Tagging along with Archaeologists in Quatsino Sound

Quatsino - Cave at Heater Point. Source: bcmarinetrails.org

Archaeology Crew at Quatsino: Cave at Heater Point. Source: bcmarinetrails.org

How does the general public perceive archaeologists?  There’s a lot of ways to get at this question, not least the comments section of any newspaper article!  But a positive and slightly unusual perspective is found in this article by Stephanie Meinke at the BC Marine Trails website.  In the course of establishing some new marine trails in the Quatsino Sound area of NW Vancouver Island (map), concern arose that there might be archaeological sites at some of the campsites. Kayakers generally having solid ethics about leaving no trace, but all the same there might be some unintentional impacts.  So an archaeological consulting team (Kennedy Richard and Morgan Bartlett) was hired to assess these spots with potential impact. They were guided by Stephanie and by Janis Leach of Recreation Sites and Trails BC, as well as by two field assistants from the Quatsino First Nation: Mark Wallas and Mark Hunt.

The article gives something of a participant-observation view of the archaeological consulting business in its coastal survey guise, as well as some nice pictures of gorgeous scenery.

Quatsino culturally modified tree - planked log. Source: bcmarinetrails.org

Quatsino culturally modified tree – planked log. Don’t hack this up for kindling please, kayakers. Source: bcmarinetrails.org

In the picture above you can see how the normally-round cedar log has something of a square face, and to the right there is a shiny black area.  The square face is produced by removal of one or more planks from this tree.  The black marks (of which there would be more under the moss below) are facets left by woodworking tools – chisels, adzes or axes, depending on the time period.  Planks of course were extremely important for First Nations, primarily as the lumber their longhouses were made from. While the caption says this tree was planked while it was alive, in most cases these planked logs are on trees which are felled for the purpose, or on natural windfalls.  Such planking can be given a minimum date by tree ring counting of any small nurse-trees growing on the fallen log. There’s an older but good report on CMTs written by archaeologists Arnoud Stryd and Vicki Feddema available from the Suzuki Foundation, if you’re curious about these features which, unusually for archaeological sites, are often alive.

Meanwhile, below, you can see a typical scene of coastal archaeology.  Shovels, bucket-augers, and soil probes are commonly used on flat places like this to detect shell middens.  Older middens may have quite a bit of natural soil development on top of them – a metre is common – and perseverance is needed to feel confident that a nice flat spot like this does, or does not a midden underneath.

Anyway, it’s a fun article, and while the author doesn’t report on any shenanigans you do get the sense of how the often backbreaking work of coastal survey is coupled to the remarkably beautiful places one is privileged to visit.  This can produce giddiness, in my experience.  And, nicely in this case at least, the objective is relatively benign and the sites are not under much threat.

Quatsino: looking for middens. Source: bcmarinetrails.org

Quatsino: looking for middens. Source: bcmarinetrails.org

11 responses to “Tagging along with Archaeologists in Quatsino Sound

  1. Quentin: Great article, we need to do a field trip to personally check out the trail. My first Anth 100 class was with one of my academic hero Dr. Erna Gunther (who also helped me with my Ozette basketry dissertation and did field lectures for my crew at the Hoko River site in her retirement!–she was a graduate student of Boas’, together with Margaret Meade, so her students like Wayne Suttles and I were 3rd generation Boasians…..), and she had a slightly different lecture on taking planks from standing trees.

    Indeed a half-way-through the tree notch was chopped/adzed at the bottom and up the standing cedar to the spot for the desired length of the plank or canoe blank. At the back edges of the upper notch wedges and mauls were used to start a split down the tree to eventually bring out a 1/2 cylinder of tree (great for canoe blank) and a long pole was pushed into the upper notch and slide down the upper split as far as possible. The tree was then left and the wind and weight of the pole would slowly continue the split through the seasons as the 1/2 cylinder dried and after a year or so the split would continue down the tree until the 1/2 cylinder of cedar would eventually fall from the tree, giving one a great canoe or plank blank on the ground.

    Not sure how many of these notched trees have been recorded, but there was one along the Ozette trail we saw as we trudged back and forth to the site for over a decade. no side slots were initiated on the top of this one.

    Seems like it would work, though most reports I have seen talk about splitting planks from the outside to the inside of the deep notches while the tree stands–which sounded like lots of work when you might be able to do it on the ground, as you say, if you could get a large piece off. This deeply notched Ozette tree, with a slot high up on its trunk, was still alive, so also may not kill the tree, but must have some impact(!).

    Erna indicated that a lot of the shaping and splitting out of the canoe took place out in the woods where the 1/2 cylinder fell and then the lighter canoe blank was skidded on poles down to beach/community to finish.

