by Bill R. Roulette

"No mark of man west of the Rocky mountains has proved more enduring than these
baby pyramids along the Calapooia River"
(J.B. Horner 1928 in an address given at
the Cochran Mound site near Tangent, Oregon in 1928, quoted in Mackey 1974: 51).

[This paper presented by its author on September 8, 2006 at Kalapuya-Amin Symposium, Benton County, Oregon. It is also available for citation in a 24-page WORD document.]


Previous Investigations at Mound Sites

The Calapooia Midden Site, 35LIN468

Stratification at the Calapooia Midden Site

Radiocarbon Dates

Cultural Features


Camas Ovens

Pit Features


Floral and Faunal Remains

Toward A New Interpretation of Mound Sites:

Framing an Ethnographic Analog

Factors Influencing the Origination of Mound Sites as Established Camps


References Cited


This paper focuses on the role of mound sites in the settlement and land use systems of the prehistoric Kalapuya Indians. It is based on data recovery excavations conducted in 1992 at the Calapooia Midden, site 35LIN468, a mound site located on the Calapooia River in the centralpart of the Willamette Valley.

As the name suggests, mound sites consist of, or contain, accumulations of occupational debris that can have the appearance of a constructed mound. Usually, the mounds consist of midden deposits that mantle some slightly elevated floodplain landform, such as a levee, which enhances the effect of the mound having been built. This was the case at the Calapooia Midden site, although there, the mound effect was very modest.

Mound sites are common in some parts of the Willamette Valley and have been described as a diagnostic characteristic of the prehistory of that region (Laughlin 1941:147). An estimated 450 mound sites are, or were, located between Albany and Eugene, a distance of about 75 kilometers (km), mostly along the main stem of the Willamette River and the lower reaches of its tributary streams. Mound sites are especially common in the central and southern parts of the Willamette Valley in the area inhabited ethnographically by the Tsankupi and Long Tom bands of the Kalapuya. A number more are located on the Yamhill River in the northern part of the valley (Laughlin 1941, 1943). Locations of 125 mounds along the Calapooia River, including the Calapooia Midden were mapped in the 1920s (Figure 1). Based on this work and a later survey (Woodward 1970:4), mound sites are seen to have been spaced every 400 to 800 meters long the Calapooia River between Brownsville and where the river empties into the Willamette at Albany, a distance of about 30 km. In the Long Tom River sub-basin, mounds do not appear to have a similar linear distribution but instead form tight clusters located along abandoned channels of the Long Tom River (Cheatham 1988; Miller 1975).

Previous Investigations at Mound Sites

Perhaps because they were readily recognizable as "Indian sites," relic hunters were attracted to mound sites as early as the 1880s. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many mounds were excavated to locate burials and burial goods. Little specific information useful to modern archaeologists resulted from such activity. Writings from that era describe burials but little else having to do with the sites other than to note remarkable or extraordinary mortuary items.

In terms of site function, the early mound explorers speculated that they were purposefully constructed sepulcher created by a vanquished race of Indians. Best known of this early group was J.B. Horner, for whom the Horner Museum at Oregon State University is named, who believed that the mounds were the degenerated remnants of one-time pyramid-shaped tombs (Horner 1928 in Mackey [1974:50]). Horner remarked, "No mark of man west of the Rocky mountains has proved more enduring than these baby pyramids along the Calapooia river.”

The view that mounds were intentionally constructed sepulchers was laid to rest with the first professional investigation of mound sites conducted in the mid-1920s by Strong, Schenk and Steward in the Tangent-Albany area. In their all too brief description of their excavations, they (Strong et al. 1930:147) note that mounds were well defined and possibly partly artificial in their construction but mainly composed of refuse mantling natural rises.

Following the pioneering of Strong et al. (1930), Laughlin (1941) conducted excavations at the Spurland and Miller mound sites and other mound sites in the Harrisburg, Halsey, and Shedd areas. Laughlin (1941) appears to have been mainly interested in burial goods and makes only incidental reference to other artifacts found in the general mound fill. He contributed to an improved understanding of the sites by acknowledging that the mounds were attributable to the Kalapuya, and not an extinct race of mound builders; and that the artifacts, fire-cracked rock, and faunal materials found in the midden fill represented use of the areas as campsites and not evidence for elaborate feasts and sacrifices as had been suggested by the first generation of mound explorers (Laughlin 1941:155). Somewhat later, Laughlin (1942) excavated mound sites located along the Yamhill River (Laughlin 1943), and Collins (1951) excavated mounds on the Long Tom River. During the same period, Laughlin with Collins’ aid, resumed excavations at the Spurland mound (Collins 1951). Collins (1951) presented the results of his and his and Laughlin’s investigations in a master's thesis in which he argued that in many important ways, the Kalapuya were more closely linked to the cultures of the Columbia Plateau than the Northwest Coast, a view supported by subsequent research (Cheatham 1988; Toepel 1985). Collins made only incidental mention as to the function of mound sites or their formation.

Beginning in the 1960s, there was renewed interest in mound sites by university-trained archaeologists. Several of the sites were tested or more fully excavated in the late 1960s and early 1970s and reports of the excavations were typically written as master's theses (e.g., Cordell 1967; Miller 1970). Research during this period was largely descriptive and classificatory although some attention was paid to how mound sites may have functioned in prehistoric landuse and settlement systems. For instance, based on her research at the Lingo site, located near the Long Tom River, Linda Cordell (1967, 1975) suggested that mound sites were seasonal camps occupied for the purpose of collecting and processing camas (Cordell 1975:305).

In the first synthesis of Willamette Valley prehistory, John White (1975a) developed a site typology that differentiated between mound sites located on the primary Willamette River floodplain and those located within the riparian zone of large permanent tributary streams like the Calapooia River. Based on artifact inventories and floral and faunal remains, White (1975a:98) suggested that mound sites found on the primary river floodplain were used mainly as base camps for camas harvesting and that some may have been used in the fall and winter for hunting of large game. He suggested that mound sites located on larger tributary streams were occupied year round for the purpose of hunting large game and processing food plants (White 1975a:98, emphasis added). In terms of mound formation processes, White (1975a:39) speculated that the accumulations of midden deposits at mound sites were created by a combination of concentrated occupation and a lack of periodic inundation. He noted that non-mounded refuse middens also are found in the Willamette Valley and suggested that these sites are distinguished from mound sites by a lower intensity of occupation which resulted in less midden accumulation.

