Tag Archives: fish

Old Enoch’s New Fishtrap

Old Enoch; was the builder of all fish traps; in the background is one he has just completed, made from young Jack pine and lashed together with wild rose roots.

Old Enoch ca. 1910; was the builder of all fish traps; in the background is one he has just completed, made from young Jack pine and lashed together with wild rose roots.  Source: BC Archives: https://goo.gl/uGtVo4

Not every blog post has to be an essay, sometimes we can just admire the slightly smug look on a smiling guy who is good at making fishtraps, and knows it. And obviously I’m kidding about the essay part.

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Tree Cache

Salmon cache in tree, Yale BC, date unknown but probably 1865ish, Maynard collection but probably by Dally. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/kaixsc

Salmon cache boxes in tree, Yale BC, date unknown but probably 1865ish, Maynard collection but probably by Dally. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/kaixsc

Last post we (the Royal We, always, please) looked at some salmon mass harvesting technology from north central BC.  But what do you do with all those fish?  They need to be processed into a stable form for storage, and then cached somewhere, somehow. While there are lots of ways to skin a coho, I’m going to focus on some extraordinary photos from the Yale area on the lower Fraser River, late 1860s.The above shows four large box-like structures, identified as a salmon cache, high in a tree presumably to help protect them from scavengers.  I say “presumably” because there may be another reason to do so.  Continue reading

Getting Some Weir Looks

Stone wall fishing structure being used near Hagwilget, LowerBulkley River near Skeena River, Wet'suwet'en Territory, ca. 1910. Source: BC Archives

Stone wall fishing structure being used near Hagwilget, LowerBulkley River just upstream of confluence with Skeena River at ‘Ksan and Gitanmaax, Wet’suwet’en Territory, ca. 1910. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/EKKB2S

This post is just a random collection of lesser-known historic images of fish weirs and traps from the Northwest Coast and Interior. There’s lots to learn for archaeologists from historic pictures generally, but the way that images circulate and are reproduced means we often see the same ones over and over again. I’ve found a few archival pics which may be familiar to some, but possibly novel to many.

For example, the picture above shows a surprisingly large (to me) stone weir near Hagwilget Canyon, which is a major fishing station on the Bulkley River. I think it must be in the large kidney-shaped pool just downstream of the bridge (map). While the main structure may be partially or wholly a natural cobble bar feature, to the left there is a smaller weir that definitely appears cultural. Note the drying structures and smoke houses in the background, detail below.

Drying fish in structures at Hagwilget, ca. 1890s. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/4aAy6w

Drying fish in structures at Hagwilget, ca. 1890s. Source: BC Archives https://goo.gl/4aAy6w

We discussed  Hagwilget once before when looking at the incredible bridge which used to span the river.  At that time I complained about copyright claims, and my opinion still holds when it comes to material digitized by public agencies. Anyway, the successor to the original Hagwilget bridge  bridge was not much more reassuring, and even the present day bridge is pretty hairy for the faint of butt.  Continue reading

Cod Bones and the Fish Trade

Cod bones (cleithra) recovered from the Mary Rose, with a stained modern example for comparison. Credit: Sheila Hamilton-Dyer

Cod bones (cleithra) recovered from the Mary Rose, with a stained modern example for comparison. Credit: Sheila Hamilton-Dyer

So the Upward Sun post yesterday was based partially on a combined ancient DNA and stable isotope analysis of ancient salmon bones. This triggered one of my own fossil memories of a cool, recent case study from England of all places.  Indeed, not far from my alma mater Southampton, which in some ways forms the intellectual antipodal point to Blog World Headquarters (now temporarily ensconced in this hellhole).  So the case study concerns tracking the 16th century trade or acquisition network of cod bones across the North Atlantic, based on a large comparative dataset of bones from many different region and a sample of cod bones from the Mary Rose, a sunken warship of King Henry VIII dating to 1545.  Relevance to the Northwest Coast is unclear but possible.  Bear with me, it gets a little long.  And I’m totally not a fish guy.

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Mercury Rising

Excavations at the Mink Island site, XMK-164., Katmai, Alaska. Source: ADN.com

Excavations at the Mink Island site, XMK-164., Katmai, Alaska. Source: ADN.com

Some news just puts the fear of Cod into you. For example, there’s an interesting study from earlier this year which suggests that rising sea levels in the Alaskan middle Holocene (in the study: roughly 7,000 to 4,000 years ago) released methyl mercury compounds into the nearshore environment (Open Source paper by Maribeth Murray et al., 2015). These then accumulated in fish, specifically Pacific Cod, Gadus macrocephalus, and presumably also in other species which predate upon these cod, such as humans. It’s an interesting preliminary study, but before you think, “Oh My Gadus, Ancient Alaskans were Mad Hatters running amok with mercury-induced neuropathy”, there are some important details to consider.

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Herring Spawn and Beyond

Herring "spawn drying in the sun near Sitka Alaska", ca. 1900. Source: Sealaska Heritage Institute, Richard Wood Collection. http://goo.gl/y8NF2h

Herring “spawn drying in the sun near Sitka Alaska”, ca. 1900. Source: Sealaska Heritage Institute, Richard Wood Collection. http://goo.gl/y8NF2h

Herring are taking Northwest Coast archaeology by storm.  A series of key insights and publications has pulled these little fish into the heart of our reconstructions of subsistence – across the entire coast, and into its deepest history.  It’s an interesting development which highlights once again how prone archaeologists can be to a myopic faith in our received models: salmon and cedar speak the loudest and it turns out we needed an aid in hearing herring.

Herring were valued in two very different ways: as delicious food in their own right, and for their eggs, which they would spawn in prodigious numbers in the nearshore, often on kelp or on conifer branches, which could even be placed in the water by people for this purpose. The spawn fishery would leave little or no durable archaeological evidence, and perhaps has been correspondingly underestimated by local researchers. Eating the fish themselves has left a widespread, robust record, yet one which has also been underestimated.  All this by way of introducing the picture above, which I haven’t seen reproduced elsewhere, showing gobs of dried herring spawn near Sitka, Alaska. It’s from the excellent online photo archives of the Sealaska Heritage Institute. Each of those clumps is like a rich, nutrient-dense, yet storable, delicious marine omelet.

The emerging archaeology of herring is too big a topic for a mere blog to cover, but click onwards for a couple more comments and links.

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Alaskan Fish Weir Photos

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946.  Click to see video.  Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

Screen shot from video of men building a fish weir near Atka, ca. 1946. Click to see video. Source: http://vilda.alaska.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/cdmg11/id/37038/rec/36

So, still rustling around the weird world of weirs.  The online Alaskan archives have quite a few interesting examples – and, kind of remarkably, a video showing the construction of a weir near Atka, which is on the Aleutian Islands.   The trap in the video is pretty similar to a couple of other Aleutian ones in the collection, which I’ll talk about below. It’s really cool to not only see a more-or-less traditional trap being built (look at the rocks being casually dropped down by the wooden fence!) but the photos also show weirs actually in use. There’s probably a lot to learn from these pictures – as any introductory textbook in archaeology will tell you, the more we know about the behavioural context of a given site type, the more we can reliably infer the cultural context when presented only with the archaeological remains.

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