Cultural Ecology

Table of Contents:

Oregon Ecology
Drainage Basins
Ecology & Economics
Thermodynamics Part 1
Language as Information
Thermodynamics Part 2
Economies as Systems
Culture Change
Archaeological Models
Kalapuya Society
Chinook Society

Culture is defined by anthropology as the complex whole of human knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, premises, assumptions, and customs, while ecology is the complex of interrelationships between living organisms and their environments with emphasis of interspecies relationships. Groups of species form a complex web called an ecosystem. The study of the interrelationship between human societies and their environment is cultural ecology. It should be noted that both ecology and economics have the same root word: oikos, meaning "house" or "place to live".

[back to top]

Oregon Ecology

Oregon is a complex state ecologically. It is where four to five major continental ecosystems merge. These ecosystems are clockwise from the NW: 1) NW Coast; 2) Plateau; 3) Inter-mountain (more by trade and cultural than physical, in fact trade went all the way out into the Great Plains); 4) Great Basin; and 5) California. An ecosystem is an ecological community together with its supporting environment. Ecotones, where ecosystems overlap, are rich in plant and animal diversity. An ecotone is a mixed ecology of overlapping adjoining communities. Where a typical Great Basin ecology mixes with the Plateau ecology, plants and animals characteristic of both regions can be present. This means there is a richer range of plants and animals that can be exploited by human groups.

Because the state is a mosaic of large zone diversity, it is a testing ground for theories based on cultural ecology and population adaptation. The characteristic plants and animals associated with the NW Coast, Plateau, Inter-mountain, Great Basin, and California zones intermingle in Oregon. This diversity tends to increase carrying capacity (the ability for the environment to support a species) for human groups exploiting resources through gathering, fishing and hunting. The large size of the continental zones and the relatively small area in which they merge in Oregon has created a species diversity seldom found elsewhere in such a small region.

Because of this diversity, it is my opinion that gathering and hunting populations could maintain conservative economic exploitation strategies at higher population densities in Oregon long after their resource poorer neighbors in the central portions of the continental ecosystems were forced to change. Since change stands out in the archaeological record, research tends to emphasize the archaeological record in the "centers" of large ecosystems. Because change was slower and less dramatic here, some archaeologists think Oregon is an archaeological backwater.

While cultures were changing due to increasing population demands on their resource base in the core areas of the NW Coast, Plateau, Inter-mountain, Great Basin or California regions, the people in Oregon could continue their original ways. Oregon groups simply had greater strategic choice through plant and animal diversity that allowed them to absorb the increasing demands of population growth.

Systems (specifically social systems) that have no pressure to change... tend not to change very much. What we call patterns are actually statistical summations of many individual choices. Change is built into the nature of complex systems. Change does happen, but the rates of change vary from circumstance to circumstance. Where change is required by some kind of pressure, rates of change meet those demands.

[back to top]

Drainage Basins as Political/Economic Units

Drainage basins were centers for population groups. Plants mature at different times at different elevations. Gathering strategies that follow the maturing plants is simple common sense. Drainage systems can be seen as somewhat self contained ecological sub-units where all of the physical, plant and animal resources needed by gathering and hunting groups can be found. Drainage systems can be seen as central places or cores areas for population groupings. It is generally easier to move within basins than across them.

The lower elevations just outside normal winter flooding events, and often associated with a sub-drainage rather than the main river, is the place to look for winter villages. In spring, summer, and into fall, groups would move up the valleys to exploit plant resources as they matured. Emphasis would have been on the predictable and the abundant. These larger basins should reflect populations and their local cultural patterns as people simply would interact more often locally within a basin rather than between basins.

The eighteen major drainage basins in the state (Willamette, Sandy, Hood River, Deschutes, John Day, Umatilla, Grand Ronde, Burnt/Powder, Malheur, Owyhee, Malheur Lake, Summer Lake, Klamath, Rogue, South Coast, Umpqua, Mid-Coast and North Coast) are still relatively large units. Within these larger basins are sub-basins, that probably also reflect a local level of human interaction. Again, they should contain local variation on common themes based on the relative amount of local interaction within the sub-basin as opposed to lesser interaction between sub-basins. People tend to choose actions that minimize risk and costs while maximizing benefits. Because it is easier to move up and down a basin that across the ridge lines that separate basins, geography tends to constrain choice. This is the simple statistical outcome of many local choices.

Given this tendency towards sub-basin centered interaction, if change occurs, it tends to be sub-basin centered. Given that sub-basins are part of a larger basin unified by geography, change (diversity) tends to be basin centered. Given that basins exist within ecosystems, and ecosystems have their own physical and biotic characteristics, both form and change tends to be ecosystem centered. Because material culture is a reflection of how humans exploit their physical, biotic and cultural environments, they tend to share characteristics (or styles) based on their environmental commonalities. The Willamette Basin and its sub-basins reflect this process.

[back to top]

Ecology and Economics (Prelude)

Living things exist in an ecology. "The word ecology comes from the Greek oikos, meaning "house" or "place to live." Usually ecology is defined as the study of the relation of organisms or groups of organisms to their environment, or the science of the interrelationships between living organisms and their environment." (Odum, 1959: 3-4).

Human ecology is economics/politics. Animal economics/politics is ecology. All life is built on matter and uses energy and information for self growth and maintenance. Life maintains access to and control over the matter, energy and information necessary and sufficient for self growth, self maintenance and self replication.

You can think of living systems as part hardware and part software. The hardware makes up the structure of the organism and the software operates the organism. Life as a system has software (i.e. "technologies") for matter, energy and information input, throughput, output, and storage. In economic terms, input = production, throughput = distribution, output = consumption, and storage = storage/capital.

You have a skeletal system, a muscular system, an immune system, a digestive system, a circulatory system, a nervous system, a reproduction system, and a respiratory system. Your skeletal and muscular systems act as your basic hardware to support the hardware of the other sub-systems. Your digestive/respiratory systems are your basic input (production) device for matter and energy as well as your basic output system (consumption). Your circulatory system is your basic throughput (distribution) sub-system. Your nervous system is your basic information input and control system. Your storage/capital is basically the fat you store. Reproductive variety allows the living being to change and adapt to changing circumstances through its progeny. This is simplified, but is a way to visualize how all living systems essentially operate.

Each of these sub-systems has a function, creating the "functionalist" view of human affairs. Cultural ecology works as a model for understanding our human past because it reflects the structural and processual reality of living systems. Every human must exploit matter, energy and information to exist, grow and reproduce. Every human society must have processes in place to access, and maintain control over, the matter, energy and information necessary and sufficient to exists, grow and replicate itself.

This will be expanded upon in the following section.

[back to top]

Human Culture as a Thermodynamic Machine (Part 1)

How important is material culture technology and/or style in these issues? Every society has an economic/ecological strategy for obtaining needed material, energy and information for its members. All societies have a political strategy to maintain access to, and control over those same resources for its members. There are technologies of production, technologies of distribution, technologies of consumption and technologies of storage. In addition, the "environment" consists of three interacting domains:

  1. the physical environment (land, water, minerals, climate);
  2. the biotic environment (plants, animals); and
  3. the cultural environment (cooperating and non-cooperating human beings).

