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The Kiamichi Fish Weir Site
In 1994, a landowner reported a "weird rock wall"
eroding from the base of a 22 ft. tall terrace of the Kiamichi River.
The landowners had found artifacts related to the very late Late
Archaic or very early Woodland period (see time periods at the end
of this page) from the upper 6 ft. of the terrace above the river
as it eroded the bank, but the rock wall was at the base of the
terrace directly on a gravel bar of the river channel. Though it
resembled a foundation for an old cabin, it was clearly too old
to relate to a historic occupation, and would have been rather damp
in any case. They called the Oklahoma Archeological Survey for help
in understanding what was coming out of their river bank.
The setting of the site is not unique in the Ouachita Mountains
An outcrop of shale and a trapped gravel bed constrains the flow
of the river during normal periods and forms a nice pool of water
upstream. This geological feature prevents downcutting by the river
and forces a broadening of the stream during flood episodes, thus
cutting back the terrace. There were two severe rises along the
Kiamichi River between 1989 and 1994, and each of these cut back
the terrace edge. After one flood, the stumps of cypress trees were
found preserved where they had grown into the gravel bed and underlying
shale outcrop, in the same circumstances as the rock wall, and about
25 ft. north of the wall. Cypress do not grow in this part of the
river valley under modern conditions.
The rock wall was composed of large, roughly rectangular
rocks, probably from a ridge outcrop about one-quarter of
a mile to the south. The rocks were stacked in a linear fashion
without mortar. We straightened the nearly 6 ft. tall terrace
remnant overlaying the rocks, and revealed a thick layer of
blue (organic stained) sand over the rocks. As archeologists
removed the sand at the west end of the alignment, they exposed
what seemed to be the end of another rock wall extending to
the south and forming a wide V with the exposed wall. At the
apparent apex, two large and several smaller rocks lay parallel
to one another and seemed to form an opening or chute between
the ends of the walls. Further excavation over the next week
revealed the second wall bearing off to the south, but unlike
the first wall, this one was more disturbed rather than being
stacked. After studying the stream and the gravel bar, archeologists
concluded the south wall extended across the stream flow to
divert water, and fish, through the chute or funnel. Water
flowing against this wall dispersed it over time, while the
first wall was parallel to the stream flow and was therefore
not disturbed. Archeologists realized they had identified
an archeological feature unique in Oklahoma prehistory, a
fish weir (trap), before it was destroyed by natural processes.
| Archeologists wanted to learn if the weir was associated
with the archeological materials found in the upper part of
the terrace. In the process of excavation, they recovered several
samples of wood, one from beneath one of the largest undisturbed
rocks of the feature, and one from within the arms of the weir.
Charred hickory and pecan hulls were recovered from the culture
bearing deposits in the terrace. All these materials were radiocarbon
dated. The wood from beneath the large rock was identified as
oak and dated to 3150+60 B.P. (about 1200 B.C.). The wood from
inside the arms of the weir dated to 2990+80 B.P. (about1100
B.C.), but the charred nut hulls dated much later, 2380+80 B.P.
(about 400 B.C.) showing the use of the weir was far earlier
than the better known occupation of the site. Interestingly,
the cypress trees found after the 1992 floods dated to 2990+60
B.P., or virtually contemporary with the dates from the weir.
Drawing of rock fish weir feature.
What have we learned about Oklahoma prehistory by finding this one
feature? 1) Fishing was more important to food gathering than we
might have known. We knew about bone fish hooks from sites such
as 34LT11 and net weights from sites along
the Mountain Fork and Glover Rivers located above natural fish traps,
and we suspected that some of the crush black walnut and hickory
husks may have been used as a fish poison, but the weir required
an investment of labor to construct and maintain. 2) The age of
the weir relates it firmly to the Late Archaic Period. 3) The radiocarbon
dates from the cypress and the pine informs us about the vegetation
and the climate. Cypress does not grow in the area under modern
conditions and likes wetter and warmer conditions with warmer winters.
Pine was previously thought to have become common about 2,000 years
ago, but the date from the pine shows its presence over 1,000 years
earlier. Again, we learned of the climate and vegetation from this
piece of burned wood. 4) We now know that the age of the component
in the upper part of the terrace is just before and at the beginning
of pottery manufacture and use in eastern Oklahoma, and we suspect
that use of the site by native Americans continued over a long time
span on a seasonal basis.
Prehistoric Sites in Pushmataha County Identified to