Tag Archives: Culturally Modified Tree

‘Namgis Arborglyph

Dawn Cramer inspects an arborglyph deep in the heart of the Nimpkish Valley.  Photo courtesy of the 'Namgis Nation via Jim Stafford

Dawn Cramer inspects an arborglyph deep in the heart of the Nimpkish Valley. Photo courtesy of the ‘Namgis Nation via Jim Stafford

Hard on the heels of my recent post on a newly discovered arborglyph in Klahoose traditional territory, I’ve heard of another one in ‘Namgis territory, in the Nimpkish Valley on Northeastern Vancouver Island.  Local archaeologist and friend of this blog Jim Stafford, who owns the well-regarded Coast Interior Archaeology company (which has a long relationship with the ‘Namgis), sent me the following note and some photographs which are cleared for publication here.  There is also an account of the arborglyph in this PDF document (a newsletter) from the ‘Namgis. Jim writes:

Please find attached images of the arborglyph we found recently in the heart of the Nimpkish Valley.  The photos are provided courtesy of the ‘Namgis Nation and Dawn Cranmer is pictured in two of the photos.  I’ve also included an image of a ‘bark board’ we found nearby with Lee Waddams pictured. Continue reading

Klahoose Arborglyph

Klahoose Arborglyph Ceremony. Source: Klahoose First Nation.

Klahoose Arborglyph Ceremony. Source: Klahoose First Nation.

There has been a mini-flurry of new arborglyphs found in BC – well two of them –  but they are extraordinarily rare.  First up for this blog is the example above, which comes from Klahoose First Nation territory, roughly around Toba Inlet in the extreme NE corner of the Salish Sea (map).  This human face was carved into a tree some time in the 19th century.  It’s in rather stunning condition, setting aside the cut block it finds itself in.  Risk of blowdown is probably why, after appropriate ceremony, it has been moved to the Klahoose offices at T’oq (Squirrel Cove).  As the page describes:

The Klahoose Cultural Leader Norman Harry Sr. and a Tla’amin Cultural Leader Erik Blaney witnessed and performed a ceremony to ensure cultural protocol was observed. The heartfelt moments before the tree was harvested was both moving and surreal on that snowy winter Friday. Needless to say that the emotional event was a historical moment for those who witnessed.

Continue reading

In-SHUCK-ch Cedar Bark Stripping Gallery

Pulling a cedar bark strip. The scarred face will heal in a highly characteristic way. Source: In-SHUCK-ch live.com (click)

I came across a nice set of 18 pictures of members of the In-SHUCK-ch First Nation stripping cedar bark for use in traditional manufactures, especially basketry, cordage, matting, and clothing.  This nation is on the lower Fraser in the general Lillooet-Harrison Lake area.  It’s true you have to turn your head sideways on a lot of the pictures, but at the same time you would have to crane your head way back if you were stripping bark, so that’s ok.  Continue reading

Making a stone tool, 1893

1893 flint-knapping description by Father Morice. Source: Canadiana.org

Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice was a Catholic missionary working in the Skeena and Bulkley River areas of western British Columbia during the later 19th century.  He is perhaps best known for his documentation and writing system for the “Carrier” (Yinka Dene) language, but he also published a major work entitled Notes Archaeological, Industrial and Technological of the Western Denes, with an Ethnographical Sketch of the Same (1893).  The work is a cornucopia of careful observation mixed with some interesting, and occasionally rather religiously judgmental and speculative, commentaries.  One of the most interesting short passages is excerpted above: Morice records how to make stone tools via flaking.  Because metal tools became widely available in the early historical period and had some superior qualities, such accounts of traditional flaked stone (the bread and butter of archaeological sites) are very rare.  The figure above appears accurate in its description of the slightly awkward-seeming way of holding the stone: I have seen this palm grip used by many contemporary flintknappers.  Elsewhere, Morice records a series of Yinka Dene names for different stones, including chalcedony and obsidian.  You can page through his book, but not download it in entirety, here at Canadiana.org. The illustration above is from Page 65 on the drop down menu.  (Why they don’t just make a link to the whole PDF is beyond me).  There are other informative sections, such as about 10 pages describing the operation of fish-traps and weirs.

