine condition.
As the snow melts and we begin our spring gardening, building and cleaning, please keep the Methow Artifact Research Project in mind for sharing any found objects. Sharing your stories and family collections will help us piece together the story of lives lived in this beautiful valley, before all information is lost forever. Privacy is guaranteed. Rich only asks for the opportunity to photograph and study the objects. Contact Rich at (509) 449-3796, or the MVIC.
Photos provided by Rich Davis, Methow Artifact Research Project
Rich Davis has collected more than 60 Methow Valley artifacts including tools and weapons.