The regional journal BC Studies has a new special issue out focused on local archaeology. Entitled These Outer Shores, the edition is available for a reasonable price (20$) and two of the articles plus the forward are already open access, with the rest to follow in a couple of years. The publisher’s blurb gives a good sense of the edition:
Guest Edited by Alan D. McMillan and Iain McKechnie, These Outer Shores presents recent archaeological research along the outer coast, from southeast Alaska to the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait. The authors challenge the long-held perception of the western edge of British Columbia as “peripheral” or “remote,” removed from major cultural developments emanating from more interior locations. Instead, recent fieldwork and analyses document a lengthy and persistent occupation of the outer shores over the past 13,000 years. Using a variety of modern approaches and techniques, the authors examine such topics as changing sea levels, human settlement history, fish and shellfish harvesting, whaling, and the integration of Indigenous oral history with archaeology.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, First Nations, history, Lower Mainland, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island, Washington State
Tagged alaska, Archaeology, BC Studies, british columbia, Coastal Archaeology, Washington State
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.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, history, Northwest Coast, Technology, Uncategorized, underwater archaeology
Tagged alaska, Baranof Island, castaways, historical archaeology, Kruzov Island, Neva, Russia, shipwrecks, Sitka, tlingit
Excavations at the Upward Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter via adn.com
There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding a new paper by Carrin Halffman et al. documenting the use of salmon at the Upward Sun River Site (more) which is on the Tanana River: a tributary of the Yukon River, but about 1,400 kilometres upstream from the ocean (and much further still from the paleo-rivermouth during Beringian times). The authors report this as both the earliest evidence of salmon exploitation in the Americas, and the first evidence of Pleistocene salmon use. The first I am on board with, the second I may quibble a little with lower down. (And this is all assuming we don’t consider eastern Beringia to be effectively part of Asia at this time!). But it’s a remarkable find and a very carefully researched and presented paper. [edit: be sure to read comments from Ben Potter below which tweaks some information in this post.]
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, Northwest Interior
Tagged alaska, Beringia, first peopling, fishing, salmon, Tanana River, Upward Sun River, Yukon River, zooarchaeology
Excavations at the Mink Island site, XMK-164., Katmai, Alaska. Source: ADN.com
Some news just puts the fear of Cod into you. For example, there’s an interesting study from earlier this year which suggests that rising sea levels in the Alaskan middle Holocene (in the study: roughly 7,000 to 4,000 years ago) released methyl mercury compounds into the nearshore environment (Open Source paper by Maribeth Murray et al., 2015). These then accumulated in fish, specifically Pacific Cod, Gadus macrocephalus, and presumably also in other species which predate upon these cod, such as humans. It’s an interesting preliminary study, but before you think, “Oh My Gadus, Ancient Alaskans were Mad Hatters running amok with mercury-induced neuropathy”, there are some important details to consider.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology
Tagged aboriginal fisheries, alaska, climate change, cod, fish, health, Hg, historical ecology, Katmai, mercury, methyl mercury, pacific cod
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.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, fieldwork, First Nations, Technology
Tagged alaska, Archaeology, Arctic, community based archaeology, CRM, Cultural Resource Management, Nunalleq, permafrost, Yup'ik
Tim Heaton at work in OYK cave. Screenshot from video.
On July 4, 1996, paleontologist Tim Heaton was busy at his last day of fieldwork at On-Your-Knees Cave on northern Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska (map). At this and other caves Heaton had recovered a remarkable array of fauna from both before, during, and after the last glacial maximum, including a variety of black and brown bear bones. Until this point, he had not found any human remains, but that changed with the discovery of a human mandible and the subsequent discoveries of other scattered, chewed remains. In due course, an archaeological site was also found at the entrance to the cave, dating to about 10,300 calender years ago, the same as the human remains. Excavation at this site was led by E. James (Jim) Dixon, whose footsteps I often feel like I am stumbling along in. In one layer in the site, they actually found one of the missing teeth from the mandible, showing the extent to which the bones had been scattered, and, sinisterly, chewed, presumably by bears. The most likely interpretation is that the site represents a bear hunting camp at the entrance to the cave, and that on at least one occasion, the bears got the upper hand.
