Sunken Village is an archaeological site on Sauvie Island, known to the Chinook as Wapato Island, a 24,000 acre island located northwest of Portland, Oregon. A Chinook village dated to A.D. 1250-1750 comprises the site. In the past, Wapato Island was an important place to indigenous peoples due to its natural resources and strategic location at the nexus of major waterways.
Sunken Village (site number 35MU4) is a particularly special archaeological site because it is a “wet” or “waterlogged site,” where groundwater has kept air away from material remains. The anaerobic environment preserved otherwise perishable artifacts so that excavations in 2006 uncovered three types of basketry: 1) cedar bark checker weave matting, 2) shredded cedar bark capes/skirt fragments, and 3) open cross-warp twined cedar root basket.
Pat Courtney Gold analyzed the cross-warp basket after its recovery, observing:
I had a very emotional and spiritual experience touching a basket remnant dating to 700 years old, approximately. I looked at the basket with awe; the beauty of the basket as if it were woven just a week ago. The cedar warps were approximately 1/4 inch wide, the basket was a cross-warp, twined with 1/8 inch wide cedar bark (or root). This technique is exactly the same that I use in my cattail cross-warp baskets. As I touched the basket, handling the warps and wefts, I felt that I was touching the hands of the weaver while she twined and crossed each weft. Her spirit and my spirit connected. I was blessed by an ancient weaver.
Archaeologists reproduced the basketry they uncovered at this site to better understand the remains. Doing so helped archaeologists develop a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship, and understand the stage of production that the artifact may have been in at the time it became part of the archaeological record.
- Croes, Dale R. “Wet-Site Archaeology on the Northwest Coast of North America and the Native Communities’ Involvement in Managing their Wetland Heritage Sites,” in The Oxford Handbook of Wetland Archaeology, edited by Francesco Menotti and Aidan O’Sullivan, pp. 703-716. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Croes, Dale R., John L. Fagan, and Maureen Newman Zehendner. “Testing the National Historic Landmark Wet Site 35MU4, the Sunken Village Archaeological Site, Multnomah County, Oregon.” Department of Anthropology, Puget Sound Community College and Archaeological Investigations Northwest. Submitted to Sauvie Island Drainage Improvement Company, Permit No. Oregon AP-919, 2007.
- Grumet, Robert. National Park Service. “Brief 10.” The National Historic Landmarks Program Theme Study and Preservation Planning, 1990.