Tag Archives: Karst

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.

Karst Mismanagement in British Columbia

Karst destroyed with approval of karst consultant.

Karst destroyed with approval of karst consultant.

The protection of BC karst landscapes falls into a sort of legal limbo.  There is only weak protection afforded through regulation, and only in some contexts.  If a cave can be shown to have archaeological deposits, it can be afforded very strong protection under the Heritage Conservation Act.  In theory, the HCA can also protect the cave if it has spiritual values to First Nations.  Nonetheless, the practice of karst assessment is controlled by a small cabal of self-appointed experts.  These folks make a living by doing impact assessments, mainly for forestry companies.  The picture at the left shows the results, a magnificent karst bluff destroyed after the karst consultant wrote the area off – from an office 500 miles distant, based on notes provided by a forest company employee.  In the report, archaeological values are dismissed from afar, doubly ridiculous since the karst consultant is notably ignorant about archaeology.  Continue reading

Fieldwork Picture of the Day 4

Gaadu Din 2007

Gaadu Din 2007

In 2007 we returned to Gaadu Din 1, a cave on the east side of Huxley Island (map) in Haida Gwaii.  In the front is Jenny (Jinky, Sniffer, Killer), while behind left to right you see her fellow UVIC graduate students Brendan (Binky, Loafer, Skipper, Dumper) and Adrian (Goat-Boy), while to the right is Jordan (Haida Watchman – which is not a nickname!).  The cave entrance can be glimpsed between Brendan and Adrian. Gaadu Din has revealed an incredible record of terminal Pleistocene fauna and artifacts, showing Ancestral Haida winter-time bear hunting as early as 10,600 14C years ago (13,000 calendar years ago).  Among the fauna are black bear, which still live on Haida Gwaii, but also brown (grizzly) bear and coast deer, neither of which were known to be native to these islands (deer are common on Haida Gwaii, but these are historically introduced). The deer in Gaadu Din all date to a narrow time window just prior to the onset of the Younger Dryas cold period, and presumably could not survive those harsh, snowy conditions, and had no way of repopulating the now-remote archipelago after modern climatic conditions arose.