Tanana woman returning from the hunt, 1882. Source: AKDC
Browsing in the Alaska Digital Archives I found an interesting photo album documenting a prospecting trip up the Yukon River by the Schieffelin Brothers, Ed and Al, who just a few years earlier had founded the famous desert mining town of Tombstone, Arizona. Two pictures from this album struck me as particularly interesting, though the whole thing is worth browsing.
The first of these is the remarkable picture above, showing a Tanana woman with a long-gun, powder horn, and a couple of large rabbits. While anthropologists and archaeologists have grudgingly revised their “Man the Hunter” stereotypes in recent years, it is nonetheless rare to see such a frank portrait of a competent woman with her prey. I’ll be using this one in class, starting next week.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, archives, First Nations, history, Northwest Interior
Tagged alaska, fish traps, fishing, hunting, NW Interior, Tanana River, Yukon River
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.
Posted in Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, fieldwork, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged annotation, bears, caves, Gaadu Din, Haida, Haida Gwaii, hunting, Karst