Tag Archives: Gwaii Haanas

ASBC Victoria November 21st Public Talk: Underwater Survey for Late Pleistocene Archaeological Sites, Haida Gwaii

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle on surface of Juan Perez Sound, Haida Gwaii, with Parks Canada support vessel behind.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle on surface of Juan Perez Sound, Haida Gwaii, with Parks Canada support vessel behind.

With sea levels rising by at least 120m globally at the end of the last ice age, conventional archaeological wisdom has been that sites on ancient coastlines are now deeply drowned. As is so often the case, conventional wisdom is over-simplified.  The B.C. coast is a good example, since the effect of ice weighting in some places counterbalanced the lower sea levels, meaning significant chunks of the coastal plain and paleo-coastlines were never-drowned.  Nonetheless, the underwater environment off the west coast doubtless contains thousands of early-period archaeological sites. Looking on land is more convenient, easier, cheaper, and allows one to breathe air – all good things. But looking underwater has some attractions too: methodological challenges, modelling issues, thinking about human life on a shrinking landmass, and a ridiculous amount of media coverage. The last is particularly important to University Administrators. Anyway, this month’s ASBC Victoria talk (poster, PDF) is on a project from a couple of years back which focused on attempting to find a particular kind of archaeological site on the sea floor: drowned fish weirs, especially rock wall ones, starting from the premise that such sites, which are often substantial in size,  should be confined to stream channels and might be directly visible to sidescan sonar.  For more information on the talk, click below.

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ASBC Victoria Talk: Tuesday September 16, Jenny Cohen on Paleoethnobotany of Kilgii Gwaay

2002 excavations at Kilgii Gwaay Site.

2002 excavations at Kilgii Gwaay Site.

Paleoethnobotany of Kilgii Gwaay: a 10,700 year old Ancestral Haida Archaeological Wet Site

Jenny Cohen

Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 7:30 pm

Cornett Building B129

(North End of Cornett building)

University of Victoria (map)

The Victoria Chapter of the Archaeological Society of BC (ASBC) has a long-running monthly Fall-Spring speaker series which is starting again next week.  The speaker is UVic Anthropology graduate student Jenny Cohen, speaking on results from her paleobotanical analysis of the 10,700 year old intertidal wet site, Kilgii Gwaay, in southern Haida Gwaii.  It’s a fascinating site which gives real insight into the way of life of Ancestral Haida at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition and I’m sure Jenny’s thesis, nearing completion, will be of wide interest.

If you don’t have enough Kilgii Gwaay in your life then I recommend you jump over to the Burnt Embers blog, where there are some excellent photos from the tricky intertidal excavations at that site a few years ago: Setting Up;  Keeping Water Out; Putting Water InWater Screening; and Kilgii Gwaay Finds.

Abstract: Continue reading

Association for Washington Archaeology

9,000 year old stone tools from Colville National Forest, Washington. Source: The Spokesman-Review.

I was a little surprised (and probably shouldn’t be) to find out there was an organization called the Association for Washington Archaeology – equivalent to the Archaeological Society of B.C.  They have a journal (equivalent to The Midden), and are clearly a respected avocational archaeology organization.  They have a pretty low profile, obviously: but partly this must be another symptom of the poor cross-border communication between BC, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon  – the core jurisdictions bounding the Northwest Coast.  They even have a blog called Washington Archaeology, which is only a few weeks old.  Their own link to it is both hidden under a “feedback button” and is broken: I hope that linking it here helps people find it.  There’s not much there yet, but it did lead me to a nice news roundup on the Tse-whit-zen site, and also to an interesting story on a 9,000 year old site in the Colville National Forest, near a town called Republic – just south of the Canadian border close to Grand Forks BC. (map).  Continue reading

Annotation: Collison Bay

Annotation of the Collison Bay night-time, low tide excavations.

The Collison Bay site in Haida Gwaii  posed some unusual challenges, some natural and others of our own making.  The site is found in the intertidal zone and dates, like the Kilgii Gwaay site about 10 km away, to a brief window about 10,700 calendar years ago.  I posted the above picture before, but without annotation.  That previous post describes something of the site formation processes, which mean a site which was terrestrial when occupied is now in the intertidal zone, and excavation must take place between the tides.

Looking at the above, you can see we didn’t plan for the tides very well!  other projects required us to be elsewhere and when it was Collison Bay’s turn, the low tides were in the middle of the night.  This meant we had to get up at midnight to work until about 6.00 in the morning the first night to catch the falling tide, then we got up about 12.45, then about 1.30, and so on: tracking the procession of the low tides.  So, to the inherent complications of working in the intertidal zone we did it in the dark, running electric lights from a generator.  This actually worked really well and data recovery was excellent – we dug there on another occasion in the daytime (see below) and there was no real difference in quality of work.  Also part way through this project we were working until mid-morning and could see pretty well!

The site includes numerous water-worn stone tools on the surface and in the upper beach deposits, but in the lower beach deposits the tools are pristine and show no signs of water-rolling.  In many cases they lie flat, also suggesting a lack of disturbance, and they are encased in a thin, brown layer of jelly-like material which is the organic remains of a degraded soil.  Unlike at Kilgii Gwaay, there is no survival of bone or wood.  Nonetheless, the stone tools are very similar to that site, and speak to a terminal Pleistocene technological approach using discoidal and uni-directional cores to create large blade-like flakes.  Too much information for some readers I bet – but the take home message is this way of making stone tools might be peculiar to the  Pacific Rim and not the continental interior and therefore might, perhaps, maybe, one day, turn out to have significance for the coastal route of the First Peopling of the Americas.

Pristine, sharp blade-like flakes used as stone tools from 10,700 year old deposits in the beach at Collison Bay. Flake on right is about 6 cm long. Photo: D. Fedje

Establishing an excavation unit as soon as feasible on a falling tide to maximize digging window.

Videos of Gwaii Haanas Archaeology

Daryl braves the barrage of bras to set the Vancouver Aquarium straight on the value of dead fish over living fish. Click to play part 1.

Rockwash superstars Nicole and Daryl show off their cool wares in a couple of videos I just found online – I vaguely remember them going off to give this talk at the Vancouver Aquarium.  It’s in two parts: 1 and 2.  Nicole looks fabulous and Daryl has trimmed his beard!  Win-Win.  The projects they describe sure were a lot of fun to take part in.   There are a few other talks up including Lyle Dick and Norm Sloan on Sea Otters on the Gwaii Haanas Youtube Channel.

A sandhill crane is a tough act fo follow but Nicole hammers home the righteous message of dead fish. Click to play part 2.