Old site on Calvert Island, Central Coast of B.C.

UNBC student Cory Hackett excavates a unit in shell midden (photo credit: B. Alway, via UNBC)

There’s a good, recent article in the Globe and Mail (PDF) on some exciting preliminary findings by Dr Farid Rahemtulla of UNBC at a site on Calvert Island (map).

The site, thought to be the “lost village” of Luxvbalis, is in territory of the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv (formerly Oweekeenow/Awikenox) peoples.  The project was intended to re-locate this village, which figures prominently in Oral History. 

Wuikinuxv student Andrea Walkus examines excavated material in a screen (photo credit: T. Nygaard via UNBC).

Harvey Humchitt, an hereditary chief of the Heiltsuk, said the find is exciting, and fits with oral history.

“Luxvbalis was one of the winter villages of the Heiltsuk,” he said. “Growing up, we didn’t know too much about it, but we often went over there [to Calvert Island] for family gatherings.”

 He said Luxvbalis translates as “always rolling, sort of thunder rolling,” and adjacent to the archeological site is a beach where big waves pound ashore from the open Pacific.

 Mr. Humchitt said the story is that Luxvbalis had existed for a very long time when it was abandoned after a smallpox epidemic swept the coast in the 1800s.

 Relocating the site, he said, would mean a lot to his people.

The site at which the research was undertaken is a notably large, and deep, shell midden with abundant artifacts and fauna. Apart from fitting the description from the Oral History, the site appears to be very old indeed.

While no carbon dates have been run yet, Dr Rahemtulla is quoted that he believes there may be a component dating to 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, based on stone tools of an old style found in the intertidal zone.  Such a date range is certainly possible, even probable, considering the site is close to the well known Namu site (2).  Namu, with a basal radiocarbon date of about 9700 (~11,000 calendar years ago), and deposits leading to the historic period, is possibly the longest continuously occupied settlement in British Columbia.  Also, on nearby Hunter Island, is another site with a basal radiocarbon date (pulled from an auger) of 9940 – about 11,300 calendar years ago (Cannon 2000).  This part of the Central Coast of BC therefore appears to have substantial occupation through the last 11,000 years, at least.

Without having seen any examples, it is of course likely that Dr Rahemtulla would accurately assess the stone tool types, as he did his M.A. and  Ph.D. thesis on early period stone tool manufacture at Namu.

So, the surrounding archaeological context is plausible for such early dates.  The are may be something of a “hinge”, where long term sea level changes were balanced by tectonic and glacial rebound forces, meaning modern coastlines are similar to ancient ones.  This means settlements could be occupied over the very long term with no need to move around in adjustment to shifting shorelines.  The power of seeking such stable, persistent landforms was ably demonstrated by Duncan McLaren’s recent Ph.D. thesis on the Dundas Island group near Prince Rupert.

More information can be found in this UNBC Press Release, from which I took the photos here.  As always, it’s worth reading the comments in the Globe and Mail, which include the usual racist, ignorant and anti-research component but in this case encouragingly balanced by some well-informed push-back comments, including a number which invoke sea-level history and other factual information to create good argumentative points.

Anyway, it’s a great example of how responding to a research question instigated by First Nations communities can lead archaeologists to exciting finds which respond to both Aboriginal concerns and scientific questions.


Reference: Cannon, A. 2000. Settlement and Sea Levels on the Central Coast of British Columbia: Evidence from Shell Midden Cores. American Antiquity 65(1):67–77.

Bifacial tool from early levels at Namu site. Source: Rahemtulla Ph.D. 2006

16 responses to “Old site on Calvert Island, Central Coast of B.C.

  1. Exciting news indeed. My congradulations to the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv First Nations, Farid, and fieldcrew. Thank goodness it did not happen on federal land – Stephen Harper would have muzzled the researchers!.


  2. Elroy White/Xanius

    Was great project, good mixture of students and enjoyed singing with heiltsuk arch student, josh vickers. Hope another year is planned


  3. Pingback: VANCOUVER SUN: Ancient settlement may have been discovered on B.C. coast | sea to sky report

  4. Hi bluesboy – yeah, the thing going on with the tight control on Federal Fisheries workers is worrisome and reflect an across-the-board PR-ization of Science. Many people at Universities would also like to see all statements by researchers filtered through PR flacks. Speaking of Federal Land, I should have highlighted that there appears to have been co-operation of some kind with BC Parks, who are not normally known for their interest in cultural heritage.

    Hi Elroy – yeah, reading between the lines it seems like it was a really fulfilling project for all concerned, and a nice showcase for archaeology.

    I edited the post to reflect that the old date from A. Cannon is from a site on Hunter Island, not Calvert Island.


  5. Glen Wittur PhD

    There’s no doubt that there was a significant native population along the Pacific Coast and into the interior 10 000 years ago or more (eg see Jame’s Chatter, Ancient Encounters and others) and it is surprizing that we haven’t discovered more ancient sites. A major explanation of course is that the sea level has risen some hundreds of feet over that period. As a matter of curiousity, how much above the 10 000 year-old sea level is the Calvert Island site? Glen W


    • Sea levels appear to have been about 4-5 m above modern levels, ca 10KYA, in the area near and at this site, EjTa-4. Some significant bits of data from various projects being undertaken now should be analyzed in the coming year and provide a much clearer picture of the paleo- landscape (including sea level history) on the central coast of BC. All exciting stuff, big thanks to the Hakai Beach Institute!


