NW Life | Local | Oregon Historical Photo Of The Week

Oregon Historical Photo: A 10,000-Year-Old Tradition

OPB | May 5, 2014 midnight | Updated: May 7, 2014 1:44 p.m.

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Klamath woman wearing traditional basket hat, circa 1920s. Baskets of these types date back more than 10,000 years in the region.

Klamath woman wearing traditional basket hat, circa 1920s. Baskets of these types date back more than 10,000 years in the region.

The Oregon Historical Society

Every week, Oregon Experience shares a photo highlighting the state’s diverse, exciting history. All photos are courtesy of The Oregon Historical Society.

During his lifetime, Luther Cressman blazed an iconic trail through the Oregon Outback. Cressman is now considered the father of Oregon archaeology, but in the 1930s, he held a series of different titles. He was a former Episcopal minster, Columbia-taught sociologist, divorcé of Margaret Mead, and the newly appointed head of the University of Oregon’s first archaeology program, which he also founded.

In 1937, with a handful of adventurous students, Cressman uncovered one of the greatest sites in the history of North American archaeology. Deep in Southeast Oregon, he excavated a series of rural caves.

Over time, these sites have produced artifacts like sandals, basketry, camel bones, tools and coprolite (dried feces). When carbon dated, these discoveries completely changed the scientific timeline of when the first “North Americans” arrived on the continent.

Here’s some context: Sandals he found (now known as Fort Rock sandals) were nearly 10,000 years old. That means they were made before the pyramids, before written language, before the first-known wheel. The oldest found coprolite is about 14,600 years old. 

The Klamath Tribes have been making basket hats, like the one pictured, for thousands of years. Baskets were woven from natural materials and used for a variety of things. The earliest woven artifact from Oregon is a strand of braided sagebrush bark from Paisley Caves directly dated to ~12,000 years ago.

The Oregon Experience documentary on Luther Cressman airs May 12 at 9:00 p.m. on OPB TV; Advance Public Screenings in Eugene & Klamath Falls.

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