Tag Archives: Fraser River

Still selling First Nations’ Archaeological Heritage

Coast Salish artifacts for sale at Granny and Grumpa's store. Photo: B. Thom

Coast Salish artifacts for sale at Granny and Grumpa’s store, Abbotsford, B.C.. Photo: B. Thom

I like hanging around junk shops as much as anyone, in fact more than most, if my new Monkey-Darwin-Skull office lamp is anything to go by. Very occasionally will I see a local archaeological artifact in one of these shops.  However, my colleague at my day job (yes I have a job, honest), Dr. Brian Thom, sent me some pictures and an account of his encounter with a very large collection of Coast Salish artifacts.  And they’re for sale.

Now, Brian may have the most magnificent Star Trek memorabilia collection to sit squarely atop the 49th parallel, but no sites were harmed in his collecting behaviour. The law around the ownership and sale of ancient artifacts in B.C. is regrettably unclear (as was hashed out in the fractious comments of this previous blog post and here too: 1, 2, 3).  As I note lower down,  below Brian’s comments, some of the clearest direction on this front comes not from the Act, but from recent public statements from BC Archaeology Branch director Justine Batten.  It’s always tempting to write some huge essay when I’m trying to figure something out, but it’d be better to let Brian kick things off. His commentary and links are below, reproduced with his permission.

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Bridge River Housepit Geophysics

Magnetometry map of the Bridge River Site housepits. Source: Prentiss et al. 2009

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see what was underground without having to go through the time-consuming, expensive and destructive process of digging it up?  There are some nice geophysics techniques in archaeology for doing just that, though none are yet a substitute for excavation.  I noticed the other day (and you were quizzed on it) that there is a very comprehensive recent report online (45 meg PDF) by Anna Marie Prentiss and colleagues, on work at the middle Fraser pithouse village of Bridge River (EeRl-4).  This village lies in the territory of Bridge River Band (Xwisten) and the St’át’imc Nation.  While there is a huge amount of archaeological interest across the 350 page report as a whole, it was the use of geophysics on an interior pithouse village which got my attention.

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Katzie Artifact Gallery

Ground stone celts (adze and chisel blades). Source: Katzie.ca

Hmmm: the pictures are low resolution, there isn’t much annotation, many are of replicas, and the page design HTML is wonky, causing a lot of sideways scrolling.  Yet I really like the Katzie First Nation’s artifact gallery.  And no, its not only because they give ground stone its rightful pride of place.  Though, in the image above, feast your eyes on the uppermost left specimen – an unusual yet definitive example of a broad celt being bisected to form two narrow ones.  In essence, an adze is being turned into two chisels.  Chew on that, Spaulding and Ford. Also check out the specimens in the centre-right, where the sharpened bits differ in colour from the bodies.  These are either patinated specimens subsequently reground and recycled, or speak to a process of heat treating or oiling or similar to enhance the raw material.  You could read all about this in my M.A. thesis if it were online, which it isn’t.  Or wasn’t until five minutes ago.  But I digress.

What I like is the text associated with these images.

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Historic Sketchbook of Heywood W. Seton-Karr

Portrait of Kilipoodken by Heywood Seton-Karr, ca. 1890. Source: Alaska Digital Archives.

I’ve just come across a remarkable sketchbook in the Alaskan digital archives.  It covers the wide-ranging travels of one Heywood W. Seton-Karr, a British Army officer, big game hunter, amateur archaeologist, and talented artist (about whom, more below).  While I could probably fill 10 blog posts from this sketchbook, (and may do so!) a very interesting find is the portrait sketch above.  The caption reads,

Kilipoodken. Ind. [Cheif]  of La Fontaine Libooet. H.W.S-K. B.C.90.

This certainly refers to the Xaxli’p First Nation, also known as the Fountain First Nation, one of the Lillooet (not Libooet!) Tribal Council from the central Fraser River region of British Columbia.  Since googling for “Kilipoodken” only returns the Alaska Digital archives source, it seems to me possible that this mislabelled portrait is unknown to the Xaxli’p Nation, where it is more than likely some of this Chief’s descendants still live.   I hope they find this portrait.

Otherwise, there is much of interest in these sketchbooks. Continue reading

“Correct Map of the Gold Diggings”: May 20th, 1858

Detail of 1858 Map of Fraser Gold Diggings. Click for full image.

From UBC, this interesting 1858 San Francisco broadsheet “The Pictorial Newsletter of California” (large JPG file).  Most of the text is mundane births and deaths, but the map above from it is a lot of fun.  It’s especially interesting to see the “Cowitchin” Village at New Westminster.  Now, “Cowitchin” was often used as a generic term for many Coast Salish people in the early historic period.  But note too, just upriver at Fort Langley, a “Ninnimuch” Village, presumably Snuneymuxw First Nation, also known historically as the “Nanaimo” people, whose core territory would be on east Central Vancouver Island.  There are lots of reports of Vancouver Island nations paddling up and down past Fort Langley so its not that much of a surprise, but rather a nice testament to the extensive regional trade and, perhaps, permeable social networks in place across the greater Gulf of Georgia. It also makes me think the “Cowitchin Village” might indeed really be Cowichan. It’s notable the “Pinkslitsa River” (Harrison River) is the only lower tributary mapped, probably because it was an important route in and out of the middle Fraser, bypassing the canyon.  It’s a nice map, it’s early, and I’d never seen it before, so thanks to UBC and their Early BC Newspapers page.

Detail of 1858 map showing "Cowitchin" and "Ninnimuch" Villages on Lower Fraser.