      • Elroy White/Xanius

        the Heiltsuk traditional territory archaeological overview assessment 1997 was a leading archaeology project on sea level research history, I worked as liaison on that project, and was introduced to duncan mclaren and john maxwell, who are very well versed on the subject. Later i got to know other researchers interested in the area like Dr aubrey cannon, Dr farid rahemtullah, and recently joined Dr duncan mclaren on Early Period Archaeology project, revisting many of those sites in wuyalitxv territory that we recorded or revisited in the 90s


    • I’d add, in addition to jim’s comment, the general context that sea level change is a very local phenomenon on the BC Coast. In the early period, it may reflect the amount of glacial ice in the area, since glaciers actually push the land down by their weight. As the ice is released, the land bounce back up – but at different rates according to the thickness of the crust and what it’s made out of. Then throughout more recent periods different parts of the coast have different tectonic histories, with some being raised by the collision of plates, and yet also being susceptible to sudden changes up or down from earthquakes. So, each sea level history needs to be worked out, rather than a single, global sea level history applied.


      • Elroy White/Xanius

        in our oral history, goose island was closer to calvert island, and has inched its way to its present location over the millennia


  6. There is another article in the Vancouver Sun, with slightly different quotes and a different set of information. Available here:
    or here as a PDF:

    Click to access dig-may-have-uncovered-lost-village-vancouver-sun-aug-9-2011.pdf


    • Elroy White/Xanius

      Walas giaxsixa (thank you very much) for posting this article, bit more relevant, but like to add, the Heiltsuk and wuikinuxv have always felt strong connection to this hakai area b/c their ancestors, interrelated mostly, died out from small pox, leaving a painful emotional void in our cultural, social and territorial material history. Surviving members who were living in other parts of the tribal groups had no choice to merge with neighbouring tribal groups. Luxvbalis is at the lodge site according to our oral history place name maps yet, translation of name does not match the exact location rather a description of the area.


  7. Hi,

    We are the ‘stewards’ of the property where the Hakai Beach Institute (www,hakai.org, way out of date) is located on Calvert Island. Based on what I have heard this summer from everyone who has visited, it looks like the area within a 20 km radius or so represents a significant ‘archaeological feast’, which should be consumed with patience, care and great pleasure over many years. We will have discussions here in September, and I would welcome any further discussion and advice in preparation for next season.

    When we closed the purchase in September, 2009, I immediately went to Bella Bella and Wuikinuxv village. I was not aware of the level of acrimony that existed regarding our site, but was quickly made aware of it by Harvey Humchitt, Pauline Waterfall and others. At the first meeting I was also made aware of the unresolved issue of the remains from Namu stored at SFU. On Harvey’s advice I went and talked to Roy Carlson, who of course put me on track with what I should be doing.

    After reading up on things, I decided I wanted to redo the contested archaeological impact study that had been done in 1993. On the advice of Elroy White, Jennifer Carpenter, Dana Lepofsky, Steve Hodgson at BC Parks, and others, I commissioned Jim Stafford to do the work. With great help from Al Mackie we got the permit, and did the work with Heiltsuk (Elroy White) and Wuikinuxv (Patrick Johnson) colleagues all working as a team. It was great that their work ran concurrently with UVic’s course in Coastal Biodiversity, so that the interplay between ecology and archaeology was apparent. Jim is of course a great proselytizer for archaeology, so I soon caught the bug from the group. He made me aware of the amazing work of Fedje, Mackie, etc., etc., on Haida Gwaii, which readers of this blog obviously know about. So if significant discoveries are made around Hakai, all these people deserve a share of the credit.

    Toward the end of that first summer I was visited by Elroy, Carl Humchitt and Farid. They proposed a field school, and I agreed to provide logistical support. We’ve all learned a few things, things we would do different next time, but I am thrilled by the results, thrilled by the way it has engaged the First Nations, thrilled at how it has brought attention to the great archaeological work being done on the BC coast.

    The field school, plus the Hakai Network–centered at SFU, spearheaded by Dana Lepofsky, Duncan McLaren, but spreading throughout the research community–has quickly built up a critical mass of people interested in the mission.

    And it sounds like maybe the Namu remains will be repatriated at the end of the summer, a project we have supported Harvey Humchitt on since that first meeting.

    Thanks for any advice,



    • Eric, thanks so much for your work and for sharing this great story.


    • Hi Eric

      Belated thanks for your informative comment here. I am really looking forward to learning more about the Hakai Beach Institute / Hakai Network – seems like half my friends have passed through it already in one capacity or another!

      As for advice – well, it’s not really for me to be giving it out! it sounds like working closely with the descendent communities is already well in place, and I think that usually sets the stage for interesting questions to arise through respectful dialogue. Archaeologists can apply their skills to recover data, community members apply theirs to its interpretation and context.

      I do think, as I note above, its a special area in its potential for very early sites and all else being equal that’s the angle I would push, maybe get Duncan working on some sea level data followed by focused survey in the manner of his Dundas Islands project. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a certain set of interdisciplinary skills harnessed to physical and field skills – a combination that is by no means common.

      Elroy White/Xanius – thanks for your comments, hope to see you around some day soon.


  8. Elroy White/Xanius

    An ancient site was found, probably not luxvbalis, after losing out entire village population, oral historians took their histories with them and only fragments survived when ethnographers attempted to document them as accurately as possible. Archaeology student Josh vickers (Heiltsuk) and I shared songs to honor our ancestors, our responsibility to care for them. Thank you Eric for providing travel, food and room logisitics on the UNBC field school and on the Early Period Archaeology project


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