Tag Archives: poles

Laser imaging of Sitka poles

Lidar model merged with photograph to document carved pole, Sitka, Alaska.  Source: NPS.

Lidar model merged with photograph to document carved pole, Sitka, Alaska. Source: National Park Service.

This is an interesting application of Lidar technology – creating a durable, highly precise, digital image of a standing pole, which can then be wrapped with high-resolution photographs and used in a “virtual tour” context. It can also be  an archive for conservation.  The project is underway to record a couple of dozen Tlingit poles in an outdoor setting in Sitka, Alaska.

Lidar stands for “light distancing and ranging” and is basically like radar or sonar, only using laser beams.  Thousands of individual laser bursts can measure the three-dimensional surface of something like a totem pole to accuracy of a millimetre or less.  This creates an accurate digital record of the shape of the pole which can then be rendered on-screen in various three-dimensional ways.  Lidar has seen a fair bit of use in archaeological survey (especially its ability to digitally clearcut the trees) and also has seen quite a bit of table-top use to record artifacts in exquisite detail.  The “meso-scale” recording of features like poles is less common though, especially outside of historical and classical archaeology.  There is a lot of potential for recording petroglyphs I think — for example this recent dissertation (which I need to order) apparently shows proof of concept at Writing-On-Stone in southern Alberta.

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Boundary Maintenance

Headland with wooden markers. Click to zoom.

This is one of my favourite pictures of B.C. Archaeology, even though  it doesn’t look like much.  It’s a bit fuzzy: I took it with a zoom lens in about 1985 , rounding a headland in a small boat  on the Central Coast.  In fact, you might think it doesn’t look all that archaeological.  Look closer: sticking up to the right of the white triangle you can see the carved head of a pole.

The white triangle is a standard device used by Fisheries to demarcate the different fishing zones on the coast, for management purposes.  On one side of the triangle there might be different catch limits or closures or seasons of harvest enforced than on the other.

I don’t know much about the pole, but its location on such a prominent headland, facing the open Pacific, next stop Japan, is suggestive it marked a change of territory, a boundary shift, a movement from the control of one lineage or house to another. You don’t often see such a pole away from a village site.

Both wooden markers may ultimately serve the same purpose: boundary maintenance between zones of control; advertisements for power; watchful symbols of formal rights; the means of resource management.  It is intriguing and almost poetic to see them standing, side by side, on the same headland, guarding the same water.

Detail of wooden markers.

Flickr user CanadaGood’s pictures of poles

Fallen pole at Gitsegulka. Source: flickr.com user CanadaGood.

Someone posting under the username “CanadaGood” at flickr.com has put up an impressive array of over 100 photos of “totem poles”.  What I like about this set is that most of these are not the iconic ones from coffee table books or museums but rather are still standing (or lying) in communities, mostly along the Skeena River.  They aren’t the most technically accomplished photos or anything but they are undeniably atmospheric and they document the process of renewal and decay of poles which was an important part of the carving complex.  Each pole is the material instance of the right to carve and display a set of crests or images, often as a memorial to a dead person of high status, and therefore the “thing” must be set against the intangible, non-material property of rights and titles which it represents.  Proper treatment of the pole might therefore well include letting it return to the earth, replaced by a fresher copy.  I like the matter of fact way this one is set up on stumps and this rotting masterpiece at Gitanyow.  This figure is unusual for being “sculpture in the round”.   Kudos to CanadaGood for putting pictures of these less commonly seen poles on flickr, in high resolution, and under a Creative Commons licence to boot.

Tops of standing poles at Gitsegulka. Source: flickr user CanadaGood.