Tag Archives: Haida Gwaii

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.

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.

Council of the Haida Nation Youth Videos

Scene from Our World, a film created by Kiefer Collison.

The Council of the Haida Nation has an informative website with many links to documents and other material, giving a vivid picture of the vibrancy, and challenges, of contemporary Haida culture.

Among the interesting items on that page, the “Our World” series of short videos which deftly mix ancient and modern are particularly worth checking out:

These are the among the visions of young Haida today.

Annotation: Gaadu Din 2

Gaadu Din 2 is an archaeological site in a small limestone cave in Haida Gwaii.  It is a narrow, sinuous cave which probably was used on occasion by denning bears during the Younger Dryas cold period at the end of the Pleistocene:.  Currently it is at about 100 metres above sea level and 500 metres from the shore, but when occupied it was as much as 200 metres above the then-lower sea levels and up to 5 km from the shore.  The logistics of bringing excavation equipment to this mountainside location are significant, as is the care required by Parks Canada’s rigorous standards for the proper treatment and rehabilitation of karst post-project.

Among the interesting features of this cave is its very flat floor and very dry interior.  Thus, while narrow and cramped, it would have also offered some reasonable shelter to humans near the entrance, where there would have been daylight.  Based on this and other hints, we conducted a brief excavation at the entrance and quickly established that there had been – on at least four occasions spanning over 1,000 years — a small campfire built, around which people did a small amount of stone tool repair.  This was between about 10,800 and 13,000 years ago.  Probably this cave was used as a staging post for winter-time bear hunting in the other caves in the area, and bears may have been hunted in this cave itself as well.  You can imagine them, the day of the successful hunt, spending the night at this entrance, warming themselves by the fire, telling stories of the day’s dramatic events, and tweaking their toolkit to be ready for the next.

In any case, it is a remarkable thought that on at least four discrete occasions, separated by centuries, people came to this cave and built a fire in the same place as their ancestors had done.  It was a privilege to sit where they sat and, together with Haida archaeologists descended from these hunters, to recover the clues they left behind, which may well form the oldest known archaeological site in Canada.  There is no space here to relate all we know from these caves but suffice it to say for now that these are heritage sites that reveal not only hunting practices but the spirituality which surrounds those hunting practices and continues to inform and imbue Haida respect for bears to this day.

It is fortunate that these caves lie within Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, but many similar caves in BC, with similar materials undoubtedly within them, do not share this protection and are commonly destroyed.  This is because there is both insufficient protection for karst as a special landform with unique ecological attributes, and  a general lack of appreciation within the archaeological community about the potential that such caves hold for archaeological sites of the highest possible significance.

Another Haida Argillite Pipe for Sale

Haida panel pipe, nineteenth century.

A few days ago I featured photographs of a stunning 19th century Haida argillite pipe for sale at a UK web site.  They have a second pipe for sale, a more complex design but in poorer condition.  The photos are similarly revealing of carving strokes and rock grain; even more so in some ways as this piece appears to be unfinished.  The design is complex focusing on Raven and Bear (not the Frog as the description below says, I don’t think), but it is not for me to try to decode the story being told.

The description is given as follows:

19thC. HAIDA ARGILLITE PIPE PANEL. #asc004 #asc004

Probably from the Raven Tribe, the panel carved with various mythological figures including a raven, a man, a frog and the thunder bird, this is possibly part of a larger panel and the top has been slightly filed flat for mounting on a stand, (not photographed). Overall 13.5cm.

From the Haida tribes of the Northwest Pacific Coast of British Columbia and Queen Charlotte Island

£2,500.00

Again, for posterity, here are nine views of this pipe: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.  As I noted before, while not as sharp as the other set, these photographs surpass most of what one finds on many, many museum sites, where the rule seems to be: offer a single view of an object, offer it at low resolution, do not allow direct hyperlinks to the file, and break the URL as soon as possible.

Front view of panel pipe.

Top view of pipe.

Even more on the Wilson Duff – SGang Gwaay Musical

Haida House and pole. Source: Duff and Kew, 1957.

A month or two ago I made several posts (1 , 2, 3) about a forthcoming musical called Beyond Eden, which tells the story of the 1957 expedition to ‘rescue’ poles from the Haida Town of SGang Gwaay (PDF).

I notice The Tyee has a very good overview of this musical (which opens tonight) including some comments from Roy Jones Sr. of Skidegate, last seen on this blog as a young man climbing poles in 1957 CBC archival footage.  Says The Tyee:

Now in his mid-80s, he is reflective about the experience, having enjoyed the physical work and the company of members of the crew — but about cutting the poles? “It didn’t feel right,” he said. However, the Skidegate Band Council had approved the work and many felt it was the right thing to do. Further to that, Jones was on a recent trip to The Chicago Field Museum and saw one of the poles taken from Skedans (an expedition he was also on). “If they hadn’t taken it at that time, it would have been ruined, I think,” he said.

It is good to see some Haida perspective on both the events of 1957 and on this musical.  I also didn’t realize Nathalie at the Qay museum was a student of Wilson Duff’s — I’ll have to buy her a coffee and pump her for stories next time I am up on the islands. It’s a good article — The Tyee is doing some of the best journalism in BC right now.

Poster for "Beyond Eden" musical. Click to buy tickets; scroll down for title song.

Haida Argillite Pipe: High Resolution Pictures

Detail: Haida Argillite Pipe ca. 1880. http://www.antiquearms.co.uk

I occasionally complain about the lousy pictures that professional organizations put on the web.  I guess I should know that when you have something to sell, you put it’s best face forward; when you don’t, you might not care as much.  Check out the high resolution pictures of this Haida argillite pipe for sale (4,800 GBP).  Multiple angles of the pipe, each one sharp and crisp: you can see each stroke of the knife and the grain of the slate.  Yes there is some glare but the images are much better than most museums make available on the web.  Amazing stuff.

Described as:

19thC. HAIDA ARGILLITE EFFIGY PIPE. #4213 #4213

a bowl carved in the form of a European sailor’s head with large rounded eyes and long straight nose, a figure seated astride the stem also with large rounded eyes and long straight nose and with arms extended wearing European costume with a stripe incised along the sides of the tunic arms and the trousers. Overall 20cm. From the tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, principily Northern Columbia and Queen Charlotte Island. 20cm

This pipe was brought back and formed part of the collection of John Madden (1837-1902) of Hilton Park Clones Co, Monaghan Ireland, he left the Irish family estate at the age of 24 to travel by horse across the eastern states of America as far as the Great Lakes just before the start of the Civil War. During his later travels between 1870-1890 he is known to have reached British Columbia where he bought this pipe, it stayed in the family home until the collection was sold at an auction of part of the contents of Hilton Park on the 8th July 1985 where this item was aquired.

For the record, here are the seven views offered by the dealer: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Haida Pipe: detail as if looking down the stem to the bowl.