Tag Archives: conservation

Memories of Ozette

Makah whaler Wilson Parker posing as a MAKAH WHALER for Edward Curtis, ca.1915

The magazine of Washington State University has a nice article on the archaeological project at Ozette, the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula.  This Makah village site was covered by a landslide about three hundred years ago (animation), which created preservation conditions highly favourable to preservation of wooden artifacts.  The story begins

THERE’S A WELL-KNOWN PHOTOGRAPH taken by Native American chronicler Edward Curtis in 1915 of a Makah whaler. Dressed in an animal skin, the man is longhaired and wild. He had indeed been a whaler, as had generations of his people. But still, the photograph is a memory of a time already past. Curtis provided Wilson Parker with a hide and a wig to replace the European clothes the Makahs had adopted long before. In spite of Curtis’s fiction, however, there is much to be learned from Wilson Parker, the man in the photograph. As is always the case with a good myth, there is a deeper truth that lies beneath the surface story.

Parker is Sharon Kanichy’s great-great-grandfather, she tells me as we talk in the Makah cultural center in Neah Bay. Kanichy ’01 was born in February 1970. That same month, a powerful storm blew in off the Pacific, eroding the bank above the beach at Cape Alava, on the Olympic Coast, revealing something remarkable.

“All we knew was there was a burial site,” says Ed Claplanhoo of the buried longhouses revealed by that February storm. Claplanhoo ’56 was Makah tribal chairman in 1970, so it was he who got a phone call the first Saturday in February, from a hippie schoolteacher, as Claplanhoo describes him. A dubious character, says Claplanhoo, which is why he didn’t take the fellow seriously when he tried to warn Claplanhoo that “people” were getting in the “house” and taking “artifacts.” Claplanhoo knew everyone in Neah Bay and knew everyone who owned artifacts. He’d heard of no problems.

But the fellow persisted. The next Sunday, the same phone call. “Mr. Claplanhoo, they’re still taking artifacts out of the house.”

“So I said okay,” says Claplanhoo, “I’ll tell you what, you come to my house at seven o’clock tonight and we’ll talk about it.”

From there, the article recounts the story of the Ozette excavations from the point of view of both Makah and the archaeologist Richard Daugherty, who led the decade long excavation of “North America’s Pompeii.”  It nicely captures the importance of the site as well as the nature of the dig and the social relations formed which endure to this day.

Don’t miss the slideshow from the excavations — it’s an awkward interface but some very atmospheric pictures of life on a remote archaeological dig in the 1960s – as well as a few shots of the US Marines who helped airlift supplies in and treasures out.

Digging at the Ozette Site - the hoses were used to gently free the wooden artifacts, such as the house planks shown, from the mudflow which buried them. Source: WASU Magazine.

Speaking of Wilson Duff and Bill Reid

Roy Jones of Skidegate climbs a pole at SGang Gwaay. Source: CBC.

Yesterday I noted the upcoming musical about the Bill Reid-Wilson Duff expedition to “rescue” carved poles at the Haida Village of SGang Gwaay (Ninstints).  I’ve just found that the CBC has posted online a short documentary, (2013:edit, use this link)  first broadcast in 1959 and narrated by Bill Reid, showing the removal of these poles to the Museum of Anthropology at UVIC.  The expedition also included Wayne Suttles and Michael Kew, as well as Wilson Duff of course.  The Haida crew consisted of Roy Jones, Clarence Jones and Frank Jones of Skidegate. Some aspects of the trip are recounted in the BC Provincial Museum Annual Report of 1957, which I will scan and post some other day.

The spoken component of the documentary is a fascinating account by Reid, at that time just beginning his carving career, but the real jaw-dropping element is the depiction of the use of axes and saws and climbing spikes to log this forest of poles.  Necessary, of course, but jarring nonetheless.