Human beings exploit and adapt to all three environments. For example, it is possible to expand storage "technology" in the cultural realm through reciprocity (I give you something - you give me something later) by giving excess perishables to others with the expectation that when similar excess occurs within their group in the future, you will get similar perishables back in return. I kill a deer, I invite your group over to eat meat. When you kill a deer, you will invite my group over to eat meat. This is a form of cultural storage technology. Information about an exchange and the debts incurred through such an exchange are stored instead of the perishable items (that have been used rather than taking a chance on spoilage). Such exchange forms may not appear in the archaeological record, but they are real, and very common.

Mentally "mapping" these three sub- environments, knowing the seasons and patterns, knowing where things are, and how to access them... is technological information. Sharing such information and expressing this information creates a complex symbolic idiom called "culture".

This can be complicated theoretical stuff. I have tried to make it fit within a range of reader experience, from trained anthropologists to the casual reader. It may be a bit redundant in order to impress on the reader the impact of this theory to help interpret the past. There are almost as many theoretical positions as there are professional archaeologists... or perhaps there should be.

One way to create models for archaeology lies in an energy- information- economic paradigm (fancy word for a model used as a standard) based on general systems theory and an understanding of the "thermodynamics" of ecology. Thermodynamics defines the demands on all living systems to exploit matter and energy (and information) for self-maintenance, growth and replication (reproduction).

Thermodynamics is the physics of the relationships between heat and other forms of energy used to study the properties of matter. All living creatures require matter and energy to build themselves and maintain themselves and then to reproduce themselves. All life eats something out of its environment to survive. Plants "eat" minerals, water from the ground, gases from the atmosphere and sun light to convert these raw materials into plant tissue. Since plants live in some kind of environment - they are a reflection of (map of) the environment in which they evolved. Desert plants have basic structural designs that are different from plants found in Arctic tundra. Their context has been "mapped into" their form and function. Plants that are eaten try to defend against the eaters or use being eaten to export seeds for reproduction. They encode their past experience as a way of meeting the demands of their local ecology through genetic change and simple survival (i.e. - they vary, they survive and they reproduce).

General systems theory is a branch of science dealing with the way in which all living and non-living things operate. A system is a group of interacting, inter-related, or inter-dependent variables forming, or regarded as forming, a collective entity. A plant, or an animal, is a "system". The ecology of a plant community is a system of many organisms in interaction. All plants use (eat) sunlight to convert materials derived from the physical environment into plant tissue for growth and reproduction. Animals eat plants for growth and reproduction or eat other animals that eat plants.

Systems theory explores the commonalities of all such systems. For example, all life has some way of insulating itself from the rest of the environment; some form of matter and energy and information input; some way of moving the matter, energy and information around (throughput); some way of storing this (storage); some way of using this (output); and some way of changing the process (feedback). Feedback allows control, it acts as the check and balance mechanism. But feedback can also be destructive. It is circular (non-linear), or mutual causal, meaning it can increase, decrease or place a limit upon itself. Feedback allows life to exist, but it is dangerous.

It is my opinion that human culture (or society) is a thermodynamic machine, nothing less, and not much more. It is a complex non-linear array filled with feedback loops interacting with the physical, biotic and cultural environments. It is organized to be ambiguous so that it can be constantly re-interpreted through consensus debate. Its members are born and they live and eventually die. The obligations its members acquire through life must be reassigned throughout life and at death. This requires constant adjustments and degrees of freedom in social structures and in language as the symbolic idiom (jargon, grammar, vocabulary) that defines access to, and control over, valued resources. Economics, politics and law, marriage and kinship, and religion are all parts of a thermodynamic based symbolic idiom that expresses access to, and control over, valued information, as well as physical and biotic resources in a milieu of cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings.

For example, I was born into a nuclear family consisting of my father, mother and siblings (sisters and brothers). My father worked in exchange for money with in turn was exchanged for housing, transportation, food, clothing, education, etc. I was born into a very complex nation-state economy where there is a great deal of specialization. Through extensive education, I became a highly specialized archaeologist in a field where there is more trained competition than the few job openings. Since archaeology is a research discipline that produces no products except new information about our common human past, it is a discipline supported by the "hard" production of goods by other members of our current highly complex society. This society is so complex and so specialized and so rich in relative production by specialists, that it can afford to support some information-producing specializations such as "archaeology".

There are two extremes in resources: 1) abundant, predictable and sessile; 2) scarce, unpredictable and mobile. In small scale societies based on gathering and hunting, because women bear and rear children (including carrying then around) statistically they tend to exploit the relatively local abundant, predictable ans non-mobile resources. The men statistically tend to explore the larger region and hunt for the relatively scarce, less-predictable and mobile resources. Women in these systems tend statistically to bring in the majority of the calories consumed by the group. Historically this is called gathering and is statistically biased to plants (they are relatively abundant, predictable and do not run away)... with seasonal, micro-climate, etc, variations. This has been know from ethnographic studies for many many decades. Women statistically tend to be locally a day distance form a temporary camp. Men tend to exploit a much larger are after mobile resources. In so doing, they tend to keep tabs on local resources for moving camp locations as needed, based on accumulated knowledge of successful past locations. It is of course a complex system constantly resolving interactions with seasonal and long term changes in the resources of the physical, biotic and cultural (cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings) environments. Population growth and resulting stresses over access to, and control over resources in all three sub-environmental systems is a major long term aspect.

From ethnography it has been well known for many many decades. Most band level societies dependent on gathering and hunting, the women bring home the staple calories including small game meat, bone, sinew and fur. Plants are relatively abundant, predictable and sessile. Men hunt for the relatively scarce, less predictable and mobile resources. It is a no-brainer that the scale tips in favor for the predictable and abundant. Because women bear children and carry them around, it is statistically weighted for them to do the abundant, predictable and non-mobile end of the economic spectrum. They thus tend to exploit a camp-based area of a daily walking distance. The men then tend to take the scarce, mobile and mobile end of the economic system. Sex roles are not politically sexist, but economically sexist. The outcome for most mobile band cultures is that the females gather the basic caloric needs and the men hunt the resources that produce the most meat, bone, sinew, hide, horn, fur, etc. from mobile critters. Men while hunting will gather the same things as women and process them in the field while hunting. The mobile aspect allows the men to check out the seasonality and relative abundance of all resources over a much larger area. In doing so they can scope out new camp-based exploitation zones for relative abundance, predictable and sessile resources for the new location. As expected, accumulated knowledge about successful past camps is part of the way people mentally map in resources.

In a few areas like the far north, cold seasons can weigh the hunting/fishing aspect heavily for parts of the year especially for the furs that keep clothed. In places with hyper-abundant most of the seasonal round resources, the gathering side may be so predominant that there are fewer economically separated sex roles as long as the competition over resources from population growth is minimal. In all these cultural systems, their relationship 1) to the structure of the physical environmental resources (including seasonality), 2) the biotic environment of plants and animals and their ecology, and 3) the cultural environment of cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings are modified through population growth and time.

