Annotation of the Collison Bay night-time, low tide excavations.
The Collison Bay site in Haida Gwaii posed some unusual challenges, some natural and others of our own making. The site is found in the intertidal zone and dates, like the Kilgii Gwaay site about 10 km away, to a brief window about 10,700 calendar years ago. I posted the above picture before, but without annotation. That previous post describes something of the site formation processes, which mean a site which was terrestrial when occupied is now in the intertidal zone, and excavation must take place between the tides.
Looking at the above, you can see we didn’t plan for the tides very well! other projects required us to be elsewhere and when it was Collison Bay’s turn, the low tides were in the middle of the night. This meant we had to get up at midnight to work until about 6.00 in the morning the first night to catch the falling tide, then we got up about 12.45, then about 1.30, and so on: tracking the procession of the low tides. So, to the inherent complications of working in the intertidal zone we did it in the dark, running electric lights from a generator. This actually worked really well and data recovery was excellent – we dug there on another occasion in the daytime (see below) and there was no real difference in quality of work. Also part way through this project we were working until mid-morning and could see pretty well!
The site includes numerous water-worn stone tools on the surface and in the upper beach deposits, but in the lower beach deposits the tools are pristine and show no signs of water-rolling. In many cases they lie flat, also suggesting a lack of disturbance, and they are encased in a thin, brown layer of jelly-like material which is the organic remains of a degraded soil. Unlike at Kilgii Gwaay, there is no survival of bone or wood. Nonetheless, the stone tools are very similar to that site, and speak to a terminal Pleistocene technological approach using discoidal and uni-directional cores to create large blade-like flakes. Too much information for some readers I bet – but the take home message is this way of making stone tools might be peculiar to the Pacific Rim and not the continental interior and therefore might, perhaps, maybe, one day, turn out to have significance for the coastal route of the First Peopling of the Americas.
Pristine, sharp blade-like flakes used as stone tools from 10,700 year old deposits in the beach at Collison Bay. Flake on right is about 6 cm long. Photo: D. Fedje
Establishing an excavation unit as soon as feasible on a falling tide to maximize digging window.
Posted in Archaeology, fieldwork, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged annotation, Collison Bay, Gwaii Haanas, Haida Gwaii, Intertidal, Kilgii Gwaay, lithics, stone tools
Gaadu Din 2 is an archaeological site in a small limestone cave in Haida Gwaii. It is a narrow, sinuous cave which probably was used on occasion by denning bears during the Younger Dryas cold period at the end of the Pleistocene:. Currently it is at about 100 metres above sea level and 500 metres from the shore, but when occupied it was as much as 200 metres above the then-lower sea levels and up to 5 km from the shore. The logistics of bringing excavation equipment to this mountainside location are significant, as is the care required by Parks Canada’s rigorous standards for the proper treatment and rehabilitation of karst post-project.
Among the interesting features of this cave is its very flat floor and very dry interior. Thus, while narrow and cramped, it would have also offered some reasonable shelter to humans near the entrance, where there would have been daylight. Based on this and other hints, we conducted a brief excavation at the entrance and quickly established that there had been – on at least four occasions spanning over 1,000 years — a small campfire built, around which people did a small amount of stone tool repair. This was between about 10,800 and 13,000 years ago. Probably this cave was used as a staging post for winter-time bear hunting in the other caves in the area, and bears may have been hunted in this cave itself as well. You can imagine them, the day of the successful hunt, spending the night at this entrance, warming themselves by the fire, telling stories of the day’s dramatic events, and tweaking their toolkit to be ready for the next.
In any case, it is a remarkable thought that on at least four discrete occasions, separated by centuries, people came to this cave and built a fire in the same place as their ancestors had done. It was a privilege to sit where they sat and, together with Haida archaeologists descended from these hunters, to recover the clues they left behind, which may well form the oldest known archaeological site in Canada. There is no space here to relate all we know from these caves but suffice it to say for now that these are heritage sites that reveal not only hunting practices but the spirituality which surrounds those hunting practices and continues to inform and imbue Haida respect for bears to this day.
It is fortunate that these caves lie within Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, but many similar caves in BC, with similar materials undoubtedly within them, do not share this protection and are commonly destroyed. This is because there is both insufficient protection for karst as a special landform with unique ecological attributes, and a general lack of appreciation within the archaeological community about the potential that such caves hold for archaeological sites of the highest possible significance.
Posted in Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, fieldwork, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged annotation, bears, caves, Gaadu Din, Haida, Haida Gwaii, hunting, Karst
Annotated stratigraphy of lowest Richardson Island archaeological deposits.
Richardson Island is a remarkable archaeological site in southern Haida Gwaii. When it was occupied, sea levels were about 10 metres higher than today, and rising. Then, sea levels stopped rising and occupation continued. We have dates ranging from 10,500 cal BP to 2900 cal BP (calendar years before present). However, the early part of the record includes the most impressive stratigraphy. The shoreline configuration at that time likely included a supra-tidal marine berm feature, which would have had a flattish top and have been well-drained and probably vegetation free: a perfect place to camp. Occasional storms or even tsunamis would build this berm in the winter, and with rising sea levels the berm was “pushed uphill” so to speak. The berm-building process would have involved sudden dumps of sorted pea-gravel onto the occupation layers at the site, sealing and preserving them. Overall, though, the site is in a well-protected location, at least relative to the enormously dynamic winter sea conditions of Haida Gwaii. Continue reading
Excavation at Kilgii Gwaay, southern Haida Gwaii.
I’ve found that individual powerpoint slides can be saved as JPG images, complete with their annotations. Since I have a lot of these I may share some. The above shows excavation in the shell-rich component of the intertidal site at Kilgii Gwaay. The combination of shellfish remains and saturation in slightly alkaline sea water has produced remarkable preservation for a site which is firmly dated via about 20 carbon samples to 9450 14C BP, or around 10,700 calendar years ago. In this picture you can see some of the evidence: bone tools, stone tools, and the remains of shellfish, fish and mammals which, together with birds, formed the basis of the diet at this summertime camp.
Posted in Archaeology, fieldwork, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast, Teaching
Tagged annotation, Archaeology, First Nations, Haida, Haida Gwaii, Intertidal, Kilgii Gwaay