First Advisor

Kenneth Ames

Term of Graduation

Spring 1996

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Anthropology






Arrowhead (Plants) -- Oregon -- Portland Region, Arrowhead (Plants) -- Washington (State) -- Vancouver Region, Chinookan Indians -- Ethnobotany -- Oregon -- Portland Region, Chinookan Indians -- Ethnobotany -- Washington (State) -- Vancouver Region



Physical Description

1 online resource (iv, 136 pages)


Sagittaria latifolia Willd. was an important root food and trade commodity for the Indians who lived along the Lower Columbia River in early historic times. This plant was prolific in the extensive wetlands of the Lower Columbia from about the great Cascades to the Kalama River. The tubers of this plant were called "wapato" in Chinook Jargon, the local trade language. The wetlands, and this plant that grew there, occupied a vast extent of the Lower Columbia territory; so much so that this valley was named 'Wapato Valley' by Lewis and Clark in 1805. This thesis will provide pertinent information on botanical characteristics, habitat, productivity, and traditional harvesting and preparation techniques of this species. Nutritional analyses show that wapato could have provided meaningful quantities of energy (carbohydrates), fiber, and trace elements.

Ecological data pertaining to this species, and ethnographic and archaeological data from North America and especially the Lower Columbia, are used to address the following research question: Was wapato intensively exploited by the Indians of the Greater Lower Columbia River (Hajda 1984) in early prehistoric times? A test of root food intensification using ecological and ethnohistoric data demonstrated: I) that wapato was a cost effective food to harvest; 2) that the annual productivity of this root food in Wapato Valley could have fed a larger population than was estimated to exist in the valley at contact; 3) that root-food intensification may not always be indicated by the presence of large earth ovens and ground stone tools. In this study 1 conclude that wapato was sufficiently productive and predictable to be intensively exploited and to function as a staple food resource. This assessment illustrates the need to reconsider some commonly accepted ideas about the intensification of root foods and the archaeological characteristics of root processing sites.


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