Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Brooklyn Museum Collection

Tsimshian Skull "Helmet".  Click for higher resolution.

Tsimshian Skull "Helmet". Click for higher resolution.

Of all places, the Brooklyn Museum has amassed an impressive suite of NW Coast artifacts and art.  Their online catalogue is mainly lodged under the  “research” and “collections” tabs.  One interesting thing about this collection is that any viewer can ‘tag‘ a picture, building up a folk taxonomy that cross-cuts more traditional museum categories.  This has its advantages of course (e.g., items which are tagged “beards“, or “scary“), but also raises questions about just how comprehensive is any set of results?  And how accurate – this rattle is tagged Tsimshian despite being collected in Bella Bella (Heiltsuk territory).  Still, with a grain of salt it is an idea definitely worth pursuing.  You can also click around on their “visible storage” map.  The images are decent resolution and combined with the tag-surfing possibilities this is a fun and informative site.

Heiltsuk Ladle with Skull. Click for larger resolution.

Heiltsuk Ladle with Skull. Click for larger resolution.

NW Coast Objects in Madrid

Tlingit adze with quillwork and copper insets in the Museo de América, Madrid.

Tlingit adze with quillwork and copper insets in the Museo de América, Madrid.

Even though the Spanish were among the first outsiders to eplore the NW Coast, you don’t hear much about collections they may have made while out here.  So it is welcome to see this (now, 10 year old) writeup on NW Coast items in Madrid’s Museo de América.  The article suggests that many such objects were collected but not retained in Royal Collections, perhaps because they were considered inferior to, say, Aztec and Inka pieces.  Either way, there are some spectacular objects illustrated in the article, though the photographs are not very sharp at all.

Going to the Museo de América’s website shows they have a search function and some online thumbnails.  This link should take you to their 52 pieces labelled as NW Coast, while this takes you to six pieces listed as from BC.   Most of the illustrations are extremely low resolution, though I found one or two which aren’t such as the outstanding Haida waterfowl, below.  Look how fluid the form-line rendering is in this 18th century piece.  Click the images on the Museo site for slightly higher resolution or go to the records page by clicking on “Ficha Completa” and then on “Ampliar Imagen”, where you can zoom in slightly using the magnifying glass.  Also worth checking out, this Tlingit clap-board style “rattle”, this foreshaft and point, and this rather spectacular hat.  Anyway, something to poke more: online catalogues in Spanish Museums.

EDIT:  I see their search function makes links to search results expire after a short time so I crossed them out, above.  Pretty lame, but there you go.  Get into the system via the generic system and then browse around, if you want.

18th Century Haida Waterfowl.

18th Century Haida waterfowl, listed as made from"Ivory".

Dog Burial Field Guide

From PacificID's Dog Burial Field Guide.

From PacificID's Dog Burial Field Guide.

Dogs are such an important source of evidence for past human life.  Not just as “man’s best friend” and all that but because of the insight they give into domestication, into evolutionary processes, as proxies for stable isotope studies of human diet, and so forth.  So, pretty great to see PacificID is putting out a field guide to dog burials and in situ dog remains in archaeology, complete with snazzy laminated ID card. The book itself is also printed on waterproof paper.  There are also downloadable diagrams (PDF) for recording dog burials.  The author, Dr. Susan Crockford, is an authority on the evolution of dogs and other domestication and evolution issues, and on dog osteology.  This looks like excellent value for money.

Speaking of dSpace

The Globe and Mail has a story on the (in progress) digitization and internet posting of UBC’s complete run of over 35,500 theses and dissertations – with an arch response by SFU’s Dean of Libraries (or whatever).  As I’ve been noting, numerous other universities have these schemes as well, usually some flavour of the dSpace software package. Typically, University of Toronto calls it T-Space.  Dissertations there do not seem to be online unless you are a library card holder, though strictly speaking they are not in T-Space either I don’t think.  Nonetheless, they obviously have a digital copy mounted on a server.

Continue reading

dSpace: Elroy White (Xanius) on Fishtraps

FbTa 59, a possible clam garden on the central coast.

FbTa 59, a possible clam garden on the central coast. Source: Elroy White / Xanius M.A. thesis.

