Tag Archives: Haida Gwaii

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.

Annotation: Richardson Island Stratigraphy

Annotated stratigraphy of lowest Richardson Island archaeological deposits.

Richardson Island is a remarkable archaeological site in southern Haida Gwaii.  When it was occupied, sea levels were about 10 metres higher than today, and rising.  Then, sea levels stopped rising and occupation continued.  We have dates ranging from 10,500 cal BP to 2900 cal BP (calendar years before present).  However, the early part of the record includes the most impressive stratigraphy.  The shoreline configuration at that time likely included a supra-tidal marine berm feature, which would have had a flattish top and have been well-drained and probably vegetation free: a perfect place to camp.  Occasional storms or even tsunamis would build this berm in the winter, and with rising sea levels the berm was “pushed uphill” so to speak.  The berm-building process would have involved sudden dumps of sorted pea-gravel onto the occupation layers at the site, sealing and preserving them.  Overall, though, the site is in a well-protected location, at least relative to the enormously dynamic winter sea conditions of Haida Gwaii. Continue reading

Haida, Argillite, and the Pig War

Carved argillite from Belle Vue Sheep Farm, San Juan Island. Source: NPS.

I don’t know as much about the 1859 Pig War as you might think, having spent an awful lot of time on San Juan Island. This “war”, which was more of an armed standoff between British and American troops, was a key event in the various mid-19th century boundary disputes.  One key location was Belle Vue Sheep Farm, near the southern tip of San Juan Island, where there has recently been some interesting historical archaeological work by the U.S. National Parks Service.

One interesting find at this dig is a piece of carved argillite, shown above, which most likely stems from Haida Gwaii (see page 7 of this PDF report, browse other NW NPS reports here).  Around this time there were plenty of Haida and other North Coast Nations around the Victoria area, and so it is not surprising, really, to see this piece.  And yet, it is also a stroke of massive good fortune to have such a distinctive piece of the turbulent 19th century history of First Nations.

Intriguingly, a key figure on the American side of the Pig War was George Pickett, who later achieved substantial fame for leading Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War,

Ironically for someone who later fought for the racist Confederacy, Pickett was once married to a Haida woman by the name of Sâkis Tiigang.   (More often known as “Morning Mist”, this site gives her Haida name as beSakkis Tiigang while the Pickett Society in a detailed article gives her the slightly more authoritative-seeming name Sâkis Tiigang, meaning “Mist Lying Down”).  They had a son together, the artist James Tilton Pickett who, without wanting to generalize overly, certainly looks like a Haida man.  Shortly after the birth of young James in 1857, Sâkis Tiigang passed away.

Probably there is no tangible connection between Morning Mist/Sâkis Tiigang and this carved piece of her homeland, but surely there is a poetic one.

James Tilton Pickett, son of Sâkis Tiigang and George Pickett/ 1857-1889. Source: Pickett Society.

Duff and Kew: 1957 article on SGang Gwaay Town

Map of SGang Gwaay Town. Duff and Kew, 1957

As promised, I am linking to a copy of the 1957 report (PDF) by Wilson Duff and Michael Kew on the Kunghit Haida town of  SGang Gwaay, which has also been known erroneously as Ninstints. Little mention is made of the pole recovery aspect which was the subject of previous posts, though if you scroll all the way down in Duff and Kew’s article I append Duff’s report from that same issue of the “Report of the Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology”.  In that report, the personnel involved are noted and there is also a discussion of  the activity of the  “B.C. Totem Pole Restoration Committee.”

Anyway, Duff and Kew describe in full the environment and setting of Anthony Island, the town site and associated archaeological sites, and also gives a full account of the early period conflict between Haida and trading ships.  In particular, vivid detail is given of the rise and fall of Chief Koyah and the serial raids he led on trading ships.  As Duff notes, this escalation in violence may well have been the resulted of an ill-advised power-play by Captain Kendrick who temporarily held Koyah hostage, a mortal insult in Haida society:

What Kendrick regarded as a simple” lesson” must to Koyah have been a monstrous and shattering indignity. No Coast Indian chief could endure even the slightest insult without taking steps immediately to restore his damaged prestige. To be taken captive, even by a white man, was like being made a slave, and that stigma could be removed only by the greatest feats of revenge or distributions of wealth. This humiliating violation of Koyah’s person must have been shattering to his prestige in the tribe. The Indian account of the incident told to Captain Gray a year later (but before Gray had heard Kendrick’s version) states this very clearly.

“On Coyah the chief’s being asked for, we were informed by several of the natives . . . that Captain Kendrick was here some time ago . . . that he took Coyah, tied a rope around his neck, whipped him, painted his face, cut off his hair, took away from him a great many skins, and then turned him ashore. Coyah was now no longer a chief, but an ‘AWiko,’ or one of the lower class. They have now no head chief, but many inferior chiefs. . . .” (Hoskins, in Howay, 1941, p. 200).

Kendrick had hurt Koyah more than he knew.  On Koyah’s part, if we understand the motivations of a Haida chief correctly, only bloody revenge or a great distribution of wealth would restore his lost prestige. To capture and destroy Kendrick’s ship, for example, and then distribute the loot, would fill the bill nicely. Koyah watched for his chance, and John Kendrick’s carelessness soon gave it to him.

Continue reading

Speaking of Wilson Duff and Bill Reid

Roy Jones of Skidegate climbs a pole at SGang Gwaay. Source: CBC.