    Erna was a great lecturer, mostly stringing together personal stories of her experiences. That was her last 100 at the UW (lucky me and 200 students in the SUB auditorium classroom!), before she went to UAlaska to chair the Anthro. Dept., then returned in retirement to Seattle where she continued to work in Clallam and Makah communities and help out with Ozette basketry–she was an amazing textile expert. She used to meet me for coffee/tea at a restaurant in Clallam Bay to go over my effort.

    Thanks for great work, Dale

    PS. Speaking of stories, I visited the Ozette site in mid 2000 and a number of NPS interns were stationed there at the Makah Ranger cabin doing a summer recording of all the CMT they found with pulled bark into the woods behind the site and were very excited about their discovery of these many pulled cedar trees–at the time recording CMT was in its heydays.

    When working there in the early 70’s the Makah and WSU crews, including myself, used to go back there and pull from youngish cedar trees to take and process bark for Makah Elders in town. I told them that these were no doubt those trees we had pulled back then, and they did not want to hear that and brushed it off as baloney (or chewing chitons?!)….believe me if any ancient CMT trees were back there in the 70’s (these were 2nd or 3rd growth trees we pulled) we would have noticed! We need to post that NPS report….


  2. Hi Dale – thanks for the great comment. Yes, we should do that trail — it’s a marine trail, so no need for backpacks, even

    There’s a picture of the top of a planked tree at this post, for readers who can’t envision it.

    My impression is most standing planked trees are not as deep as to produce a canoe blank, but are more about planks. I mean, once you’ve notched halfway throughthe tree twice, you might as well notch all the way through it once. (I’m such an energetics-flow-chart-processualist).

    Anyway, thanks for the story about Erna Gunther. I think if I trace my own lineage it goes Mitchell-Spaulding-Strong-Kroeber-Boas so you’re like my third cousin twice removed. Diagram that!

    Of course on the other side I’m a second generation “Higglet” via Clive Gamble – Higgs – Sir Grahame Clark – God. Which, you know, explains a lot/absolutely nothing.


  3. Quentin: Love the energetics–if you take the whole bugger down you still have to cut the canoe blank length to split off a blank. Let’s try both techniques and see what works best. I don’t remember any large cedars at your place–maybe one of your brother’s places? Al and Richard could use the firewood….

    Now it all makes sense after seeing your Anthro lineage–Kroeber did some amazing work with Superorganics in 1917–certainly “cultural” food for thought. However never really got us to a solid Theory of Cultural Evolution (not like Biological Evo. aka. Charles). We should work on figuring that out in this blog! (wonder what Ames lineage is beyond Binford?!) Also how many of us have Dunnell vision…. Love the Higglet line–your wet site interests make sense with Sir Clark and Star Carr! A recent JWA focused on recent work with that amazing site.

    Have a great holiday with little Claire and the family–say hello, Dale


  4. “Dunnell Vision” or “Schiffer Brains”? Takes me back to the mid 70s….


  5. Michael DID NOT like that one!!!! His middle name is Brian not Brains. He contributed a lot to archy.


  6. Love Schiffer’s home page and picture–we shared expenses for a room once at a conference. Great guy: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~schiffer/


  7. If there could be an archaeological theory bun-fight in this thread, that’d make me really happy.


  8. Geez, it was a joke of the times based on the names and diametrically opposed methodological thinking. Agreed Schiffer contributed tons, and tons more than Dunnell, although admittedly Dunnell’s evolutionary theoretical thinking has more going for it than his classificatory systematics. And in keeping with the public appeal angle to this particular blog unit-level, Schiffer’s study of transistor radios is pure genius.


  9. the puck has been dropped


  10. Fantasy Harkey Team:

    LW: Iain “Twoeyes” McKechnie. Can shoot in all directions at once. Effective on thin ice. Signature move: dekes self out of own jock.
    C: Ken “House Post” Ames. Veteran centerman with great vision still redistributes puck well. Signature move: backhand-forehand-top shelf.
    RW: Quentin “Termites” Mackie. Sleepy appearance belies low animal cunning – don’t wake him up. Signature move: butt end.
    D: Colin “Stone Bowl” Grier. Rugged D-man not afraid to create anarchy in front of the net. Signature move: punch to the face, shotgun beer.
    D: Daryl “Sandhill Crane” Fedje. Long-striding, rangy defenceman makes the game look easy, but can swing the axe when called for. Signature move: quick wrister, bottom shelf, off Mackie rebound.
    G: Dale “Hoser” Croes. Pucks rarely tickle the twine behind this veteran. At his best when screened. Signature move: poke check.

    Practice Squad: Pierre “Mumbles” Bourdieu, Darcy “Rockpile” Mathews, Andrew “The Entangler” Martindale.

    Coach: Mad “Mad Dog” Dog

    Zamboni Driver: Charles “Gridder” Borden

    Mascot: Franz “Four Eyes” Boa


  11. Now we need to hear from “The Synthesis”….alias Puck “The Analyst” Dissecty of the puck commander puck calls….(cheerleader!)


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