Broadcast Date: May 21, 1959

A small boat ferrying Bill Reid and a team of anthropologists approaches the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Reid documents the rescue mission to salvage and relocate the last of the crumbling Haida totems as revealed in this CBC documentary. With a sense of excited urgency, Reid describes and catalogues the enormous poles on the approaching shore. As they are gently felled, the majestic cultural landmarks will creak and groan before they are prepared for transport.

It’s low resolution and grainy, but the general impression is a very powerful one.

Felling a tree, surely, not a pole at SGang Gwaay. Source: CBC.

Pitt Rivers Museum Haida Collection on flickr.com

Any idea what activity is being represented on this Haida argillite carving?

The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is one of the world’s great ethnological museums.  Indeed, it is largely presented as a “museum of a museum”, with artifacts and curios displayed in glass cases in juxtapositions that made sense to anthropologists.  Now I see they are putting some of their collection online – one of many interesting innovations going on at that museum.  The Haida Collection which Cara Krmpotich has worked on consists of 200 really well composed and lit photos on the flickr.com website.  Cara notes that she hopes making this material available in this manner will facilitate its use by Haida people and I expect they will (indeed one person with a Haida name has been commenting on some of the photos).  Coincidentally, I see there has recently been a Haida delegation to the Pitt-Rivers museum.

In any case, the flickr set is a fantastic set of images of Haida art and technology. It would be nice to have the full catalogue information or other information associated with these, or at least a statement that such information is lacking.  While there are visually spectacular items throughout the set, also check these plain spoons from SGang’gwaay, Tanu’uu and Masset,  this bird bone whistle, and this tidy little loop of twine.

Haida wooden labret at Pitt Rivers museum.

Stephen Hume kicking ass (but whose?)

Desecrated spiritual site: the Big Rock at Campbell River

Stephen Hume has written some great columns on BC archaeology and history over the years and he comes out swinging in this recent piece:

Beside Highway 3 near Keremeos, a large glacial boulder has myths attached that extend far into B.C.’s past. It’s our own Stonehenge but it’s defaced with graffiti. Not far away, somebody jackhammered out of a cliff face one of the most significant ancient rock paintings in North America. Near Campbell River, another cultural site of great significance to first nations — the Big Rock — is also covered with graffiti. On Saltspring Island, effluent filters through a grave site with government approval. Near Qualicum, the bones of persons of great importance were mixed into paving material for a parking lot.

We pay lip service to first nations culture; we trot it out when we’re on the world stage — at the Olympics, for example — but our actions betray our venal hypocrisy. When conflicts arise between private commercial gain and public protection of our now-shared ancient heritage, money seems to trump culture almost every time.

I use the term “our” to describe this heritage because we are all citizens of B.C. together, first nations and settler society, fused by our braided history. We have one shared narrative in this province. It is composed of many stories. They begin not with the recent arrival of European adventurers or Asian monks but in a far more ancient past.

When we permit the desecration of important first nations sites, it’s our shared history that we abuse and our children’s legacies that we steal.

I am not convinced that the private member’s bill to which he is refers is the answer, and in any case it died on the vine – more on that later.  And the BC Archaeology Branch is kept on a short leash through the expedient of under-funding.  But I certainly appreciate Hume’s  take-no-prisoners attitude – we need a few vocal bulldogs on the case.  Incidentally, in a parallel universe to this blog, Hume’s brother is in a UVIC archaeology class right now, so maybe another bulldog can be raised – it seems to run in the family.

Notably,  it looks like there is a move afoot to designate the Big Rock, spearheaded by Frank Assu of Cape Mudge.  Let’s hope this succeeds, and maybe we won’t see it get dressed up again as a pumpkin.

Vandalized Pictograph Boulder near Keremeos.

NW Conservation Blog

This is a nice site by an Alaskan conservator, Ellen Carrlee. She gives a ton of information about her work. For example, check out her lengthy discussion of the conservation of an archaeological Tlingit fishtrap – scroll down for pictures. Or, look at this mini-essay on waterlogged wood.