Some of the tribal names of Plateau Indians were
Snake, Cayuse, Umatilla, Yakima, Spokane, Palouse, and Walla Walla.
They gathered edible vegetables and fruits, including camas, kouse,
bitter-roots, serviceberry, chokecherry, huckleberry, and wild strawberries.
They made woven baskets of grasses and lived in movable tipis made of
poles covered with mats made of tule reeds, sometimes called bulrush,
though they wintered in more permanent multi-family homes comprising
of partially buried frameworks of covered poles over ground pits. In
addition to hunting and gathering, these Indians were fishermen, with
salmon making up a major part of their food supply. They congregated
in the area near Stevenson and caught many salmon during
annual salmon runs. When horses came to the area, the world of the Plateau
people expanded, allowing them to trade far and wide -- the Columbia
River was a highway to coastal peoples --- and those east of the Rocky
Mountains for things such as bison meat and hides. Hunters rode far
for bison, deer, and elk.
Laurie Burgess is a key archaeologist at the
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. She has studied beads
found in burial sheds on the Columbia River near 1938 when the Bonneville
Dam was being constructed, and the island about to be submerged. George
Iman, a son of Felix described the site and burial sheds in detail and
earned the respect and appreciation of Smithsonian staff currently working
to repatriate one of the most significant bead collection of native
Americans in the nation -- back to Plateau peoples. Their work and the
beads are described below in an article reprinted from Research Reports.
Buried beads hold important clues for dating
By Brenda Kean Tabor
Special to Research Reports
Smithsonian Institution Research Reports, No. 111, Winter 2003
Beads played a major role in 19th century trade between Europeans and
Native Americans across large areas of North America. As beads were
introduced by Europeans, they dominated the trade and were wholly incorporated
into Native American culture. They were stitched onto hide shirts, leggings
and dresses; used on cradleboards and bags; and strung on strips of
hide or sinew.
Now these beads, which were culturally valued objects
buried with their Native American owners, are being used to help establish
the dates that archaeological sites were in use, Archaeologist Laurie
Burgess is a specialist in 19thcentury glass trade beads
in the Department of Anthropology of the Smithsonian National Museum
of Natural History. She studies and documents trade beads, among other
historical materials, that are housed in the museum's collections.
trade beads are made of a durable material that tends to survive well
in archaeological contexts. They are good "markers" for
helping archaeologists date sites. "We know that if glass beads
are found at a site, the site postdates European contact," she
explains. Such a site would have been in use after 1492, when Columbus
arrived in the New World, and during later centuries. 'The types of
beads present at a site also help us narrow the time frame of occupation
even more," Burgess
says. The beads housed in the National Museum of Natural History's collection
were recovered from Native American grave sites by 19th- and 20th-century
archaeologists and brought to the Smithsonian for study.
the 1989 National Museum of the American Indian Act, researchers are
working to document the important information the objects contain. The
act, Burgess explains, mandates that the Smithsonian, upon request,
repatriate culturally affiliated human remains and funerary objects,
including beads, to federally recognized, contemporary Native groups
that are entitled to them. The act requires that objects be inventoried
and documented before they are repatriated.
Sullivan's Island beads
Burgess recently completed study of an unusually
large collection of trade beads known as the Sullivan's Island Bead
Collection, which is scheduled to be repatriated to Native American
tribes in the Plateau Region of the northwestern United States within
the next two years. This collection of 50,000 beads was brought to the
Smithsonian by Herbert Krieger in 1934 from a burial island on the Columbia
River in Washington state. Krieger was a Smithsonian archaeologist sent
to the site to recover archaeological materials before the area was
to be flooded by the completion of the Bonneville Dam in 1938.
were presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the Society for American
Archaeology held in Denver, Colo. 'The Sullivan's Island Bead Collection," he
says, "is one of the most significant
9th-caitury trade bead collections, because almost every known bead
type is here. It's unusual to have such a range in one collection." A
significant portion of the beads are large, ornate and valuable. Burgess
compared this collection with one found at Fort Vancouver, a major trading
post 50 miles down the river. Beads found at the fort were, in general,
smaller and much plainer than the beads found on the island. Burgess
believes this indicates that the beads at the fort were lost, dropped
or scattered, making the Fort Vancouver collection "unintentional." Since
the beads found on Sullivan's Island were more valuable, traders were
less likely to drop or lose them.
"The two collections," Burgess
adds, "are from the same region
and time period, which makes them valuable, comparative collections." However,
the differences between the two collections are significant. The beads
at the fort show a selection of beads that were available for trade,
but they do not wholly reflect the richness of the bead trade. Burgess
said. 'The collection found at Sullivan's Island represents beads in
use – the
beads that were actively chosen by the Native Americans in the area."
"One of the goals of bead research is to record information in
a standardized way" Burgess says. When information is collected
in standardized or systematic ways throughout the field of archaeology,
it allows archaeologists to compare different collections to see what
patterns emerge over time.
Working in a laboratory at the Smithsonian's
Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md., Burgess analyzed the beads found
on Sullivan's Island using a zoom microscope, which provides the high
levels of magnification needed to properly identify characteristics
such as the shape and orientation of tiny air bubbles in the glass.
She also used digital calipers, which look like high-tech pliers with
a tiny digital screen, to record the length, width, thickness and diameter
of the beads An extensive reference library of texts and journals was
used to obtain dates or date ranges of the beads.
The beads were classified
and categorized based on manufacture type, degree of opacity or translucence,
shape, presence or absence of decoration, color and size. The findings
are logged into a database, Burgess says, so that the museum will still
have access to this valuable information after the objects are returned
to their tribes.
The origin of beads
Most of the world's 19th-century trade beads were
made in Venice and Bohemia. Chinese beads, referred to in historical
records as "canton" beads,
were brought to North America from China by Euro- American traders and
are concentrated on the Pacific Coast. Beads made in Bohemia generally
had facets ground by hand, giving them more reflective surfaces. One
particularly popular type of Bohemian bead was a large, heavily faceted
cobalt blue bead, which was and still is misleadingly referred to as
Blue" because it was traded by Russian fur traders. Sullivan's
Island had more than 2,000 of the blue beads and many other large, highly
decorated ones, which seemed to have been particularly valued, as they
were deliberately chosen as funerary objects.
Twelve of the Sullivan's
Island beads were wound-on-drawn beads, the rarest type of beads in
North America, formed by a combination of two common bead manufacturing
techniques They are made of translucent red glass wound around a drawn
white bead. "Only three other wound-on-drawn beads
have ever been recovered," Burgess says. "At this point, the
rare beads raise more questions than they answer."
Why are there so few of them? Where do they come from? Why are they
made this way? Questions such as these pod Burgess to further research
and understanding of the beads and the role they played in Euro-American
and Native American interactions.
Jo Arm Webb contributed to this article.