Fish trap illustrated in Morice 1893. Source: Canadiana.org

One Tree, Four Canoes

"Making 4 canoes from one cedar tree, Olympic Loop, Queets, Washington.

Yesterday I posted on canoe steaming.  In the process of preparing that, I ran across an eye-popping photograph, above.  Seriously, I have been working on Northwest Coast Archaeology for over two decades.  I have a pretty good memory.

But I’d never seen this picture before, which shows four dugout canoes being made from a single red cedar felled on the Queets River, Washington State.  Click it for pretty high resolution.  This would presumably be territory of the Queets Tribe, who are now part of the Coast Salish speaking Quinalt Indian Nation.  Imagine the complex and revealing archaeological site left behind: the wood shavings, the planks, the skids, broken tools, coffee cups … years ago I worked on an excavation of a Culturally Modified Tree Site in Clayoquot Sound and we found superbly preserved wooden wedges, woodchips and other evidence of intensive logging and carpentry — evidence which, given the durability of cedar, could easily last for centuries.  Such a contrast to those sites dominated by stone tools: wood was where it was at on the Northwest Coast and yet archaeologically we see much less of it, and think about it less, than we ought to.

I don’t know much more about this picture than the caption.  If you do, then leave a comment!

Makah whaling canoes on the beach at Neah Bay. These are stylistically similar to the ones being made above and to the one being steamed in yesterday's video.

Canoe Steaming

Carl and Joe Martin steam a canoe near Tofino. Click to play video.

The Northwest Coast is rightly famous for the superb dugout canoes made by First Nations, a craft which continues to the present day.  It takes weeks or months to carve  a canoe from a single log of red cedar – imagine then the tension inherent in having a big part of the success or failure “boil down” to a single event the steaming process.  The video above shows master carvers Joe and Carl Martin of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation steaming a canoe at a beach near Tofino, on western Vancouver Island.

Steaming softens the cedar and makes it more flexible, allowing the insertion of carefully-measured, carefully-planned wooden spacers which spread the middle of the canoe into a graceful curve, increasing its buoyancy, resistance to capsizing, and introducing subtle yet beautiful lines, as seen in this enormous example mis-labelled (I think) as Salish.  After the canoe cools and dries, the wood returns to its natural properties. The process means the canoe can in principle be wider than the single piece of cedar from which it is carved.

You can click here to see a slide show of the steaming of a Haida canoe carved by the team of Jaalen Edenshaw and his father Guujaw. In the old times, a canoe might be roughed out in the bush then hauled to the beach for finishing.  Sometimes flaws in the wood or other interruptions mean a canoe was never finished.  Such half-finished vessels are a known, but uncommon archaeological site in the woods of coastal British Columbia.

The carving of such canoes is increasingly common.  Nowadays, the canoe log is likely to be hauled to a carving shed.  Sadly, a major constraint  on canoe construction is the difficulty in obtaining prime, straight, clear, old-growth cedar logs.

Partially finished Haida canoe in forest. Photo by Martin Lalune.


calvert island face

Carved face on a Calvert Island tree. Photo: Dan Leen.

I’ve mentioned Dan Leen’s excellent web page before.  When I was on Teredo N. with him I heard many excellent stories including how he came across a spectacular carved tree on Calvert Island, near Namu.  Finally I get to see what he meant.  This strikes me as the work of a trippy bush hippy (and maybe Dan himself, heh) more than a NW Coast thing, but it is fun nonetheless.

Incidentally, “Arborglyph” is a Frankenstein word melding Greek and Latin roots and should probably be replaced with “dendroglyph”, which is also easier to say.