Tag Archives: organic technology

A Lummi Reef Net Model

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: WhatcomWatch.org

Lummi Reef Netting Model. Source: http://whatcomwatch.org/wpww/?p=348

A while back I found the cool picture above in an online exhibit of the Whatcom Museum showing photographs of Point Roberts and Lummi Island, on Puget Sound just south of the Canadian border.  Reef netting is a peculiarly Straits Salish technology which involved the setting of complex nets, suspended between two canoes, at strategic locations where the natural flow of salmon was constrained. A sort of on-ramp led the fish up to the net by creating a gentle optical illusion of a rising bottom.  When the salmon were milling around in the horizontal net, still free, the canoes would be suddenly swung together, closing the net and trapping the salmon.

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Brainstorming beads

Shell beads from DjRw-14.  Note the interior diameters of less than one millimetre.  Picture courtesy of Terry Clark.  Click to enlarge.

Shell beads from DjRw-14. Large grid is one centimetre, small is one millimetre.  Note the interior diameters of less than one millimetre.   Picture courtesy of Dr. Terry Clark, CMC. Click to enlarge.

The previous post on the remarkable bead-rich burials in shíshálh territory generated a great discussion including contributions from some of the project leaders.  It’d be good to continue that discussion!  But one additional point, as Jesse Morin notes in those comments, and as one of the project leaders Terry Clark raised in an email to me, is the question of, quite simply, how are all these beads getting made?  As you can see in the picture above, these shell beads have a hole diameter of less than one millimetre.  Terry describes some of the holes being not much larger than a human hair!

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Anchor Stones

Duwamish composite stone anchor. Source: UW.

Edit October 2018: Hoko Pictures are now here.

I was talking the other day about how under-represented organic technology is in archaeology generally, and especially on the Northwest Coast, where the old adage is that 95% of the technology was made out of plants (trees, wood, bark, roots, grasses, seaweeds).  A classic example of this phenomenon are anchor stones and sinker stones.  While some of these stones had grooves or perforated holes (and are thereby very visible and durable in the archaeological record), many may have been made by the more simple, subtle and expedient method of simply wrapping line or basketry around an unmodified rock.  When the organic component rots away, as it will most of the time, then the archaeologist has, well, an unmodified rock.

Anyway, it was a lucky stroke for my current interest that I came across the above photo from the University of Washington Digital Archives.

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East Wenatchee Clovis Photo Gallery

One of the East Wenatchee Clovis Points. Source: Washington State Historical Society.

A few months ago I posted about the surface finds, or other finds without archaeological context, of the Clovis archaeological culture in Puget Sound, noting that this shouldn’t be all that surprising considering the well-known East Wenatchee (Richey-Roberts) Clovis Cache from just east of the Cascades.  Clovis, as you may know, is an archaeological culture type long associated with the first peopling of the Americas, although a decreasing number of archaeologists think it reflects that series of events.

Anyway, you can review that other post for more details.  What I’ve subsequently found is that the Washington State Historical Society has a colour gallery of all 49 of the artifacts from East Wenatchee.  The pictures are not particularly high resolution but they are well-taken and well-lit and better than most you’ll find on the web.  You can match the projectile points up to this diagram if you are feeling keen, or compare to the pictures at the lithic casting lab, some of which have hands and other useful sizing aids in them.

Even so, since they were scanned from 4 X 5 inch format negatives, it’s disappointing there is no higher resolution downloadable.  For a fringe interest like this, and considering that bandwidth is practically free, let’s make this stuff available.  You can click on the view options to, for example, see both sides of the artifact displayed at once.  It’s also very surprising that there is no photo scale and dimensions are not given.

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Yukon River Canoe Project 2009 Blog

Work on the log begins. Source: Yukon Canoe Project.

I just found an interesting blog that traces a community project to carve a Tlingit style dugout canoe on the banks of the Yukon River near Whitehorse:

Nineteen young Yukon carvers made history by creating a 30-foot red cedar dugout canoe. Under the leadership of Tlingit Master Carver Wayne Price, the carvers went on a journey of discovery.

An island on the east side of the Yukon River became their home for the next two months as went go back on the land to learn the traditional techniques for carving a dugout canoe.

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In-SHUCK-ch Cedar Bark Stripping Gallery

Pulling a cedar bark strip. The scarred face will heal in a highly characteristic way. Source: In-SHUCK-ch live.com (click)

I came across a nice set of 18 pictures of members of the In-SHUCK-ch First Nation stripping cedar bark for use in traditional manufactures, especially basketry, cordage, matting, and clothing.  This nation is on the lower Fraser in the general Lillooet-Harrison Lake area.  It’s true you have to turn your head sideways on a lot of the pictures, but at the same time you would have to crane your head way back if you were stripping bark, so that’s ok.  Continue reading

Yellowstone Ice Patch Atlatl Dart

Dr. Craig Lee holds atlatl dart shaft. Source: Dailycamera.com

We’ve looked at the exciting finds from melting ice patches before on this blog so they may not need a lot of introduction: ancient hunters would target large game which sheltered from the heat and insects on these fairly static patches of ice.  In so doing they left behind a material record which quickly became frozen into the ice itself, thus preserving organic technologies which seldom preserve otherwise.  Now, with global warming, these artifacts whch were deposited on ice are melting out for the first time, some of them after many millennia of continuous freezing conditions.