[back to top]

Language as Information

Language is a reflection of the way humans define themselves and their relationship to their physical, biotic environments and cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings. Every time something is "recognized" or "discovered" or "created", it is categorized in some way. For example, when the gas powered "automobile" was built, it had to be named. As time went by, "cars" came in many sub-types so new terms were invented: trucks, station wagons, recreational vehicles (RVs), sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and so on. Each variation carries its own jargon. The parts that comprise these vehicles have their terms. A simple "car" contains a huge number of linguistic terms or tags describing its component parts. The internal combustion engine has its own rich and complex vocabulary with specialized terms in design, maintenance and repair. The same applies to hunting technologies or gathering technologies or any technology of human groups.

Humans have a tendency to create meaning in random parts of the physical, biotic and with other cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings. This tendency is called PATTERNICITY.

Michael Shermer argues that human brains are "belief engines: evolved pattern recognition machines that connect the dots and create meaning out of the patterns that we think we see in nature. Sometimes A really is connected to B; sometimes it is not. When it is, we have learned something valuable about the environment from which we can make predictions that aid in survival and reproduction. We are the ancestors of those most successful at finding patterns. This process is called associative learning, and it is fundamental to all animal behavior, from the humble worm ,C. elegans to H. sapiens."(Shermer 2008:48)

"In a September (2008) paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B,, The Evolution of Superstitious and Superstitions-like Behavior, Harvard University biologist Kevin R. Foster and University of Helsinki biologist Hanna Kokko test my (Shermer's) theory through evolutionary modeling and demonstrate that whenever the cost of believing a false pattern is real is less than the cost of not believing a real pattern, natural selection will favor patternicity."(Shermer 2008:48)

Human culture is filled with a mix of elaborate patternicities. People know and name their landscapes, plants, animals, people as well as their relationship to them. Their explanations for natural and cultural phenomena are varied and complex. Humans find ways to explain what they observe, sometime useful, sometimes not. But the false patterns and names are better than no patterns at all.

Small scale social groups have a somewhat different world view... one that is fairly monolithic... one where there is no separation between the physical, biotic and cultural sub-environments. This is because their basic economic/ecological units of production, distribution, storage, consumption, and reproduction are contained within the same social group (firm), usually a family or extended family. So the terminology and symbolism is tightly tied together within this grouping while allowing enough variation for constant reinterpretation through consensus debate. People are born into, grow through, and die out of the group, changing rights and obligations that need to be recognized and dealt with.

Because real systems are complex non-linear and mutual causal (feedback building upon or refuting previous flow), the symbols must be complex, non-linear and mutual causal. There must be symbolism for the physical environmental variables as well as access to, and control over, them. There must be symbols for the biotic environmental variables with access to, and control over, them. There must be symbols for the cultural milieu of cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings with access to, and control over, them. The richness of the symbolism tends to increase from the physical, through the biotic and into the cultural realms. The defining characteristic of humanity is our "adaptation" to this rich cultural milieu.

"Science" tries to be linear. It traditionally lacked the tools for complex systems but there are newly discovered tools that can be applied: chaos theory, fuzzy theory, systems theory, etc. Modern "science" must deal with complex non-linear mutual causal systems.

The immediacy of small scale experience and their methodology for dealing with that immediacy does not mean there were no environmental impacts or degradation of "natural" systems in such societies. Humans are part of nature, and human actions (we are human animals) change the system. But human adaptation to culture as a symbolic milieu allows many alternative choices in carrying capacity, making human impact on other physical and biotic sub-systems more dramatic and powerful. The biotic world is complex, but the primary way to change carrying capacity is through genetic evolution more than behavior. Humans not only "evolve" genetically, they change their behavior via the rich symbolic milieu we call culture. There are untold ways to change the technologies of production, distribution, storage, reproduction, and consumption... but the smaller the populations, the more monolithic the society (everyone essentially does the same things as everyone else). In essence, non-cultural life is almost static in comparison.

That there are differences between cultures, and within a culture through time, is a given. That does not mean that there is anything more or less valuable in those systems. To make a judgement is to create cultural bias. Such systems simply are (or were). They relate to population requirements and local ecological diversity, abundance, etc. One could assume that a system becomes pathological when it threatens its own continued existence... but that may be a natural process as well. Nothing last forever, perhaps not even matter... or even the universe within which we live.

If two groups from different recent histories want to talk, they must understand their differences as well as their commonalities. In order to understand how the thermodynamic-systems ecology model helps to explain things, one must understand the relationship between social groups and their environmental supports.

[back to top]

Culture as a Thermodynamic Machine (Part 2)

As previously noted, the environment consists of three more or less separate but interdependent sub-sets:

1) The physical environment consists of geomorphic surfaces and their related hydrologic structure within a climatic regime. It includes a mosaic of minerals valued by human groups. The physical environment tends to be the slowest to change and fluctuate. It tends to be the most predictable for modeling. Key variables in this sub-system include water, minerals such as tool stone, relative climate impacts to plant and animal distributions and seasonality, presence or absence of water of the hydrological systems, ambient temperature relating to factors such as shelter and climate. Oregon is a relatively complex state with 57% of the water draining into the Columbia River system. It is a state where igneous rock predominates, so there are more obsidian quarries here than in other places.

2) The biotic environment consists of plants and animals and their ecological relationships to the physical and cultural environments. This sub-system is more likely to change, fluctuate, and is more difficult to predict and model. Key variables include plants for food, fiber, and wood for tools and cooking; animals for food, hide, bone, shell and sinew. Biotic resource patterns are also defined by their physical environmental parameters such as soils, water, and seasonal changes.

3) The cultural environment consists of cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings and their relationship to the physical and ecological environments. This sub-system is the most likely to change, fluctuate and is the least predictable for modeling. Culture is an idiom that expresses in rich symbolic forms how human groups map access to, and control over, valued resources. Culture is very non-linear. Language is even fuzzier (in the sense of fuzzy-theory).

A thermodynamic characteristic (in fact, requirement) of all living things is their ability to gather information about matter and energy and the relative distribution, relative abundance, relative activity, and relative predictability of these resources. Plants and animals do this through genetic variation and natural selection. Humans expand this with culture and language. People learn about the land, its plants and animals, and their relationships to cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings. People define their relationships and express some level of access and control over the resources in their "environment". They learn where valued minerals are, where valued plants and animals occur (patchy-ness) , in terms of their seasonality, relative abundance, relative predictability and relative mobility. Since they operate within variable levels of cooperation and non-cooperation with other human groups, they create complex and rich ways to express these relationships. One common way to lay "claim" on the land is expressed by a history of burials. The simple fact that ones ancestors were buried on the land proves ones right to continued access to the land. Human ecology is complex. It is a mosaic of inter-relationships between the physical, biotic and cultural.

Since economics and ecology share common roots, ecological/economic models work well in archaeology. One must understand where the material goods come from in order to understand how people control the resources and access to those resources. For example, a modern farmer needs access to arable land, water, equipment, and labor to till the land, grow the crops and harvest them, then get them to market.

[back to top]

Systems Theory and Economics

All "systems" consist of sub-systems that are isolated from other sub-systems as entities by a set of constraints (i.e. - they have limited material, energy and information flows at some boundary) as well as a primary means of material, energy and information input (constraint). For a plant, this is the outer surface of the plant... for an animal, its skin. A leaf has a skin of cells designed to keep water and chemicals in, yet with special cells to release oxygen and get carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere. This skin of cells is the boundary layer that defines the leaf as a sub-system.