Yesterday I noted the upcoming musical about the Bill Reid-Wilson Duff expedition to “rescue” carved poles at the Haida Village of SGang Gwaay (Ninstints).  I’ve just found that the CBC has posted online a short documentary, (2013:edit, use this link)  first broadcast in 1959 and narrated by Bill Reid, showing the removal of these poles to the Museum of Anthropology at UVIC.  The expedition also included Wayne Suttles and Michael Kew, as well as Wilson Duff of course.  The Haida crew consisted of Roy Jones, Clarence Jones and Frank Jones of Skidegate. Some aspects of the trip are recounted in the BC Provincial Museum Annual Report of 1957, which I will scan and post some other day.

The spoken component of the documentary is a fascinating account by Reid, at that time just beginning his carving career, but the real jaw-dropping element is the depiction of the use of axes and saws and climbing spikes to log this forest of poles.  Necessary, of course, but jarring nonetheless.

Broadcast Date: May 21, 1959

A small boat ferrying Bill Reid and a team of anthropologists approaches the southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Reid documents the rescue mission to salvage and relocate the last of the crumbling Haida totems as revealed in this CBC documentary. With a sense of excited urgency, Reid describes and catalogues the enormous poles on the approaching shore. As they are gently felled, the majestic cultural landmarks will creak and groan before they are prepared for transport.

It’s low resolution and grainy, but the general impression is a very powerful one.

Felling a tree, surely, not a pole at SGang Gwaay. Source: CBC.

Upcoming musical about Wilson Duff (!)

John Mann of Spirit of the West in "Beyond Eden"

I can hardly believe this, but the Vancouver Playhouse is mounting a new musical based on an event familiar to to all students of archaeology and anthropology n BC.  The musical stars John Mann from the band Spirit of the West.  From Tom Hawthorn’s blog:

Written by Bruce Ruddell with musical direction by Bill Henderson, formerly of Chilliwack, the musical premieres on Jan. 16 at the Vancouver Playhouse. The musical is based on a 1957 expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands by the archeologist Wilson Duff and his Haida friend, the artist Bill Reid.

Mr. Mann portrays a character based on the archaeologist, a man who travelled to Haida Gwaii to preserve totem poles, which he bought for $50 each. These can now be seen at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria and the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.

“Off the top he believes his job is to keep those poles alive because you can learn from them,” Mr. Mann said. “If they rot, they’re lost, they’re gone forever. No one will be able to study them.

“In the course of those three days, his mind is changed. Then all hell breaks loose.”

This is remarkable and interesting on a number of levels.   I’d love to see it.

Wilson Duff was one of the first modern Anthropologists and Archaeologists to work in British Columbia and it seems he had just got started when he died by his own hand in 1976, at the age of 51.

Haida Archaeology at the Virtual Museum of Canada

Rodney Brown at the Cohoe Creek Site, 1998. Source: CHIN.

The Canadian Heritage Information Network (the venerable CHIN) has, via the Virtual Museum of Canada,  a small online exhibit of Haida Gwaii archaeology posted.

I hate to be all grumpy since such initiatives should be supported, but seriously – the problems with this exhibit are manifold.  First, a number of the facts are wrong, despite the content being copyrighted 2009.  They use a figure of 9,000 years for first occupation, not the figure of 12,500 which is more reasonable.  That’s more than a 30% difference.  They state it was a grassland 10,000 years ago, when the better number would be 14,000 or more. It’s written in the first person, so apparently a Haida person wrote it – but really should that be an excuse? Maybe the details don’t really matter.

So, factual errors are unfortunate.  But they also have completely crap illustrations – low resolution, poorly lit images from ethnological collections are used to represent the archaeological record.  This is misleading on a number of levels.  Archaeologists do not usually find beautifully decorated clubs, for example, and it diminishes understanding of the archaeological record and process to imply they do. Indeed, the text of the exhibit lists the following “learning outcomes:

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe the history of Haida people revealed by archeology
  • Describe some Haida objects found in archeological excavations

As far as I can tell, not a single object “found in archaeological excavation” is shown and essentially no archaeological facts are given.

Also, all the pages, including “Haida Society since European Contact” are under the header of “Haida Ecology” which is a bit unfortunate.  Put the whole thing under “Haida history”.

It’s also regrettable that the pictures are of such poor quality, like this one of fish hooks.  I mean, this is a national institution, and the year of the web is 2009, not 1995.  People expect more and will tune out if you don’t offer them some substantial eye candy.  I think they have a right to receive it from the Ottawa heritage establishment – after all the NMC is sitting on a superb collection that most of us never get to see.

Finally, the information content is miniscule.  The whole thing can’t add up to more than 500 words and is cluttered with jargon like “Print this Learning Object” and “View the complete asset”.  What kind of robotic geek came up with that sort of bullshit management-speak? And every bit of this information has a copyright notice on it, even pictures from other institutions.  This page has SEVEN separate, identical copyright notices “© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.”

Memo to CHIN and the VMC:  no one wants to copy your minimalist, factually incorrect and low-resolution information anyway.  If you can’t do decent eye candy then do decent information.  If you can’t do either, then don’t try to bully me with copyright notices.

C’mon guys, you can do so much better than this, especially if your goal is to educate.  Email me, I’ll send you some pictures and fact-check your page.  No fancy consultancy charge will apply!

I just noticed this was NW Coast Archaeology blog post #100. To counteract this being so grumpy, here's a nice picture of camp life on Tanu Island.