In the 19890s Cheatham (1988) excavated at five mound sites located in the Long Tom River drainage. Based on an analysis of artifact types and frequencies, site size, and floral and faunal remains, he suggested that three of the sites (Kirk Park 1, Kirk Park 4, and Perkins Peninsula) functioned as generalized summer base camps (Kirk Park 1 was also a locus for camas processing) and that the other mound sites represented task sites focused on camas processing (Kirk Park 3 site) and animal processing (Kirk Park 2 site) (Cheatham 1988:141-148). He (Cheatham 1988) did not address the formation history of mound sites.

Alston Thoms (1989) used the results of mound research in his dissertation on the intensification of geophyte use in prehistory but did no excavation at mound sites himself. He referred to Willamette Valley mounds as "the most archaeologically visible of the camas processing features…” and suggests that the accumulation of midden deposits at mound sites was due to the use of multiple camas processing ovens (Thoms (1989:314). Based on evidence from the Calapooia Midden site, this view is simply in error.

Up to this point, interpretations of mound sites have not provided an adequate explanation of how the sites functioned in Kalapuyan settlement and landuse systems. Consideration of the role of mound sites has not proceeded beyond simple site functional analysis (e.g., Cheatham 1988). Even then, the sites have been pigeonholed as camas harvesting or game processing sites in contradiction to the diversity of artifacts found at them. Other than axiomatic statements relating intensity of occupation with volume of refuse (e.g., White 1975a), there has been little critical regard given to the structure of such sites and the processes involved in their formation. This is especially true of midden deposits themselves, which as artifacts of human behavior represent specific kinds of waste management, camp maintenance, and intensity of occupation that are uncharacteristic of sites in the Willamette Valley (Roulette 1996b; Wilson 1996a, 1996b). Because of the substantial midden deposits found at mound sites, and seasonal indicators that suggests some type of use throughout the year (see below), it is logical to assume, as did White, that some represent were occupied year round and thus represent winter villages. However, to date, no mound site has been shown to contain architectural remains expected to be present at over-wintering locales, such as patterns of post molds, excavated floors, or wall trenches.

Importantly, none of the past research has specifically addressed the question of what were the cultural conditions that gave rise to the accumulations of refuse recognized as mound sites, and the related issues of when these conditions arose and whether or not the origination of mound sites as a site type reflects a way of using the landscape that was different from earlier times.

The Calapooia Midden Site, 35LIN468

The Calapooia Midden site, 35LIN468, is located near the mouth of the Calapooia Valley, a few kilometers west of the point where it merges with Willamette Valley. It is one of a half-dozen mound sites located near the mouth of the Calapooia Valley. The data recovery excavations conducted under the author’s direction at the site in 1992, and the subsequent analyses of artifacts, economic floral and faunal material, radiocarbon dating, and consideration of site structure and formation provide the underpinning of the inferences developed in this and the following section. These inferences are tested against data from other mound sites when possible. Though at least 15 other mound sites have been described to some degree in the archaeological literature (Cheatham 1988; Collins 1951; Cordell 1975; Davis 1970; Laughlin 1941, 1943; Miller 1975; White 1975a; Woodward 1970), straightforward comparisons between mound sites is not possible due to inconsistent reporting of such variables as site area, volume of excavation, site formation processes, artifact assemblages, and quantification of floral and faunal remains. Be that as it may, all of the sites described in the literature share with the Calapooia Midden site certain attributes that serve to identify mound sites as a site type. Each contains midden deposits, each has a mound-like shape, most contain burials, most contain evidence for camas processing, and typically, the sites contain large and diverse artifact assemblages.

Site 35LIN468 is located at a northward bend of the Calapooia River. It covers about a 300-meter (m) long stretch of a low terrace adjacent to an abandoned channel that is now between 200 and 300 m from the active river channel. This area encompasses a point bar and the banks of an old meander on either side of the point bar. In total area the site encompasses about 0.5 hectare. Below the site is a lower terrace or high floodplain that extends both to the north and east to the current river channel. The upper terrace on which the site is situated has low relief; the major surface topographic feature is a low rise located at the leading edge of the low terrace. This rise is mantled with cultural deposits and has a low but distinct mound appearance. The mound was the highest point at the site and rose more than a meter above the terrace to its south and close to 2 meters above the low terrace/high floodplain to its north and east.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when agents of the General Land Office (GLO) set the township and range lines in the region, the site area was a gallery forest that bordered an active channel of the Calapooia River (Figure 2). As reconstructed by Towle (1982:68; see also Boag [1992:44]), the riparian zone was 400 m wide and was contained Douglas fir, Oregon ash, cottonwood, willows, alder, and maple. An expansive prairie interrupted by ash swales and oak groves extended in all directions from the gallery forest (Boag 1992:44).

The site contains three spatially contiguous elements: an area containing no midden deposits, designated Area A, an area of midden deposits that were not mounded, designated Area B, and the mounded midden deposits, designated Area C (Figure 3). Data recovery excavations were conducted in each of the three areas and in all 100 m2 of site area was exposed (roughly about 4% of the total site area) and 75 m3 of site deposits were excavated as part of the 1992 data recovery investigations.

Stratification at the Calapooia Midden Site

The outstanding stratigraphic features at the Calapooia Midden site were two large middens. Though midden deposits characterize mound sites, there has been little consideration of the composition of this type of cultural deposit. As used here, midden refers to an aggregate of secondary refuse. Such deposits represent refuse that accumulates in specific areas of sites usually as a result of purposeful trash disposal (Schiffer 1987; Wilson 1994). By themselves, such secondary refuse aggregates indicate the presence of regularly maintained domestic spaces or activity areas that represent the source areas for the artifacts and other materials included in the midden deposits. Formal middens, like those at the Calapooia Midden site, also indicate a degree of refuse management that is suggestive of anticipated reuse of the site and also anticipated moderate- to long-term duration of site occupation (Kent 1992; Tani 1995). Such middens are thought to represent aggregates of secondary waste and are therefore likely formed by dumping rather than through more causal tossing of refuse in areas peripheral to activity areas (Tani 1995:247).

