History of the Lava Island Rockshelter
The Lava Island Rockshelter is located on the west side of the Deschutes River near Lava Island Falls, at the south end of Lava Island. It is just south of Bend.
The site was excavated by archaeologists in the summer of 1981. The shelter was used over a period of 10,000 years. Cultural material from the shelter is primarily lithic. Most of the projectile points found at the site are lance-shaped and are several thousand years old. More than 8,000 chips and flakes were recovered and, in addition to arrow points, there were cutting and scraping tools identified. Most of the artifacts recovered were made from obsidian from Newberry Crater and other local sites.
Interestingly, there was little evidence of fishing at the site. It is believed that anadromous fish could not get upstream from Big Falls. There were some animal remains discovered and consisted mostly of deer, elk or antelope bones.
The rock shelter was a task-specific site used as a hunting camp where carcasses were butchered and processed. Some storage of implements and foods probably occurred there. A cache of 38 stone tools were found. The points were all very similar and were probably made by one or two individuals. Most of the stored projectile points appear to have been unused.
A storage pit was also excavated, and it was about a yard wide and several inches deep. It was lined with ponderosa pine back and flat basalt rocks. Radiocarbon dating revealed the pit to have been in use about the early 1800s. Several different plant remains were found in the pit. Most of the plant remains found were seeds or seed fragments. All of the plants recovered were used variously by aboriginal peoples.
The rock shelter is only large enough for a few people at a time, and it was probably visited on a regular basis for brief periods of time. It probably was only used on a seasonal basis and was most likely one of several scattered campsites in the region.
Although the shelter is not one of the oldest sites found in Central Oregon, it is an important site in the local area. It is located on Forest Service land and is open to public access.
Steve Lent is a local historian and assistant director of the Bowman Museum. He can be reached at: 541-447-3715.