Tag Archives: bones

ASBC Victoria talk: Tue Feb 18, Nicole Westre on Hiikwis Fauna

UVIC Students excavating at Hiikwis Site, Barkley Sound.

UVIC Students excavating at Hiikwis Site, Barkley Sound.

They didn’t do it just for the Halibut: A faunal analysis of the Hiikwis site complex (DfSh-15 & DfSh-16), Barkley Sound.

Nicole Westre

Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 7:30 pm
Cornett Building B129
(North End of Cornett building)
University of Victoria

As always, the ASBC talks are free and open to the public.

Abstract:

The Hiikwis site complex (DfSh-15 and DfSh-16) consists of two village sites in inner Barkley Sound, occupied continuously for nearly 3000 years until the 1900s. Excavated between 2008 and 2010, the site complex has gained attention as the only Barkley Sound village site to contain a significant flaked stone assemblage in late contexts. My talk, however, focuses on sampled vertebrate faunal remains recovered from the site, which are unique among Barkley Sound sites as well. The bird and whale assemblages will be discussed, as will salmon exploitation. In general, Barkley Sound sites suggest that salmon did not become an important resource in the area until only about 800 years ago. This observation challenges the idea that complex Northwest Coast societies emerged as a result of salmon preservation for winter consumption as long as 3500 years ago. Does the Hiikwis site complex follow the typical Barkley Sound pattern, or do the bones tell a different story?

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Salmon species now knowable from vertebrae

Measurement of vertebral height. Source: Huber et al. 2011

Salmon are a crucial cultural keystone species across most of the Northwest,  of very high importance to many coastal and interior cultural groups for thousands of years.  Many archaeological sites are chock full of salmon bones, and the oldest of these are around 10,000 years old.  As a cultural story, the importance of salmon is obvious.  Increasingly though, the archaeological data are also invoked to tell the history of salmon themselves.  The very long-term view of the archaeological record provides  knowledge of their ranges, their relative abundance, their life histories, etc.  These data can then be harnessed as part of conservation and fisheries management of these threatened species of fish.

Each species offers different things to people: some run early, some late; some are more fatty, some leaner; some run in huge compact numbers, others tend to dribble by; some can be caught in large numbers in the open ocean, others can only be caught efficiently in streams.  There’s just one problem with using salmon bones in archaeology: until recently, you really couldn’t tell one species of salmon from another based only on their bones.

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Mount St. Helens and experimental archaeology

Paul Kane: Mt. St. Helens erupting by night, 1847. Source: Wikipedia

Today is the 30th anniversary of the cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens, an explosion so large that it could be heard as far north as southern Vancouver Island.  The mountain has erupted many times in the past – one of which was captured by the well known painter Paul Kane (above) – and will continue to erupt indefinitely.  Many of these eruptions and its fickle nature loom large in oral histories.  The ash from prior eruptions forms important geological marker horizons all over the Northwest.  Judging by this map, there are no known obsidian sources directly associated with Mount St Helens.  These are the more obvious kinds of connections to archaeology and they shouldn’t be discounted. Another approach exemplifies a kind of morbidly creative lateral thinking.

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Bird bones at the RBCM

Swainson's Hawk skull. Three views from RBCM Avian Osteology site.

I made a post the other day on a cool M.A. thesis about how to tell deer, bear and human wrist and ankle bones apart.  Identification of bones is one of the essential specialist activities in archaeology: the bones don’t come out of the ground labelled, and yet they are a key way to understand past diet, behaviour and environmental change.  Being able to identify a bone from the ground to the species it comes from requires a collection of bones of known species – a comparative collection – and these do not grow on trees.  They are laborious to produce and finicky to curate.  The one at the University of Victoria, for example, contains over 1,500 skeletons and is in constant use by archaeologists and biologists, not to mention the awesomely talented people at Pacific IDentifications. Mind you, the UVIC collection is one of the best anywhere in North America, but most archaeology departments and even many consulting archaeologists attempt to have a basic comparative collection on hand.  This is a burdensome chore!

While looking at pictures will never be a substitute for a three-dimensional bone for comparison, it can nonetheless be better than nothing.  It is therefore nice to see a really useful, if preliminary, set of web pages at the Royal B.C. Museum on Avian osteology.

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Bears, Humans and Deer: disambiguation at last.

Human and Bear cuboid bones compared. Source: Smart 2009.

Some graduate theses are clearly meant to be both a research excercise and produce a demonstrably useful document.  I’m not saying these are any better than any other kind of thesis, but they do have an aura of public service and virtue about them.  The best example of these which I have seen recently is Tamela Smart’s 2009  Carpals and tarsals of mule deer, black bear and human: an osteology guide for the archaeologist.  If you click here it will start an automatic download of the 3.7 meg PDF from Western Washington University (unfortunately, no way to link to a download page).  (edit: try this link instead)

The premise of this research is that despite obvious differences on the outside, there are surprising similarities between the hand/wrist and ankle/foot bones (carpals and tarsals) of bears, deer, and humans.

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