Tag Archives: household archaeology

Stone Foundations and Tent Platforms in NW Coast Archaeology

Tlingit house with stone wall foundation near Juneau, Alaska.  Source: SHI Archives, Richard Wood collection. http://goo.gl/hH9Pfl

Tlingit house with stone wall foundation. “Photograph of a Taku village homes, photo likely by Partridge, circa 1887. Village site was located on the mainland across from Douglas Island, south of present-day Juneau”: SHI Archives, Richard Wood collection. http://goo.gl/hH9Pfl

We’re a little obsessed with wooden architecture in the NW Coast archaeology world – with good reason, I guess, since monumental wooden houses are such a prominent feature of the recent past. I suppose we sometimes stereotype these houses a little – a point some commenters made in the Houses on Stilts post here a while back – we think: “large rectangular house squatting in midden supported by giant house posts.” Not always the case, certainly not through time.

In general, we may underestimate large scale constructions in stone.  Burial cairns and mounds (one of Darcy’s consists of 18 dump-trucks worth of soil), rock wall defensive sites, trench embankments, canoe runs, fish traps, and of course, clam gardens, all involved massive deployments of stone, with associated labour investments and creation of a durable built environment. Anyway, we’ve recently been running into enigmatic rock structures on the central coast and Quadra Island, and in particular, the possibility of dwelling structures partially based on stone walls.  So it’s quite cool to run across the picture above from the SHI photo collections, showing a Taku Tlingit house from the historic period, sitting on a platform which has a stone wall as a foundation.

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Interior of a Coast Salish Longhouse, 1864

Interior of a Salish Longhouse, 1864. Watercolour by Edward Mallott Richardson.  Locale uknown. Source: Canadian Archives.  Click to enlarge.

Interior of a Salish Longhouse, 1864. Watercolour by Edward Mallott Richardson. Locale uknown. Source: Canadian Archives. Click to enlarge.

Following on from the post about the Salish mausoleum, here is a companion painting by Edward Mallott Richardson from the same year, depicting the interior of a house.  It’s a curious painting, seemingly devoid of close detail.  Where are all the drying fish?!  But at the same time it shows some features of interest which may be worth discussing.  Note the fellow with the gun has a powderhorn, for example, and the basket behind him looks like one of those rectangular coiled ones, only with a tumpline, as shown by the woman entering on the left.  On the far right is a semi-conical object that might be a hat, sitting on a platform within a small compartment.

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Victoria ASBC Public Talk, Tuesday May 17: Locarno Houses?!

UVIC students visiting "Aquattro Site" near Esquimalt Lagoon, 2008.

The next scheduled public talk of the Archaeological Society of BC, Victoria Chapter, will be held next Tuesday evening at 7.30 at the Pacific Forestry Centre, 506 West Burnside Road (map).  The talk is free and open to any member of the public.

The talk is entitled Preliminary Investigation Results from DcRu-1151: A Locarno-Age Living and Processing Site at Esquimalt Lagoon, and will be given by local archaeologists Kristi Bowie and Kira Kristensen.

I had the pleasure of visiting this site while it was being excavated a few years ago.  All signs were that the site included the remains of a house dating to between 2500 and 3500 years ago, the “Locarno Beach” period, though at that time the feature was not directly dated.  Very little is known of domestic structures from this time and so the finds could be quite exciting. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this site, though it is doubtful I will be able to attend this talk due to the ongoing circumstances which also keep this blog running slowly.  I am pasting in the abstract and speaker biographies below, or else click here for the PDF.

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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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Houses on Stilts

"Village of the Friendly Indians at the Entrance of Bute's Canal", 1792. Click for zoomable version.

The above image shows a seemingly improbable Kwiakah Kwakwaka’wakw Village (EDIT: probably Homathko Coast Salish Village) at the entrance to Bute Inlet, as drawn in 1792 by a member of Captain Vancouver’s expedition.  With the houses scattered up a steep hillside, the top one apparently partially cantilevered out, it does not fit the average archaeologist’s mental model of a typical Northwest Coast village.  The setting would undoubtedly have some defensive advantages, at least for those at the top.  I know of another image of a steeply-tiered village site which is apparently not strictly a defensive site.  Hard to live on the side of such a steep hill, you might think.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have photographs of such a village?  Aha.

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Salish Villages of Puget Sound

Overview map of Coast Salish Villages of Puget Sound. Click to go to the page of interactive maps at coastsalishmap.org

Tom Dailey has put together a large and very interesting site which documents the Coast Salish villages of Puget Sound.  The core of the site is a series of clickable maps (see the left hand side black/white map grid), each of which is marked with little village icons.  Clicking on these icons takes you to a master document with a synopsis of the settlement name and, usually, a couple of sentences about the village.  These are referenced to scholarly literature and other sources.  It is striking to see all these villages on one map, and notable how many are shown on rivers and lakes.

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Webber’s Village in Nootka Sound: Original Watercolour

Painting of a village in Nootka Sound, 1778, by John Webber. Source: State Library of New South Wales. Click for larger original.

Yesterday I linked to the original watercolour of a 1778 Nootka Sound house interior by John Webber, which is the basis for the widely reproduced engraving.  Today we can take a look at Webber’s original painting of a Nootka Sound village, presumably Yuquot but not so labelled, as found at the State Library of New South Wales (though yesterday’s post brought forth questions as to whether these are watercolours or coloured engravings – see the comments).  The first and most important point is, see that lumpy, dissected landform in front of the houses?  That, my friends, is what an active shell midden looks like.  No wonder they can be such stratigraphic nightmares.

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