As exposed in the excavation blocks, midden deposits in Area B mantled an old scarp face on either side of a point bar and sloped downward into a relict river channel (Figure 4). These midden deposits were among the thickest encountered at the site but because they sloped downward, they lacked any appearance of being mounded. In Area C, midden deposits mantled the side slopes of what is interpreted as an old levee and had a distinct mounded appearance. Middens in both areas of the site were composed of what Butzer has called "organocultural refuse" (Butzer 1982:87). They consisted of loamy mineral sediment with a high organic content, were black in color and contained abundant charcoal, flecks of fired clay, and large quantities of artifacts, faunal remains, charred botanical material, and fire-cracked rock. Such deposits can be termed anthrosols and are anthropogenic in their origin (Eidt 1984).

Non-midden cultural deposits were located in Areas A and C. These deposits are interpreted as areas where the site occupants maintained domestic space, and are here termed camp surfaces. Deposits found in these areas are interpreted as being primarily composed of mixed primary, residual primary, and de facto refuse (Schiffer 1987). Depending on the amount of charcoal overprinting and organic content, the color of camp surface layers varied, but wherever found had as a defining characteristic greater compaction and greater soil development compared to midden deposits, and profuse flecking with burned earth (bisque). Similar camp surface deposits have not been reported at other mound sites but it is suspected that activity areas lacking secondary refuse aggregates were present to other mound sites but have gone unnoted.

Radiocarbon Dates

Sixteen radiocarbon dates were obtained from the site, five of these from the mounded midden deposits. The dates were calibrated using Stuiver and Reimer's (1993) CALIB program (Table 1). Thirteen of the dates fall into the time range for the Late Archaic (ca. 2000 - 200 B.P.)
Table 1. Summary of Radiocarbon Dates from Mound and Non-mound sites

Reported Date Lab Number 2-Sigma Calibrated Date Range*

Calapooia Midden site, 35LIN4681
130 +/- 50 BP Beta-59750 A.D. 1652-1955**
140 +/- 70 BP Beta-59748 A.D. 1641-1995
140 +/- 70 BP Beta-59749 A.D. 1641-1995
300 +/- 60 BP Beta-59752 A.D. 1440-1954
360 +/- 60 BP Beta-60569 A.D. 1425-1952
550 +/- 60 BP Beta-59753 A.D. 1289-1479**
930 +/- 50 BP Beta-60571 A.D. 992-1260
940 +/- 50 BP Beta-60572 A.D. 992-1260
1000 +/- 70 BP Beta-59751 A.D. 888-1217**
990 +/- 60 BP Beta-59757 A.D. 869-1215
1130 +/- 80 BP Beta-59754 A.D. 688-1150**
1160 +/- 80 BP Beta-60570 A.D. 668-1029**

Kirk Park 1 site, 35LA5652
540 +/- 100 BP UCR 1634 not calibrated
1170 +/- 100 BP UCR 1636 not calibrated
1520 +/- 110 BP UCR 1635 not calibrated

Kirk Park 2 site, 35LA5682
< 150 BP (no s.d.) UCR 1637 not calibrated
395 +/- 100 BP UCR 1638 not calibrated

Kirk Park 3 site, 35LA5672
1180 +/- 100 BP UCR 1731 not calibrated
2790 +/- 90 BP UCR 1732 not calibrated
2910 +/- 150 BP Beta-9571 not calibrated

Kirk Park 4 site, 35LA5662
1840 +/- 100 BP UCR 1734 not calibrated
2480 +/- 90 BP UCR 1733 not calibrated
3310 +/- 150 BP UCR 1735 not calibrated

Perkins Park site, 35LA2822
1085 +/- 100 BP UCR 1730 not calibrated
1220 +/- 80 BP UCR 1729 not calibrated

Lingo site, 35LA293
4130 +/- 100 BP GaK-1120 not calibrated
2045 +/- 120 BP GaK-1121 not calibrated

Benjamin 1 site, 35LA414
2320 +/- 80 BP (lab no. not provided) not calibrated
1640 (standard deviation and lab no. not provided) not calibrated

Lynch site, 35LIN36***5
0 +/- 80 BP GaK-3690 not calibrated
0 +/- 90 BP GaK-3693 not calibrated
800 +/- 80 BP GaK-3691 not calibrated
1280 +/- 90 BP GaK-3692 not calibrated

300 +/- 110 BP GaK-3114 not calibrated
450 +/- 80 BP GaK-3113 Not calibrated

840 +/- 110 BP GaK-3115 not calibrated

Not calibrated
* Calibrated using Stuiver and Reimer's (1993) CALIB program
** Dates midden deposits comprising mound
*** Non-mound site that contains midden deposits

Sources: 1. Roulette 1996a; 2. Cheatham 1988; 3. Cordell 1975; 4. Miller 1975; 5. Sanford 1975; 6. White 1975aor Contact periods (after 200 B.P.) and the three others date to the Middle Archaic (ca. 6000 - 2000 B.P.). The 13 Late Archaic dates divide into two subsets. Calibrated, and at two sigma, the earlier set of Late Archaic dates is bracketed by calendar dates of ca. A.D. 670 to A.D. 1260 while the second set of is bracketed by calendar dates A.D. 1440 – Contact. The mounded midden deposits yielded material dating to both time ranges. A single date falls between the two clusters. Provided that the group of samples selected for dating is free of significant bias, the two sets suggest that two periods of occupation can be discerned, separated by a period of about two centuries when use of the locale was less intense. The Middle Archaic radiocarbon dates were returned on the basal strata beneath the mounded midden deposits and predate midden accumulation. When calibrated and expressed as two sigma date ranges, the Middle Archaic dates (not shown on Table 1) remain temporally isolated and represent an early component at the site.

