Monthly Archives: January 2010

Photo Essay on the Qwu?gwes Site

EDIT February 22, 2010: Pictures removed after communication from Lee Rentz (see comments).

Dale Croes has been doing great work for years on wet site archaeology, most notably a long association with the Hoko River wet and dry sites on the Olympic Peninsula.  More recently he has spent a decade or so at the Squaxin Tribe’s Qwu?gwes waterlogged site near Olympia, Washington.  I see that Lee Rentz’s Photography blog has a nice photo essay on the Qwu?gwes site called Ghosts Dwell in the Lowering Tide.

Wet sites can produce locally anaerobic (oxygen depleted) environments, preventing or slowing bacterial degradation of organics.  This allows survival of many artifact types which rapidly deteriorate in normal archaeological settings.  At Hoko, there are well preserved wooden artifacts over 2,000 years old, at Qwu?gwes the material is mostly about 700 years old.  Similar sites elsewhere on the Northwest Coast are mostly  less than 5,000 years old, with the notable outlier of Kilgii Gwaay, which is 10,500 years old.  Since some estimates put wood artifacts at 90% or more of NW Coast technology, you can imagine how revealing these rare, and increasingly threatened, waterlogged sites are.

The photos at Lee Rentz’s blog are excellent, and the text is accurate and informative.  Good to see!  If you want to find out more, some scholarly and other articles can be downloaded here, or you can work at Qwu?gwes yourself as part of a field school.

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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.

Makah whaling gear

Parts of a Makah whaling canoe. Source: Waterman, 1920.

I posted a couple of days ago about a historic photo of members of the Quinalt Tribe making canoes in the Queets watershed.  Immediately to the north, the Makah tribe at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula are well known for their succesful whale hunting practices, carried out from canoes similar to those being carved.

As it happens, in 1920 the Anthropologist T.T. Waterman wrote a detailed account of Makah whaling technology, which you can download in full here (PDF).   Above, I illustrate the nomenclature of the Makah whaling canoe – I like how the small bump on the lower bow is called the uvula.  Below, you can see the seating plan when geared up and loaded for whale.  As you might expect for such a dangerous undertaking as killing whales from a canoe, the division of labour is quite precise:  “float-tender”, “harpoon line tender”, “float inflator” .  The “diver” had the task of swimming to the lower jaw of the dead whale, piercing the skin and flesh, and sewing the mouth shut to prevent the whale sinking on the long tow home.  You can see a vivid picture of some of these people further below.  Descriptions of these tasks and the associated gear is given in Waterman, which contains huge insight into traditional Northwest Coast technology and social practice.   I’ll most likely post more snippets from this book in due course.  The Makah have, of course, recently re-asserted their traditional right to hunt whales which I fully support.

Seating positions within a Makah whaling canoe. Source: Waterman, 1920.

Makah Whaling: the 2nd harpoon strike. Line tender in action behind the harpooner. Source: Makah Tribe.

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?

Tse-whit-zen whale

Tse-whit-zen whale sculpture.  Source: Peninsula News, Port Angeles.

Whale sculpture from the Tse-whit-zen archaeological site, Port Angeles. Source: Peninsula News.

The Tse-whit-zen site is a former Klallam Tribe village that was discovered by the construction of a graving dock at Port Angeles, Washington State.  The subsequent disturbance and archaeological project led to an astonishing series of events with over 300 human burials recovered, many more disturbed, 65,000 artifacts recovered and after a huge investment the abandonment of the graving dock project at a cost some estimate in excess of 100 million dollars.  This is a story I want to know more about and will probably post on from time to time.

But for today, set aside the sad history and feast your eyes on the above small sculpture of a whale discovered during the summer of 2009 at Tse-whit-zen during mopping up remediation.  The artist has captured the essence of whale!  The article doesn’t say, but there may be a socket on the lower back of the whale just in front of the tail – perhaps this was the handle for a small chisel, or a knife.  I also wonder if it doesn’t go the other way up — the mouth is asymmetric and the arching back of a diving whale would be a more natural posture.  Either way, this is a happy little sculpture, probably dating from about 2,000 years ago.

One Tree, Four Canoes

"Making 4 canoes from one cedar tree, Olympic Loop, Queets, Washington.

Yesterday I posted on canoe steaming.  In the process of preparing that, I ran across an eye-popping photograph, above.  Seriously, I have been working on Northwest Coast Archaeology for over two decades.  I have a pretty good memory.

But I’d never seen this picture before, which shows four dugout canoes being made from a single red cedar felled on the Queets River, Washington State.  Click it for pretty high resolution.  This would presumably be territory of the Queets Tribe, who are now part of the Coast Salish speaking Quinalt Indian Nation.  Imagine the complex and revealing archaeological site left behind: the wood shavings, the planks, the skids, broken tools, coffee cups … years ago I worked on an excavation of a Culturally Modified Tree Site in Clayoquot Sound and we found superbly preserved wooden wedges, woodchips and other evidence of intensive logging and carpentry — evidence which, given the durability of cedar, could easily last for centuries.  Such a contrast to those sites dominated by stone tools: wood was where it was at on the Northwest Coast and yet archaeologically we see much less of it, and think about it less, than we ought to.

I don’t know much more about this picture than the caption.  If you do, then leave a comment!

Makah whaling canoes on the beach at Neah Bay. These are stylistically similar to the ones being made above and to the one being steamed in yesterday's video.

Canoe Steaming

Carl and Joe Martin steam a canoe near Tofino. Click to play video.

The Northwest Coast is rightly famous for the superb dugout canoes made by First Nations, a craft which continues to the present day.  It takes weeks or months to carve  a canoe from a single log of red cedar – imagine then the tension inherent in having a big part of the success or failure “boil down” to a single event the steaming process.  The video above shows master carvers Joe and Carl Martin of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation steaming a canoe at a beach near Tofino, on western Vancouver Island.

Steaming softens the cedar and makes it more flexible, allowing the insertion of carefully-measured, carefully-planned wooden spacers which spread the middle of the canoe into a graceful curve, increasing its buoyancy, resistance to capsizing, and introducing subtle yet beautiful lines, as seen in this enormous example mis-labelled (I think) as Salish.  After the canoe cools and dries, the wood returns to its natural properties. The process means the canoe can in principle be wider than the single piece of cedar from which it is carved.

You can click here to see a slide show of the steaming of a Haida canoe carved by the team of Jaalen Edenshaw and his father Guujaw. In the old times, a canoe might be roughed out in the bush then hauled to the beach for finishing.  Sometimes flaws in the wood or other interruptions mean a canoe was never finished.  Such half-finished vessels are a known, but uncommon archaeological site in the woods of coastal British Columbia.

The carving of such canoes is increasingly common.  Nowadays, the canoe log is likely to be hauled to a carving shed.  Sadly, a major constraint  on canoe construction is the difficulty in obtaining prime, straight, clear, old-growth cedar logs.

Partially finished Haida canoe in forest. Photo by Martin Lalune.