Archaeology at Kelly Forks, North Idaho

This 2012 field season marks the third summer that the University of Idaho (UI) has held an archaeological field school at the Kelly Forks Work Center site, a prehistoric upland hunting camp on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in north-central Idaho. I’m Laura, a graduate student at UI and my master’s thesis will detail our investigations from 2010 through 2012. The field work schedule goes from Mondays through Thursdays so my hands and feet are cleaner today than they have been all week. I have spent my June 29th copying forms, writing emails, uploading photos, and performing a myriad of other minor tasks (removing sediment from equipment) and domestic routines (laundry) which are all reserved for Fridays. I don’t think much elaboration is needed on this aspect, but it’s all linked to recuperation from the labors of this week and preparation for that of next week.

The field school is about teaching students the practical and technical methodology of documenting cultural material and connecting these efforts with the overall context of human activity in the region. It is because of their diligence and hard work that a segment can be added to the story of some of Idaho’s early residents. Surrounded by the steep ridges of the Bitterroot foothills and tall forests of cedar, white pine, and Douglas fir, the 150 acre terrace where Kelly Creek joins the North Fork has clearly been an important stopping place for at least 10,000 years. The abundance of stone tools and debitage recovered from temporal occupations dating from the early to the late prehistoric periods provides a glimpse of a way of life that involved a strategic knowledge of local and regional resources. Hunting, fishing, and game processing were important pursuits of the people who utilized the site while the low-lying meadows and flood plains overlooking the river likely provided an excellent setting to repair and manufacture the tools that were used to accomplish these pursuits.

The first two summers at Kelly Forks resulted in the recovery of eight stemmed lanceolate bases stylistically associated with the Western Stemmed Point Tradition and the regional Windust phase (ca. 8,000 – 11,000 years BP), the earliest period of occupation in the Clearwater drainage. Five projectiles, both uniface and biface, dating to the Cascade phase (ca. 5,000 – 8,000) were also encountered along with anvils, two net weights, a sandstone shaft abrader, and numerous modified flakes and cobble tools. Recently the May 2012 issue of the UI alumni magazine, Here We Have Idaho, featured Kelly Forks and the findings from 2010 and 2011.

Next week will be our fourth this season and excavation so far has added three stemmed lanceolate bases, four Cascade phase tools, a third net weight, and a second shaft abrader to the assemblage. The late prehistoric component has similarly been strengthened by the appearance of several small side-notched and corner-notched arrow points in the upper strata. We are in the process of investigating a potential fire pit and have opened several trenches to connect anvil features and artifact concentrations that were encountered last summer. By summer’s end we’ll be in the midst of compiling all of the new obsidian for sourcing, selecting charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating, and painfully agonizing over which tools to send for residue testing. For now, I’m looking forward to the next few and final weeks (so little time!) of excavation. Part of the charm of doing archaeology is the thrill of not knowing precisely what is in store and it seems each week is better than the last. Kelly Forks is my thesis site and working there has shaped me in ways I’ve probably not yet realized. I know it will always be a special place for me; perhaps I share this with those who were also there long ago…

Field school students hard at work on June 25; the North Fork of the Clearwater River is visible at the base of the slope beyond.

One thought on “Archaeology at Kelly Forks, North Idaho

  1. Molly Swords says:

    Very cool site and great post!

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