Kuwoot yas.ein – A video about the discoveries at On-Your-Knees Cave, SE Alaska

Tim Heaton at work in OYK cave.  Screenshot from video.

Tim Heaton at work in OYK cave. Screenshot from video.

On July 4, 1996, paleontologist Tim Heaton was busy at his last day of fieldwork at On-Your-Knees Cave on northern Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska (map).  At this and other caves Heaton had recovered a remarkable array of fauna from both before, during, and after the last glacial maximum, including a variety of black and brown bear bones.  Until this point, he had not found any human remains, but that changed with the discovery of a human mandible and the subsequent discoveries of other scattered, chewed remains.  In due course, an archaeological site was also found at the entrance to the cave, dating to about 10,300 calender years ago, the same as the human remains. Excavation at this site was led by E. James (Jim) Dixon, whose footsteps I often feel like I am stumbling along in. In one layer in the site, they actually found one of the missing teeth from the mandible, showing the extent to which the bones had been scattered, and, sinisterly, chewed, presumably by bears.  The most likely interpretation is that the site represents a bear hunting camp at the entrance to the cave, and that on at least one occasion, the bears got the upper hand.

Anyway, the remains of this young man have revealed important details of the life of early people on the Northwest Coast, and the study also exemplifies how strong relationships, respect, and adherence to protocol can allow for scientific and cultural priorities to unfold together. It’s therefore quite exciting to find a 30 minute video detailing the process of research at On-Your-Knees Cave: “Kuwoot yas.ein: His Spirit is Looking Out from the Cave“.

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ASBC Victoria Public Talk: Tue. Oct. 21 – Darcy Mathews on Funerary Petroforms at Rocky Point

Darcy Matthews leading a UVic field trip to burial features in Metchosin.  Photo:qmackie

Darcy Matthews leading a UVic field trip to burial features in Metchosin. Photo:qmackie

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, VICTORIA,  OCTOBER MEETING:

Dr. Darcy Mathews

Funerary Ritual and Ancestral Presence at Rocky Point, British Columbia

Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 7:30 pm

UVIC Cornett Building B129 (map)

Free and open to the public

While you might think you’ll have had your fill of cool archaeology at Saturday’s BC Archaeology Forum in Nanaimo, you won’t have seen the latest from Dr.(!!) Darcy Mathews, who will be presenting his recent UVic Ph.D. research to the ASBC next week. Perhaps benefitting from the finest supervision which single-malt can buy, Darcy’s dissertation is Piled Higher and Deeper with carefully chosen nuggets of the finest methods and theories, much like the cairns funerary petroforms it is based on. Seriously, it is a tour de force which absolutely nails its topic in a way seldom seen. No doubt it’ll be coming soon to a prestigious academic press near you.

Anyway, the ASBC provides the abstract: Continue reading

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Reburial at Hagwilget: A Video

Click to Play Video

Click to play Sacred Ground video.

Archaeological encounters with human remains bring into sharp relief the competing values surrounding cultural heritage.  It doesn’t always go well – powerful emotions are uncovered alongside the burials.  So it’s refreshing and informative to come across a short video, Sacred Ground: In honour and in memory of our ancestors, made by Crossroads Cultural Resource Management, which follows the aftermath of the accidental disturbance of human remains at Hagwilget, on the Skeena Bulkley River.

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Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, fieldwork, First Nations, Northwest Interior | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Lummi Reef Net Model

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: WhatcomWatch.org

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: http://whatcomwatch.org/wpww/?p=348

A while back I found the cool picture above in an online exhibit of the Whatcom Museum showing photographs of Point Roberts and Lummi Island, on Puget Sound just south of the Canadian border.  Reef netting is a peculiarly Straits Salish technology which involved the setting of complex nets, suspended between two canoes, at strategic locations where the natural flow of salmon was constrained. A sort of on-ramp led the fish up to the net by creating a gentle optical illusion of a rising bottom.  When the salmon were milling around in the horizontal net, still free, the canoes would be suddenly swung together, closing the net and trapping the salmon.

