(edit: I completely stupidly mixed up who did the poster under discussion. Apologies all around, fixed the text below)
I mentioned the Wetland Archaeology Research Project (WARP) and their revamped website once before in reference to Nancy Greene’s pioneering fishtrap work at Comox. I’m glad to see they have another interesting conference-style poster available for download, this one by Robert Losey (now at the University of Alberta) Scott Byram on the topic of Oregon fish weirs in unusual settings (PDF).
If a cow patch strikes you as an unusual setting, of course.
With estuarine sedimentation and, perhaps, tectonic adjustments, it is expected that some intertidal areas become near-shore land. Such a process is happening at such places as the leading edge of the Fraser River delta, for example. In the above picture, sedimentation has buried a fish weir, which is now found shallowly buried under a cow pasture.
Another weird weir is the one above found under a concrete bridge in sediments that appeared at first glance to be heavily disturbed. Apparently not! A good cautionary tale for assessing site potential and significance.
Anyway, if this doesn’t whet your appetite for some Oregon fish traps, then feast your eyes on the preserved latticework below, a small sample of the interesting findings and complete reportage found in Scott Byram‘s Ph.D. thesis “Brush Fences and Basket Traps: The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Tidewater Weir Fishing on the Oregon Coast” which you can download here (click on the “download the paper” link, no direct linkage to PDF possible).
Additionally, readers might be interested in an intriguing and provocative paper by Robert Losey entitled “Animism As a Means of Exploring Archaeological Fishing Structures on Willapa Bay, Washington, USA”, you can view the source but not download the PDF here, the abstract of which reads:
Remnants of stationary fishing structures on the Northwest Coast of North America are commonly investigated by archaeologists, with most studies focusing on questions of function and chronology. Here it is argued that in Native Northwest Coast ontologies fish and fishing structures were considered animate and part of the social worlds within which humans and fish were engaged. Fish were considered capable of retaliating against those who treated them improperly, and one way of ensuring that no offence would occur was to dismantle fish traps when they were not in use. Using recently documented archaeological fishing structures on Willapa Bay, Washington, USA, as examples, it is argued that these and many other Northwest Coast archaeological fish traps were partially dismantled in the past.
I haven’t fully digested this paper, but it is part of a very small and yet, I think, very promising trend in archaeology to take seriously, literally if you like, indigenous world views and spiritual beliefs as a key to unlocking otherwise inexplicable aspects of the archaeological record. Fish weirs, with their fine-grained temporality (that is, each stake is potentially dateable, meaning the process of maintenance and repair can be closely tracked, sometimes over centuries) offer an incredible resource for understanding deep cultural structures and environmental management strategies, at a nonetheless human scale. It’s an inspiring paper, as is the work in Oregon, in Comox, and elsewhere on the coast where weirs and traps are finally getting the attention they have long deserved.