This post is just a random collection of lesser-known historic images of fish weirs and traps from the Northwest Coast and Interior. There’s lots to learn for archaeologists from historic pictures generally, but the way that images circulate and are reproduced means we often see the same ones over and over again. I’ve found a few archival pics which may be familiar to some, but possibly novel to many.
For example, the picture above shows a surprisingly large (to me) stone weir near Hagwilget Canyon, which is a major fishing station on the Bulkley River. I think it must be in the large kidney-shaped pool just downstream of the bridge (map). While the main structure may be partially or wholly a natural cobble bar feature, to the left there is a smaller weir that definitely appears cultural. Note the drying structures and smoke houses in the background, detail below.
We discussed Hagwilget once before when looking at the incredible bridge which used to span the river. At that time I complained about copyright claims, and my opinion still holds when it comes to material digitized by public agencies. Anyway, the successor to the original Hagwilget bridge bridge was not much more reassuring, and even the present day bridge is pretty hairy for the faint of butt.
Just downstream of this weir is Hazelton, or Gitanmaax, which means ‘People of the Torchlight Fishing Place’, so it’s particularly welcome to see the practice photographed above in a poorly dated or provenienced photo.
The picture above is interesting enough for the image of the weir, apparent box-traps, and the post-and lintel structures on the high ground, presumably on the Stellako River near Fraser Lake (Nechako watershed) in the central B.C. Interior. Further to this, if you squint into the background, you can see dozens of small stakes almost level with the water surface. I would suggest these are likely the remains of former weirs, and a nice example of the “past in the past”.
Such arrays of stubby stakes is the most common archaeological signature of fish weirs in the present day, as seen above for an archaeological weir in a small creek in southern Haida Gwaii.
Indeed, sometimes the stubs themselves are buried under sediment, as is the case above from a site in Gray’s Harbour, Washington.
This is another picture of a Fraser Lake area fish weir. Two settlers are shown in October 1909 standing on the weir, which to my eye is not the same as the first Fraser Lake one above. While the two men seem to be the same fellows, the background bank, wood debris, structures, and the weir itself are quite different. Maybe these two made a day of it checking out fish weirs in the area, I know I would.
I was going to make a ton more links here but my day job is beckoning (and getting on my nerves, no offence boss). The pic above though is super interesting. From the Stuart River area, it shows a family at a fish camp smoking/drying/cooking some salmon heads over a fire. Generally speaking, salmon heads didn’t preserve as well as the bodies did, and tended to be eaten fresh where the fish were caught, and the post-cranial elements taken back to the base camp or winter village. Archaeologically, this means that fish processing camps should be identifiable by a disproportionate number of salmon head bones relative to body bones, while winter villages (where most salmon consumption was of stored stocks of dried/smoked salmon bodies) would be dominated by vertebrae and other post-cranial skeletal elements. This prediction or observation has been borne out by numerous studies at winter villages. Studies of the fish camps is less common though, and it is cool to see this photo showing the family cooking up the heads, in contrast to the family near the top of this post who are seen with the dried/smoking salmon body filets and frames.
The figure below shows some archaeological and natural paleontological sites in relation to the natural ratio of salmon bones within a living salmon.