A living "system" is a collection of parts that work together for the common goal of self-maintenance growth and reproduction. For example, we contain sub-systems such as the "digestive system" or "circulatory system". The circulatory system in turn contains or uses sub-systems like the bones (production of blood cells); the heart ( a pump) and the veins and arteries (distribution); the lungs (get oxygen and remove carbon dioxide): the cells where food and oxygen are dumped and carbon dioxide and waste products picked up (consumption)... and so on. Many sub-systems merge with others in complex ways. Bones not only create blood, but act as the structure for muscle and sinew for mobility. All of there systems and sub-systems obey the demands of thermodynamic law. They are all thermodynamic machines, and if they fail, the organism dies. They must obey the laws of thermodynamics or they will fail.

The correlation between living system variables and economic variables is as follows: input = production; throughput = distribution; feedback = capital or investment; output = consumption; storage = storage which is also used for feedback to modify the system. The basic constraint that controls input is the economic and political strategy (adaptive framework) of the social group or entity. Just as feedback (material, energy or information) is used to modify input, throughput or output ... capital/investment (material, energy or information) is used to modify production, distribution and consumption, and the technologies of production, distribution, storage and consumption. The social-skin of small scale groups is the basic unit of production-distribution-consumption (often a kin group based on a family or extended family).

Social groups or entities, use exploitative technology and strategies to maintain access to and control over valued environmental resources: physical, biotic and cultural. They gather resources directly or store information about resources and their relative abundance, predictability and activity. They also create a complex linguistic idiom to store or control matter, energy or information. They manipulate cooperating other human beings in relation to valued resources. If kinship, marriage, economics, politics, law, warfare and religion are examined within this paradigm, they show up as complex "maps" of control systems. Just as how living beings "map" their ecological contexts in structure and form, social systems "map" their cultural contexts. They are a form of cultural contract between parties expressed in complex symbolism. Since circumstances change, since living systems are dynamic, and since individuals are born, grow through stages, and die, the contractual idiom is kept in symbols that can be interpreted in many ways (deliberate vagueness). As already noted, in small scale societies, their re-interpretation is the subject of almost constant public consensus debate.

For example, a farmer must know where the best lands are, what crops grow best under the local conditions, what actions are needed to produce the best yields, what the market options are, and this information is passed on through experience. Farmers generate their own vocabulary to express these things and relationships. They have their own jargon. They have their own farming cultural milieu.

Cultural ecology is not linear. It is not progressive. It has no goal as progress (band to tribe to chiefdom to state, etc.). It is a map of relationships between living things and their group dynamics over time and in somewhat constrained space. Space in the sense of physical environmental variables containing biotic and cultural systems in primary interaction. An island may be a relatively constrained space. With low population densities and minimal movement technologies, a valley may be a constrained space. A drainage basin may be a constrained space. An ecozone is defined as a constrained space.

"Longterm survival is not just a game played by animals against the environment but also one played against themselves" (Gamble 1994: 79). All life exploits matter and information. Human evolution and adaptation must include the fact that humans have helped make themselves. Small scale societies have puberty rites/tests to determine full scale membership. This is a form of self-defined cultural environmental adaptation. In other words, humans helped to make themselves human. We expanded genetic adaptation the realm of information to the point that it became a change of difference through its scale.

As noted earlier, small scale societies are tied more directly to their biotic and physical environments than complex ones. The agents of production, distribution and consumption tend to be limited to a family or other small kin group. The basic social groups in such societies tend to be homogenous, each pretty much a mirror image of all others. The more complex and larger the society, the more diverse social entities tend to become. They can also become specialized sub-entities, with little to do with primary food, material or energy production.

Among the Kalapuya, there were only the family groups and villages, so everyone was a gatherer and hunter. Specialization was household based but everyone knew what to gather and what to hunt as well as the methodologies. If a Kalapuya needed a bow, or a mat, it was made by a person within the local kin group. The Kalapuya could not go down to the local G.I. Joe's to buy a fiberglass bow or the Fred Meyers to buy a sleeping mat. There were probably some people with a reputation for specific skills, and some trade, but not the highly specialized firms like in modern society. Within the household firm, there was specialization to some degree, with people manufacturing special goods needed by the household as a whole.

[back to top]

Culture Change

Cultures change because of interactions in the physical, biotic or cultural environments and because of population growth. Population growth forces people to modify their relationships to the three environments, especially in the cultural/information realm. Technologies in human society for production, distribution, storage, and consumption can be changed to increase carrying capacity. In addition, cultural systems can change to increase access to, and control over, valued resources in all three environments. This results in changes often defined in evolutionary terms in anthropology. There is nothing linear about the changes or which variable or combination of variables will change. Change in one variable tends to create the possibility of more change in itself (within limits) because of feedback loops. There can be gradual changes in existing variables or a change in degree so great as to be a change in "kind" of the variable. For example, gathering can intensify within a natural biotic system. Groups can shift to fire to modify a biotic system (low level plant/animal management) to increase valued biota, but still gather. Groups can then begin to manipulate the plants and/or animals such that they are no longer natural species, and are now dependent on humans. Groups are no longer gatherers, they are plant/animal managers (i.e.- agriculturalists/herders or burners -my pyroculture).

In fact, the primary thing that separates humans from all other animals is that we have created a unique new econitch: culture... expressed by language as its symbolic medium. The presence of this rich complex symbolic idiom sets humans apart from the rest of the biotic systems. The other life forms communicate to some extent, but the change in form in human systems is so great as to be a change in kind. Humans have shifted away from biological (genetic) evolution to cultural (informational) evolution.

Politics can be defined as cooperative action and activity to maintain control over, and access to, patchy valued resources of the society as a whole within a milieu of non-cooperating other human beings. No social group operates in a vacuum. All resources are irregular in distribution and density. All groups impinge on the resource territories of other groups. This interleaving of resources and resource needs creates a demand for access and control systems expressed either internally as economics, or externally as politics. They blur together at many levels and within the idiom (symbolism) of the culture. The Kalapuya in a drainage shared access to the resources of that drainage. Family groups based on either their father's or mother's lineages controlled access to the resources. People from nearby drainages married into these groups, and shared in access to the resources through reciprocal agreements based on kinship. Thus, if camas was particularly abundant in one drainage, kin of members of that drainage may be invited as a political/economic act to share. This is done in the expectation that in some other year they will be invited to share the relative abundance in the other drainage some time in the future.

Archaeologist cannot recover "culture" (the symbolic idiom). They can discover the material technologies of production, distribution, consumption and storage by analysis of material culture remains of these variables. They can create models of adaptive strategies by looking at the distribution of sites in relation to physical, biotic and implied cultural variables. This is done within a time sensitive population density chronological block (period) for specified technological levels of production, distribution, consumption and storage variables (phases).

