Virginia L. Butler

Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Anthropology



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 138 pages)


Indians of North America -- Northwest, Pacific -- Antiquities, Cathlapotle (Wash.) -- History -- 19th century, Chinookan Indians -- Columbia River -- Antiquities, Fish remains (Archaeology) -- Washington (State) -- Cathlapotle




Social inequality is a trademark of Northwest Coast native societies, and the relationship between social prestige and resource control, particularly resource ownership, is an important research issue on the Northwest Coast. Faunal remains are one potential but as yet underutilized path for examining this relationship. My thesis work takes on this approach through the analysis of fish remains from the Cathlapotle archaeological site (45CL1). Cathlapotle is a large Chinookan village site located on the Lower Columbia River that was extensively excavated in the 1990s. Previous work has established prestige distinctions between houses and house compartments, making it possible to examine the relationship between prestige and the spatial distribution of fish remains. In this study, I examine whether having high prestige afforded its bearers greater access to preferred fish, utilizing comparisons of fish remains at two different levels of social organization, between and within households, to determine which social mechanisms could account for potential differences in access to fish resources. Differential access to these resources within the village could have occurred through household-level ownership of harvesting sites or control over the post-harvesting distribution of food by certain individuals.

Previous work in this region on the relationship between faunal remains and prestige has relied heavily on ethnohistoric sources to determine the relative value of taxa. These sources do not provide adequate data to make detailed comparisons between all of the taxa encountered at archaeological sites, so in this study I utilize optimal foraging theory as an alternative means of determining which fish taxa were preferred. Optimal foraging theory provides a universal, quantitative analytical rule for ranking fish that I was able to apply to all of the taxa encountered at Cathlapotle. Given these rankings, which are based primarily on size, I examine the degree to which relative prestige designations of two households (Houses 1 and 4) and compartments within one of those households (House 1) are reflected in the spatial distribution of fish remains. I also offer a new method for quantifying sturgeon that utilizes specimen weight to account for differential fragmentation rates while still allowing for sturgeon abundance to be compared to the abundances of other taxa that have been quantified by number of identified specimens (NISP).

Based on remains recovered from 1/4" mesh screens, comparisons between compartments within House 1 indicate that the chief and possibly other elite members of House 1 likely had some control over the distribution of fish resources within their household, taking more of the preferred sturgeon and salmon, particularly more chinook salmon, for themselves. Comparisons between households provide little evidence to support household-based ownership of fishing sites. A greater abundance of chinook salmon in the higher prestige House 1 may indicate ownership of fishing platforms at major chinook fisheries such as Willamette Falls or Cascades Rapids, but other explanations for this difference between households are possible. Analyses of a limited number of bulk samples, which were included in the study in order to examine utilization of very small fishes, provided insufficient data to allow for meaningful intrasite comparisons. These data indicate that the inhabitants of Cathlapotle were exploiting a broad fish subsistence base that included large numbers of eulachon and stickleback in addition to the larger fishes. This study provides a promising approach for examining prestige on the Northwest Coast and expanding our understanding of the dynamics between social inequality and resource access and control.

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