In-SHUCK-ch Cedar Bark Stripping Gallery

Pulling a cedar bark strip. The scarred face will heal in a highly characteristic way. Source: In-SHUCK-ch (click)

I came across a nice set of 18 pictures of members of the In-SHUCK-ch First Nation stripping cedar bark for use in traditional manufactures, especially basketry, cordage, matting, and clothing.  This nation is on the lower Fraser in the general Lillooet-Harrison Lake area.  It’s true you have to turn your head sideways on a lot of the pictures, but at the same time you would have to crane your head way back if you were stripping bark, so that’s ok. 

View up a newly stripped cedar tree. Such scars are usually 5-10 metres in length. Source: In-SHUCK-ch (click)

The point of archaeological interest is pretty clear: the cedar trees will continue to grow for decades or centuries, and will be in effect a living archaeological site.  Tens of thousands of such “Culturally Modified Trees” (CMTs) are known from British Columbia, the oldest of which that I’ve heard of dates to the 12th Century A.D., although most are less than 300 years old.  (Wikipedia has an unusually full article on these).  Because the tree lives, then simple tree ring dating can tell you the exact year a tree was modified – a rarity in archaeology. Indeed, because the bark only readily detaches in the Springtime, the season can be inferred as well.  The manner in which the tree regrows/heals the scar after stripping is well illustrated by this splendid diagram from Millennia Research.  You can download the official  Handbook of CMTs here (8 meg PDF) which will fill you in very completely on this archaeological site type, about which I hope to post more soon.  It’s a big topic in archaeology, and a huge part of First Nations lives, now and in the past.  Additionally, the In-SHUCK-ch have an interesting and revealing revealing set of policies around archaeology in their territory which must also wait for another day.  For the time being, these pictures are a great introduction to the continuing traditional practice of  cedar bark taper stripping.

Cedar bark being bundled together. Subsequent processing makes it suitable for basketry, clothing, matting and other uses. Source: In-SHUCK-ch

2 responses to “In-SHUCK-ch Cedar Bark Stripping Gallery

  1. Thanks for the links Q! And thanks even more for calling our diagram ‘splendid’ !! I try and use that diagram whenever a logging company suggests that their foresters are quite competent to count tree rings if a CMT is felled and sampled under permit!

    Interesting Wikepedia article – I wonder how much the Scandinavian researchers wrote of that, I got the impression from the writing style (Bork…..).

    Its really cool to see the continuation of the practices in the In-SHUCK-ch pics. It is interesting as a researcher to see how the selection of trees has changed from those we see archaeologically. In my experience, very few trees as large as the one in that sequence were ever stripped using a taper technique (rather, square sheets were taken, like the Gifford Pinchot example). Instead, the great majority of old taper strips were on 10-30 cm diameter trees (that often have now grown into very large trees). Older basketmakers from a couple of places have told me the bark on young or small trees is finer and more supple.

    We rarely get to do CMT archaeology anymore; whereas 10-20 years ago it was our bread-and-butter as consultants. I don’t know if that is because so few old growth stands containing cedar and in harvestable situations remain, or if its as much a result in the downturn in US housing so what is there isn’t being logged like previously.


  2. I just fishing on the Birkenhead River, and when came up to the top of the riven, I noticed these cedars that were stripped. I pondered as to who and why this was done, and no I know. Thank you. On my way out to the highway I noticed a sign that was marked #4.This site is located about 3km past Mt Currie BC, on the way to Darc’y.
    Is this a Native archeological site?


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