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Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Technology, underwater archaeology, Vancouver Island, Washington State | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Giant of Happy Valley

The giant of Happy Valley Esquivalt(?) [sic].  Sent to Professor Flower at Nat Hist Mus and returned to the owner Left McCallum. Source: British Museum.

“The giant of Happy Valley Esquivalt(?) [sic]. Sent to Professor Flower at Nat Hist Mus and returned to the owner Left McCallum.” Source: British Museum.

When I was looking for more information about the Coast Salish grave houses I pictured a few days ago, I ran into these images from the British Museum.  They show the torso and head of a large human figure, carved out of wood.  The height of the sculpture is 4 foot 9 inches, meaning the whole sculpture, assuming it once had legs, would have stood well over seven feet tall.  So, a giant indeed.  There is very little information about the sculpture, other than it comes from happy Valley, “Esquivalt” – clearly meaning Esquimalt – a neighbouring municipality to the west of Victoria.  The next municipality to the west is Colwood, and indeed it has a prominent “Happy Valley Road” running through it into Metchosin.  While at the first glance the sculpture doesn’t appear to be a typical NW Coast sculpture, I think there’s reason to at least consider that possibility.

[edit: be sure to see the comment from Pete at the bottom]

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Coast Salish Mausolea, Victoria, 1859

 Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake.  Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

Grave near Victoria on the harbour, 1859, by William Tyrwhitt-Drake. Source: British Museum. Click for their record and verso.

So, not long ago we had an excellent discussion here centered around Edward Richardson’s 1864 painting of a Coast Salish grave house or mausoleum.  I’ve recently come across another set of images of these places which are so important to First Nations. These images were painted by well-known early Victoria resident (and former mayor and Supreme Court of BC Justice)  Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake.  They’re pretty interesting paintings  from the early colonial period on southern Vancouver Island which I don’t recall seeing before.

The painting above clearly shows a small mausoleum, weighted with rocks on top, in front of which are two carved figures. The one on the right includes fishers or river otters, both of which have important spiritual significance in this area.  Each of these images has notes on the back, which are also reproduced at the British Museum site (click the image to go to the accession record). For this image, the notes aren’t transcribed, though maybe someone with better olde handwritinge fkills would care to have a go  As near as I can make out, the back reads:

This is another eccentric specimen of Indian taste for sculpture, it is equal to the finest specimens of _________  — see the elegant attitude of that man scratching his ?cheek bone, but a _____ ________ _______ would have mastered __________ a flight of ___________ imagination. The other is holding two dogs [sic] of a breed which I am afraid is lost to the present generation. This ______ are carved in wood and _____ ________ near a large grave of the family vault above ground ___________ .

It”s true, both sculptures are lively and naturalistic. In both cases, and the one below, there is apparently a rendering of face paint.  I’m sure those readers more knowledgeable than I will see a lot of interesting detail in these pictures.  Note the open prairie environment – anthropogenic Garry Oak meadow, no doubt.

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Alaskan Fish Weir Photos

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946.  Click to see video.  Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946. Click to see video. Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

So, still rustling around the weird world of weirs.  The online Alaskan archives have quite a few interesting examples – and, kind of remarkably, a video showing the construction of a weir near Atka, which is on the Aleutian Islands.   The trap in the video is pretty similar to a couple of other Aleutian ones in the collection, which I’ll talk about below. It’s really cool to not only see a more-or-less traditional trap being built (look at the rocks being casually dropped down by the wooden fence!) but the photos also show weirs actually in use. There’s probably a lot to learn from these pictures – as any introductory textbook in archaeology will tell you, the more we know about the behavioural context of a given site type, the more we can reliably infer the cultural context when presented only with the archaeological remains.

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Posted in alaska, Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments