Tag Archives: rock art

Destruction of Kwalate Village

Major landslide scar near Kwalate Village. Source: panoramio user Obslord.

Yesterday’s post about Marianne Nicolson’s powerful pictograph in Kingcome Inlet and the post from a few days ago about the enormous Tsunami in Lituya Bay got me thinking again about recent work in Knight Inlet on the central B.C. Coast (map).

A recent project by a team of geomorphologists and an archaeologist, UVic’s own Duncan McLaren, investigated oral historical accounts about Kwalate Village of the A’wa’etlala and Da’naxda’xw peoples, of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations.  The accounts state that a landslide in Knight Inlet triggered a local Tsunami which swept this village away. This account is known anthropologically through a number of sources, including Franz Boas (1910, Kwakiutl Tales):

“About three generations ago, or possibly at an earlier date, a large portion of the mountain opposite Kwalate Point slid into the inlet causing a huge tidal wave which wiped out all of the inhabitants of the village opposite…and the vast slide is noticeable today”.

Of course, the story of the destruction of Kwalate is still told and the dead, unknown in number but perhaps up to one hundred, are still mourned and memorialized in the surrounding communities.  While it is not necessary, or even desirable or possible, for archaeology to confirm oral historical accounts, when that happens it can be of interest to archaeologists and First Nations people alike. Continue reading

Cliff Painting by Marianne Nicolson

Marianne Nicolson is a member of the Dzawada’enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations.  She is an internationally-known contemporary artist, and a Ph.D. candidate in the Departments of Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of Victoria.  Her work is outstanding and profound and if you get a chance to see her studio pieces, then by all means do so.

One work you will not be seeing in a gallery anytime soon is her massive pictograph, Cliff Painting, near the head of Kingcome Inlet in her traditional territory (map).  The work is over 15 metres high by 10 metres wide, emblazoned on a prominent cliff as you round the final corner heading into Kingcome (video, scroll down).  It formed the focal point of the book by Judith Williams Two Wolves at the Dawn of Time, which is highly recommended.  Painted using scaffolds lowered from above the cliff, the work is a profound statement of power and energy.  The image is of a “copper“, a large shield-shaped symbol of chiefly power, family prestige and spiritual inheritance, among many more nuanced meanings.  Many pictographs on the coast are fading away, rinsed by sun and rain, vandalized even.  This massive pictograph takes a stance for all the past, present, and future powers of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation.

Cliff Painting in Progress. Source: The Medicine Project.

Lousy conservation at the Vancouver Museum?

Shoddy conservation of magnificent petroglyph boulder at the Vancouver Museum. Screenshot from VM website.

For some reason mistreatment of rock art just makes me spitting mad.  I posted the other day about a magnificent petroglyph boulder that was removed from its home on the central Fraser River near Lillooet in 1926.  Bad enough that this work of art was ripped from its setting to be a curio in an urban park.  Petroglyphs are not ornaments for your outdoor rock garden any more than they are lifestyle amenities deployed as advertising copy, even if you are a museum.

Now my spies tell me that this petroglyph boulder was moved to the Vancouver Museum in 1992.  Pictures of the boulder on the VM website show it to be in absolutely appalling shape.  It is covered with moss, the designs are visibly eroded and faint, there are signs of exfoliation, and the large crack seen in 1926 seems to be getting larger.   The Vancouver Museum appears to be keeping this treasure in a damp, shady, spot in the outdoors (as they say, it is in a “lower level garden courtyard”) and there is no sign of any attention to basic, fundamental conservation responsibilities. They even have the gall to note in their website description “Today archaeologists are reluctant to reveal the locations of petrogylphs, lest they be disturbed.”  Well I am revealing the location of this petroglyph, which is being disturbed by careless curation!

Seriously: this boulder is one of only a few petroglyphs from that part of the province, where pictographs are much more common.  It was in pristine condition in 1926.  Now it is a moss-ridden crumbling mess.  This boulder is a cultural masterpiece.  It is a provincial treasure.  It is a national treasure.  It is of international significance.  And yet it is being absolutely neglected by a leading cultural institution.  Imagine an Emily Carr painting being treated so poorly.  Imagine a Bill Reid sculpture  treated so shabbily.  It would never happen.  Yet this boulder is as important, is MORE important, and is consigned to rot away metres from state of the art curatorial facilities which are being devoted to white leather pant suits (!!).  It is astonishing to me that they put this boulder on the web at all, suggesting that they don’t see a problem and are therefore unworthy to be in possession of it.  They should make arrangements immediately to have it transferred to a suitable institution or have it returned to its original setting, in what I take to be St’at’imc territory

Vancouver Museum, you have a responsibility of professional stewardship.  Are you living up to it?

Note the eroded engravings and extensive moss/algae cover. Source: VM website screenshot.

The boulder in the early 1930s, soon after it was brought to Stanley Park. Note the crispness of the designs and the lack of moss.

