Mercury Rising

Excavations at the Mink Island site, XMK-164., Katmai, Alaska. Source: ADN.com

Excavations at the Mink Island site, XMK-164., Katmai, Alaska. Source: ADN.com

Some news just puts the fear of Cod into you. For example, there’s an interesting study from earlier this year which suggests that rising sea levels in the Alaskan middle Holocene (in the study: roughly 7,000 to 4,000 years ago) released methyl mercury compounds into the nearshore environment (Open Source paper by Maribeth Murray et al., 2015). These then accumulated in fish, specifically Pacific Cod, Gadus macrocephalus, and presumably also in other species which predate upon these cod, such as humans. It’s an interesting preliminary study, but before you think, “Oh My Gadus, Ancient Alaskans were Mad Hatters running amok with mercury-induced neuropathy”, there are some important details to consider.

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Coast Salish Cultural Landscapes on Google Street View

Hwkwitsum (Davis Lagoon) on Google Street View. Screenshot from Google. Click to visit site.

Hwkwitsum (Davis Lagoon) on Google Street View. Screenshot from Google. Click to visit site.

While perhaps best known for having an excellent espresso machine within arm’s reach of his office recliner, UVIC’s own Dr. Brian Thom also runs the Anthropology Department’s Ethnographic Mapping Lab.  One recent creation of this lab is a project to incorporate panoramic, scrollable photos and expository text of certain  Coast Salish cultural landscapes into Google’s street view (Brian has been working on several cool projects with Google’s sponsorship and assistance.)  This is a cool example of applied community-based research brought to the public eye in a sensitive manner. Continue reading

Haida stone carving from Chumash Territory, California?

NW Coast stone carving found in Chumash Territory, California. Source: http://www.arrowheadology.com/forums/showthread.php?t=42646&p=359269&viewfull=1#post359269

NW Coast stone carving found in Chumash Territory, California. Source: http://www.arrowheadology.com/forums/showthread.php?t=42646&p=359269&viewfull=1#post359269

If someone out there in webland makes a link to my blog, and then someone else clicks on that link, I might be able to tell which site is referring to me.  Sometimes this leads to unexpected discoveries.  One of these incoming links is a query to an artifact collecting forum (boo) from a collector in southern California, who found the above small sculpture in Chumash territory.  As is so common in the collector world, there is no other contextual information about this piece, which to my eye, appears to be an early historic Haida carving in argillite. Knowledgeable readers may wish to weigh in below in the comments section about the motifs and provenance of this sculpture – there are more fairly low-quality pictures here. How it made its way to the Santa Barbara area is anyone’s guess, it may have been a simple curio bought by a tourist, or it may be a now-lost bit of evocative human history like the one I suggested here for Haida argillite found on San Juan Island.

NW Coast stone carving found in Chumash Territory, California. Source: http://www.arrowheadology.com/forums/showthread.php?t=42646&p=359269&viewfull=1#post359269

NW Coast stone carving found in Chumash Territory, California. Source: http://www.arrowheadology.com/forums/showthread.php?t=42646&p=359269&viewfull=1#post359269

The Nunalleq Site Fieldwork Blog

Collection of amber beads from the Nunalleq Site. Source: Nunalleq Blog. https://nunalleq.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/artefact-of-the-day-147/

Collection of amber beads from the Nunalleq Site. Source: Nunalleq Blog. https://nunalleq.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/artefact-of-the-day-147/

One of the benefits of running this blog is I get to decide what counts as Northwest Coast Archaeology, and today I’m including the amazing Nunalleq site in SW Alaska. Strengthening my claim this belongs to the NW Coast is that the indispensable Dr. Madonna Moss of U. Oregon has been working there lately – which makes it NW Coast, right? Q.E.D.  Anyway the project has been running for about five years, and their blog for three, so there is lots to read up on, and see.  The site, lying in Yup’ik territory, contains deposits (house and otherwise) up to around 2,000 years old and has been rapidly eroding of late.  What started as a salvage project quickly turned into a major effort as deposits of incredible richness were encountered, with preservation enhanced by frozen soil/permafrost.  I’m currently in a fairly remote spot with slow internet and bandwidth constraints, so I am just going to link to a few highlights of the blog and let you explore the rest.