Groups that store "food" by reciprocity are storing obligations rather than food. When physical storage shows up in the archaeological record this may be a result of resource pressure that suggests reciprocity is less of a viable option. As the risks and size of demands grows, it may be less risky to store food physically than as obligations that are too risky in relation to supports. If there is a local patch over-production, there may be too many possible kin users out there... and the risk of offending those who are not invited outweighs the risk of loss through physical storage. Or perhaps storage technology improves, changing the strategies of risk.

All human beings operate within a social framework defined in the cultural idiom. All human beings exploit matter, energy and information in a social matrix of cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings. Cooperative economic and political action reduces local variation in access and control over valued resources under changing three-tier environmental conditions. Cooperative sharing of information within a cultural framework increases the range of information about the three environments and increases alternatives for dealing with fluctuations in the distribution of valued resources. It also increases alternatives in the face of random chance disorder as well as increases access and control in the face of non-cooperating other human beings. There is always some point where human beings are in a position of competition, active or passive, for valued resources. This can arise from internal or external expansion in numbers.

Cooperative economic and political action reinforces mutual rights and smooth out differential distribution of resources within the three environments. Among slash and burn agriculturalists, active and fallow fields co-mingle. Group control over fields allows many sub-groups based on expanded family kinship groups access to fallow fields as resources without active competition. Group cooperation creates a mosaic of zones and relationships that express this active and passive cooperation and passive and active competition. Human beings primarily manipulate each other through symbols (the cultural idiom) to protect their needs and define their obligations. Among gatherer-hunters, resources territories overlap.

The network of interrelated and intercommunicating human beings creates social groupings with shared needs and values. In small scale societies this is usually expressed in kinship form. The fundamental social "entity" is found repeating throughout the social system with variations: like nuclear families found over and over in our society. Each person is born into an existing cultural milieu. Each person learns the network of demands and supports from nearby other human beings. Not all learn the same information, and the information is always deliberately "loose" to allow manipulation. This shared learned information is the cultural idiom. Some members are better at the manipulative process than others. The symbolic idiom sometimes seems remote from human-land, human-biota, and human-human relations. The very active human side of the equation often masks the more passive biotic and land relationships. Symbols can represent an action, or class of actions and associated demands and supports. Symbols that survive, but are not active, can become so abstracted that they complicate the process. They become "traditions" that have no direct function, but act as a form of information glue, a shared identity, that holds the society together.

Other human beings, whether cooperative or non-cooperative, are the immediate manipulators and are the most active variables in changing relationships to resources. People manipulate people to reach a real energy, matter or informational end. Manipulation of people through complex symbols is the means. There is never one solution, but a complex and very rich cultural methodology that defines access to, and control over, valued resources in all three environments. Some people are better at such manipulation than others. Societies may even train their members differently. Some may even distort their bodies with symbols impossible to replicate (such as head deformation in infancy to define social status). Groups develop special linguistic tags to define themselves and to exclude the "other". Knowledge of cultural tags can mean power. the language of "upper" level society may be different from "lower levels" (i.e. - the My Fair Lady syndrome).

Culture is thus a dependent phenomenon of this larger environmental manipulation and is isomorphic to the demands of living systems through the thermodynamic process. It operates as a filter between human beings, between human groups, and between valued resources. It contains latent values associated with matter, energy and information related to access and control of resources.

All resources are patchy to some extent. There are seasonal and long term linear and cyclical patterns of changes in the physical environment. The biotic sub-system fluctuates more strongly seasonally and also exhibits climax vegetation and long term cyclical and linear changes as well. This requires methods of control. The cultural sub-system is the most active in change and fluctuations as people break up, fuse into new groups, and change their patterns of relationships. It cannot be over stressed, people are born, grow up, change their social roles, and die. Relationships are periodically but invariably changing. This also requires open methods of control. Only variety can modulate or constrain variety.

At the lowest level of variety, "mapping" out the physical environment and its resources is one important task. Understanding the land and its resources and their changes over time establishes the physical parameters for those who exploited the land. A naming and characterization of the landforms, hydrology, climatology as well as mineral resources of value is basic to the structure and development of human ecology (often found in the mythology of the groups).

Although ecological models are matter/energy/information dependent, there is no one to one correlation between social entities and their complex of environments. All social entities have an exploitive strategy that is a mix of all three environments within a rich and complex linguistic idiom that allows considerable degrees of freedom.

All resources can be evaluated in terms of their relative predictability, relative abundant and relative activity. Physical resources (minerals, water, etc.) are the most predictable and the most sessile, and abundance is patchy but regionally available (i.e. - groups strive to define some local geographic level that includes all required patches). There are two species of camas in the Willamette Valley (Camassia quamash and Camassia leichtlinii). Camas in the Willamette Valley was relatively abundant, predictable and did not get up and run away when people went out to gather it. For those resources that are valued and that are very patchy, trade networks arise for their distribution. Biotic resources (plants and animals) of importance to the most useful exploitation strategies tend to be those that are the most abundant, predictable and sessile within the demands for food, fiber, wood, skins, sinew, bone and horn (there are others like feathers, fur, claws, shell, etc.) as well as such things as "taste", "texture", "odor", as factors in value and use. In small scale societies where storage capability is limited, but competition is also limited, energy is stored most often as information through "reciprocity" (i.e. - invest or convert short shelf-life goods to immediate use by inviting cooperating other human beings to eat it, and create a "debt" that can be called in the future stored as information ... which has a longer shelf-life).

[back to top]

Archaeological Models

Archaeological sites are locations where human actions have been concentrated for a period of time, leaving behind material remains and features. Site location is a compromise that reflects many environmental needs. The relative percentages of specific environmental effects can vary. In some cases, the physical variables may have priority, in others, the biotic, and in others, the cultural. The same group may mix and match seasonally and even reuse the same place for quite different reasons. Each site is a locus of concentrated actions consisting of organic debris from biotic exploitation, physical features resulting from human activities and artifact debris. The site input area is usually greater or equal to the physical site area ... as human beings exploit material resources and bring them back to the site area.

Because data gets destroyed by human action and by time, archaeological sites are the fragmentary remains of human activities that reflect an overall adaptive strategy of resource exploitation and control. The inputs that created them were finite and are relatively measurable. Because the archaeological record is imperfect, the measure is imprecise. As previously noted, in the Pacific Northwest it is estimated that stone tools probably represent only about 3-10% of the range of material culture in use at any stage of known cultural development. Stone tools are often the only material remains found in open archaeological deposits, reducing them to a lowest common denominator.

Cumulative studies on similar sites allows the archaeologists to converge on their target: reconstruction of the activities of social entities at an environmental interface. Since archaeologists are dealing with extinct societies, they are left with the material remains from the physical and biotic environments as their primary data. The only record archaeologist have in "pre-historic" groups that left no written records are the sites in their physical context. Reconstruction of biotic environmental use is possible by study of data from many sites from a region of the same relative age.

