Question Sheet: A Plankhouse Past


Before reading:

  1. Who were Meriwether Lewis and William Clark? What are they famous for? 
  2. Why is archaeology considered a science?

During reading:

  1. What sorts of discoveries did Lewis and Clark make on their 2-year expedition? 
  2. In what kind of building did the Chinook people traditionally live? 
  3. What was the village of Cathlapotle like when Lewis and Clark passed through? Why did the town interest them? 
  4. Describe the artifacts that scientists have found in their archaeological investigations at Cathlapotle. 
  5. How could scientists figure out where a plankhouse had once stood? 
  6. Why don’t the Chinook people fit into the usual categories of how societies work?

After reading:

  1. When scientists study Chinook culture, they can read about it in Lewis and Clark’s journals as well as by digging up remains. What differences are there between what you learn from a journal and what you learn from an archaeological dig? 
  2. Do you think people would learn more about the Chinook culture by visiting a

    reconstructed plankhouse or by seeing displays of artifacts in a museum? Why? 

  3. In the article, tribe member Tony Johnson says, “I’m still convinced some Americans think we scraped rocks and hit sticks together.” Why do you think that

    some people might have that impression?


  1. Who were the Chinookan people? Where did they live? What happened to them?


  2. Suppose you were giving a tour of a plankhouse. What would you tell visitors

    about the building and the people who built and used such houses? See (Cathlapotle Plankhouse Project) and (Portland State University).


  1. Plankhouses were as big as 180 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 18 feet tall. Between 20 and 100 people (or more) lived in a single house. People slept, cooked, worked, worshiped, and socialized in these buildings. Write a few paragraphs describing what you imagine it might be like spending a day in such a setting. 
  2. Imagine that you were with Lewis and Clark on their expedition. Write your own journal entry about the arrival at Cathlapotle for the first time. What would you notice or look for? To see journals from the Lewis and Clark expedition, go to (University of Nebraska).


Suppose that a plankhouse is 180 feet long and 35 feet wide. Its side walls are 8 feet high, but the front and back walls are shaped like rectangles with triangles on top. Each triangle’s peak is 18 feet above the ground. What volume does this building enclose? What is the area of its roof?