Reinvestigating Cougar Mountain Cave: New Perspectives on Stratigraphy, Chronology, and a Younger Dryas Occupation in the Northern Great Basin


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April 2019


Cougar Mountain Cave is located in Oregon's Fort Rock Basin. In 1958, avocationalist John Cowles excavated most of the cave's deposits and recovered abundant fiber, lithic, wood, and osseous artifacts. A crew from the University of California, Davis returned to the site in 1966 to evaluate the potential for further research, collecting additional lithic and fiber artifacts from disturbed deposits and in situ charcoal from apparently undisturbed deposits. Because Cowles took few notes or photographs, the Cougar Mountain Cave collection—most of which is housed at the Favell Museum in Klamath Falls, Oregon—has largely gone unstudied even though it contains diagnostic artifacts spanning the Holocene and, potentially, the terminal Pleistocene. We recently submitted charcoal and basketry from the site for radiocarbon dating, providing the first reliable sense of when Cougar Mountain Cave was first occupied. Our results indicate at least a Younger Dryas age for initial occupation. The directly dated basketry has provided new information about the age ranges and spatial distributions of diagnostic textile types in the northwestern Great Basin.


Great Basin, Younger Dryas, Western Stemmed Tradition, Oregon, Paleoindian, Textile

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American Antiquity, Vol. 84, no. 3 (2019-04-24).