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Bone Cave : a special-use site in the High Lava Plains

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  • Political Science


Bone Cave is located in the High Lava Plains of Central Oregon, just east of Bend. Excavations were conducted at the site to examine the extent of looter disturbance, and to address research questions focused on prehistoric settlement and subsistence. In the excavation of more than 10 m3 of sediment from six 1-x-2 meter test units in the front chamber of the lava tube, no undisturbed deposits were encountered. Due to the disturbed context, analysis of the lithic and faunal assemblages was not able to completely answer questions about culture change or ethnic affiliation, although subsistence, site function and chronology were addressed. Obsidian hydration and obsidian characterization studies indicate that the site was probably occupied exclusively during the Early Holocene, prior to the eruption of Mt. Mazama. Lithic reduction activities at the site appear to have been limited to late-stage bifacial reduction and tool resharpening. There is no evidence of any early stage core reduction, or large flake or flake tool manufacture. The limited tool assemblage, consisting primarily of well-worked bifacial fragments, supports this conclusion. Lithic debitage was sourced to more local obsidian sources while the tools were mostly produced from distant and unknown sources, suggesting long-term tool curation and retooling at the site using local material. The large faunal assemblage contains approximately 91 percent rabbit remains. The small amount of medium sized mammal bone fragments, along with a portion of the rabbit remains, exhibit clear cut marks indicative of butchering activity. The site appears to have served as a processing location for large-scale hunts or drives specifically targeting rabbits during the Early Holocene. If the site served, such a specialized function, then it implies some degree of logistical organization during the Early Archaic. Communal rabbit drives also suggest a level of political organization not generally associated with the Early Archaic in the Great Basin. Disturbed sites such as Bone Cave are able to produce valuable information if the proper analytical methods are used. A combination of lithic and faunal analysis can reveal site function, chronology, lithic use and reduction strategy, and subsistence practices, even in the absence of contextual information and formal tool assemblages.

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