Other dated mound sites include the Kirk Park 1, 2, 3, and 4 and Perkins Peninsula sites in the Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene, the Lingo site on the Long Tom River, the Benjamin 1 site, and sites 35LIN45 and 35LIN50, two mounds on the Calapooia River (Table 1). As a group, most radiocarbon dates from these mound sites are younger than 2000 B.P. Those older, are unequivocally associated with midden deposits.

The oldest radiocarbon date from any mound site is ca. 4130 B.P. (uncalibrated) from a hearth feature excavated into subsoil beneath the midden deposits at the Lingo site (35LA29). It did not truncate midden deposits and thus predates them (Cordell 1975). The second oldest date, ca. 3310 B.P. (uncalibrated) is from the Kirk Park 4 site (Cheatham 1988) and was obtained from a non-midden matrix well below the midden deposits forming the mound. Radiocarbon dates of 2790 + 90 B.P. and 2910 + 60 B.P. (uncalibrated) were obtained from carbonized camas bulbs at the Kirk Park 3 site. The bulbs were recovered from a rock feature that was part of an opened camas oven, which appears to have been beneath the main midden deposits at the site (Cheatham 1988:53, Figure 23). Likewise, a radiocarbon date of ca. 2320 B.P. (uncalibrated) was returned on carbonized camas bulbs recovered from an earth oven exposed within zone B at the Benjamin Site 1 (35LA41). Zone B underlay the midden deposits and it was not stated that the feature originated in or above the midden layer at the site (Miller 1975:317,321). In none of the cases where radiocarbon dates of greater than 2000 B.P. have been reported for mound sites is there clear stratigraphic evidence that the date correlates with midden deposits. These cases aside, the radiometric data strongly suggest that midden accumulation at mound sites began ca. 2000 B.P. (Table 1). The data strongly suggest that while sites at which midden deposits were later formed were used before 2000 B.P. the midden accumulations began after that time (Table 1). It follows that the pattern of landuse whereby the sites were used in an intensive, recurrent, and spatially congruent manner, resulting in midden accumulation, began after 2000 B.P.

Cultural Features

As reported in the literature, cultural features are common at mound sites and include burials, camas ovens, fire hearths or fire pits, and pit features. The occurrence of such features holds important implications for the role of mound sites in Kalapuyan settlement. The construction of a camas oven, for instance, represents a considerable labor output and such facilities were likely maintained and reused. Likewise, considerable effort was likely expended to dig large pits that are interpreted as storage facilities. Kent (1992:653) has suggested that storage and processing features at sites signal intent on the part of the site occupants, or the anticipation of, longer periods of residency than at sites that lack such features. Also, the presence of burials suggests that the locales were of considerable importance and not simply resource extraction sites.

Excavations at the Calapooia Midden site revealed 36 cultural features including 15 burials, 15 pits that were interpreted as storage facilities, three earth ovens, and three clusters of fire-cracked rock that appear to have been disassembled earth-oven "lids" or heating elements from earth ovens. Curiously, no fire hearths were present although there was widespread evidence for cultural fires, including burned earth, charcoal, and large quantities of fire-cracked rock. Fire hearths/pits are the single most common variety of feature recorded at other mound sites and it is likely that such features were present at the site but outside the investigated areas.


To date, most burials recorded or excavated in the Willamette Valley have been found at mound sites (Cordell 1975; Laughlin 1941, 1943; Roulette and Wilson 1994). Typically, descriptions of burials in the archaeological literature have focused on flexure and funerary items, if present. Little attention has been paid to the arrangement of burials in space and of the their cultural significance. Cross-cultural research as shown that the placement of burials at sites and upon landscapes is an important aspect of mortuary behavior. Where specialized areas for interment exists, it is likely that such areas are affiliated with locales where the deceased and the living members of the dead member's corporate group had use and/or control over crucial but restricted resources (Goldstein 1981 cited in Carr 1995:182, 191-192).

At the Calapooia Midden, 15 burial features were recorded that contained the remains of 18 individuals. Burials were clustered in two areas of the site. In Area B, ten burial features were contained in a 27 m2 area. Despite close clustering, none of the graves intersected. This cannot be coincidence and instead suggests that they represented a formal cemetery maintained by some variety of group that possessed and passed along specific information on the placement of burials. The majority of the burials also shared a specific orientation and flexure. Radiocarbon dates from matrices above or below the burials suggest that the interments occurred between ca. A.D. 992-1150 (Roulette and Wilson 1994:3-1). This close chronological relationship also strongly suggests that the burials formed a formal cemetery. Ethnographic evidence suggests that the Kalapuya had family cemeteries and it is logical to assume that the burials at the Calapooia Midden represent a specific family or other corporate group from a winter village aggregate.

Five burials were found in Area C, which contained the remains of seven individuals. The arrangement of burials in that area lacked evidence for purposeful organization although all were within a few meters of one another. In one case, it was clear that a later burial intruded upon an earlier interment. This suggests a lack of specific information concerning the location of earlier burials by those responsible for later interments. Radiocarbon dates from stratigraphically associated, non-burial contexts suggest long-term, intermittent use of Area C as a burial ground with burial features both older and younger than those in Area B.

It is not known how the use of Areas B and C as places for interment may have influenced the positioning of activities or the occupation of the Calapooia Midden site. It may be important that Area B, the location of the formal cemetery, was peripheral to the areas of the site identified as domestic spaces. Given the overall distribution of dated contexts, it seems most likely that the cemetery was formed during a period of regular site use. At such times, perhaps the site occupants simply focused their activities in areas of the site away from the space devoted to interment. Eventually the spot in Area B used as a cemetery was reintegrated into the general camp activity sphere as the burials in Area B were overlain by midden deposits suggesting a later use of that part of the site for refuse disposal. The cultural contexts of such a shift in the way activities at the site were organized and space used is unknown but probably are very important for understanding the long-term history of mound site occupancy.

