Category Archives: Technology

Glaciers brought mountain to man (not really)

Dionisio Point. Main vlillage sites in central upper portion of image. Credit: Colin grier via NPR.

Dionisio Point, north end of Galiano Island. Main vlillage sites (DgRv 6) in central upper portion of image. Credit: Colin grier via NPR.

A couple of months ago you may have heard of an exciting new study on the sources of rock for making stone tools in the Salish Sea.  “Glaciers brought mountain to man“, the headlines said, affirming that archaeologists working on Galiano Island had found nodules of raw material, not yet worked into tools, from the Mt. Garibaldi area of the lower mainland.  If, like me, you have a rudimentary knowledge of Salish Sea archaeology, you probably leapt to the conclusion that the raw material would be from the Garibaldi obsidian source.  So, cool: the mountain moves to Mohammed after all.  But, despite my being fairly disapproving of both sobriety and thinking in general, sober second thought did have me wondering: is it even possible that glaciers carried raw material from Garibaldi to Gabriola?  And from the relatively small and isolated high-altitude obsidian sources to a prominent village site?  ” It was brought there by glaciers, conveniently, 12,000 years ago”, the article asserts – thousands of years past the local ice maximum.  It didn’t easily compute. Luckily I was emailing with one of the paper’s authors, Dr. Colin Grier from Washington State University, and he set me straight on how the new article came to have something of a misleading takeaway point, while shedding some light on his recent interactions with the press.

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The survivor camp of the Russian frigate Neva

Cache of early 18th century Russian Axe Heads. Source: Dave McMahon via NSF.

Cache of early 19th century Russian Axe Heads, on Kruzof Island, Alaska. Source: Dave McMahan via NSF.

In late 1812 or early 1813, the London-built, Russian-owned frigate Neva foundered on rocks somewhere near Sitka Sound, in Tlingit territory on Baranof or Kruzof Islands,  SE Alaska, (map).  The Neva was a prominent ship of Russian colonial Alaska having, for example, taken part in the 1804 Battle of Sitka as well as making multiple round trips during the maritime fur trade hauling sea otter pelts to Chinese and Russian ports. The actual wreck site has never been found.  However, in 2012 archaeologists led by Dave McMahon and the Sitka Historical Society found a small historical-era site which they thought might be where the 28 survivors of the wreck sheltered for a month before being rescued in January 1813.  An intriguing and suggestive find in 2012 was an apparent cache of Russian made axeheads (above), suggesting further work was called for.  In 2015, a fuller excavation took place finding a remarkable assemblage “focused on survival”, not at all typical of early historic settlement sites.  So, while there is no smoking gun yet, such as crockery with the Neva’s monogram, there are plenty of indicators that this site is where the survivors sheltered in the not-entirely benign Alaskan winter while awaiting a rescue that might never come.

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More Mayne Island Museum

Unusual object in the Mayne Island Museum

Unusual object in the Mayne Island Museum, and two celts.

The above is maybe the most unusual object I saw in the archaeological cases in my visit to the Mayne Island museum.  As you can see, it’s labelled as a “large stone abrader” and may well be, I suppose.  It’s thin, an the reddish cast and sort of laminate structure of the rock makes me think it is schist, a material commonly used for flaked “slate” as well as for saws.  If it’s an abrader, I’d say it’d be a saw, since no sign (on this face) of any smooth abraded areas.  However, the general shape seems pretty elaborate for any abrader or saw from my experience. Maybe an elaborate ulu-style knife intended to be hafted across the neck.  Or, what I was wondering when I was there, maybe triggered by a false association to the shape, was something like the ground slate mirrors from the North Coast.  These would be polished to a sheen, then wetted, thus providing a reflection, and if memory serves (and it often doesn’t) were used in rituals more than for popping blackheads. But it doesn’t seem polished enough for that.  All the same, the shape rings a bell and rather than spend too much time looking through old Syesis’s (Syeses?  Syesisis?? ‘copies of the journal Syesis’ – phew) I’m throwing it out here for comment.

There’s a few other pictures form the museum below.