Most of the current research on this topic has been from the Yukon, from the Northwest Territories, and Alaska, though arguably there is a lot of potential elsewhere in western North America, especially British Columbia.  So I was pretty interested to see a news report from the University of Colorado on a birch wood atlatl dart (the projectile shaft associated with a spearthrower) from the Yellowstone area, which dates to a remarkable 10,300 years ago.

At the University of Colorado website there is a good press release and an informative video on the find.  The video incorporates some National Geographic footage (some of it cheesey) which overall gives a good idea of the context of the find and its importance.  In the video you can see what is interpreted as a split U-shaped haft element which presumably received a stone projectile point.  Unusually for atlatl technology, this would imply there was no foreshaft.  The date of 10,300 is presumably a calibrated date which would make it about 9,250 14C BP – around one thousand years older than the oldest reported Yukon ice patch material.  The video also has glimpses of other finds which are not discussed but which whet the appetite! And, by the way, the National Geographic web site has a clip about Alaskan ice patches which gives a great overview of the fieldwork and the finds.

The lead researcher is Dr. Craig Lee of the University of Colorado / INSTAAR, who is also known on the Northwest Coast for his Ph.D. dissertion on microblade technology from Southeast Alaska and PET-408 / On Your Knees Cave  (I have a PDF of this but can’t find it online, I think Craig must have sent it to me directly). Some news reports (not many news items on this yet) suggest the find was made in 2007 and the date was obtained in 2008 and then embargoed because of publication restrictions imposed by a journal. A quick check on Web of Science doesn’t turn up anything new on it (though “in press” material likely wouldn’t be there yet), and it is not that easy to sift through all the surname “Lee” folks who publish in sciencey journals!

An important point of added interest in the additional report (oddly, not the UC press release) is that Lee and his colleagues have received a 3 year grant worth US $651,00 to investigate ice patches in and around Glacier National Park, just south of the BC-Alberta border.  Congratulations Craig!  This amount of money is impressive, though I can imagine how expensive the combination of high altitude helicopter time and numerous radiocarbon dates will be.  For us in BC/Canada, we can only dream of such riches: as I have noted several times, bafflingly there has been essentially no research on this topic in British Columbia.  Craig’s money is coming from the US National Park Service, who take their cultural resources much more seriously than we do – I mean, Parks Canada archaeologists do a great job (as I know very well, having just been on a month long field trip with them)  but the importance given to archaeology in National and, especially, BC Provincial Parks pales in comparison to what the Americans do and no one is throwing C$651,000.00 or even C$651.00 at this urgent Cultural Resource Management problem in this country.  Anyway, I really look forward to seeing what comes out of this promising study.

Cheesy depiction of the Ice Free corridor from the National Geographic video clip. Source: U. Colorado.

New Finds from NWT Ice Patches

340 year old bow made from willow wood - bow was found in multiple fragments. Photo: Tom Andrews via livescience.com.

In many parts of Northwest North America glaciers and ice patches are melting at unprecedented rates.  In some cases, these are revealing extraordinary archaeological remains, as I have noted before for Alaska.  There’s recently been some short news reports about new finds in the Northwest Territories, to add to the substantial work already done there.  Most of these reports rehash the same news release from the Arctic Institute of the Americas, which sponsored the research through International Polar Year funding (now ended).  Only a few sites have photos, though.

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Alaskan Ice Patches

Barbed bone or antler point with copper tip from Alaskan Ice Patch. Source: Dixon, NPS

All over  Northwestern North America, from Colorado to the NWT, global climate change is rapidly melting glaciers, and their less mobile cousins, permanent patches of ice which accumulate and never completely melt.  Some finds from these ice patches have revealed exceptionally-preserved organic technology dating from recent times to more than 8,000 calendar years ago.  Additionally, of course, there is the remarkable story of Kwädąy Dän Ts’ìnchį, Long-Ago Person Found, a man who died on a glacier in the Tatsenshini area hundreds of years ago.  All of these would make good posts for the future!

For today, though, I found an article online (PDF) about the lesser known Alaskan ice patches, which have been researched primarily by E. James Dixon.  Continue reading

Elfshot: experimental and replicative archaeology

Saqqaq Palaeo-Eskimo flaked stone scrapers and knives, hafted with the aid of baleen. Source: Elfshot.

Elfshot is a cool blog chronicling archaeologist Tim Rast’s replicative and experimental work.  Interestingly to us out here on the NW Coast, a lot of  what he studies and replicates is from the comparable areas of the NE Coast, Newfoundland and the eastern Arctic.  That means he is using some marine sources such as baleen as well as materials such as moose sinew.  There is a lot to read at his blog, which is very well illustrated with photographs, videos, and scans from manuscripts.  If you find yourself in his neighbourhood, you can take courses and workshops on ancient technology from him, and I note that some of his beautiful replications are for sale.

Experimental archaeology is a really valuable approach in archaeology. It helps the archaeologist, who more often than not isn’t part of a traditional materials tool-use culture, understand the constraints of certain materials and likely technological sequences that would have been followed to make and use things.  While perhaps no substitute for observation and interviews, the fact is that by the time ethnographers got to most places in the world many traditional technologies had fallen by the wayside, and so there are very few descriptions of such basic technological domains as flaked stone tools.  Much of what we know about these tools and technologies comes from the work of replicators and experimentalists who set the facts of life out to help analyse the material which comes from the ground in archaeological digs.

Anyway, I strongly recommend Elfshot as a knowledgeable blog offering a lot of archaeological insight, especially for coastal contexts.

Use of the "mystery tool type" - piece esquillee - as a wood-splitting wedge. Source: Elfshot.