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.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, archives, First Nations, Northwest Interior, Technology
Tagged fish, fish traps, fishing, salmon, Skeena River, weirs
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
Posted in Archaeology, First Nations, history, Lower Mainland, Northwest Interior, Technology
Tagged caches, fish, fishing, salmon, storage, tree caches, Yale
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.
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 (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.
Excavations at the Upward Sun River Site, Tanana Valley, Alaska. Photo: Ben Potter via adn.com
There’s been quite a bit of buzz surrounding a new paper by Carrin Halffman et al. documenting the use of salmon at the Upward Sun River Site (more) which is on the Tanana River: a tributary of the Yukon River, but about 1,400 kilometres upstream from the ocean (and much further still from the paleo-rivermouth during Beringian times). The authors report this as both the earliest evidence of salmon exploitation in the Americas, and the first evidence of Pleistocene salmon use. The first I am on board with, the second I may quibble a little with lower down. (And this is all assuming we don’t consider eastern Beringia to be effectively part of Asia at this time!). But it’s a remarkable find and a very carefully researched and presented paper. [edit: be sure to read comments from Ben Potter below which tweaks some information in this post.]
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, Northwest Interior
Tagged alaska, Beringia, first peopling, fishing, salmon, Tanana River, Upward Sun River, Yukon River, zooarchaeology
A while back I found the cool picture above in an online exhibit of the Whatcom Museum showing photographs of Point Roberts and Lummi Island, on Puget Sound just south of the Canadian border. Reef netting is a peculiarly Straits Salish technology which involved the setting of complex nets, suspended between two canoes, at strategic locations where the natural flow of salmon was constrained. A sort of on-ramp led the fish up to the net by creating a gentle optical illusion of a rising bottom. When the salmon were milling around in the horizontal net, still free, the canoes would be suddenly swung together, closing the net and trapping the salmon.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Technology, underwater archaeology, Vancouver Island, Washington State
Tagged fishing, Lummi, organic technology, reef netting, Salish, Salish Sea, salmon, Straits Salish
Building Koeye Weir. Photo by Grant Callegari via indiegogo.
There’s a pretty amazing new construction on the on the Koeye River (pronounced roughly “kwaay”) on the central coast of B.C. (map). A team has built a traditional style wooden-weir across the river, and are using it for fishery management – trapping, counting, measuring, and gently releasing salmon at the end (and start) of their life cycle. The construction has been documented at the willatlas.com blog, including some amazing photos, and there are posts on the Hakai Beach Institute blog as well. Even better, there is a short documentary. This is actually is a teaser for a longer documentary, which is in the fund-raising stage, and I don’t mind using this blog as a platform to bring this really great project to people’s attention. You can see their fundraising page here.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, First Nations, Northwest Coast, Technology
Tagged aboriginal fisheries, fish traps, fish weirs, fishing, Heiltsuk, Koeye River, salmon, traditional use, weirs
Fishing at the Dalles, 1850, pencil drawing by George Catlin. Source: NYPL.
I’m probably the last person to get the memo that you can fire a harpoon with a bow and arrow. In fact, I only just got my head around firing a harpoon with an atlatl. Anyway, take a squint at the picture above – the figure in the lower left background is clearly shooting a harpoon-arrow from his bow. The picture is from about 1850 and is a pencil drawing of a scene at The Dalles, on the Columbia River. I’ll take a closer look at this picture below. Continue reading
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Oregon, Technology, Washington State
Tagged bow and arrow, Chinook, Columbia River, fishing, harpoons, Oregon, salmon, The Dalles, Washington State
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.
Dense fish trap / weir in an Oregon estuary. Source: Byram pdf @ WARP website
(edit: I completely stupidly mixed up who did the poster under discussion. Apologies all around, fixed the text below)
I mentioned the Wetland Archaeology Research Project (WARP) and their revamped website once before in reference to Nancy Greene’s pioneering fishtrap work at Comox. I’m glad to see they have another interesting conference-style poster available for download, this one by Robert Losey (now at the University of Alberta) Scott Byram on the topic of Oregon fish weirs in unusual settings (PDF).
If a cow patch strikes you as an unusual setting, of course.