Cooper's Ferry Site

The Cooper's Ferry Archaeological Site

Located in the lower Salmon River canyon of western Idaho, the Cooper's Ferry site holds evidence of repeated human occupation between a period dating from ~16,000-8,000 years ago.  Dr. Loren Davis led excavations at this site in 1997 and from 2009-2018, which resulted in the discovery of a rich record of an archaeological pattern known as the Western Stemmed Tradition.  The results of this research are featured in many publications, including a recent report in Science Magazine that describes the the earliest well-dated archaeological evidence of human occupation in the Americas.


Cooper's Ferry Discoveries Published in Science Magazine

Archaeological excavations conducted at the Cooper's Ferry site led to the discovery of the earliest well-dated evidence of human occupation in the Americas. This evidence, presented in a 2019 article in Science, demonstrates that people lived at Cooper's Ferry from before ~16,000 years ago.  Read more about this research from the PDF links below.

Science Magazine Article (PDF)

Science Magazine Supplemental Matrials (PDF)


The Pacific Northwest was a much different place at 16,000 years ago, at about the time when people initially lived at the Cooper's Ferry site.  The Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets covered much of North America and altered the drainage patterns of the Columbia River basin, leading to multiple catastrophic megafloods.  The Cooper's Ferry site is located in the lower Salmon River canyon and sits at an elevation higher than the megaflood pools and escaped the destructive effects of these flood events.  Abbreviations: MF = Missoula Flood; GLC = Glacial Lake Columbia; GLM = Glacial Lake Missoula; SRMG = Salmon River Mountain Glaciers.


This aerial image of the 2016 summer excavations at the Cooper's Ferry site shows our two block excavation areas (A at left, and B at right) shrouded beneath the protective cover of shade tarps.  The shade tarps were critical elements of our work since daily temperatures often rose above 110 degrees F.


From 2009-2018, staff and students of the Oregon State University Archaeology Field School worked at the Cooper's Ferry site.  Each summer, the OSU team worked at the site and lived in a field camp located a short distance away.  These excavations led to the discovery of thousands of artifacts, mainly stone tools and the flakes produced during their manufacture.  Excavations also uncovered fragments of animal bone, freshwater river mussel shell, and evidence of cooking fires and food processing tools.  

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