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The shíshálh Archaeological Research Project blog is back.

shíshálh Archaeological Research Project Blog

shíshálh Archaeological Research Project Blog. Nice trowel handle! Click to visit blog.

Just a quick note to let you know the shíshálh Archaeological Research Project blog is back up and running.  I mentioned this blog before; I gather it (and perhaps the project) didn’t run last year, so it’s good to see it back.  This year it will be written by the participating students on the project. Taking place in shíshálh territory on B.C.’s “‘sunshine coast'”, the dig is now directed by (lifelong fan of both the Senators and Leafs) Dr. Terence Clark of the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization – that’s another story).  Anyway, for now, if you want to keep up to date with the shíshálh blog then I recommend clicking the “follow this blog by email” button on the right of their front page.  No spam, and you’ll be notified of the posts as they happen.

If you know of any other recent project blogs from the NW then let me know and I will link to them also.

    Gary Coupland (left) training students on transit use and archaeological survey/mapping. Photo: shíshálh blog.

Dr. Gary Coupland, U. Toronto (left) training students on transit use and archaeological survey/mapping. Photo: shíshálh blog.

Life from Ash and Ice: A documentary film about Mt. Edziza

Screenshot of Knowledge Network video about Mt. Edziza.

Screenshot of Knowledge Network video about Mt. Edziza. Click to go to site.

For various reasons I’ve been off work for a while and that has meant being off blogging as well. If you’ve commented on posts recently then thanks; if you’ve emailed my gmail account and still would like a reply then maybe try again.

Anyway, what better way to resume making the occasional post here than a film about the place where I did some of my first ever fieldwork: assessing the then-proposed Site Z dam site on the Stikine River in Tahltan territory, far Northwestern British Columbia, in the shadow of Mt. Edziza.  Edziza is well known to Northwest Archaeologists as one of the region’s most important sources of obsidian, a volcanic glass highly suitable for making certain kinds of stone tools.

The video, Edziza: Life from Ash and Ice, can be watched in full on the B.C. Knowledge Network’s web site.  (NB: I had to change the resolution from a default of “lousy”).  Obviously the geology of the Edziza Complex is pretty cool (and is covered in the first half of the video, which features John Clague among others), but there’s quite a bit of more direct archaeological interest in the second half.

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Grace Islet and the Equifinality of Bad Process

Grace Islet human burial cairn intersected by concrete house foundation. The cairn is under the plywood and concrete square structure. Source: Grace Islet on Facebook.

Grace Islet human burial cairn intersected by concrete house foundation. The cairn is said to be under the plywood and concrete square structure. Could there be a more poignant picture of the present day management of archaeological sites in this province? Source: Grace Islet on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/graceislet

Grace Islet – Shmukw’elu – is a small island (map, pic) in Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island.  It is a Coast Salish cemetery, and it is a settler construction site.  How do we reconcile these contradictory uses of this island? I’ve been hesitant to post about this case because I know it’s a long and complicated story of how we got to 2014, when we see burial cairns being literally encased into concrete house foundations. I am quite sure that many people of goodwill made many decisions that seemed right to them at the time. I don’t know what all these decisions are, what happened when, exactly, what the consultant said, how the house owner sleeps at night – I just don’t know all these variables and I am schooled in the idea you should know everything before you say anything. It’s clear though that, somehow, the practice of archaeology in this province led to the Grace Islet outcome. Shouldn’t we try to understand the process? That’s fine in principle, but can be silencing in the face of complexity: as Pierre Bourdieu wrote, “the most successful ideological efforts are those which have no need for words, and then ask no more than complicitous silence.” No more silence, then.

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