Tumbler Ridge is a small coal-mining town on the eastern flanks of the Rockies, where British Columbia starts to resemble Alberta. It’s not a million miles, in distance nor in generalized setting, from Fort St. John (map), where Charlie Lake Cave remains one of BC’s most significant archaeological sites. Charlie Lake Cave has radiocarbon dates of up to 10,500 years old (PDF), or possibly as old as 12,750 calendrical years or thereabouts. With interesting finds such as a basally-thinned projectile point reminiscent of a fluted point, and the deliberate burial of two ravens from the lower layers (PDF), combined with it’s location in the “ice free corridor” has made this site really significant for regional cultural history (PDF) as well as for larger issues in the peopling of the Americas debate. (And see the new introduction/context to the Raven paper by Driver here). The Cave was recently purchased by local First Nations, which is an interesting development with the goal of protection and developing a cultural tourism site.
Anyway, this post is not actually about Charlie Lake Cave, just to introduce the archaeological potential of caves in this general part of the province, a potential that is not really been realized yet. It’s cool then to see pictures of a newly discovered cave with some superficial archaeological findings near Tumbler Ridge, as pictured above and outlined in this good article by Mark Hume in the Globe and Mail.
OK, so clearly nothing is proven yet. The piled rocks to my eyes do look kind of recent. They could be prospectors messing around, or they could be part of a spiritual practice. This cave needs to be treated with respect. The really old layers could easily be many metres down, if it was occupied early. The cave is in good archaeological hands though, with Charlie Lake cave spearhead Dr. Jon Driver (SFU) and friend of this Blog Rémi Farvacque of Archer CRM, involved.
As far as I can tell from the article, some flakes were found near the entrance to the cave, but not actually in it. Most likely this stems from the visit not being under permit and so actual digging or even probing around was likely not allowed (knowledgeable readers can correct me on this), and rightly so. Apparently burnt bone was also found. It seems very likely such a large, airy and dry cave was used over the millennia – though at Charlie Lake the deepest layers excavated were actually just outside the entrance.
It sounds like the Saulteau members who visited the site were generally positive about the potential for research: Karen Aird, the cultural resource adviser, suggesting she would take it up with Council and may then look for a University partner.
Finally, shout-out to local paleontologist Dr Charles Helm (Tumbler Ridge is actually well known for dinosaurs and whatnot) who found (re-found) the cave and appears to be guarding its location carefully. Hopefully it turns into a cool project but even if not then this cave looks like a special place for all concerned.