Source: Byram 2007.
Every few centuries, on average, the Northwest Coast gets shocked by a massive mega-thrust earthquake, on the order of 8 to 9 on the Richter scale. On occasion, these produce a devastating tsunami wave. It wouldn’t be surprising then if such disruptive events featured in aboriginal oral histories and also in the archaeological record itself. There is a growing body of research on this topic which I am not planning on reviewing at this time, but a nicely focused starting point is a series of papers in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, available online.
Closeup of the skull and teeth of Vancouver Island's Puntledge River elasmosaur. Source: BCfossils.ca
Only occasionally does this space turn its eye to fossils, but there’s been quite a bit of press this last week about the perceived lack of protection of fossil sites in British Columbia, some of which are alleged to be ground up for “kitty litter” (archive, etc). In that CBC report the Minister of Agriculture and Lands lists a whole variety of ways that fossil sites are, indeed, protected, in response to the general position of the paleontologists that there was no such legal protection. I believe this page summarizes the government’s position (which does indeed explicitly allow commercial exploitation in principle, though they are not currently taking kitty litter applications. The page is a virtual museum of weasel words and contradictory information and frankly, makes almost no coherent sense).
Anyhow, the most direct and obvious way that such sites are, in my opinion, already protected, or the way they could be: by the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA).
The Skagit River Atlatl. Image © UBC Museum of Anthropology, Photographed by Derek Tan. CC Licenced.
, or spear thrower, is a device used to increase the velocity, and hence range or striking power, of a projectile. These are usually made of wood or other organic material, and hence they seldom survive in the archaeological record. Some years ago though, one was dragged up in a fishing net from waterlogged conditions in the Skagit River estuary in northern Washington State near Anacortes. As the UBC Museum of Anthropology describes
Made of yew, a hard yet flexible wood, the weapon survived 1,700 years buried in alluvium in the Skagit estuary until it was dredged from these silts by a seine fisher’s net in 1939 in the Lower Skagit between Townhead Island and Bald Head Island. It is believed that it hung in a fish shed, perhaps to dry slowly thus preventing some deterioration, until archaeologists became aware of it in the 1950’s.
Rather incongruously, the Southwest Archaeology blog Gambler’s House has had two in-depth posts about this artifact, here and here. It’s worth reading both as they give excellent background and tons of links.
Part of the Charles Sampson collection from Salt Spring Island. Source: saltspringarchives.com
Salt Spring Island is a large island in the Salish Sea, close to Vancouver Island’s southeast corner (map). Quite a while ago I highlighted the photographs of the “Bob Akerman” museum, which comes via the comprehensive Salt Spring Island archives. There are a few other photo records of archaeological collections there which I thought were worth a quick look. For example, the picture above from the Charles Sampson Collection shows some fairly spectacular ground slate points to the left, and what may be a Charles phase (ca. 4,000 year old) contracting stem point to the bottom right. It’s not just archaeological collections that the archives has going for it, though. Continue reading
Mossback's column at Crosscut.com
Some time ago I mentioned Seattle’s reporter on the “Heritage Beat”, Knute Berger, who posts by the name Mossback. Over the summer, while I was gone, mossback produced a really to-the-point column on heritage preservation: Help wanted: A ‘Sierra Club’ for historic preservation to fight development. Unusually for heritage conservation advocates, Mossback cares as much about indigenous archaeology as about historic buildings, and he does a terrific job writing about both. Take for example, the following quote, from the above article, which speaks to many of the same issues currently plaguing the Glenrose Cannery site (it’s long, so you’ll have to click below):
Gwayasdums house under construction 1899. Source: SFU.
The Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies is part of the Department of Archaeology and First Nation Studies at Simon Fraser University, although it is physically located in downtown Vancouver. It currently shares space with the Bill Reid Gallery on Hornby St., near SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus. They have a website that looks to be growing fast with some good content – and despite the name of the centre, it is not only about Haida Art, or even just about Art:
A major activity of the Centre is to visually document through photographs, drawings and other works, the depth and richness of Northwest Coast Art in the hundreds of communities in which monumental architecture and sculpture were recorded.
I’ll point out a few highlights and make some comments “after the jump”
Haida Gwaii microblade cores. Source: Fladmark 1970. BC Studies.
The journal BC Studies is a respected, peer-reviewed publication that focuses on, well, studies of BC, but particularly on historical topics it seems. It has long been an awkwardly circulated journal, in that it appears in few indexing databases and no PDFs were available, even via subscription or through paywalls such as university databases. These days, going to the library to photocopy is considered a hardship. It is therefore extremely welcome to see that BC Studies has put almost its entire series of back issues online, open access, free. Wow. You can download any article from inception in 1969 through the Summer of 2008. Interestingly, a number of the articles are also available as mp3 sound files, so you could listen to these on your daily commute. Naturally you can browse it yourself but you won’t, so let me point out some of the highlights, with an eye on archaeology, ethnohistory and historical geography.
Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculpture from Glenrose and St Mungo Cannery sites. Source: Delta heritage passport
The Glenrose Cannery site, which lies on the Fraser River near the Alex Fraser bridge, is one of the mose significant archaeological sites in BC. The human figure on the left, above, dates to the ‘St Mungo” phase, putting it at between 3500 and 5000 years old. It might be the oldest known representation of a human being in British Columbia – well, to my knowledge, it is. Yet, you can already see elements of the formline art appearing – look at the eyebrows, for example. More importantly, look at the beard. Look at the hair, pulled into a bun. This is a portrait of an individual. The artifact, which is probably a small handle for a chisel, is a masterpiece of Canadian art. The site in which it was found shows continuous occupation from the present to about 9,000 years ago and spans up to eight metres of vertical deposits.
So it is disturbing to think that Glenrose might be further affected by development, in this case, road building associated with the “Gateway Project”, a transportation infrastructure megathrust to get stuff to and from the Ports of Vancouver faster. There is a short article in The Province yesterday (archive) in which UBC Professor Emeritus RG Matson, one of the key figures in BC Archaeology, visits the site. We can’t preserve everything from the past, clearly, or all cultures at all times would have been glued to the footprints of their forebears. But a site of such demonstrated significance as Glenrose should probably be completely off limits.