Anyway, the remains of this young man have revealed important details of the life of early people on the Northwest Coast, and the study also exemplifies how strong relationships, respect, and adherence to protocol can allow for scientific and cultural priorities to unfold together. It’s therefore quite exciting to find a 30 minute video detailing the process of research at On-Your-Knees Cave: “Kuwoot yas.ein: His Spirit is Looking Out from the Cave“.
Click to play Sacred Ground video.
Archaeological encounters with human remains bring into sharp relief the competing values surrounding cultural heritage. It doesn’t always go well – powerful emotions are uncovered alongside the burials. So it’s refreshing and informative to come across a short video, Sacred Ground: In honour and in memory of our ancestors, made by Crossroads Cultural Resource Management, which follows the aftermath of the accidental disturbance of human remains at Hagwilget, on the
Skeena Bulkley River.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, fieldwork, First Nations, Northwest Interior
Tagged alaska, Bulkley River, burial, cemeteries, CRM, Cultural Resource Management, Gitxsan, Hagwilget, human remains, reburial, Skeena River, Wet'suwet'en
So, still rustling around the weird world of weirs. The online Alaskan archives have quite a few interesting examples – and, kind of remarkably, a video showing the construction of a weir near Atka, which is on the Aleutian Islands. The trap in the video is pretty similar to a couple of other Aleutian ones in the collection, which I’ll talk about below. It’s really cool to not only see a more-or-less traditional trap being built (look at the rocks being casually dropped down by the wooden fence!) but the photos also show weirs actually in use. There’s probably a lot to learn from these pictures – as any introductory textbook in archaeology will tell you, the more we know about the behavioural context of a given site type, the more we can reliably infer the cultural context when presented only with the archaeological remains.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged aboriginal fisheries, alaska, fish, fish traps, fish weirs, salmon, weirs, Yukon
Tlingit war helmet recently rediscovered in Springfield Science Museum. Source: SSM.
This is the kind of cool story that makes me want to poke around in all the community museums I see. A fantastic Tlingit war helmet has been recently rediscovered in the backroom of a museum in Springfield, Massachussests. The helmet was accessioned in 1899 as an “Aleutian hat” and the designation was never questioned until now. The news article about it suggests only 95 of these helmets are known, with the largest collections found in Russia. They are part of an elaborate system of armour known from the contact and early historic period in Tlingit territory (Southeast Alaska – Alaska Panhandle).
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, history, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged alaska, armor, armour, helmets, museums, southeast alaska, Springfield, tlingit, Tlingit Art
Lidar model merged with photograph to document carved pole, Sitka, Alaska. Source: National Park Service.
This is an interesting application of Lidar technology – creating a durable, highly precise, digital image of a standing pole, which can then be wrapped with high-resolution photographs and used in a “virtual tour” context. It can also be an archive for conservation. The project is underway to record a couple of dozen Tlingit poles in an outdoor setting in Sitka, Alaska.
Lidar stands for “light distancing and ranging” and is basically like radar or sonar, only using laser beams. Thousands of individual laser bursts can measure the three-dimensional surface of something like a totem pole to accuracy of a millimetre or less. This creates an accurate digital record of the shape of the pole which can then be rendered on-screen in various three-dimensional ways. Lidar has seen a fair bit of use in archaeological survey (especially its ability to digitally clearcut the trees) and also has seen quite a bit of table-top use to record artifacts in exquisite detail. The “meso-scale” recording of features like poles is less common though, especially outside of historical and classical archaeology. There is a lot of potential for recording petroglyphs I think — for example this recent dissertation (which I need to order) apparently shows proof of concept at Writing-On-Stone in southern Alberta.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, First Nations
Tagged alaska, conservation, LiDAR, poles, Sitka, tlingit, totem poles