First Advisor

Kenneth Ames

Date of Publication

Winter 3-14-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Anthropology






Plank houses -- Northwest Coast of North America -- Design and construction, Plank houses -- Northwest Coast of North America -- Maintenance and repair, Household archaeology -- Northwest Coast of North America, Domestic architecture -- Northwest Coast of North America.



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 138 pages)


Plankhouses were functionally and symbolically integral to Northwest Coast societies, as much of economic and social life was predicated on these dwellings. This thesis investigates both plankhouse architecture and the production of these dwellings. Studying plankhouse construction and maintenance provides information regarding everyday labor, landscape use outside of villages, organization of complex tasks, and resource management.

This thesis investigates three plankhouse structures at two sites, Meier and Cathlapotle, in the Lower Columbia River Region of the southern Northwest Coast of North America. Methods consisted of digitizing over 1,100 architectural features, creating detailed maps of architectural features, and conducting statistical and spatial analysis of these features. I use ethnographies, historical documents, experimental archaeology, and ecological studies to characterize the processes of plankhouse production. This information is combined with excavation data from Cathlapotle and Meier to calculate estimates of material and labor required for plankhouse-related activities.

Results of this study support previous inferences regarding house architecture, construction and maintenance at the two sites. Structural elements were frequently replaced, yet overall house appearance changed little over time. Some differences in structural element use and size are noted between the two sites, suggesting that slightly different building techniques may have been employed at the two villages.

Although approximate, calculations of raw materials and person days required for various building tasks provide a glimpse of the massive undertaking entailed in constructing and maintaining plankhouses. These data suggest that an enormous amount of trees were required for construction and maintenance over house occupation, approximately 700-1,200 trees at Meier, 900-2,000 trees at Cathlapotle House 1, and 150-400 trees at Cathlapotle House 4. Estimates of minimum person days entailed for tasks related to initial construction range from 1,400-2,800 at Meier, to 2,100-4,500 at Cathlapotle House 1, to 350-700 at Cathlapotle House 4. In highlighting the articulation of plankhouse labor with household reproduction, this thesis demonstrates the important interplay between material outputs, everyday action, and sociopolitical aspects of Northwest Coast society.


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