There have been a number of theories advanced about intensification and increased social complexity in the Pacific Northwest. Darby (1996:20-25) summarized many of the theories: Fladmark (1975) argued that intensified exploitation of salmon runs allowed increased complexity. Schalk (1977) contended that salmon storage and preservation technology was a primary factor allowing increased complexity. Burley (1980) indicated that complexity occurred along streams because of salmon productivity. Matson (1983) suggested that sedentism, intensification and patch ownership derived from resources that were sufficiently abundant, predictable and limited spatially and temporally. Thoms (1989) felt that root intensification and technology was the key to understanding cultural change. Burtchard & Keeler (1991) contend that intentional burning to increase biodiversity in valued plants and animals was used from the valley bottoms to the upland forests, resulting in increased human carrying capacity. Ames (1994) proposed that an interaction between specialization in salmon exploitation, population growth, sedentism, circumscription, and ritual lead to increased complexity. Arnold (1995) argued for advances in water transportation technology. Darby (1996) feels certain roots can be intensively utilized, and were intensively utilized, yet leave little or no archaeological record during processing, use, or storage. Kramer (2000) tried to find evidence for camas intensification by measuring bulb size over time. She found irregular fluctuating change, but no linear change.

Note that the models above are based on economic/adaptive variables. Since archaeologists deal with the remains of material culture, they look for models within that paradigm. Each of the theories finds its place as a subset of possible changes within the larger model I have presented. "Intensification" can come anywhere. It can be a matter of changes in the exploitive strategy and exploitive technology of production, distribution, consumption, or storage as part of the economic system in relation to variables in all three environmental sub-systems. It can come from a mix of any of these variables. It can come from changes in the cultural sub-system as well through manipulation of the cultural idiom. It can come from how cooperating human beings access and control valued resources.

Because human culture can change, in fact, cannot help but change, and because human groups grow/expand (the normal process of all living systems), the cumulative body of change results in increased carrying capacity, increased levels of technology, and increased complexity of all types. This cumulative, noisy, sporadic and difficult to predict chaos does result in an overall trend towards increased complexity that we call human adaptation and cultural evolution.

If one finds changes in the archaeological record, they can be proposed as partial explanations for increasing complexity. There is nothing, however, that demands that changes in the archaeological record are the "cause" of the change, they may also be an "effect" of the change. Change is complex and is itself constantly changing and can be mutually causal as well.

Finding the development of larger or more storage pits may be the result of changes in the technology of production, or distribution, or consumption ... or it may be the change that allows for increased carrying capacity. The development of canoe technology may allow increase in trade, storage, distribution ... or it may be the result in such changes ... or it may have nothing to do with these variables, but is a response to other variables. No change is ever a change unto itself. Any change affects in some way every variable in a system, some more than others.

[back to top]


There is a technology of production tied up in a complex cultural idiom or jargon. There is a technology of distribution tied to its idiom as well. The same goes for the technology of consumption, storage, and investment. Production, distribution, consumption and storage are tied to physical resources and their idioms, biotic resources and their idioms, and cooperating as well as non-cooperating human groups and their cultural jargon. Any and all of these variables are subject to redefinition for access to, and control over, valued resources. This is the technology of exploitation and its related cultural patois.

All of these complex variables are subject to mutual causal processes from feedback in non-linear convolutions that are impossible to predict and difficult to constrain. But since population growth is a driver, and since systems can change to increase carrying capacity through technological change (and I include language as a technology), there is a multi-causal feedback drift towards larger, more technologically complex human systems over time.

The only thing that is certain in the long trend is that populations grow, and that groups constantly juggle the complex variables in all three environments through a cultural filter rich in symbols and designed to be flexible. Groups discussions constantly redefine relationships and interpretations in access to, and control over, valued resources. Vague symbolic terms allow diversity and reinterpretation under changing circumstances, demands and needs.

The archaeologist can record data, and that data can record change. It is doubtful, however, that the archaeologist can pinpoint the cause of that change, or the effects of that change except as models that can be interpreted in many different ways from differing theoretical orientations. We are perhaps left with a simple chronicle of human prehistory that can be hung onto any paradigm. There may be no deeper understanding possible outside academic arguments, that can never be resolved by the limits of the data and the complexity of feedback loops and non-linear mutual causal chains.

Models such as Binford's (1980, 1982) forager-collector concept are only one part of a complex adaptive options. Binford suggested that foragers move their camps to resource patches while collectors send out groups to obtain resources and bring them back to camps. Foragers were seen as less complex than collectors. The model is based on material resources obtained from the physical and biotic environments. This model is just one of many ways groups can change strategies and manipulate variables. Archaeologists who use this model stress differential aspects of the production, distribution, consumption and storage process by defining sites in terms of functions such as caches, field camps, residential camps, etc. The issue of artifacts density as a measure of relative mobility and resource values must subsume variables relating to cooperating and non-cooperating other human beings as cultural choice... which introduces non-recoverable noise into any interpretation based on material culture. Re-use of locations over time, and the degree to which such occupations can be separated (the level of difference or change in material culture through time), are other critical factors. In Oregon, for example, chronological controls are on the order of millennia ( a very crude level of control) that probably mixes data from quite different groups doing variable things for various reasons in the same "sites". The interpretations of site "function" must be viewed with caution. Archaeologists must not assume that "interpretations" are data. Archaeologists must be cautious of the data itself, as sampling is a major issue. Sampling to redundancy is the exception, not the rule. Small samples from many sites may be "additive" to some degree, but may be misleading as well. Ten 1% samples from ten different sites does not add up to a 10% sample. Additive poor experience does not add up to interpretive knowledge. As noted, since less than 10% of the range of material culture survives as stone artifacts... our data is poor at best. But it is the only data we have.

Ames & Maschner (1999) stress the concept of the complex hunter-gatherer or affluent forager as the model for NW cultures. Such groups are socially stratified households units that were sedentary and which stressed food storage and who manipulated their environments primarily with fire. These households contained part-time and full-time specialists necessary and sufficient for household maintenance. "The household was the basic unit of consumption and production" (Ames & Maschner 1999: 121):

Households owned estates of corporeal and non-corporeal property. Corporeal property included resources and their habitats, the ground upon which the household's dwellings were built, the dwellings themselves, and the processed food, and wealth produced by the household. Non-corporeal property included the rights to resources, to songs and ritual performances, and to particular animal helpers and spirit beings (Ames & Maschner 1999: 122).

Northwest Coast households were residential corporate groups: the members lived together, or in close proximity. They held and transmitted common property across generations; the household functioned as an individual in economic production and consumption (Ames & Maschner 1999: 147).

Houses were the major possession of Northwest Coast households and served them in many ways: they were the physical manifestation of the household and its social rank; they were theater and stage for social and spiritual rituals, but they were also shelter in the Northwest's dank climate; they were food processing factories, in which food resources were butchered, roasted, smoked, rendered, dried, boiled, stored, and consumed; and they were the objects of enormous effort and great skill. Their interior arrangements were often a map of the relative status of the household's members (Ames & Maschner 1999: 147).

Political and economic power was based on the productivity of the household and its ability to fund the wants of its leader (Ames & Maschner 1999: 178). Thus, the fundamental economic firm of the thermodynamic model for the Kalapuya is the household. The core of each household consisted of related men, their wives, and children. Groups may merge that are not typical due to lack of sufficient kin to form a separate group, friendship, or other personal or ritual reasons. Additional members were slaves acquired by war or trade. Until sufficient numbers of Kalapuya houses have been discovered and excavated, we will not know the size of residential groups. There is one suggestion for ten families in a single house.

