Ancient Idaho culture timeline, 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE


Last Updated: 8 years

Idaho Indian tribes say they have occupied their homelands since time immemorial. The state of Idaho has a cultural history spanning at least 6,000 years that has been proven with modern archeology techniques.

This state spans two cultural areas: the Plateau Region in the north and the Great Basin Region in the south. Climate changes from 6000 BCE to 3000 BCE affected the original American Indian people in these two areas differently. This is called the Middle Period by archaeologists. Here is a timeline of the changes that occurred in this area.


Owl Cave: American Indians were using Owl Cave as early as 6000 BCE to trap and kill bison (commonly called buffalo today).  According to archaeologist B. Robert Butler in the Handbook of North American Indians :

“Apparently, each of the Owl Cave kills resulted from a well-planned and coordinated undertaking in which herds of 30 or more Bison antiquus were induced or driven into the cave, dispatched with spears thrust into the body cavities, and then systematically butchered.”

The now extinct Bison antiquus is generally considered to be the ancestor to the modern Bison bison  we are all familiar with. This extinct species was up to 25% larger than our modern bison.

Centennial Mountains: The original people of Idaho were hunting and gathering in the Centennial Mountains by 6000 BCE. Remains of hundreds of campsites have been found in this area.

Quarry Sites: Around 5800 BCE, the indigenous people were using a number of quarry sites along the upper Salmon and Pahsimeroi rivers, at an elevation of 7,800 feet. Quarry sites where good stone could be easily obtained were very important to their daily lives to make weapons and tools, and also gave them a valuable trade good they could barter to other tribes.

Bernard Creek Rockshelter: American Indian people were occupying the Bernard Creek Rockshelter in Hells Canyon by 5800 BCE.

Birch Creek: In 5200 BCE, native peoples were living in the Birch Creek area. At that time, the lakes had nearly dried up in an arid climate, and had become only occasional  marshes.

Kirkwood Bar Site: The ancient Idaho people were living near the  Kirkwood Bar site in Hells Canyon by 5100 BCE.

DeMoss Site: An ancient  cemetery at the DeMoss site in the south-central portion of the state has been dated to 5000 BCE.

Root Plants:  People in the eastern Plateau Area (what is northern Idaho today) were using root plants as early as 4400 BCE. We know this from earth ovens which were used in processing these plant foods. By 3500 BCE, camas was a regular staple of diets  in this area.

Nez Perce Village: Around 4050 BCE, the Nez Perce established a village site on the Clearwater River. Salmon fishing provided a major portion of their diet.

Ancient Graves: A graveyard containing 22 people near the Little Salmon River has been dated to around 4000 BCE.

Island Park Reservoir: Indian people began to live in the Island Park Reservoir area around 4000 BCE..

Weiser River: Two women and four children who were buried in a mass grave near the mouth of the Weiser River have been dated to about 3840 BCE.

Challis: A buffalo jump used to kill bison near present-day Challis dates to about 3380 BCE.

Burials: In southwest Idaho, Indian people were buried with elaborate grave goods, including red ochre, olivella shells, large biface points, dog skulls, pipes, hematite crystals, and tools by 3200 BCE.

Corn Creek: Native people began living in the Corn Creek area around 3000 BCE.