Tag Archives: Public Archaeology

Thoughts on a WSU Archaeological Perspective

Pioneering WSU archaeologist Richard Daugherty instructs students on the beach at Ozette, late 1960s. Source: WSU.

Washington State University (WSU) has one of the oldest and most notable programs in Northwestern North American archaeology, with pioneers such as Richard Daugherty and William Ackerman leading the way.  The WSU magazine has a nice interview with a number of their distinguished alumni and faculty, including William Andrefsky, Dale Croes, Colin Grier, and Gary Wessen.  There are some interesting quotes in it, notably, to my mind – and perhaps yours, if you are a university nerd like me: Continue reading

Major expansion at the Royal B.C. Museum?

Proposed changes to the RBCM: the clear white structure to the back left is the new curatorial tower & archives; to the right is a new entrance and multi-functional area. Source: Times-Colonist.

The Victoria Times-Colonist had a story Saturday that the Royal B.C. Museum is proposing a major expansion, in which theirs quare footage would more than double, from 379,000 to 895,000 square feet.  The curatorial tower and the low-rise archives building on the NW side of the block would be demolished, replaced by a new multi-function complex which would also form the entrance to the museum.  The collections and curatorial facilities, and the archives, would move to a new 14 story building to the south of the current museum.  The RBCM C.E.O, Pauline Rafferty (an archaeologist by training) notes that ““We are now at a crossroads.  We have outgrown our on-site storage facilities and significant artifacts are stored below sea level.”  The article estimates the cost will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars which is easy to believe. The Times-Colonist weighs in with a strong editorial of support, citing the collapse of the Cologne archives last year with irreparable damage to the history of that City.  So: no-brainer, right?

Continue reading

Lu Zil Män Fish Lake: SW Yukon Archaeology and Oral History

Artifacts from the Lu Zil Män Fish Lake site. Source: Yukon government.

The Yukon government has a good web site up about archaeological and oral historical projects in the  Lu Zil Män Fish Lake area of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s territory.  The SW Yukon is a fascinating area where inland Tlingit people ranged from the coast, producing entangled relations with the interior speakers of na-Dene languages.

It’s good to see that the site puts the oral testimony of elders first and the archaeology second – what we’d call the “direct historical” approach if we were in a classroom.  This approach puts living people first in archaeology, using their insights to find locales and to interpret the uppermost layers.  Then, as one digs deeper, memory and history become less detailed and environments were different, and increasingly more generalized explanations from archaeology and ethnology come to bear.  The direct historical approach is usually ascribed to early researchers in the American SW, but a leading exponent and innovator was actually Frederica de Laguna, who began work on the Northwest Coast in the late 1920s, and had a 70 year active career.  The direct historical approach fell out of favour in a period where archaeologists tried to be highly scientific and to seek generalizations about people, but recently there has been renewed interest in it, especially in a community-based archaeological idiom.

Anyway, the Lu Zil Män Fish Lake project looks like it was a lot of fun, culturally informed, and well integrated into the community, while the web site is well written for the non-specialist.  My only complaint is the photos are rather washed out seeming and not very crisp or low resolution.

Find sites and excavation units. Source: Yukon government.

Tse-whit-zen interactive pages and slide show

Whale vertebrae modified into a spindle whorl, from the Tse-whit-zen site. Source: Seattle Times

I mentioned the Tse-whit-zen site a few days ago, in reference to the recent discovery of a small whale sculpture found there in 2009.  The Seattle Times had a superb web site on this ancient Klallam village, but unfortunately, many of the links are broken (how does that even happen, anyway?).  But the four part illustrated slide show with extensive audio commentary by Klallam, archaeologists and other people is still available and is well worth watching – in fact its one of the best such slideshows I’ve seen.  The Interactive Village component of the site is still active as well, and also definitely worth checking out.

As with so many of these sad stories of site disturbance through development, there is a silver lining as the dig itself, and the objects found, have contributed to a vitalization of Klallam traditional practices and increased interest in Klallam traditional culture within their younger generation.  At a severe price, though: over three hundred burials were excavated and removed from the site before the project, a massive graving dock, was brought to a halt – a halt which, according to some, cost over 100 million dollars.  I’m posting some of the pictures in case the Times site loses even more functionality.

Comb recovered from Tse-whit-zen site. Source: Seattle Times.

One of the more than 800 remarkable etched stones found at Tse-whit-zen, some in association with human remains. Source: Seattle Times

More than 300 human burials were disturbed by the graving dock project. Here, some await reburial in a warehouse on site. Source: Seattle Times.

Speaking of Ozette: dSpace resources.

The "White Series" Ozette reports are freely available for download! Image shows house-plank decoration from the Ozette Site, used as cover art for these reports.

This space has recently carried a lot of items about the Ozette water-saturated site on the Olympic Peninsula,  about Makah whaling, and Queets canoes, and other wet sites in Washington State.  All archaeologists and many of the public in the Northwest are familiar with the Ozette site which, with its fabulous preservation has stimulated a lot of work on the archaeology of the big houses which so characterise the culture area from the Columbia to the Gulf of Alaska. A principal way most archaeologists are familiar with Ozette is through the three large  site reports published by Washington State University, bound as large white paperbacks, and found on the bookshelf of archaeologists across the region.