[back to top]

Kalapuya Society

Unlike the Chinook to the north, they did not have a hereditary caste of "chiefs". The only way power was maintained was through wealth, if it could be maintained from generation to generation.

... the main social distinction was between wealthy or "good" people and common people; wealth could be achieved by the non-wealthy and lost by the wealthy, so that there was no absolute divide between these social categories (Zenk 1976: 6).

Kalapuya political units are implied by what Zenk calls "group names", usually associated with a sub-drainage basin (Tualatin, Yamhill, Santiam, etc). Given that such groups center on sub-drainages, and since such drainages were the focus for economic rounds and activities, the wealthiest person was the "head chief" when Euro-Americans interacted at contact. As Zenk notes (1976:16): "Gatschet's notes (1877a: 302) strongly suggest Tualatin "chiefs", aboriginally, were merely the wealthiest members of their village groups". Each winter-cooperative-group had rights to specified resources at specific locations as well as rights to sub-drainage resources in common, as opposed to non-cooperating other human groups. The tarweed allotments are a prime example. It cannot be over stressed that each group occupied its own valley or basin, each of which offered the entire range of desired subsistence resources. Trade in obsidian, shell, slaves and exotic items satisfied resource needs that were pan-Valley or regional. Zenk lists the following trade items at Willamette Falls: dentalium shells, bone and shell beads, breast pieces, nose and ear ornaments, feathers, woodpecker scalps, tobacco, and animal skins (Zenk 1976: 52).

Beckham (et al. 1981: 61) indicates that the basic organizational unit for the Kalapuya was the winter village, probably a patrilocal (live near your father) band (small grouping of people related by kinship or friendship ties). A village usually consisted of a man and his wives and children, his brothers and their wives and children and other related people or perhaps a few friends and slaves. Women married into the village group, including from Chinook and Molala society. Wealthy men tried to have more than one wife. In small scale societies such as this, wealth is often determined by the size of the family grouping, as more descendants means more labor and greater authority. Slave labor was used and slavery was hereditary, once captured, a person's descendants remained slaves, and was the only caste with formal limits.

In essence, the village or village group based on kinship was the economic and ecological unit of production, distribution, storage, feedback and consumption. Specialization occurred within this unit or firm. The village held private rights to tarweed and probably camas patches. If wapato was patchy as well, they were probably owned by villages as well. Tobacco was privately cultivated.

Zenk notes that marriage was exogamous (out of the group) and polygamous (many wives) and residence was primarily patrilocal. Marriage payments were unbalanced in the bride's families direction. Acquisition of guardian-spirits was the primary religious activity.

Brauner, Poet & Bell (1998: 23-24) indicate that in the northern Willamette Valley the patrilineal band was the largest integrated political unit and thus leadership was hereditary, but with task specific leaders in local socio-economic groupings. They indicate a class system of noble, wealthy, commoners and slaves was present, based on lineage lines. Wealth moved people up or down the social ladder to some degree. Patrilocal residence for males was also practiced with wives recruited from other bands.

Religion "was an individualistic affair although shaman or religious leaders were present in every band" (1998: 23-24). Guardian spirit quests were essential for success in life, and birth, puberty, marriage and death were marked by special spiritual processes. Brauner, Poet and Bell (9198: 24) note the only known description of a Kalapuya burial:

John Ball (1925: 96) made the following observation in 1833:

"Near by was the graveyard of the Indians, and on one occasion I attended with them the burial ceremony of one of their young men. They dug a grave as we would, put down some slabs at the sides and bottom, wrapped the body in his clothing and over these some mats, lowered it down to its place, put a board over and filled up with the earth. Then they built a fire on the grave and sat on the ground around and for an hour chanted a mournful dirge, all very orderly and impressive. And for a long time after his mother would come almost daily to place food in the earth at the head of the grave for his use on his journey to the other world. At the end of a man's grave they stuck a paddle and at the woman's a camas stick, a crooked pointed stick used by them to dig the camas root,... the digging of which is woman's business, while paddling the canoe is that of the man."

Beckham (et al. 1981: 72-73) prepared a table for Kalapuya material culture:


Snares of blackberry vine rope for grouse and quail Deadfall trap
Club for killing trapped dear, beaver Deer's head decoy
Elk pitfall with sharpened stakes in the bottom Untipped arrows for bird hunting


Rock dam and basket trap of willow Single and multi-pronged detachable fish harpoons
Fish spear Hair lure with grasshopper bait
Fish hook of chub salmon neck bone Fish club
Fish line of rolled white willow inner bark


Digging stick with deer antler handle Soft skin bags for acorn gathering
Hard shallow basket platter for tarweed harvesting Soft conical basket of shredded maple bark with back strap for camas, hazelnuts, berries
Small pits under ash trees for gathering caterpillars


Stone pestles and mortars for mashing Drying and smoking racks for fish and meat
Earth ovens for camas baking Ash bark buckets for boiling foods with hot stones
Maple, cedar and alder bark buckets Cache pits for storing foods
Rawhide buckets Wooden troughs for serving plates
Storage of food in trees Spits for roasting
Stick storage baskets Stirring spoons of elk horn or hardwood
Bags for storing camas, wapato Fire tongs of wood
Cedar root or hazel sprout baskets for water Acorn leaching baskets
Cattail or rush mats for food preparation Wood mortar and pestles for berries
Flat logs for drying berries with fire Deer stomach water containers
Folded cedar bark buckets Dried fish storage baskets


Rectangular or round shallow pit houses with cedar or bark covers, dirt banking Tule mat house for camps
Temporary windbreaks of branches and brush Dirt covered semi-subterranean sweat house


Rope of willow or hazel Bird feathers for dart and arrow shafts
Spears with stone points Pack sack with forehead strap
Tule, cattail and rush mats Bows of yew, ash and oak
Cedar dugout canoes and paddles Cradleboard
Log rafts Sinew for wrapping objects
Moss, cattail fluff beds Stone axes
Fire transport coal in rotted wood between shells Stone knives
Arrow and dart shafts Mussel shell, bone and stone scrapers
Stone and bone arrowheads Fire drill
Needles and awls of wood and bone Hammock
Sinew for sewing and bow strings Bone tattoo needles
Frames for processing hides Hide posts
Arrow and dart quivers Pitchwood torch
Stone pipes Tobacco pouch
Woodworking chisel Pigment mortars
Stone maul Hammerstone
Horn and bone wedge Adze for woodworking


Beads of dentalia and clam shell Claw, teeth and feather ornaments
Trade beads Red ocher face paint
Hair cords for stringing ornaments Breach clout
Combs Blankets of hide and fur
Quill, shell and bone ear and nose ornaments Basket hats
Cedar bark dress Fur caps and cloaks
Moccasins Shaman's regalia
Skin shirts, leggings Arm and wrist bands
Skin or grass apron or skirt Bark raincoats


Hardwood ball for shinny Skin drum
Rattle Plank drum
Beaver teeth dice Split stick rattle
Bone gambling dice Deer hoof rattle
Toy bow Bone and wood whistles
Drumming sticks Reed flute

To this could be added many additional items. According to Rev. Summers, poisoned arrows were in common use, with special quivers for them (Cawley 1994). He collected or observed on the Grand Ronde reservation in 1876: stone pipes; full suits of deerskin consisting of a short jacket, long leggings, moccasins and a long blouse; whale bone chairs; beaver teeth dice; deer toe rattles; baskets; basket trays for winnowing; wood mat needles; water buckets; carved bone spoons; carved wood bowls; adzes; "chalb" trays of ash bark for singing seeds; mats; cooking baskets; fire sticks; pestles; horn spoons; arrowheads; axes; elk teeth necklaces; dentalium shell wampum; canoe paddles; arrows, both regular and poisoned with quivers; bows; bags; a clam basket; a buck-skin purse; and burden baskets.