It is axiomatic that people die all of the time and in prehistory, it seems, that often people were buried where they passed away. For the Kalapuya such a practice runs counter to late 19th century ethnographic narratives which state that families kept their own cemeteries that were located at winter villages and that if a person died or had been killed away from home, the body was brought back to the village for burial (Gatschet et al. 1945:196-197). The social context of the ethnographic narrative may indeed apply to late prehistoric times but the geography of the narrative is at odds with available archaeological evidence (Roulette and Wilson 1994). Formal cemeteries, like the one in Area B at the Calapooia Midden, a non-village context, clearly communicate an important message. In the present case, I hypothesized that the formal cemetery in Area B represents a symbolic referent established by a family or other corporate group to assert exclusive or primary rights of use over a particular resource area (Carr 1996). It is possible but less clearly so, that the burials in Area C, have the same symbolic meaning.

Camas Ovens

Evidence that as a group mound sites are functionally associated with camas processing, if not spatially congruent with this activity, is common and includes charred camas bulbs, burnt earth, abundant charcoal, and large quantities of fire-cracked rock. Despite the assumed close association between camas processing and mound sites, camas ovens have been documented at only three of them, including the Calapooia Midden, where three earth ovens were found and interpreted as facilities for processing camas. All were located in Area A away from the midden deposits. Radiocarbon dates of 2880 and 2180 B.P. were obtained from two of the features. The third earth oven can be dated to the same approximate era based on its stratigraphic position. These features predate the main period of site occupation represented by the midden deposits and while no earth ovens were exposed that date to the main period of site occupation, the widespread occurrence of charred camas bulbs, large quantities of fire-cracked rock, and ubiquitous bisque and charcoal strongly suggests that camas ovens were located near the mound site but not within the areas selected for excavation.

Pit Features

Pit features are rarely recorded (or recognized) at mound sites. At the Calapooia Midden site, 15 such features were recorded. Pit features were concentrated near the edge of the point bar in Area B and were dug into the banks of the former river channel. Unlike the burials located in Area B, pit features tended to intersect one another. Some pits were quite large with apertures a meter or more in diameter.

The pit features were typically quite difficult to discern as they were excavated through midden deposits and filled with similar deposits. Since pit features are believed to have been storage facilities for the temporary storage or caching of baked camas or other foods, they should be common at sites where bulk production of foodstuffs was a focus of occupation. Pit features at the Calapooia Midden were not spatially associated with the mounded midden deposits. It follows that at sites where excavations have focused on mounded midden deposits, such features may have been overlooked.

In summary, cultural features at the site were distributed in a non-random fashion, and they, along with the non-random distribution of midden and camp surface deposits, are obvious signs that activities at the Calapooia Midden site were highly organized and that internal structure of the site persisted over time. Since the structure of mound sites has been virtually ignored by earlier investigators, similar inferences regarding the spatial arrangement of activities at mound sites have not been forwarded. Using the Calapooia Midden site as an example, other mound sites should be similarly structured. At the Calapooia Midden site, the redundant use of specific areas for specialized tasks and activities, including refuse disposal, interment, and storage of food products, suggests that the site was occupied recurrently by related groups of people who shared the same ideas regarding the internal arrangement of facilities and use areas.


More than 28,000 pieces of lithic debitage and 1,700 stone, bone, and antler tools were recovered from data recovery excavations at the Calapooia Midden site. The tool assemblage provides evidence for a wide variety of domestic activities centered on the acquisition and processing of plant and animal resources and stone and bone/antler tool manufacturing. The assemblage also contains more limited evidence for recreational or leisure activities (pipe fragments) and personal adornment (glass, bone, and baked clay beads). Artifacts related to plant food processing were common and serve to identify the site as an important plant food-processing locale. At the same time, several hundred projectile points were recovered from the site, majority of which exhibit use breaks and probably represent tools brought to the site in hafts. These artifacts indicate that the Calapooia Midden site functioned as a place where hunting equipment was repaired, maintained, and replaced, an inference further supported by the recovery at the site of literally hundreds of projectile point production rejects and thousands of pieces of debitage related to bifacial thinning and pressure flaking.

In its size and diversity, the tool assemblage from the Calapooia Midden site represents one of the largest and most diverse collections recovered from an archaeological site in the Willamette Valley. Though the Calapooia Midden site may be somewhat anomalous, mound sites typically have yield large, diverse artifact assemblages (e.g., Cheatham 1988:109-113; Miller 1975:321-344; Murdy and Wentz 1975; Woodward et al. 1975). Because of the problems related to determining the proportion of other mound sites that have been excavated and the lack of attention to site formation processes, attempts to directly compare tool assemblages between mound sites have been handicapped. Even so, certain trends are obvious. For instance, mound site tool assemblages typically contain a wide variety of flake tools including large numbers of projectile points. These assemblages also tend to contain a greater variety of groundstone implements than those from other site types, even adjusting for sample size and excavated volumes. Mound sites have yielded more non-utilitarian objects (e.g., pipes and beads), although, in general, such items are rare at Willamette Valley sites. Also, bone and antler artifacts have only been found at mound sites.

To illustrate the tool assemblage variability among mound sites, tool inventories from seven mound sites are presented in Table 2. To compare the diversity of tool assemblages between mound sites and non-mound sites Table 2 also presents tool inventories for a select number of non-mound sites in the Willamette Valley. The non-mound sites are those where data recovery excavations were conducted in 1992 as part of a large valley-wide pipeline project (Roulette et al. 1996). These sites are included because a single set of analytical techniques was employed in the analysis of their tool assemblages (and 35LIN468, as well) and because relatively large samples were excavated at each of the non-mound sites and thus some of the problems associated with sample size and tool assemblage diversity have been avoided. With the exception of 35MA105 and 35LIN457, each of the non-mound sites shown in the figure was interpreted as a warm season base camp. Sites 35MA105 and 35LIN457 have been interpreted as task sites.

The tool types listed in Table 2 do not represent a comprehensive inventory of tools at the Calapooia Midden site, nor at other mound and non-mound sites. For example, bifaces, performs and cores have been excluded as they are common at all of the listed sites and do not serve to reveal variability between assemblages. Some tools that occur at only one or two sites have been omitted.

As would be expected, there is overlap among tool assemblages recovered from mound sites and those from base camps and even task sites. Mound sites typically contain all of the varieties of flake tools inventoried at the other types of sites and some additional varieties of flaked tools as well. Drills, gravers, and spokeshaves, for instance are more commonly recovered from mound sites than other site types. Among groundstone implements, abraders are more common at mound sites as are bowls/mortars, and pestles. Hammerstones are commonly recovered from mound and non-mound sites but anvil stones are more common at mound sites than at base camps and task sites.

