Tag Archives: Collison Bay

Annotation: Collison Bay

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.

Fieldwork Picture of the Day 7

Excavations at Collison Bay, 2006

Excavations at Collison Bay, 2006

This is another intertidal dig – the Collison Bay site, which shares a lot of similarities with Kilgii Gwaay.  Both sites date to about 9450 C14 years ago and contain buried deposits in primary context below the modern beach.  While Kilgii Gwaay contains a rich organic assemblage, Collison Bay does not, though there is evidence for a brown palaeosol at varyiong depths.  In and around that palaeosol are numerous pristine lithics: stones tools and flakes that are sharp and clearly have not een rolled on a beach.  One of the striking things about these two sites is they show how a major event like a marine transgression can nonetheless leave intact cultural deposits.  We suspect that much of this has to do with the local topography.  Ideally, a bedrock rock rim allows for a small lagoon to form, creating an interlude of very low wave energy between when sea level rises over the site and when the full weight of waves can start to act on the surrounding shore.  By the time the waves are able to penetrate, the archaeological materials are already several metres below low tide which affords quite a lot of protection.

As with Kilgii Gwaay, working in the intertidal zone poses certain challenges, such as having only a six hour window to work.  In the case of Collison Bay, we compounded the issue by timing the project for when the best tides were in the middle of the night, which meant getting up at midnight and working to dawn in some cases (though we did have some good daytime digging as well).  In this picture you can see we are using electric lights run off a generator while Cynthia does the hard work down on the beach; this is probably around 2.00 in the morning.