Tag Archives: artifacts

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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R.I.P Hilary Stewart, 1924-2014

Hilary Stewart fish weir

Hilary Stewart drawing of a fish weir. Source: bcheritage.ca

Sad news out of Quadra Island with the news that Northwest Coast archaeological legend Hilary Stewart passed away on June 5th, at the age of 90.  The local newspaper the Discovery Islander has a full obituary (page 2) (PDF) written by her friend, anthropologist Joy Inglis.

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Dixon’s Underwater Entrance

Waters around OYK Cave. Source: Polarfield.com

E. James (Jim) Dixon, now at the University of New Mexico,  is pretty well known on the Northwest Coast for his pioneering work at the 10 to 12,000 year old 49-PET-408 (“On Your Knees Cave”) in the Alaskan Panhandle, and more recently for his exciting work on Alaskan Ice Patches. I see now that he apparently received some funding to go underwater during the summer of 2010 in the waters around PET-408, not far north from the aptly named Dixon Entrance, in Southeast Alaska (map).  This work could have implications for the coastal route of First Peopling of the Americas.

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East Wenatchee Clovis Photo Gallery

One of the East Wenatchee Clovis Points. Source: Washington State Historical Society.

A few months ago I posted about the surface finds, or other finds without archaeological context, of the Clovis archaeological culture in Puget Sound, noting that this shouldn’t be all that surprising considering the well-known East Wenatchee (Richey-Roberts) Clovis Cache from just east of the Cascades.  Clovis, as you may know, is an archaeological culture type long associated with the first peopling of the Americas, although a decreasing number of archaeologists think it reflects that series of events.

Anyway, you can review that other post for more details.  What I’ve subsequently found is that the Washington State Historical Society has a colour gallery of all 49 of the artifacts from East Wenatchee.  The pictures are not particularly high resolution but they are well-taken and well-lit and better than most you’ll find on the web.  You can match the projectile points up to this diagram if you are feeling keen, or compare to the pictures at the lithic casting lab, some of which have hands and other useful sizing aids in them.

Even so, since they were scanned from 4 X 5 inch format negatives, it’s disappointing there is no higher resolution downloadable.  For a fringe interest like this, and considering that bandwidth is practically free, let’s make this stuff available.  You can click on the view options to, for example, see both sides of the artifact displayed at once.  It’s also very surprising that there is no photo scale and dimensions are not given.

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Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Lab

A flake of obsidian from DhRr-18, southern British Columbia. This visually-distinctive glass is from the Mount Garibaldi obsidian source.

Obsidian is a kind of volcanic glass and was highly prized for making certain kinds of stone tools.  Obsidian forms at places of relatively small outflows of magma, or liquid rock.  Small flows can cool quickly, which allows the formation of a glassy crystalline structure ideal for stone tool manufacture.  Small flows also represent a small sample of well-mixed magma, and thus each little patch of obsidian may share a very distinctive chemical signature.  This signature, usually identified by trace elements such as Strontium, Zirconium, Yttrium and Rubidium, then allows for the chemical fingerprinting of each source.  Any obsidian artifact found, whether at a source or not, can also be “fingerprinted” and then compared to a catalogue of known obsidian ources.  Since the artifacts don’t move around on their own but only through the agency of humans, the distribution of obsidian artifacts is a proxy measure for the movement and interaction of people.  When you have hundreds or thousands of such artifacts and a large database of known sources, then you can start to see large scale, long-term social interaction emerge from the silent archaeological record.  Most obsidian isn’t visually distinctive enough to sort out by eye alone, so these geochemical methods are essential.

So far, so Archaeology 101.  I was really happy to find that Oregon’s Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory has a web site not which not only solicits business, but is a highly educational and informative site about many aspects of obsidian analysis, with a focus on the Northwest. Continue reading

Edenshaw Compote

Argillite and ivory compote attributed to Haida master carver Charles Edenshaw. Height: 30 cm. Source: Liverpool Museum.

I only have a short post today since I am up to my neck in alligators, courtesy of my day job.  So, take a moment and check out the spectacular argillite compote (a pedestaled serving dish), attributed to Haida master carver Da.axiigang, Charles Edenshaw.  This particular dish is in the collection of the Liverpool Museum – an institution that  holds a collection donated by well-known coastal collector, casual ethnographer, and (apparently) former Liverpudlian, Dr. Charles Newcombe – many of the items in their Northwest Coast section must come from this source.  It is one of the more striking pieces of Argillite I have seen in that the form is so clearly derived from silverware: it is sublimely ridiculous, and I can’t help but feel that Edenshaw was in on the joke.  Yes, he would make what would sell, but a piece like this makes me wonder if he wasn’t slyly pulling the touristic leg, somewhat.

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Arrow from Tsitsutl Peak Glacier, Western B.C.

400 year old arrow or dart from Tsitsutl glacier, B.C. Source: Keddie and Nelson: 2005.

In 1924, a land surveyor found an arrow at an elevation of 2,100 metres near Tsitsutl Peak in west-central British Columbia (map).  The arrow made its way to the Royal BC Museum where it lay for over 80 years, until a timely inquiry and increased awareness of ice-patch archaeology stimulated a small research program.  This research, initiated by RBCM curator Grant Keddie and reported in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology (Keddie and Nelson 2005), establishes that the arrow is about 400 years old.

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