Oregon State University

Research Dr. Loren Davis

Far Western Prehistory

While I have experience working on archaeological sites of all ages, I am mainly interested in the early record (pre-8,000 BP) of hunter-gatherers in western North America.

Lower Salmon River Canyon

Between 1997-2007 I directed research at several sites in the Lower Salmon River Canyon of west-central Idaho; many of which produced early cultural occupation. Most notably, reinvestigation of the Cooper's Ferry site (10IH73) resulted in the discovery of a cache of stemmed points and lithic tools, which have been dated between 11,410-11,370 BP. This find represents the only chronometrically-dated equipment cache in the Far West and adds new information about the antiquity of western stemmed projectile point technology.

Other work with early sites has allowed me to explore issues relating to early cultural ecology and economic organization under changing environmental conditions of the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Recent geoarchaeological work in the lower Salmon River canyon with the Idaho BLM can be found at  http://www.blm.gov/id/st/en/fo/cottonwood/lower_salmon_river.3.html

Southern Oregon Coast

In the summer of 2000 I began work on a research project with Roberta Hall to find and investigate pre-8,000 BP sites on the southern Oregon coast. Using a systematic geoarchaeological approach we have worked to define the distribution and character of late Pleistocene to early Holocene landforms along the coast.

Research Design for the Oregon Paleocoastal Survey

Research Problem
The Oregon Coast has experienced a great degree of environmental change over the past 12,000 years. During this period between ca. 12,000-6,000 years ago sea level rose more than 180 feet in response to postglacial environmental change. As sea levels rose, natural systems along the coast adjusted to this marine transgression, leaving behind geologic deposits to mark the timing and manner of their changes. Humans have lived in the coastal landscape throughout this period of postglacial environmental change and left behind material evidence that forms the archaeological record. Evidence of human occupation predating the arrival of modern sea level 6,000 year ago is difficult to find as natural systems destroyed, obscured, or otherwise limited the visibility of early archaeological sites along the coast.

Methodological Approach
Traditionally, archaeologists seek to find evidence of past human occupation by walking across landforms, attempting to find artifacts and features from the past. OSU archaeologists have succeeded in finding early sites along the Oregon coast by using a geoarchaeological method based on the application of earth science principles. This geoarchaeological method seeks to find geologic layers of particular ages that might represent pieces of ancient landscapes attractive to prehistoric coastal peoples. Today, the western edge of Oregon's coastline presents an extensive natural exposure that reveals a layered sequence of sediments and soils. By studying the physical and geochemical qualities and ages of these layered sequences we can build a geoarchaeological framework for understanding the timing and manner of landscape change and the potential that each layer might have for retaining previously unknown evidence of prehistoric occupation.

Data will be gathered from naturally available and minimally prepared stratigraphic profiles that exist along the coastal margin of Oregon State Parks. If needed, profiles will be cleaned to expose fresh surfaces by scraping with trowels and shovels, removing only a few centimeters (< 5 cm) of weathered materials. Scraped sediments will be screened through 1/8" mesh. Stratigraphic information will be collected through photography and the preparation of drawings and descriptions. Stratigraphic descriptions will be made in accordance with conceptual nomenclature of the North American Stratigraphic Code and the USDA Soil Survey Manual. Following recordation, one liter bulk samples will be collected from representative stratigraphic units. Selected samples of datable materials will be collected, where available. Samples will be subjected to a range of analytical procedures to evaluate properties including, but not limited to, sedimentology, mineralogy, pedology, paleovegetation, and chronology.

Anticipated Results
Because this project represents a new and novel direction toward the generation of knowledge on contextual aspects of Oregon coastal archaeology, we cannot be certain of the exact results of our efforts. Nevertheless, Oregon coastal geology covering the last 12,000 years is poorly understood. Because of this, any discoveries we make in the process of this proposed work will be valuable, if for nothing else than for the accumulation of information on the nature of coastal environments and their change through time. It is highly anticipated that this proposed research will reveal the distribution of archaeologically relevant geologic units that hold previously unknown buried cultural components. Because they would serve to identify the location of otherwise difficult to find cultural components, these geoarchaeological discoveries will greatly advance the state of knowledge on the early prehistory of the Oregon coast.

Benefit
As a part of this survey, OSU students will learn practical skills related to standardized methods of stratigraphic recordation, sampling procedures for various laboratory analyses, and approaches to the interpretation of past depositional environments. The larger goal of the survey is to construct a detailed knowledge of landscape evolution and buried archaeological site potential in the modern coastal landscape. This geoarchaeological database will contribute valuable information to be shared by the archaeological community and can help agencies and tribal groups make better decisions about how to manage their cultural resources held in the coastal landscape.  

Prehistory and Cultural Ecology of Baja California, Mexico
Baja California possesses some of the greatest ecological diversity on the planet. Along a narrow latitudinal transect, one moves from the semi-arid Pacific coastal plain, to the hyper-arid desert interior basins with their flanking high-altitude alpine ecosystems, to the desert shores of the biotically-rich Sea of Cortez. How hunter-gatherers lived within this unique region is known from ethnographic and historic accounts. A deeper temporal perspective is largely absent in much of the region, due to the paucity of intensive archaeological investigations. Since 1996, I have led multiple archaeological and geoarchaeological investigations to pursue several goals, including: understanding cultural adaptation in the extremely arid and ecologically-diverse environments of the peninsula; exploring the prehistory and cultural ecology the late Pleistocene to early Holocene period; and elucidating the record of middle Holocene adaptations during the onset of extreme aridity. The results of this work are actively shaping archaeological perspectives on this poorly-understood region. To learn more about anthropological and archaeological research in Baja California visit: http://pweb.jps.net/%7Edlaylander/

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