Monthly Archives: April 2010

Katzie Artifact Gallery

Ground stone celts (adze and chisel blades). Source: Katzie.ca

Hmmm: the pictures are low resolution, there isn’t much annotation, many are of replicas, and the page design HTML is wonky, causing a lot of sideways scrolling.  Yet I really like the Katzie First Nation’s artifact gallery.  And no, its not only because they give ground stone its rightful pride of place.  Though, in the image above, feast your eyes on the uppermost left specimen – an unusual yet definitive example of a broad celt being bisected to form two narrow ones.  In essence, an adze is being turned into two chisels.  Chew on that, Spaulding and Ford. Also check out the specimens in the centre-right, where the sharpened bits differ in colour from the bodies.  These are either patinated specimens subsequently reground and recycled, or speak to a process of heat treating or oiling or similar to enhance the raw material.  You could read all about this in my M.A. thesis if it were online, which it isn’t.  Or wasn’t until five minutes ago.  But I digress.

What I like is the text associated with these images.

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New Finds from NWT Ice Patches

340 year old bow made from willow wood - bow was found in multiple fragments. Photo: Tom Andrews via livescience.com.

In many parts of Northwest North America glaciers and ice patches are melting at unprecedented rates.  In some cases, these are revealing extraordinary archaeological remains, as I have noted before for Alaska.  There’s recently been some short news reports about new finds in the Northwest Territories, to add to the substantial work already done there.  Most of these reports rehash the same news release from the Arctic Institute of the Americas, which sponsored the research through International Polar Year funding (now ended).  Only a few sites have photos, though.

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Raven and the First …. Immigrant

Raven and the First People (Bill Reid), and Raven and the First Immigrant (Nicholas Galanin). Source: Nicholas Galanin, http://silverjackson.tumblr.com/

I’m a big fan of classic Northwest Coast art – it’s hard not to be.  But there is also a large and highly talented array of indigenous Northwest Coast artists who work in a variety of media and contemporary idioms.  One who recently caught my eye is Sitka Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin.  You probably recognize the figure in the foreground above: Bill Reid’s iconic “Raven and the First People” (if not from class, then from your 20$ bill), which tells the story of Raven-Travelling in ancient times, finding a clamshell, hearing noises inside, and releasing people and animals  into a transforming world.

But wait, what’s that figure in the background, on the other side of the glass window, in the courtyard of the MOA?

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Making Yuxwch’ee Yakw, a Tlingit Spruce Canoe

Working on Yuxwch’ee Yakw, the Spruce Canoe. Source: Sealaska Picasa page.

Most people are familiar with the use of red cedar to make dugout canoes on the Northwest Coast.  It is not as commonly known that Sitka spruce was also used for this purpose, especially on the northernmost coast where red cedar did not thrive or was absent completely.

Via the Sealaska Heritage Institute Special Collections blog, I just found a nice, extensive photo set from 1987 of the carving of a spruce canoe near Hoonah, a Tlingit village in Southeast Alaska.  The introduction to the photo set reads:

As part of the bicentennial of the Constitution celebration of 1987, the National Park Service and the Sealaska Heritage Foundation (now Sealaska Heritage Institute) sponsored the carving of a Tlingit canoe using traditional tools and methods at Bartlett Cove, which is near Hoonah, Alaska. The canoe, called Yuxwch’ee Yakw in Tlingit, means Sea Otter Canoe, which was the indigenous canoe of Hoonah and was photographed by the Harriman Expedition in Glacier Bay in 1899. The canoe was constructed at Bartlett Cover in August 1987. George Dalton, Sr, born in Hoonah in 1879, and other elders with personal knowledge of canoe making traditions served as cultural advisors to the project. Lead carvers Nathan Jackson, Steve Brown, Richard Dalton, and Mick Beasley carved the canoe using a Sitka Spruce log using traditional tools, such as the xot’ah or Tlingit adze.

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Bird bones at the RBCM

Swainson's Hawk skull. Three views from RBCM Avian Osteology site.