The material culture of the Kalapuya was appropriate for its time and place. It was no more "primitive" than our current technology, simply different. If a small group of people from our present time were to be stripped naked and dumped into the past of 2000 years ago, they would probably not survive the first winter. They would not know what plants were good food or medicine, nor their relative predictability, abundance and food value. They probably would not know what was poison or harmful. They would not know the habits of the animals so they would not know how to hunt nor be able to develop the technology for hunting systems. They would not know how to locate the raw materials and then make arrowheads or knives. They would not know how to make string and rope out of plant fiber. Would they know about sinew and how to use it? Would they know how to use every part of a hunted animal? Could they tan skins to preserve them as useful items for clothing and blankets? They would not know the amounts of food required for storage to get them through the lean times of the winter. They would not know where to camp, when and why. They would not know about the annual floods and changes in the local environment during winter. There are many other technological requirements for such small scale societies in direct interaction with the physical and biotic environments. It is doubtful they would survive... and even if they did, their lives would be marginal.... because they lack the technological skills appropriate to that time and conditions. The Kalapuya had sophisticated technological knowledge about their environments, but its orientation was different from today.

In a thousand years from now, some people may look back at us and say "how primitive". How wrong they will be. We are not "primitive". Our solutions are appropriate for our time, population density and cultural ecology. Just as the technological solutions of the past were appropriate for their demands. Humans were just as smart then, as now, and will be just as smart in the future. People had specialized knowledge then, have it now, and will have in the future. With population growth, comes increased complexity and increased specialization... but all cultures at all times have some kinds of solutions. The solutions may, or may not, be appropriate for other times and demands, but to think of them as "primitive" or to judge them on some relative scale of quality is an act of hubris.

[back to top]

Chinook Society

More is known about them than the Kalapuya. Ray (1938) states that there was a hereditary upper political class, but through wealth, it was possible to move up into this group. Chiefs could seize orphaned children and turn them into slaves.

The upper class was a relatively small. It appears to have included chiefs and their families, prominent shamans, warriors, traders and others of high birth. To what extent leadership in these activities was a class prerogative and thus connected with birth is uncertain; war and trade probably belong here, shamanism definitely does not (Ray 1938: 48).

Each village had its chief who had authority over the members, the office passing from father to eldest son. Chief duties included resolving quarrels, direction of war and supervision of economic decisions. He could take any property or person, but was required to pay normal values for such actions. Commoners gave gifts to chiefs, which were redistributed among the upper class. Each chief had a spokesman selected for speaking skills. War based on inter-village murder, abduction, insult or witchcraft was formalized except for slave raids, which were chaotic and bloody. Villages could be protected by outlook posts and palisades. The average village group consisted of about four families, their slaves and visitors. Again, the basic economic unit was the village or village group. This was the basic unit of production, distribution and consumption.

Commoners could gather wealth, trade, hold slaves and gain prestige, as long as it did not impinge on the upper class.

Slaves were held by the Chinook in considerable numbers and played a large role in the economic life. To them fell most of the laborious and disagreeable work though they often worked side by side with their masters.... the most difficult tasks in oyster gathering, wood cutting, and fishing were assigned to slaves.... each freewoman as having two, three, or more slaves in constant attendance, thus relieving her of all drudgery... in trading activities a woman was commonly followed by a "train of slaves"... that the average upperclassman owned two or three slaves, with chiefs possessing perhaps double that number, or even more in exceptional cases (Ray 1938: 51).

Slaves were used as payment of bride price, blood money or traded for goods for a feast. Debt, blood-debt or gambling could lead to slavery. Most slaves were taken in raids and trade. All offspring of slaves were slaves. Slaves were often killed with the death of the master.

Shortly after puberty the parents of the child began to accumulate property for a marriage. Kin assisted in this, and once a sufficient amount of goods were available, the parents would approach the parents of a girl whose status was equivalent to the available goods. Residents after marriage was patrilocal and polygyny was practiced by the wealthy.

Trade was vital to the contact Chinook economy. Trade was up and down the coast and into the interior through the Columbia River system. The Chinook controlled the trade outlet for the lower Columbia River. Fishing was the primary economic pursuit for both food and trade.

Both sexes were sent on spirit guardian quests but females in the minority. Accumulation of wealth was a sign that the spirit guardian was powerful (i.e.- wealth explained religious power). A shaman went through a period of training lasting about five years.

[back to top]


Ames, Kenneth
1994 The Northwest Coast: Complex Hunter-Gatherers, Ecology and Social Evolution. Annual Review of Anthropology No 23:209-229.

Arnold, Jeanne
1995 Transportation Innovation and Social Complexity among Maritime Hunter-Gatherer Societies. American Anthropology Vol 97, No 4:733-747.

Burley, David
1980 Marpole, Anthropological Reconstructions of Prehistoric Northwest Coast Culture Type. Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, Publication No 8. Burnaby.

Burtchard, Greg and Robert Keeler
1991 Mt Hood Cultural Resource Reevaluation Project: A Consideration of Prehistoric and Historic Land-Use and Cultural Resource Survey Design Reevaluation. Portland State University.

Darby, Melissa
1996 Wapato for the People: An Ecological Approach to Understanding the Native American use of Sagittaria Latifolia on the Lower Columbia River. Thesis. Portland State University.

Fladmark, Knut
1975 A Paleoecological Model for Northwest Coast prehistory. National Museum of Man, Mercury Series. Archaeological Survey of Canada Paper No 43. Ottawa.

Gamble, Clive
1994 Timewalkers: The Prehistory of Global Colonization. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Matson, R
1983 Intensification and the Development of Cultural Complexity: The Northwest Versus the Northeast Coast. In The Evolution of Maritime Cultures on the Northeast and Northwest Coasts of America. Edited by Ronald Nash. Publication No 11:125-149. Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University.

Schalk, Randall
1978 Foragers of the Northwest Coast of North America: The Ecology of Aboriginal Land Use Systems. Dissertation. University of New Mexico. Albuquerque.

Shermer, Michael
2008 Patternicity in Scientific American Magazine, December: 48.

Thoms, Alston
1989 The Northern Roots of Hunter-Gatherer Intensification: Camas and the Pacific Northwest. Dissertation. Washington State University.

Willig, Judith and C. Melvin Aikens
1988 The Clovis - Archaic Interface in Far Western North America. In: Early Human Occupation in Far Western North America: The Clovis-Archaic Interface. Edited by J. A. Willig, C. M. Aikens and J. L. Fagan. Nevada State Museum Anthropology Papers # 21:1-40. Carson City.