I’ve only met Elroy once or twice but he seems like a sharp guy and I was looking forward to reading his 2006 thesis, which turns out to be an exceptional work – ambitiously trying to implement Eldon Yellowhorn’s “internalist archaeology” in his home territory (Heiltsuk) on the central coast.  This project, which focuses on fishtraps, is exemplary in a couple of ways.  First, as a cutting edge exercise in the practice of archaeology, indeed, practice as theory.  The combination of field archaeology, internalist work with a dozen elders, and extensive videography was a great exercise.  (PS Elroy, post some videos!).   Second, well, fishtraps are exceptionally interesting and need more study.  Essentially, we are just guessing about the specific functions and efficiencies of these features.  Elroy gathers a lot of information from elders, including interesting longitudinal data showing how quickly these features silt up — evidence in some ways for their silt retention qualities and also a suggestion there may be a lot of partially or totally obscured fishtraps out there.  And, as above, Elroy appears to find some “clam gardens” (diagram) in Heiltsuk territory.  Maybe it’s because my doctoral SSHRC project was going to be on fishtraps until I got talked out of that and into a GIStraightjacket, but I love’em.  Anyway, you can get yourself a copy of this high quality MA theses here, at SFU dSpace.

Incidentally, for an earlier, wider scope take on subsistence and settlement and fish traps on the central coast, you can also download John Pomeroy’s 1980 PhD thesis (which doesn’t show up under “archaeology” in their classification or keyword scheme for some reason.)

Elroy White (Xanius) with intertida fishtraps.  Credit: Ecostrust Canada.

Elroy White (Xanius) with intertidal fishtraps. Credit: Ecotrust Canada.

Tseycum Repatriation from AMNH

Inside the Tseycum Longhouse.  Click Image for etended video.

Inside the Tseycum Longhouse. Click Image for extended video.

This is old news now that in 2008 the Tseycum First Nation in North Saanich managed to repatriate the remains of 55 of their ancestors who had been removed and sold by Harlan I. Smith.  What I didn’t realize is in addition to the snippet on The National with Wendy Mesley (the file is incongruously called “brown-bones” – WTF CBC?), there is also an extended uncut video of the ceremony in the Tseycum longhouse.   Cora Jacks, who spearheaded the Tseycum repatriation effort and is interviewed here, sadly passed away soon after.

The detailed field notes kept between 1854 and 1910 assisted greatly in tracing the location of the ancestral remains. Museums in the states are required by law to provide information when a nation makes its request. This law called NAGPRA is the Native American Gravesite Protection Repatriation Act and has greatly facilitated the provision of a long list of human remains and sacred objects. (Similar legislation in Canada does not exist.) Historic references show that skulls had been sold for $5 each with similar price tags having been placed on skeletal remains.

Cora had visited New York in 2005 with Vern Jacks Jr. and experienced the deep emotionality of viewing the remains stored in boxes and placed on shelves. The museum had not followed any cultural protocol so that skulls were often separated and Jacks explains the “spiritual restlessness,” which results from this disrespectful treatment. In Chicago Jacks also discovered about 79 sets of remains many of which are probably from this region and most of them were small children who had likely died of smallpox after contact with European settlers. (source).

As the NY Times noted, the Field Museum in Chicago had not yet begun repatriation negotiations with the Tseycum.  While the NAGPRA law in the states is very strong when applicable, it clearly does not apply outside American borders so credit to the AMNH for working in good faith with the Tseycum.

But also: Grant – what the heck – is it really necessary to defend Harlan Smith?  Maybe as a curator of archaeology it is.  I dunno, seems like another relativising moment rather than a chance for an apology or a plain admission that it was wrong, then and now, to steal human remains for profit. But hey, stealing their land was also done in the spirit of the times, so what the heck?  Let’s not forget the RBCM itself is built on top of a village site.

NorthWord Archaeology

Layer 1: snow.  Layer 2: littermat.

Layer 1: snow. Layer 2: littermat.

I just found a pretty good article from NorthWord, a community newspaper that covers northern BC’s coast and interior.  Nice quotes and insights from Rick Budwha, Farid Rahemtulla and David Archer – but what caught my eye was the surreal photo used to illustrate the piece.  Is that a light dusting of snow on the clipboard?  Is that wind down the plumber-butt?  Is that a marginally insane unit location right in the root mat of a huge tree?  Is this winter impact assessment under Oil and Gas Commission guidelines? How did they establish the glorious sidelight?   Is there snow on the soles of their boots?  Could this be a painting?  I want to know more about this picture, dammit!