Rock Art on Gabriola Island in 1792

Descanso Bay Rock Art, 1792. Source: U. Washington

From the University of Washington, an unexpected image of a large Gabriola Island rockshelter containing rock art, entititled:

Northwest Coast carvings on cliff near Descanso Bay, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, in engraving made 1792.

Cardero, Jose, b. 1767 or 8

Notes: Photograph of engraving of explorers and indians viewing a carved head and other petroglyphs on the side of a cliff. The caption says it is a view of a natural gallery, one hundred feet long, and ten feet wide near Descanso Bay.

Caption on image: Vista de una galeria natural, ce cien pies de largo y diez de ancho, en la inmediacion del puerto del Descanso, en el estrecho de Juan de Fuca Image from Alessandro Malaspina’s Viaje politico-cientifico alrededor del mundo, 1885, f.p. 200

I presume this is the “Malaspina Galleries” near the ferry terminal – I didn’t know there was rock art there though and maybe there isn’t, anymore.  Perhaps this place, or this one? Or, perhaps the unusual pitted and pocked natural sandstone fooled the Spanish, though it sure looks like there is a large image in the middle of that engraving.   Quick, Gabriolans, trot down there and check it out.

Malaspina Galleries, Gabriola Island. Photo: Kevin Oke.

Stanley Park’s Wandering Petroglyph

Petroglyph Boulder in Stanley Park. Source: Vancouver Public Library

I was intrigued by this 1930s photo of noted Vancouver photographer Philip Timms perched beside a large petroglyph in Stanley Park, not least because it is obviously not from the coast. The caption indicates as much: “rock was brought to Stanley Park from the Cariboo; at the former totem pole site at Lumberman’s Arch.”

A little digging around suggests this boulder was discovered in 1923 in the Lone Cabin Creek area of the middle Fraser River, just south of the Gang Ranch. It was moved to Stanley Park in 1926. As of 2002 at least, it was still there. If anyone knows for sure where it is, let me know.  The complete absence from flickr, for example, suggests to me that the information below sayng it is stashed out of site at the Vancouver Museum may be accurate.  This site has a number of undated pictures of it (not the apparent deterioration from the picture above – it probably doesn’t do well in the rain) and some history and interpretation which I can’t vouch for:

It is thought that this boulder may have been a marker of a Salmon site. Another theory has the stone important in puberty rites. This boulder is probably about 500 years old. This petroglyph was carved in the vicinity of Lone Cabin Creek, north of Lillooet, on the Fraser River. It first gained Euro-Canadian attention in 1923 upon its discovery by H.S. Brown a cariboo prospector. He brought its existance to the attention of William Shelly, the Vancouver Parks Board commissioner of the era. Shelly proposed moving the six-ton rock from its location on the Fraser to a new home in Stanley Park. Three years alter, the move commenced. The rock was first loaded onto a raft to be floated to the nearest railway station. This awkward plan failed as the weight of the boulder caused the raft to sink immediately after loading. The next, more successful attempt involved a team of ten horses and a sled. In the dead of winter, the “Shelly Stone” was dragged to the closest rail line. This whole procedure took over a month and cost Shelly two thousand dollars which was a lot of money at the time. The Shelly Stone arrived safely at Stanley Park. It was set in a foundation of concrete as it was felt this would prevent the enormous rock from being carried off or destroyed. The rock remained at Brockton Pt mislabeled as an Indian Pictograph until moved to the Vancouver Museum basement in June of 1992. During the years in Stanley Park, human contact and urban polution have worn on the petroglyph like sandpaper. It is hoped that the protected environment of the museum will guard its images from further deterioration. Since it is not part of the regular museum exhibition, it currently does not cost to view it.

This boulder must be of the highest spiritual and cultural significance — shouldn’t it be moved back to the Cariboo where it belongs?

Christopher Locke’s modern fossils.

Egosiliqua malusymphonicus

Christopher Locke is an artist whose work includes a number of fun “modern fossils“, like his palaeofuturistic rendering of an iPod (Egosiliqua malusymphonicus), above, or a Nintendo game controller (Dominaludus sexagentaquad) below.  I take the work to be a slightly sarcastic commentary on the work of palaeontologists and archaeologists as well as on the flukey preservation of ephemera – see his specimen notes alongside each piece at his website.

They are also very reasonably priced — tempting!

Dominaludus sexagentaquad.

The Gabriolan

Gabriola Petroglyph. Source: The Gabriolan.ca

Another blog linked to me the other day: The Gabriolan. This is a lovely blog, whose mysterious author has a great eye for the quirky and beautiful things about that Island. I especially like the various pictures of unusual things found in the woods, like antlers on trees. On my quick browse through the site I noted the excellent photograph of a Gabriola Island petroglyph which I am posting above. This is not a petroglyph I am familiar with though I don’t have my books in front of me.  I’ll look it up.  With its double-rendered eyes and protruding ears, it may be Mouse-Woman.  But anyway, anonymous Gabriolan, thanks for the link, and look after those petroglyphs.