Jarring Finds

Tom Beasley with olive jar from seafloor near Langara Island. Source: Northword Magazine.

Tom Beasley with Spanish olive jar from seafloor near Langara Island. Source: Northword Magazine.

One great thing about not keeping up with a blog is so much stuff accumulates like lint in the internavel that it is easy pickings to get material to post . . . . for example, the not very well known discovery by a fisherman of a Spanish colonial olive jar fragment in the waters off northern Haida Gwaii.  There is a nice summary by Jane Stevenson of the find in a 2012 issue of Northword Magazine, and much more information in an open access 1992 article in BC Studies.

The latter article by Hector Williams et al. has some interesting tit-bits, such as that the jar has a nippled bottom. But I digress…..

Approximate find spot of olive jar near Haida town of Dadens. I don't actually know the exact spot and wouldn't post it if I did... Base map from Gessler 1974.

Approximate find spot of olive jar near Haida town of Da’dens. I don’t actually know the exact spot and wouldn’t post it if I did… Base map from Gessler 1974.

The find was made by a fisherman in his nets offshore of the Haida Village of Da’dens on SE Langara Island (a.k.a., North Island; Kiis Gwaay).  Langara Island was a hot-spot of early European activity on the coast – the Spanish (Juan Perez) were there as early as 1774.  Below is a picture of Da’dens taken by George Dawson in 1878 – it is right across the passage from the much better known historic town of Kiusta.

Haida town of Da'dens in 1878, photo by George Dawson, source: NMC.

Haida town of Da’dens in 1878, photo by George Dawson, source: NMC.

Apart from Kiusta and Da’dens there were a number of other Haida towns in this area, as shown in Newcombe’s map reproduced in Swanton, 1905.

Newcome Map of Northern Haida towns; Da'dens in upper left.

Dad'ens lnaga'i, a village of the Yakulanaas clan of the Middle-Town Ravens (Swanton's R19) (per Swanton 1905)

Da’dens Llnagaay, a village of the Yakulanaas clan of the Middle-Town Ravens (Swanton’s R19) (per Swanton 1905)

There is a rather nice painting (below) representing Kiusta and its view, while I interpret Da’dens and the find spot to be just out of the frame to the right (east).

Langara Island seen from Kiusta; Da'dens would be to the right, out of frame. "In 1774, during a ten-month voyage, the Spanish ship Santiago voyaged to British Columbia under Captain Juan Perez. Due to concerns of the ship’s water supply running low the Santiago approached Haida Gwaii (Graham Island) to find a secure harbour to drop anchor. It was here off the coast of Langara Island that three canoes approached the ship and the Spanish traded beads for dried fish. The following day twenty-one canoes appeared, and two of the Haida people boarded the ship."

Langara Island seen from Kiusta (painting by Gordon Miller, Source: Bill Reid Centre, SFU); Da’dens would be to the right, out of frame.

At the Bill Reid Centre at SFU, the page on Kiusta notes,

“In 1774, during a ten-month voyage, the Spanish ship Santiago voyaged to British Columbia under Captain Juan Perez. Due to concerns of the ship’s water supply running low the Santiago approached Haida Gwaii (Graham Island) to find a secure harbour to drop anchor. It was here off the coast of Langara Island that three canoes approached the ship and the Spanish traded beads for dried fish. The following day twenty-one canoes appeared, and two of the Haida people boarded the ship.”

Kiusta as seen in 1791, around the time the Spanish may have lost a jar.. Source: Bill Reid Centre.

Kiusta as seen in 1791, around the time the Spanish may have lost a jar.. Source: Bill Reid Centre.

Williams et al. subjected a fragment of the amphora to Thermoluminescence dating which can derive the time passed since clay was fired in a kiln. The date they report is 235 years +/- 17, which they calculate as somewhere between 1720 and 1790 CE. The latter part of the range fits well with the earliest Spanish explorations.  (As an aside, in the text they report the date was run by Olav Lian, who has been working with us in the last couple of years on Optical Dating (OSL) of sediments on Quadra Island. He contains multitudes, it seems).

Neutron Activation Analysis on the jar was inconclusive due to a lack of comparative samples, though maybe that has been rectified in the past 25 years. The overall assessment of the jar is that it is crudely made and likely to be Spanish colonial wear made in, perhaps, Mexico.  While other fragments of Spanish-era pottery have been found on the Northwest Coast (a few pieces at Yuquot, and a brick (I have heard) from Neah Bay), this is probably the best described and analysed.

Olive Jar diagram from Williams et al 1992. - Langara example on left, comparable San Diego example on right.

Olive Jar diagram from Williams et al 1992. – Langara example on left, comparable San Diego example on right.

5 responses to “Jarring Finds

  1. We have a student who is just beginning the research for her thesis on stoneware sherds from the 1693 wreck of the Manila galleon “Santo Cristo de Burgos” on the north Oregon coast.

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    • Cool! 1693, that’s early! Look forward to hearing more in the fullness of time. THis is the so-called “beeswax wreck“, right? I actually had no idea it was 17th century.

      This article suggests the passenger and cargo manifests have been found, and hints that there may be Indigenous oral history around this wreck, which would not be surprising — 231 people on board! Tons of beeswax! Not really everyday stuff.

      As the Franklin expedition search realized eventually, oral narratives need to be taken seriously – for many reasons but also because they may make an archaeological search more efficient!

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      • Quentin, yes, it’s the Beeswax Wreck, and the passenger manifest and a partial cargo manifest have been located, due to excellent archival work by an Oregon researcher working with Spanish researchers. The research is reported in the latest issue of the Oregon Historical Society’s Summer 2018 issue of the “Oregon Historical Quarterly”- it’s available on JSTOR, if you have access to it. Porcelain and stoneware storage jar sherds continue to wash ashore, and we’ve been working with some local beachcombers to catalog and analyze their finds. An initial study of the porcelain is done, and now the stoneware study is starting and hopefully will be done within the next two years through Portland State University.

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  2. Just to say that many and probably most Franklin searches have taken Inuit oral history seriously since about 1850. Certainly the Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology team has, working with Inuit since about 1998, especially Louie Kamookak. Please don’t promulgate the mostly inaccurate press on this matter. If you read David Woodman’s (ex-BC Ferries Captain BTW) book “Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony” you will learn that the oral history and interpreting it is not straightforward. Don’t mean to steal post on side-topic but I couldn’t let this pass.

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    • Ok that’s fair, I was indeed taking an impression from the media. David Woodman says oral history is like “Chinese Telephone” which is regrettable for a few reasons. But this CBC piece from 2008 when the new search was announced is very clear that Inuit history would play a key role from the beginning:

      Baird was joined at Friday’s announcement by federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, Nunavut cabinet minister Louis Tapardjuk, and by Louis Kamookak, a resident of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, who has been collecting anecdotes from Inuit elders and ancestors over the past 25 years.

      “His research has provided incredibly valuable insight that will help contribute greatly to this search,” Baird said.

      “Local Inuit involvement has been absent in previous searches, and it will undoubtedly be a key to a successful expedition this summer or next summer.”

      Thanks for the clarification and mea culpa and all that.

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