Category Archives: Technology

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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Millennia Research’s miniature engraving tools from Prince Rupert

Miniature stone chisels or engravers from Prince Rupert.  Source: Millennia Research.

Miniature stone chisels or engravers from Prince Rupert. Source: Millennia Research. http://millennia-research.com/stone-miniature-chisels/

Millennia Research is one of the longest established and most respected consulting archaeologist firms in British Columbia, not least because they have an occasional blog.  They’re doing some really cool and advanced work on 3-D imaging using LiDAR and photogrammetry – you can see for yourself some of those posts, e.g. and e.g.’er.  But today’s topic, while cutting edge in its own way, is more at the speed of your humble scribe – some very small engraving tools they’ve uncovered in Prince Rupert Harbour, site GbTo-54.  The reason I’m posting it here is because they’re looking for input on the function of these and for any comparable artifacts people might know of, and I want to cast the net wider through this blog’s readership.  I’ll get the ball rolling.

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Stone Foundations and Tent Platforms in NW Coast Archaeology

Tlingit house with stone wall foundation near Juneau, Alaska.  Source: SHI Archives, Richard Wood collection. http://goo.gl/hH9Pfl

Tlingit house with stone wall foundation. “Photograph of a Taku village homes, photo likely by Partridge, circa 1887. Village site was located on the mainland across from Douglas Island, south of present-day Juneau”: SHI Archives, Richard Wood collection. http://goo.gl/hH9Pfl

We’re a little obsessed with wooden architecture in the NW Coast archaeology world – with good reason, I guess, since monumental wooden houses are such a prominent feature of the recent past. I suppose we sometimes stereotype these houses a little – a point some commenters made in the Houses on Stilts post here a while back – we think: “large rectangular house squatting in midden supported by giant house posts.” Not always the case, certainly not through time.

In general, we may underestimate large scale constructions in stone.  Burial cairns and mounds (one of Darcy’s consists of 18 dump-trucks worth of soil), rock wall defensive sites, trench embankments, canoe runs, fish traps, and of course, clam gardens, all involved massive deployments of stone, with associated labour investments and creation of a durable built environment. Anyway, we’ve recently been running into enigmatic rock structures on the central coast and Quadra Island, and in particular, the possibility of dwelling structures partially based on stone walls.  So it’s quite cool to run across the picture above from the SHI photo collections, showing a Taku Tlingit house from the historic period, sitting on a platform which has a stone wall as a foundation.

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A Lummi Reef Net Model

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: WhatcomWatch.org

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: http://whatcomwatch.org/wpww/?p=348

A while back I found the cool picture above in an online exhibit of the Whatcom Museum showing photographs of Point Roberts and Lummi Island, on Puget Sound just south of the Canadian border.  Reef netting is a peculiarly Straits Salish technology which involved the setting of complex nets, suspended between two canoes, at strategic locations where the natural flow of salmon was constrained. A sort of on-ramp led the fish up to the net by creating a gentle optical illusion of a rising bottom.  When the salmon were milling around in the horizontal net, still free, the canoes would be suddenly swung together, closing the net and trapping the salmon.

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