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Large discovery of Native American artifacts in Willamette Valley

A Willamette Valley landowner uncovered 15 obsidian pieces on his property, a rare collection of Native American artifacts estimated to be between 1,000 and 4,000 years old.

A rare collection of Native American artifacts, estimated to be between 1,000 and 4,000 years old, was discovered on a Willamette Valley landowner's property.

The exact location of the site has not been identified.

The discovery of the 15 obsidian pieces, called bifaces in archeological terminology, is the first of its kind discovered in the Willamette Valley, according to an Oregonian archaeologist.

John Pouley, assistant state archaeologist for the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, said that of the 35,000 recorded archaeological sites in Oregon, fewer than 25 consist of biface caches like this most recent discovery.

Watch: Pouley speaks about the archaeological find

Another difference between this cache and other biface cache findings in Oregon is that the artifacts found at this site are mostly blank trade bifaces, which means they are, for the most part, unfinished and unmodified. Most of the previously documented cache sites in Oregon contained finished tools crafted from the bifaces, such as knives, spears or arrowheads.

When these artifacts were first crafted by Native Americans, they were shaped at obsidian cliffs in the Central Oregon Cascades. After the pieces were traded, they could be worked into finished tools.

Pouley said the discovery will help shed light not only on what the blank trade bifaces looked like but also what their intended uses may have been.

"Unmodified trade items of any kind typically do not survive in the archaeological record," Pouley said.

One of the bifaces was found in what Pouley believes was its original position. He explained that most artifacts shift in the ground over time, either by human impact, burrowing animals or annual freezing and thawing cycles. To find one of the artifacts in its original position will help the archaeologists "address a number of research questions, such as possibly refining the estimated age of the site," Pouley said.

The site of the discovery was in the Santiam Band of the Kalapuya. Several Native American tribes were consulted about the find, including the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Spring Reservation.

After the excavation and analyses are competed on the cache, Pouley will produce a report with the intent of having it published in a peer-reviewed publication. He and other contributing archaeologists will also present their findings at the 2017 Northwest Anthropological Conference in Spokane, Wash.

Photos: See images of the bifaces and archaeological dig

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