Category Archives: underwater archaeology

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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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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ASBC Victoria Meeting, April 17/2012: Underwater Archaeology in BC

Parks Canada Archaeologist near Huxley Island

So, it’s been a while without a post here so apologies to compulsive page-refreshers and lonely groupies.  I see lots of interesting comments – I’ll try to get caught up soon. For now, here is the announcement about the Victoria ASBC meeting coming up this Tuesday.  It’s great to see that there is going to be some dialogue between the ASBC and the UASBC – two solitudes far too much of the time.

Jacques Marc

Underwater Archaeological Society of BC

Exploring the Underwater Heritage of British Columbia

TUESDAY April 17, 2012, 7:30 pm
Pacific Forestry Centre,
506 West Burnside Road. (map)

Free and Open to the Public

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ASBC Victoria – Public Talk Tue Oct 18: Daryl Fedje on Gulf Islands Archaeology

Parks Canada - UVIC Archaeological Project in the Intertidal Zone, 2010.

Next up for the local (Victoria) branch of the Archaeological Society of B.C. is a Tuesday, October 18th talk by Daryl Fedje of Parks Canada Archaeology. Details below; it is free and open to the public.  I know of some of this research to be presented and if I can add an editorial comment:it is now clearly demonstrated that the intertidal zone has very high potential for un-disturbed archaeological deposits, some of which show exceptional preservation.  These include not only classic “waterlogged sites” with woody preservation, but also numerous water-saturated shell middens, and even the remains of intact house features.  I think it’s probable that in the Salish Sea at least, the intertidal zone is a hugely unappreciated zone of interest and I hope the Archaeology Branch and Consulting Archaeologists are working together to make sure it gets a thorough examination. And, if they aren’t, then it would be welcome if First Nations were to apply pressure by demanding routine subsurface testing in intertidal zones as a minimum requirement for shoreline archaeological assessments, perhaps commenting to this effect when reviewing permit applications.  Anyway:

Intertidal Archaeology in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

October 18th, 2011, 7:30
pm Pacific Forestry Centre,
506 West Burnside Road (Map)

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Abstract:  Recent investigations in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve included a focus on the intertidal zone. Analyses of cultural and paleoecological data obtained from these investigations has resulted in a more detailed sea level history for the area and, discovery of a suite of archaeological sites associated with sea levels slightly lower than modern. These now-intertidal sites include intact shell middens and apparent house features dating as early as 4,000 years ago.

Bio: The Victoria ASBC Branch president writes,  “Daryl Fedje is a long-time archaeologist with Parks Canada, now based in Sidney, B.C.  He is widely published, with a respected international reputation.  Research in the Gulf Islands that he directs, co-directs, or facilitates is some of the most current work relevant to the Victoria region – but of course with wider ramifications.

Imaging of Yukon Shipwrecks

3-D Sonar Scan of A.J. Goddard historic sternwheeler from Yukon. Source: Montreal Gazette.

A year or two ago, the well-preserved wreck of the Klondike-era paddlewheeler A.J. Goddard was found in Lake Lebarge on the Yukon River.  The find (which is now protected) got a lot of attention because of the ghostly images (click on the very high resolution pop-up ones here) as much as the historical significance.  The wreck was recently in the news again because divers had found some vinyl phonograph records which had the potential to be played. Listening to the music of the dead crewmen of a ship evocative of the Cremation of Sam McGee would create close, perhaps emotional, connection with these poor unfortunates.

Being made of stern stuff (heh) what I am more interested in is the intriguing  sonar image (above) that accompanied the mainstream press coverage.  The phonograph is cool, but archaeologically the more significant development are the new technologies being used on wrecks in general and some Yukon wrecks in particular.

I found more images and a very short article at Wired magazine and they are worth a look, as is much of the background info from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA), which includes a photo galleryEdit: you can view a nice video of BluView and OceanGate’s sonar model of the wreck here.

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The Skagit River Atlatl

The Skagit River Atlatl. Image © UBC Museum of Anthropology, Photographed by Derek Tan. CC Licenced.

An atlatl, or spear thrower, is a device used to increase the velocity, and hence range or striking power, of a projectile.  These are usually made of wood or other organic material, and hence they seldom survive in the archaeological record.  Some years ago though, one was dragged up in a fishing net from waterlogged conditions in the Skagit River estuary in northern Washington State near Anacortes.  As the UBC Museum of Anthropology describes:

Made of yew, a hard yet flexible wood, the weapon survived 1,700 years buried in alluvium in the Skagit estuary until it was dredged from these silts by a seine fisher’s net in 1939 in the Lower Skagit between Townhead Island and Bald Head Island. It is believed that it hung in a fish shed, perhaps to dry slowly thus preventing some deterioration, until archaeologists became aware of it in the 1950’s.

Rather incongruously, the Southwest Archaeology blog Gambler’s House has had two in-depth posts about this artifact, here and here.  It’s worth reading both as they give excellent background and tons of links.

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Oregon’s weird weirs

Dense fish trap / weir in an Oregon estuary. Source: Byram pdf @ WARP website

(edit: I completely stupidly mixed up who did the poster under discussion. Apologies all around, fixed the text below)

I mentioned the Wetland Archaeology Research Project (WARP) and their revamped website once before in reference to Nancy Greene’s pioneering fishtrap work at Comox.  I’m glad to see they have another interesting conference-style poster available for download, this one by Robert Losey (now at the University of Alberta) Scott Byram on the topic of Oregon fish weirs in unusual settings (PDF).

If a cow patch strikes you as an unusual setting, of course.

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