These Outer Shores: A special edition of BC Studies

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 7.47.48 PMThe regional journal BC Studies has a new special issue out focused on local archaeology. Entitled These Outer Shores, the edition is available for a reasonable price (20$) and two of the articles plus the forward are already open access, with the rest to follow in a couple of years.  The publisher’s blurb gives a good sense of the edition:

Guest Edited by Alan D. McMillan and Iain McKechnie, These Outer Shores presents recent archaeological research along the outer coast, from southeast Alaska to the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait. The authors challenge the long-held perception of the western edge of British Columbia as “peripheral” or “remote,” removed from major cultural developments emanating from more interior locations. Instead, recent fieldwork and analyses document a lengthy and persistent occupation of the outer shores over the past 13,000 years. Using a variety of modern approaches and techniques, the authors examine such topics as changing sea levels, human settlement history, fish and shellfish harvesting, whaling, and the integration of Indigenous oral history with archaeology.

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Glaciers brought mountain to man (not really)

Dionisio Point. Main vlillage sites in central upper portion of image. Credit: Colin grier via NPR.

Dionisio Point, north end of Galiano Island. Main vlillage sites (DgRv 6) in central upper portion of image. Credit: Colin grier via NPR.

A couple of months ago you may have heard of an exciting new study on the sources of rock for making stone tools in the Salish Sea.  “Glaciers brought mountain to man“, the headlines said, affirming that archaeologists working on Galiano Island had found nodules of raw material, not yet worked into tools, from the Mt. Garibaldi area of the lower mainland.  If, like me, you have a rudimentary knowledge of Salish Sea archaeology, you probably leapt to the conclusion that the raw material would be from the Garibaldi obsidian source.  So, cool: the mountain moves to Mohammed after all.  But, despite my being fairly disapproving of both sobriety and thinking in general, sober second thought did have me wondering: is it even possible that glaciers carried raw material from Garibaldi to Gabriola?  And from the relatively small and isolated high-altitude obsidian sources to a prominent village site?  ” It was brought there by glaciers, conveniently, 12,000 years ago”, the article asserts – thousands of years past the local ice maximum.  It didn’t easily compute. Luckily I was emailing with one of the paper’s authors, Dr. Colin Grier from Washington State University, and he set me straight on how the new article came to have something of a misleading takeaway point, while shedding some light on his recent interactions with the press.

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The survivor camp of the Russian frigate Neva

Cache of early 18th century Russian Axe Heads. Source: Dave McMahon via NSF.

Cache of early 19th century Russian Axe Heads, on Kruzof Island, Alaska. Source: Dave McMahan via NSF.

In late 1812 or early 1813, the London-built, Russian-owned frigate Neva foundered on rocks somewhere near Sitka Sound, in Tlingit territory on Baranof or Kruzof Islands,  SE Alaska, (map).  The Neva was a prominent ship of Russian colonial Alaska having, for example, taken part in the 1804 Battle of Sitka as well as making multiple round trips during the maritime fur trade hauling sea otter pelts to Chinese and Russian ports. The actual wreck site has never been found.  However, in 2012 archaeologists led by Dave McMahon and the Sitka Historical Society found a small historical-era site which they thought might be where the 28 survivors of the wreck sheltered for a month before being rescued in January 1813.  An intriguing and suggestive find in 2012 was an apparent cache of Russian made axeheads (above), suggesting further work was called for.  In 2015, a fuller excavation took place finding a remarkable assemblage “focused on survival”, not at all typical of early historic settlement sites.  So, while there is no smoking gun yet, such as crockery with the Neva’s monogram, there are plenty of indicators that this site is where the survivors sheltered in the not-entirely benign Alaskan winter while awaiting a rescue that might never come.

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Public talk in Portland, Oregon: The Kwädąy Dän Ts’ìnchį Project

View of the glacial edge high in the Tatsenshini where Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi was found in 1999.