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Visiting Celts at the Mayne Island Museum

Mayne Island Museum and Gaol. Source: tumblr

Mayne Island Museum and Gaol. Source: http://gulfislandsnprcoop.tumblr.com/

The only thing better than small town museums are small town thrift shops, but it’s close. I stuck my nose into the Mayne Island — a small island in the Salish Sea — Museum a day or two ago, which is housed in the former gaol  (that’s “jail” for my diverse readers).  These museums can be fun, but you do have to put on your “this place is historically situated” eyeglasses.  As in, there is usually an enormous preponderance of Settler material, and often there is a fairly reductionist, colonialist or otherwisely unfortunate depiction of First Nations. The Mayne museum doesn’t escape this altogether.  The First Nations display is probably 5% of the total, both in material display, and in the timeline presented (I didn’t take a picture but it is typed out pretty much verbatim here, compare to my pie chart timeline).  Anyway, I don’t want to focus on any negative vibes from the museum, they share the general issues of almost every community museum I’ve been to, but neither do I want to ignore them completely. To their credit they have a good section  the Japanese Internment Camps and the fate of Japanese-Canadian islanders during World War II.  Anyway, I took a few lousy pictures with my phone and I’ll share these below and in a subsequent post (since really who wants to read 2,000 words of pontification in one sitting?) We’re going to start with my favourite artifact type.

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The Nunalleq Site Fieldwork Blog

Collection of amber beads from the Nunalleq Site. Source: Nunalleq Blog. https://nunalleq.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/artefact-of-the-day-147/

Collection of amber beads from the Nunalleq Site. Source: Nunalleq Blog. https://nunalleq.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/artefact-of-the-day-147/

One of the benefits of running this blog is I get to decide what counts as Northwest Coast Archaeology, and today I’m including the amazing Nunalleq site in SW Alaska. Strengthening my claim this belongs to the NW Coast is that the indispensable Dr. Madonna Moss of U. Oregon has been working there lately – which makes it NW Coast, right? Q.E.D.  Anyway the project has been running for about five years, and their blog for three, so there is lots to read up on, and see.  The site, lying in Yup’ik territory, contains deposits (house and otherwise) up to around 2,000 years old and has been rapidly eroding of late.  What started as a salvage project quickly turned into a major effort as deposits of incredible richness were encountered, with preservation enhanced by frozen soil/permafrost.  I’m currently in a fairly remote spot with slow internet and bandwidth constraints, so I am just going to link to a few highlights of the blog and let you explore the rest.

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Life from Ash and Ice: A documentary film about Mt. Edziza

Screenshot of Knowledge Network video about Mt. Edziza.

Screenshot of Knowledge Network video about Mt. Edziza. Click to go to site.

For various reasons I’ve been off work for a while and that has meant being off blogging as well. If you’ve commented on posts recently then thanks; if you’ve emailed my gmail account and still would like a reply then maybe try again.

Anyway, what better way to resume making the occasional post here than a film about the place where I did some of my first ever fieldwork: assessing the then-proposed Site Z dam site on the Stikine River in Tahltan territory, far Northwestern British Columbia, in the shadow of Mt. Edziza.  Edziza is well known to Northwest Archaeologists as one of the region’s most important sources of obsidian, a volcanic glass highly suitable for making certain kinds of stone tools.

The video, Edziza: Life from Ash and Ice, can be watched in full on the B.C. Knowledge Network’s web site.  (NB: I had to change the resolution from a default of “lousy”).  Obviously the geology of the Edziza Complex is pretty cool (and is covered in the first half of the video, which features John Clague among others), but there’s quite a bit of more direct archaeological interest in the second half.

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Clam Garden Event in Sidney, Monday Nov 3rd at 6.30

Clam garden event in Sidney. Source: Parks Canada, click for full poster.

Clam garden event in Sidney. Source: Parks Canada, click for full poster.

This looks like it will be a really cool and interesting event out in Sidney and if you, like blog world headquarters, are on the south island you might want to check it out in person. Snacks included! The great news though is you can register for an online webinar if you can’t make it in person. Kudos to Parks (and their new Clam Garden facilitator and friend of this blog, Sarah R.) for setting that up.  The full details are in this poster, but the short version is: the time is 6.30 and the location is the Shaw Centre on the Sidney waterfront. If you want a quick primer/links on clam gardens, then keep reading.

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