The diverse tool assemblages recovered from mound sites allow us to dismiss out-of-hand the idea that the procurement of camas was the sole economic activity conducted at them. As it will be recalled, Thoms (1989:314) has described mound sites in the Willamette Valley as "camas processing features." Based on his research in Idaho’s Calispell Valley, Thoms (1989) has suggested that artifact assemblages characterizing camas harvesting and processing should contain wood working tools such as chisels, adzes, choppers, gravers, and spokeshaves, expedient tools, and pestles and other groundstone artifacts (Thoms 1989:258-272). Thoms (1989:269) further suggests that the manufacture, use, and discard of flaked stone tools other than those just noted was minimal at camas processing camps compared to hunting and fishing camps.

As can be seen in the table, the Calapooia Midden site tool assemblage, and those from other mound sites, contains many of the tool types used to procure and process camas but projectile points and the assorted other flaked tool types that are commonly recovered from mound sites run counter to Thoms' (1989) prediction and serve to identify mound sites as something more than camas processing sites as he and others have suggested.

Floral and Faunal Remains

The midden deposits at the Calapooia Midden site provided a suitable medium for the preservation of faunal material and also contained abundant charred macrobotanical material. The 6,000-plus faunal elements and 100-plus charred plant specimens recovered during data recovery excavations represent the largest floral and faunal assemblages that have been analyzed from any mound site.

Analysis of the faunal assemblage showed that large mammals, mostly deer and elk, were the most economically important animals represented at the site. This result generally follows the ethnographic Kalapuyan subsistence pattern. Modifications noted on numerous faunal elements, and a variety of large-mammal elements, indicating the presence of complete carcasses or large portions of carcasses, suggests that primary butchering of game occurred at the site.

Medium-sized mammals identified included dog or coyote, bobcat, beaver, raccoon, river otter, and skunk. Most of the identifiable bone assigned to the medium-sized mammal category was from the tail, skull, or extremities of fur bearing animals. The frequency representation of the medium-size mammal elements suggests that they represent animals hunted for their pelts or skins.

Small-sized mammals present at the Calapooia Midden site included hare, gopher, vole, shrew, mole, brush rabbit, and ground squirrel. Small-sized mammal remains appear to consist of some species that were of economic use and others that occupy the general site habitats and represent natural deaths.

Identifiable bird bone at the Calapooia Midden site was from various species of geese and ducks including Canada goose, Blue goose, and Pintail duck. A species of eagle or hawk was also represented. It bears noting that among the 62 identifiable bird bones, twice as many were wing bones as non-wing bones. The preponderance of wing bones in prehistoric avian assemblages is a widespread phenomenon. Though previously undocumented at a Willamette Valley archaeological site, a pattern of a disproportionate number of bird wing bones within avifauna assemblages has been noted among late prehistoric sites along the Northwest Coast (Hanson 1991; Matson et al. 1980). The study of bone modification suggests that at the Calapooia Midden site wings were removed as an initial step in butchering. All 10 of the bird bones that exhibited butchering marks were wing elements.

The avifauna remains are the most sensitive seasonal indicators included in the faunal assemblage. Included in the avifauna collection were bones from migratory species available in the Willamette Valley only between about October to April. At the same time, mammal bones representing juvenile animals were comparatively rare in the faunal assemblage. Since most mammals give birth in the spring/summer, the scarcity of juvenile-aged remains coupled with the general lack of non-winter avian species suggests that the site was used during the winter and fall months for activities that focused on hunting a variety of mammals and migratory waterfowl.

Prior to the time of the 1992 excavations, little archaeobotanical research had been conducted in the Willamette Valley and earlier analyses of macrobotanical remains from archaeological sites did not distinguished between charred and uncharred plant macrofossils (Picket 1980; Minor and Picket 1982). This is unfortunate, as under normal soil conditions seeds and many other plant parts will decay within about 100 years (Minnis 1981:147).

Moreover, because there are many ways for plant remains to become incorporated into the archaeological record, such remains provide ambiguous evidence for prehistoric use of plants in diet and technology (Minnis 1981:144). Long-term preservation of plant macrofossils depends on fortuitous circumstances, the most common of which is charring. Unless favorable conditions for the preservation of plant seeds and other plant parts prevail, it is best to consider only charred plant remains as potentially related to aboriginal use. Even then there are many factors that mitigate a direct interpretation of charred plant remains as evidence for human use.

Potential food plants represented in the sample of charred macrobotanical specimens recovered from the site include camas, hazelnuts, kinnikinnick, wild onion bulb, wild rose, and bitter cherry. These few examples represent a minute sample of the plants used in Kalapuya subsistence and pharmacopoeia. Together, charred remains of these plants represented about 10 percent by weight of the macrobotanical specimens that were analyzed. The vast majority of other charred plant remains consisted of charcoal from variety of conifer and deciduous trees. Charred camas bulbs and other bulbs of the lily family (Liliaceae) were the most common variety of charred food plant. Camas was the premier vegetable staple among the Kalapuya and was also a principal article of trade used by some Kalapuya groups (Zenk 1976:35-36, 52). The bulbs, among the macrobotanical remains, are the best suited for indicating season(s) of site occupation. Ethnographic literature reports that camas was harvested in late spring, to be eaten fresh, and in autumn, when the bulbs were at their largest and when bulk harvesting and processing was most likely to occur. Combining floral and faunal seasonal indicators suggests, as White (1975a) postulated for some mound sites, that the Calapooia Midden was visited or otherwise in use during part of every season of the year.

Toward A New Interpretation of Mound Sites

Framing an Ethnographic Analog

The result of the considerable research into the proper placement of the Kalapuya into North American Culture areas has yielded a consensus that the Kalapuya, materially, socially, and in terms of their subsistence, were more similar to cultures of the Columbia Plateau than the Northwest Coast (Cheatham 1988; Collins 1951; Toepel 1985). Thus, in proposing a new interpretation of mound sites, it is not inappropriate that a land use and settlement analog derived from Nez Perce ethnography is used. My use of a Nez Perce analog is what Willey (1977) has called "specific comparative" with the implication that ethnographically recorded information on Nez Perce subsistence-settlement can be useful in the specific case of describing Kalapuyan subsistence-settlement without resorting to specific historical analogy or more broadly defined comparative analogs.