From the UBC notes:  Pictorial News Letter of California: for the Steamer John L. Stephens San Francisco: Hutchings & Rosenfield; Charles F. Robbins, Printer, 1858

“Issued exactly one month after the first steamer left San Francisco headed for the Fraser (Bancroft p. 359), this appears to be the first separate publication relating to the Fraser River Gold Rush, and the first map published to illustrate the area for potential gold-seekers.”

You can also download a short PowerPoint file here, and there is an overview essay here.

Lousy conservation at the Vancouver Museum?

Shoddy conservation of magnificent petroglyph boulder at the Vancouver Museum. Screenshot from VM website.

For some reason mistreatment of rock art just makes me spitting mad.  I posted the other day about a magnificent petroglyph boulder that was removed from its home on the central Fraser River near Lillooet in 1926.  Bad enough that this work of art was ripped from its setting to be a curio in an urban park.  Petroglyphs are not ornaments for your outdoor rock garden any more than they are lifestyle amenities deployed as advertising copy, even if you are a museum.

Now my spies tell me that this petroglyph boulder was moved to the Vancouver Museum in 1992.  Pictures of the boulder on the VM website show it to be in absolutely appalling shape.  It is covered with moss, the designs are visibly eroded and faint, there are signs of exfoliation, and the large crack seen in 1926 seems to be getting larger.   The Vancouver Museum appears to be keeping this treasure in a damp, shady, spot in the outdoors (as they say, it is in a “lower level garden courtyard”) and there is no sign of any attention to basic, fundamental conservation responsibilities. They even have the gall to note in their website description “Today archaeologists are reluctant to reveal the locations of petrogylphs, lest they be disturbed.”  Well I am revealing the location of this petroglyph, which is being disturbed by careless curation!

Seriously: this boulder is one of only a few petroglyphs from that part of the province, where pictographs are much more common.  It was in pristine condition in 1926.  Now it is a moss-ridden crumbling mess.  This boulder is a cultural masterpiece.  It is a provincial treasure.  It is a national treasure.  It is of international significance.  And yet it is being absolutely neglected by a leading cultural institution.  Imagine an Emily Carr painting being treated so poorly.  Imagine a Bill Reid sculpture  treated so shabbily.  It would never happen.  Yet this boulder is as important, is MORE important, and is consigned to rot away metres from state of the art curatorial facilities which are being devoted to white leather pant suits (!!).  It is astonishing to me that they put this boulder on the web at all, suggesting that they don’t see a problem and are therefore unworthy to be in possession of it.  They should make arrangements immediately to have it transferred to a suitable institution or have it returned to its original setting, in what I take to be St’at’imc territory

Vancouver Museum, you have a responsibility of professional stewardship.  Are you living up to it?

Note the eroded engravings and extensive moss/algae cover. Source: VM website screenshot.

The boulder in the early 1930s, soon after it was brought to Stanley Park. Note the crispness of the designs and the lack of moss.

Geist: Memory and the Valley Photo Essay

Sxwòyeqs (The Place that Everyone Died) | Stave Lake. Source: Geist Magazine.

A while ago I linked to a beautiful photo-essay from Geist Magazine on decaying towns on the BC coast.  I see they have another excellent photo essay, this one on the subject of the superposition of Euro-Canadian towns and spaces onto Aboriginal archaeological sites and significant places.  The text by Sandra Shields and David Campion is sensitive and evocative and the photographs are well taken — in some ways they are banal – an overpass, and access road – yet knowing what lies underneath triggers emotional reactions. UVIC’s own Duncan McLaren is featured as well so it must be a good article – Stave Lake (above) has two of the oldest archaeological sites in Canada (each more than 12,000 years old), parts of which miraculously survived the reservoir inundation.

The Geist authors are interviewed here, which is also well worth reading:

Interviewer: it’s not only peo­ple that are miss­ing in “Memory and the Valley”; you touch on the dis­ap­pear­ing salmon, the white pine, the waters drained away. There’s def­i­nitely that tone of loss through­out the whole work.

Campion: That is why we’re hav­ing the exhibit here in the old city hall in Chilliwack, with a wall of the orig­i­nal pio­neers look­ing down on the work. It’s because you strug­gle with these two nar­ra­tives. One says: When Canada started, we came to a land that had no peo­ple in it and we strug­gled really hard and made a won­der­ful life for our­selves and a future for our chil­dren. Whereas, for abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, it’s a story of huge pain and suf­fer­ing, and a huge loss of peo­ple to dis­ease, even before con­tact. Then res­i­den­tial schools, cul­tural mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and so on.

So you’ve got this prob­lem at the base of Canadian soci­ety. For soci­ety as a whole to move for­ward, we need to find a way to acknowl­edge that loss, not just to have it mean some­thing in that on/off, negative/positive sense. As non-Natives, we need to find a way to absorb the real­i­ties of our com­ing here into our national narrative.

The notion of a “palimpsest” in archaeology is common, borrowed from manuscript studies: parchments would be scraped clean and re-used, yet, the older writing can still be seen and read, a ghostly precursor image.  Writing over writing, material culture over material culture, names over names and the living over the dead.  Every time you walk across the concrete apron in front of the MacPherson Library at UVIC you walk across an archaeological site.  Every time you leave the Elliot Lecture hall you walk across a site.  The Legislature is on a site, the Fraser Arms Hotel, the Willows Beach Tea House, all superimposed, a collective blotting.  Our feet tread the scraped parchment of the dead.

Leq’á:mél | Nicomen Island