View of the glacial edge high in the Tatsenshini where Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi was found in 1999. Photo credit: Al Mackie

I don’t usually plug public talks in cities that don’t contain the Shining Tower of Blog HQ, but I’m making an exception for this one.  BlogBrother Alexander and BlogSisterInLaw Kjerstin are speaking on Tuesday evening in Portland on the topic of “The Kwädąy Dän Ts’ìnchį Project, a Collaborative Study of a Man Frozen in a Glacier and His Belongings.

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More Mayne Island Museum

Unusual object in the Mayne Island Museum

Unusual object in the Mayne Island Museum, and two celts.

The above is maybe the most unusual object I saw in the archaeological cases in my visit to the Mayne Island museum.  As you can see, it’s labelled as a “large stone abrader” and may well be, I suppose.  It’s thin, an the reddish cast and sort of laminate structure of the rock makes me think it is schist, a material commonly used for flaked “slate” as well as for saws.  If it’s an abrader, I’d say it’d be a saw, since no sign (on this face) of any smooth abraded areas.  However, the general shape seems pretty elaborate for any abrader or saw from my experience. Maybe an elaborate ulu-style knife intended to be hafted across the neck.  Or, what I was wondering when I was there, maybe triggered by a false association to the shape, was something like the ground slate mirrors from the North Coast.  These would be polished to a sheen, then wetted, thus providing a reflection, and if memory serves (and it often doesn’t) were used in rituals more than for popping blackheads. But it doesn’t seem polished enough for that.  All the same, the shape rings a bell and rather than spend too much time looking through old Syesis’s (Syeses?  Syesisis?? ‘copies of the journal Syesis’ – phew) I’m throwing it out here for comment.

There’s a few other pictures form the museum below.

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Visiting Celts at the Mayne Island Museum

Mayne Island Museum and Gaol. Source: tumblr

Mayne Island Museum and Gaol. Source:

The only thing better than small town museums are small town thrift shops, but it’s close. I stuck my nose into the Mayne Island — a small island in the Salish Sea — Museum a day or two ago, which is housed in the former gaol  (that’s “jail” for my diverse readers).  These museums can be fun, but you do have to put on your “this place is historically situated” eyeglasses.  As in, there is usually an enormous preponderance of Settler material, and often there is a fairly reductionist, colonialist or otherwisely unfortunate depiction of First Nations. The Mayne museum doesn’t escape this altogether.  The First Nations display is probably 5% of the total, both in material display, and in the timeline presented (I didn’t take a picture but it is typed out pretty much verbatim here, compare to my pie chart timeline).  Anyway, I don’t want to focus on any negative vibes from the museum, they share the general issues of almost every community museum I’ve been to, but neither do I want to ignore them completely. To their credit they have a good section  the Japanese Internment Camps and the fate of Japanese-Canadian islanders during World War II.  Anyway, I took a few lousy pictures with my phone and I’ll share these below and in a subsequent post (since really who wants to read 2,000 words of pontification in one sitting?) We’re going to start with my favourite artifact type.

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Cod Bones and the Fish Trade

Cod bones (cleithra) recovered from the Mary Rose, with a stained modern example for comparison. Credit: Sheila Hamilton-Dyer

Cod bones (cleithra) recovered from the Mary Rose, with a stained modern example for comparison. Credit: Sheila Hamilton-Dyer

So the Upward Sun post yesterday was based partially on a combined ancient DNA and stable isotope analysis of ancient salmon bones. This triggered one of my own fossil memories of a cool, recent case study from England of all places.  Indeed, not far from my alma mater Southampton, which in some ways forms the intellectual antipodal point to Blog World Headquarters (now temporarily ensconced in this hellhole).  So the case study concerns tracking the 16th century trade or acquisition network of cod bones across the North Atlantic, based on a large comparative dataset of bones from many different region and a sample of cod bones from the Mary Rose, a sunken warship of King Henry VIII dating to 1545.  Relevance to the Northwest Coast is unclear but possible.  Bear with me, it gets a little long.  And I’m totally not a fish guy.

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