It is proposed that mound sites functioned as "established camps" in the manner described by Ames and Marshall (1980-1981) for the Nez Perce. In their description of ethnographic Nez Perce settlement systems, Ames and Marshal (1980-1981) defined "established camps" as "the smallest customarily associated group of persons tending to be found on a seasonal basis in a given named geographical locale over which they possess usufruct rights only" (Walker in Ames and Marshall 1980-1981:30). This is in contrast to "villages," which are defined as "the smallest customarily associated group of persons tending to be found on a seasonal basis in a given named geographical locale they were thought to own" (Walker in Ames and Marshall 1980-1981:29:30). Other site types are also described, "noon camps" and "overnight camps," for instance, but the Nez Perce considered only villages and established camps as habitation loci (Marshall 1977; Ames and Marshall 1980-1981).

Family groups, which might consist of a number of kinship-based social configurations, founded and occupied established camps and created and maintained facilities at the sites. They held recognized exclusionary rights to use the resources associated with camp and likewise owned any materials that might be left at such places in anticipation of using the locale the following year. Established camps were destination points for a family group after the break-up of the winter village (Ames and Marshall 1980-1981:30-31). The camps were located at areas where resources, typically food resources, were procured and the occupation of such camps coincided with the period of resource availability (Ames and Marshall 1980-1981:32-33). The main economic goal of the activity at the established camps was to harvest and process food for immediate consumption but more importantly for winter consumption.

The idea of established camps drawn from the ethnographic Nez Perce is useful in conceptualizing who might have occupied Willamette Valley mound sites, how the sites functioned in a cultural system, and their purpose. It should be noted that Nez Perce family groups created and maintained multiple established camps, one or more in each vertical zone around which their yearly subsistence activities evolved. I see a slightly different role for established camps among the prehistoric Kalapuya. What little is known of the Kalapuya seasonal round suggests that it was oriented horizontally, rather than vertically, or at least had considerable less movement up and down the mountain flanks that frame the sides of the Willamette Valley. Also, in general food resources were probably more tightly packed in the Willamette Valley than they were on the Columbia Plateau. For these reasons, the prehistoric Kalapuya, in contrast to the ethnographic Nez Perce, probably maintained fewer established camps and the diversity of activities that occurred at the camps was much greater than is described for Nez Perce. This is not to say that Kalapuya family groups did not maintained multiple established camps in different segments of the band territory. To prevent over harvesting of camas or to minimize degradation of local resource patches surrounding an established camp, several such camps may have been maintained by a family group.

Archaeological evidence from the Calapooia Midden site suggests that bulk processing of foodstuffs was the central activity during the main periods of site occupation. Though less detailed information is available from other mound sites, a similar economic function is logically extended to those sites. In the Nez Perce model, plant resources were the resources most critical in terms of placement of established camps and the timing of camp use. Likewise, the evidence for camas processing at the Calapooia Midden site and other mounds sites, and the geography of their locations, suggest that proximity to camas grounds was a critical factor in determining the placement of these established camps as well.

In the ethnographic Nez Perce model family groups occupied established camps. The social makeup of a prehistoric site’s occupants is difficult to demonstrate archaeologically. At the same time, among hunter and gatherers, it is typically assumed that the household (however defined) is, and was, the basic unit of production and consumption (Wilk and Rathje 1982:617). It is not a large leap, therefore, to suggest that at different times specific family groups occupied and maintained the Calapooia Midden site. Perhaps the best evidence in support of this hypothesis comes from the mortuary data, specifically, the careful arrangement of the ten burials in Area B. The structure of that cemetery plot suggests occupancy by a family group for over a 150-year period.

Among the ethnographic Nez Perce, occupants of established camps held recognized exclusionary use rights to resources patches associated with their camps. Examples of this type of exclusive use rights can be found in Kalapuya ethnography. For example, among the Tualatin Kalapuya winter village groups claimed specific tarweed patches within which particular plots were managed or owned by individual family groups (Zenk 1976:16-17). It is proposed that camas plots were likewise identified and controlled by individual families, at least in late prehistoric times, and that the family group that created and maintained the established camp held exclusionary use rights to the camas patch that historically, and presumably prehistorically, was located adjacent to the site.

The amount of camas harvested and processed for winter stores potentially was very great. It is estimated that for groups that rely on camas as a vegetal staple, roughly a 900 kilograms of camas would be consumed yearly by an average family of five and that more than 700 kilograms of this total would be processed for storage and required transport to a winter village or cache site (Thoms 1989). Since the most important resource would incur the greatest amount of energy and planning in its acquisition, processing, and transport, it is expected that such a resource would "control" the output of labor and planning for subsidiary resources. That is, although floral and faunal materials from the Calapooia Midden site represent resources extracted from a variety of habitats, it is assumed that camas, because it was the resource with the highest labor costs in terms of bulk processing and storing, most greatly influenced the positioning of mound sites on the landscape. In this regard, it can be noted that the Calapooia Midden site, like other mound sites, was located near waterways that were probably flanked with riparian forests. Such settings would have provided sources for the wood packing material needed in the processing of camas, while the waterways may have facilitated transport of camas and other products to winter villages or cache sites.

Factors Influencing the Origination of Mound Sites as Established Camps

Mound sites exhibit characteristics indicating that they were used in a more intensive manner, and with greater investment in durable facilities (earth ovens, storage pits) than other site types thus far documented in the Willamette Valley. The appearance of mound sites as a type-site after 2000 B.P. ostensibly reflects a way of using the landscape that was different from earlier times. It must now be asked: What were the conditions that led to the development of such sites? And, When did these conditions arise?

