Monthly Archives: September 2009

dSpace: Labrets by Marina La Salle

Tlingit Woman with Labret, Yakutat 1837

Tlingit Woman with Labret, Yakutat 1837

Labrets, decorative inserts worn in the lip, are an extraordinary artifact type.  It is hard to think of a more intimate or personal artifact, or at least, one that is routinely found.  Further, archaeologists have seized on labrets as status markers and routinely use them for interpretive ends.  Indeed, they are seen as a sign of “achieved status”, since one could (in theory) start wearing a labret at any age, and this has been contrasted with cranial head deformation, which must be initiated in infancy.  This distinction has been claimed to characterize the Locarno Beach to Marpole transition about 2000 years ago in the Salish Sea, for example.   And yet, for all the talk about them, they have languished through the years with only small reports and descriptive accounts of small collections given (an exception after a fashion is Grant Keddie’s catalogue of them downloadable here).  So it is very welcome to see a 2008 UBC MA thesis on labrets by Marina La Salle (4 meg PDF; click on “view/open” near the bottom of the page).  Moreover, this is a thesis which treats them with a suitable dose of social theory and strives for subtlety and nuance vs. the  over-determination of status so often seen in NW Coast Archaeology..

From La Salle 2008 MA Thesis

From La Salle 2008 MA Thesis

Apart from some solid work on their metric dimensions, typology, and a documentation of the astonishing variety of raw materials used to make labrets, there is also welcome and innovative discussion of identity formation and the negotiation of status as active, cultural processes.  This contrasts with earlier studies or casual reference to labrets as simplistic and unambiguous markers of status, worn non-problematically and being basically a badge of identification vs. a negotiable brand.  I wish La Salle had done a few small things, such as always give the artifact numbers in figures and table, and give repositories where possible (follow up work is made so much easier), and her colourful tables are entirely inscrutable, but I credit her very much with taking a fresh approach to an important, perhaps crucial artifact type.  She has a lot to say and I sense a certain frustration (or maybe this is just projection) with UBC’s restrictive 50 page limit on MA theses.  This thesis checks in at over 200 pages anyway, but a limited space for discussion of a lot of data.  Does this mean that MA students now produce more data than they can use and is this a kind of serfdom?  Discuss.

Meanwhile in Dinosaur Land

White Cedar fossil from McAbee Fossil Beds.

White Cedar fossil from McAbee Fossil Beds.

It’s not just petroglyphs that have a hard time getting protected in this province.  PalaeoBlog raises the issue of the unusual, exceptionally rich, 50 million year old McAbee Eocene fossil beds near Cache Creek, in the BC interior.  It seems the BC Government has reneged on a deal to help protect and manage these beds, which are exposed in a highway cut.  This deal involved the B.C. Paleontological Society, the RBCM, and Thompson Rivers University.  The Kamloops News has the story.  Once again, the Powers that Be are shown to be Philistines in shark’s clothing.  Maybe if someone told them that Adam and Eve lived in those ancient meadows, frolicking with dinosaurs, they would have a little more interest.  The Fossil Museum has a nice page which makes the importance of the McAbee beds quite clear.

Stone Fish

From the Hunterian, labelled as 19th Century.

From the Hunterian, labelled as 19th Century.

I can’t get enough of this Haida argillite fish which the Glasgow Hunterian Museum has in their collection. Well, they say it’s a fish but it looks like it has flukes and large fins and if anything it looks like a harbour porpoise.   On the other hand, there is a lateral line as well and the proportions are more like a herring. In any case, it is utterly charming and I have never seen a comparable carving.  It looks to be about 30 cm long, which is quite large.  More from the Hunterian in due course.

Pickford on Excavation of “Indian Middens”

A.E. Pickford's ideal plan of an earth oven.

A.E. Pickford's ideal plan of an earth oven.

A.E. Pickford was the Assistant in Anthropology at the Royal BC Museum, when it was still known by its proper name of the Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology.  Here I link to his indispensible 1947 article, “Archaeological Excavation of Indian Middens” – the examination of such middens by means of sampling.

The rationale for the publication is interesting:  “In case of private ownership, if a person is unable to restrain the impulse to dig on his own land, we urge that he shall adhere to some such principles as those which follow, then he will have the satisfaction of knowing that his work is well done and, when brought into focus with similar undertakings, will help to build up that sound formation of knowledge, without which the correct story of the early population of this country cannot be written.”

After encouraging the study of lofty topics such as racial and cultural origins, foods, housing …. etc., Pickford busts out his inner schoolmarm: “He who digs for relics alone may be likened to the child who tears a book apart in order to secure the coloured plates which it contains, being the while all unaware that in scattering the printed pages to the wind he is losing forever a valuable source of information about those same plates and the life which they represent”.

Reference: Report for the Year 1947.  Victoria: Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, Province of British Columbia, Department of Education.  [yes, education].

University of Washington Digital Collections

Makah codfish spear (or, more accurately, harpoon)

Makah codfish spear (or, more accurately, harpoon)

The University of Washington has a superb digital collection online, transcending all kinds of different historical, archaeological and popular culture niches.  Searching on “artifact” brings up some 583 images (some of which are links to text etc).  These are downloadable and have stable URLs to which one can link. The resolution could be higher, but the pictures are sharp and clean, at least for those ones they have apparently taken themselves, and they don’t plaster watermarks all over them.  Good work.  The amount of metadata is impressive, and the fact that is is clickable renders this site a fantabulous timewaster of the highest order.  To the left, I was just having a discussion with a student about harpooning fish.  I am under the impression that harpoons were used on large lingcod – after the lingcod were lured to the surface using a cunning little shuttlecock-shaped rising float.  This picture is labelled “Makah codfish spear” though it is self-evidently a harpoon and lanyard.  More (vindication) coming from this excellent site as time goes by.

dSpace: Lundy on Rock Art

Salmon Petroglyph at Jack Point. From Lundy (1974: 111)

There is a wonderful trend of institutions putting old, grey literature online.  One widely used platform  for doing this is called “dSpace”, though the approach exists under other names.  Some of the best of this material are graduate theses and dissertations.  These are freely available if you walk into the University library, but may be essentially unavailable in any other form.  Unlike a lot of digital initiatives, the majority of these are not limited to students and faculty, but can be accessed by anyone – provided you know they are there.  Consider Doris Lundy’s monumental MA thesis on NW Coast Rock Art, obtained in 1974 from SFU.  Most of this 350+ page thesis was never published in any form.  Now you can download the whole thing from SFU (4 meg PDF). Despite being a rocky scan, the entire text is searchable.  There is some digital protection applied but I found it simple to save a copy to my hard drive.  The image to the left is the famous salmon petroglyph at Jack Point near Nanaimo in Snuneymuxw territory.  This is the petroglyph that would be painted with ochre and adorned with eagle down by ritualists if the salmon runs were late or meagre – one of the only such works which has specific beliefs recorded for it.

Let me know if you have problems downloading this: it works for me on and off campus, so I presume anyone can do it.

Annotate This

Surely they could have painted a mammoth on this somewhere.....

Surely they could have painted a mammoth on this somewhere.....

Flickr usr Travis S. does a nice, understated job of annotating this hilarious reconstruction of the “Ice Free corridor” from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.  Click on the image to go to the original.  This picture pretty much sums up the absurdity of the Ice Free corridor — magical parting of the white sea while the coast is socked in under a mile of solid fog.  Funny how such reconstructions were made before serious geological investigation of their truth content, and funnier still how archaeologists just slurped up the ice free corridor as the answer to their need to get the FIRST AMERICANS (nevar forget!)  into Wyoming, well,  first.