I made a post the other day on a cool M.A. thesis about how to tell deer, bear and human wrist and ankle bones apart.  Identification of bones is one of the essential specialist activities in archaeology: the bones don’t come out of the ground labelled, and yet they are a key way to understand past diet, behaviour and environmental change.  Being able to identify a bone from the ground to the species it comes from requires a collection of bones of known species – a comparative collection – and these do not grow on trees.  They are laborious to produce and finicky to curate.  The one at the University of Victoria, for example, contains over 1,500 skeletons and is in constant use by archaeologists and biologists, not to mention the awesomely talented people at Pacific IDentifications. Mind you, the UVIC collection is one of the best anywhere in North America, but most archaeology departments and even many consulting archaeologists attempt to have a basic comparative collection on hand.  This is a burdensome chore!

While looking at pictures will never be a substitute for a three-dimensional bone for comparison, it can nonetheless be better than nothing.  It is therefore nice to see a really useful, if preliminary, set of web pages at the Royal B.C. Museum on Avian osteology.

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The Bison at Ayer Pond on Orcas Island is archaeological.

Cranium of 14,000 year old Bison antiquus from Ayer Pond, Orcas Island, Salish Sea. Source: Kenady et al. 2010 (in press)

One of the challenges in archaeology is to take a familiar landscape and, by considering the known data from the paleo sciences, make it strange and unfamiliar and ripe with possibilities for strange and unfamiliar archaeology.  Right here in the southern Salish Sea there is an excellent example of this coming to light.  As the ice retreated at the end of the last glacial period, the Salish Sea saw dramatic changes in sea level (both higher, and lower), in vegetation (tundra, grassland, and forest) and in the animals present on that dynamic landscape.

Location of known Bison antiquus remains in Salish Sea. Source: Wilson et al. 2009.

For years now, we have known that one of the large land mammal species of the Salish Sea around 14,000 years ago was bison — and not just any bison, but Bison antiquus, the extinct giant bison.  A number of remains of this creature have been found, mostly on the Saanich Peninsula and on Orcas Island,  which is one of the largest islands in the Salish Sea, sitting just south of Saturna Island, close to the Canadian Border.  Since these remains mostly clocked in at around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, most archaeologists were interested in them primarily for their coolness factor and not because they seriously thought there might be relevance to early human presence here – these bison pre-date the Clovis Culture which was the consensual evidence for the first peopling of the Americas.  I have previously posted on this with reference to Clovis in Puget Sound, to the controversial Manis Mastodon site, as well as to the nearby Wenas Mammoth and even the Paisley Cave finds in Oregon – evidence is coming together for both a Clovis and a pre-Clovis occupation of the Salish Sea and environs.

Now with a new paper by Kenady et al. in press, these numerous bison finds take on a new importance: one of them is most likely archaeological.

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CRM problem at Englishman River

Excavation of house foundations at Englishman River. Source: CBC

Hmm, I just noticed today is the first anniversary of this blog.  Mind you, it was a slow and intermittent affair at first but with more regular posting has come steady increase in readership.

But you know who else had a birthday on April 20th?

With that in mind, what better way to celebrate than by checking out the firestorm brewing on the Englishman River, where some landowners, perhaps wilfully ignorant, have had an unfortunate series of events transpire regarding an archaeological site on their property. The Archaeology Branch has responded to the story with a terse memo.

A little background to start:

All archaeological sites in B.C. dating to before 1846 A.D. are protected under the Heritage Conservation Act.  This is true whether or not they are known to the Archaeology Branch or unknown and unrecorded.  In some ways, then, it is not relevant that the site under these people’s house was first recorded, I am told, in 1975.  Even if it was first discovered by the application of a backhoe in April 2010, it would be accorded the same protection under the law. The fact that the landowners claim to have not known about the site until recently is an interesting issue that does not really materially affect the facts of this case. And, under the standard procedures in place, they are indeed responsible for paying the costs of the archaeological investigations, in this case reported to be $35,000.  Whether or not they have the money also doesn’t affect the facts of the case – incidentally, these people who self-portray as poor and unemployed are finding archaeology because they are building a new house on their property, which must be costing them several hundred thousand dollars.

So, these facts may not actually alter the legal responsibilities, but they do however very strongly affect the way this issue is seen to be unfolding.

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