To begin this part of the discussion, external and internal factors must be considered. Powerful external factors often linked to culture change include stresses associated with increased population density or packing. In the Willamette Valley, increases in the frequency of radiocarbon dates from archaeological sites through time have been used to model growth rate curves for regional populations (Cheatham 1988). The assumption is that "…for each given time period, the number of dated archaeological components provides a reasonable representation of human population trends" (Cheatham 1988:186). Ames (1991:936-937) uses a similar assumption in examining population increases in the geographical province he calls "southern Cascadia," which includes the Willamette Valley. Both sources suggest that regional populations began to increase ca. 4000 B.P. and that there was a marked increase in population after ca. 3000 B.P. Population increases continued until a population collapse associated with introduced diseases occurred in the proto-historic period.

One predictable outcome of increased population density or packing in a circumscribed area, like the Willamette Valley, is loss of mobility (Binford 1983;Thoms 1989). Circumscription, in terms of reduced movement and territory, creates stresses on populations, especially if population size increases. Paramount among the challenges of trying to maintain a viable population in a circumscribed area is the need to acquire adequate food supplies. One way to supply an increasing number of consumers with resources from a finite territory is to intensify procurement activity in any described area. As a process, intensification can be conceptualized as an expenditure of greater energy per unit area to recover food from the same landscape to feed more people. In practice it requires an available resource suitable for intensified harvest (Thoms 1989:6, citing Cohen 1977, 1987). Geophytes, including camas, are such resources and Thoms (1989) has argued that in some areas of the Pacific Northwest, including the Willamette Valley, their use intensified a response to stresses resulting from an imbalance between people and existing land use systems. He suggests that evidence for the intensification of camas use is apparent 4,000 or 5,000 years ago in the form of what he terms “kitchen middens” and also cemeteries.

Radiocarbon dates on camas ovens in the Willamette Valley, especially its southern part, tend to support Thoms' (1989) hypothesis. Eleven uncalibrated dates of between 4400 and 3780 B.P. were obtained on camas ovens found at five sites in the Country Fair/Veneta archaeological project area (Friedel et al. (1989:94-95, Table 6.7) and an approximately 4,300 year old camas oven was found at the Bradley-Moen site (Cheatham 1988). These radiocarbon dates suggest a marked increase in the number of camas processing features beginning ca. 4,000 years ago, which in turn suggests an increased level of importance for this resource, which may or may not signal intensification. Comparing these dates with those from mound sites, however, it is seen that the dynamics affecting increased use of camas and the formation of mound sites were not operating in parallel. That is, the earliest unequivocal dates on midden deposits at mound sites post-date the early dates on camas ovens by approximately 2,000 years.

The external forces that are believed to have resulted in the initial period of intensified use of camas, namely population growth and increased population density or packing, were on-going processes and their logical outcomes, reduced mobility and geographical population circumscription, no doubt created human/resource imbalances that over time required many additional adjustments in settlement and subsistence. This is an important point, because, simply put, the stresses that are thought to have contributed to the intensification of camas as a dietary staple did not go away but were ongoing and required other strategies to local populations in circumscribed home territories had enough to eat.

The possible role that internal factors may have had in influencing shifts in Kalapuyan settlement systems should not be ignored. Bender (1979:205) has suggested that intensification as a process "may simply be about improving accessibility, making returns more predictable, or reducing travel time" and further suggests that demographic pressure be demoted from its hypothesized role of prime mover (Bender 1979:208). In the case of the Kalapuya, camas intensification may have been linked to extra-regional trade, which became an important mechanism for the acquisition of desired resources in the face of reduced group mobility.

Regardless of the exact combination of internal and external factors that were involved, in terms of changes in settlement, available evidence suggest that mound sites represent a new variety of site which appear on the archaeological landscape within the past 2,000 years. I contend that their appearance is related to the development of a system of individual-family control over specific resource areas. As a result of this shift in landuse, established camps were established by family groups at or near camas patches for the purpose of acquiring sufficient stores for use during the winter (and/or for trade). The allotment of productive camas plots to individual families is seen as an adaptive response to an imbalance between an increasingly less mobile population and a resource within circumscribed areas. The artifact assemblage recovered from the Calapooia Midden site suggests that mound sites became centers from which work groups involved in a variety of procurement tasks originated and returned. Camas harvesting and processing arguably were the most important economic activities conducted at these sites. However, other evidence, especially the faunal record at the Calapooia Midden site, clearly demonstrates that the camp was used during other seasons for organizing hunting expeditions and processing game.


In conclusion, I proposed that the development of mound sites involved a shift in prehistoric land use and settlement systems that was initiated ca. 2000 B.P. wherein family groups, the smallest unit of production and consumption in Kalapuyan society, established and maintained control and use rights at individual resources patches where camas was available. Prior to ca. 2000 B.P., there is limited evidence for accumulation of large secondary refuse aggregates and from this it can be inferred that subsistence activities were spread more widely over the landscape without large scale refuse accumulation. Though not discussed in this paper, it is likely that this change in settlement went hand in hand with increased manipulation of the environment for the purpose of meeting subsistence needs (Ames 1991:942; Gilsen 1992).

As a response to an imbalance between population, resources, and landuse systems, subsistence and settlement systems became localized and people intensified their activities at selected points of the landscape (Binford 1983). A logical consequence of such a shift in settlement and landuse would be greater cultural deposition, which in the Willamette Valley took the form of secondary refuse aggregates recognizable as mounded midden deposits.

Mound sites can be seen to have operated as focal points in the production of stores consumed during the part of the year spent at winter villages. The sites were used as central nodes during the part of the year family groups were distributed throughout their band territory procuring and processing material for immediate consumption but more importantly for winter stores. Based on the faunal seasonality indicators, many procurement tasks that originated from the Calapooia Midden site were conducted at time of the year when camas was not harvested. As individual family production centers, mound sites were homologous to individual households in winter villages with the main difference being that the winter village household was the focal point for the consumption of stores and the mound site was the focal point for the production of stores.

The fact that mounds are not present everywhere in the Willamette Valley probably indicates that the system of highly spatially congruent behavior with established family camps was but one of a number of responses that served as adjustment to the stresses associated with continued increases in population density and lessened mobility. Alternative responses will likely be intimately associated with population size and the specific spatio-temporal distribution of resources in the sub-basins or individual valleys occupied by a dialectic group.

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