Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cooper's Ferry Archaeological Site

Now that we’re experiencing subzero weather here in Idaho, I thought it was a good time to reflect on warmer days.  One day in late July, I remembered an article I had read that stated that Oregon State University was excavating a site at Cooper’s Ferry in the Salmon River Canyon near Cottonwood Idaho, and that visitors were welcome to stop by. The site holds some of the earliest evidence of humans in the Pacific Northwest and a team from OSU uses the site as an archeology field school for eight weeks each summer.

View of the Salmon River from the Cooper's Ferry Site

I decided that it was great day to load up the Suburban and visit the dig and enjoy some swimming at one of the beaches nearby.  I invited the neighbor girls and a close friend and her daughter to join my three youngest children and me.  Once the eight seats were filled, we set off on our adventure. Cooper’s Ferry is about an hour’s drive from our house, sufficient time to get everyone excited about what we were going to see. I envisioned the kids digging with trowels, sifting for artifacts, maybe finding an arrowhead.  The area was alive with archaeology students and their instructors.  I parked along the road and went to speak with someone to verify that the kids were welcome to get out and explore. Unfortunately, I was told, the site was only open until 3PM (or maybe it was 2:45) and we had missed it by about five minutes. They were closing down and wrapping things up, setting up security, etc. They did give the kids some quiz cards and invited us to come back during regular hours.

Cooper's Ferry site all closed up and protected for the night.
It was a bit of a disappointment, but the kids were hot and mostly anxious to hit the beach.  The first beach we reached was packed. I decided to continue driving along the Salmon River to what is basically a dead end.  I parked the car and we set off down a well-trod path. Rather than a giant sandy beach like the one we had passed and the kids had been expecting, we arrived at what could best be described as a rock outcropping leading onto a rocky shore swarming with yellow jackets. My friend gave me a dubious look, but we had already hiked down the trail and I was not ready to give up. It turned out to be ideal. We were able to walk along a narrow, underwater sandbar that stretched far out into river, away from the yellow jackets. The bar separated a nice swimming area from the main current of the river. I ordered the kids to stay on the safe side of the bar and they had a blast.
Playing on the sandbar in Salmon River
Coincidentally, a few days later, another friend called and asked if she could take my kids to the beach. I said yes and urged her to stop by the Cooper’s Ferry dig, which she did, and the kids were finally able to enjoy the experience.
The work going on at Cooper’s Ferry is pretty exciting. They’re coming up with some carbon dates and other evidence that could prove that the Clovis People were not the first to inhabit this part of the country as is widely believed. 
OSU's Cooper's Ferry blog:

Archaeological Research at Cooper's Ferry

They have also set up a YouTube channel with video logs and other educational videos related to the Cooper’s Ferry site. Here is an example: