Virginia L. Butler
Professor of Anthropology

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Recent Projects

My primary interest is zooarchaeology, the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. I draw on evolutionary ecology to study predator-prey interactions and consider human demography, technological change and independent changes in paleoenvironments that affect prey abundance.

  • Compiling 10,000+ yr long fish records in the Columbia River system (in collaboration with Jim Chatters) and Owens Valley, California (with Michael Delacorte). Species abundance fluctuates greatly, probably due to both climatic and human factors.
Articulated salmon vertebrae at The Dalles Roadcut, a 9000 year old archaeological site on the Columbia River.
  • Analyzing and compiling other faunal project records for faunal remains in the Lower Columbia-Portland Basin. This work is establishing the importance of backwater, resident freshwater fishes (minnows and suckers, esp.) to Native American subsistence and highlighting the importance of backwater habitats (rather than the mainstem Columbia) in providing fishery resources View/Download MS PowerPoint Presentation (4.4MB). I am also linking pre-European contact faunal records with historic accounts to develop a baseline on the kinds of fishes present in the system prior to extensive landscape modification and introductions of exotic species View/Download MS PowerPoint Presentation (17.7MB).
Map of the Lower Columbia (Pettigrew 1990). (Click to Enlarge Image)
  • Herring Synthesis: Compiling and analyzing faunal records from Southeast Alaska as part of the Herring Synthesis Project, funded by the North Pacific Research Board. This is part of a larger project under the direction of Thomas Thornton—to synthesize various records related to past and present herring distribution and abundance, drawing on traditional ecological knowledge, historic records, and archaeology. (collaborators: Madonna Moss, University of Oregon; Tait Elder, PSU graduate student).

Herring bones from Coffman Cove (PET-067)
  • Compiling faunal records from the Puget Sound/Gulf of Georgia Region (collaborating with Sarah Campbell) to examine questions of resource depression and resource intensification as part of a larger project looking at subsistence stability and change in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Continuing projects in the Great Basin of Western North America. Most recently I presented results of a study on the fish remains from a site south of Pyramid Lake, Nevada, at the 2004 Great Basin Anthropology Conference. This project poses questions about the importance of storage and fish transport and highlights how little we really know about the ancient use of fish in arid regions of the American West.
Mummified fish, cui ui (Chasmistes cujus), from a cave in Northwest Nevada (Click to Enlarge Image).
  • Public Outreach/Community Engagement:

  • For the past two years, I have been working with PSU students, faculty and community leaders in Portland to raise awareness about the importance of the city’s archaeological record. Students organized the first ever Portland Archaeology Day, with the theme: Archaeology is Here. At the half-day event on PSU campus, professional, tribal, and avocational archaeologists shared archaeology with the public through hands-on activities and exhibits.