Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

John E. Douglas

Commitee Members

Anna M. Prentiss, David Beck


archaeology, cedar basket trees, culturally modified trees, methodology


University of Montana


This thesis explores the potential for archaeological investigations of culturally modified trees (CMTs) in the northern Rocky Mountain region of Western Montana. Culturally modified trees are considered to be living artifacts, representations of traditional culture, and a lasting physical manifestation of long term use by inhabitants. The goal of this thesis is to offer an archaeological perspective for investigation of cultural modifications of the cedar basket tree (Thuja plicata), and to contribute to the development of a method for inquiry and analysis. Two primary research questions were posed: How does the study of behavioral archaeology and the methodological approach presented in this thesis contribute to the understanding of indigenous culture? How does the investigation of cedar basket trees contribute to understandings of the cultural landscape? Culturally modified trees are characterized by their physical characteristics, determined by both the original morphological alteration and the subsequent physiological response to the modification. Measurable attributes help identify the uses of CMTs and are representations of the behavior of indigenous peoples and their cultures. Further, spatial and temporal studies can reveal complex dynamics among traditional ecological knowledge systems, historical and cultural landscapes, and resource stewardship. To illustrate the research potential of culturally modified cedar basket trees, a small-scale study of a grove in Western Montana was undertaken to collect data on historic CMTs that were analyzed for clues to past behavior on the landscape. Dendrochronology indicated that cedar harvesting at the study site occurred from 1962 to 1998. Specific attributes were compared which revealed that general relationships exist between basket length, width, and tree diameter. Through the archaeological study of culturally modified trees we can begin to understand the cultural connections these trees have with people and the landscape. Their identification and study are important, because loss and destruction of culturally modified trees are of concern to aboriginal communities, cultural resource managers, and to the understanding of cultural landscapes.



© Copyright 2013 Dean Sonneah Nicolai