So, imagine how happy I was to find that all three volumes are available as free PDF downloads from Washington State University.  The PDFs are very large, perhaps un-necessarily so, but who can complain about over a thousand pages of detailed archaeological information on one of the most significant archaeological sites in North America, or even the world?  The three volumes are:

  • Samuels et al.  Ozette archaeological project research reports Volume I House structure and floor midden. 1991.  Link to download page.  (193 megs)
  • Samuels et al. Ozette archaeological project research reports volume II Fauna. 1994.  Link to download page(154 megs)
  • Whelchel et al.  Ozette archaeological project research reports volume III ethnobotany and wood technology.  2004.  Link to download page.  (288 megs).
  • While you’re at it, pick up Dale Croes’ pioneering 1974 computer applications in archaeology paper: The use of computer graphics in archaeology : a case study from the Ozette site, WashingtonLink to download page.  (149 megs).

UPDATE March 3/2010:  the handle.net URLs have been broken for a couple of days.  Try this link to get straight to WSU dSpace for Ozette. If that breaks ( a lot of places prevent stable URLs from search results because obviously people never want to share things) then go here and enter “ozette” in the search box.

(Note: all the above documents may download as files named “ARI” with no file extension.  You will need to add the extension .PDF to the file before you open it.)

These PDFs are fully searchable which makes finding things within the copious material of the Ozette site much easier.  The huge number of artifacts, features and fauna from Ozette have been a blessing and a curse, as interpretation struggles under the dead weight of data.  I would therefore be remiss if I didn’t bring to your attention the excellent M.A. thesis on Northwest Coast household archaeology by UVIC’s own Brendan Gray, who uses Ozette as a test-bed to investigate how we might be able to dig less but dig smarter and therefore learn more from Northwest houses.  Every NW Coast archaeologist should read this thesis.

  • Gray, Brendan 2009.  Sampling methods in Northwest Coast household archaeology: a simulation approach using faunal data from the Ozette siteLink (a bargain at 4.8 megs)

Anyway, I know many readers might find this to be too much inf.ormation, but I don’t believe it is common knowledge that these full text Ozette reports are freely available:  the WASU servers are fast, hard drives are cheap, and the reports are first class.  Enjoy.

Simulated and actual sampling designs projected onto Ozette house floors. From Brendan Gray M.A. thesis.

ASBC Victoria January Meeting

Haida Gwaii watershed above Sunday Inlet.

The Archaeological Society of British Columbia is a long-established society which promotes knowledge and conservation of BC Archaeology.  The Victoria Chapter is particularly active (though they need to update their website and blog).  They aim for a public lecture every month. There are also chapters in Nanaimo and Vancouver.

This month’s Victoria talk, which is free and open to the public, is:

Watersheds and Coastal Archaeology: A Northwest Coast Perspective.

Jan. 19, 2010, 7:30 pm Pacific Forestry Centre, 506 West Burnside Road.

Rich Hutchings

The watershed or basin has been considered a primary unit of analysis for hydrologists, geologists, ecologists, human geographers, and historians. On the Northwest Coast, the economic significance of riverine settlement has long been a central focus, yet it is only in the last decade that anthropologists have begun to contemplate the social, political and ideological implications of rivers, river edges, and, to a lesser degree, basins. In this lecture, I will explore the concept of watersheds as a unit of analysis for archaeologists working on the Coast. Specifically, I consider the notion of what I call ‘watershed identity’, the issue of territorial boundaries, and the social implications of changing basin landscapes. Finally, these issues are highlighted in relation to the increasing threat of coastal erosion and its impact on maritime heritage, a concern for archaeologists and communities alike in this region.

Biography: Rich Hutchings was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. Having trained and worked as a diver in the marine industry, Rich completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Idaho, Moscow. He then undertook research in the area of alluvial and coastal geoarchaeology on the Nooksack River, earning his Masters degree from Western Washington University, Bellingham in 2004. Rich is currently pursuing Doctoral research at the University of British Columbia, looking at maritime cultural landscapes, coastal erosion, and marine heritage management in the Sechelt area. For information, phone 384-6059 or e-mail asbcvictoria@gmail.com

Victoria-Songhees reburial

Mayor Fortin builds a bridge to the Songhees First Nation. Picture: Johnstonstreetbridge.org

Last summer there was a sad incident with human remains being disturbed in the Dallas Road area of Victoria. The remains, of a young SLENI (woman) were subsequently reburied and since then a burning ceremony has been held.  I’ve been privileged to attend burning and reburial ceremonies and they are powerful and sincere events.  Interesting then to see this news snippet today , focusing on the cost ($9,400) — I can hardly wait for the informed and balanced commentary to ensue.  But kudos to Dean Fortin for doing the right thing – it is no more (or less) than most developers have done over the last decade when human remains were disturbed.  I have to say, though, it is disingenous for Mayor Fortin to note the Songhees reserve is not in the City of Victoria — memo to the Mayor: Victoria is within Songhees territory; the remains are from Songhees territory, the current reserve boundaries are completely irrelevant to this issue.

Victoria News

The cost of being freindly [sic]

By Lisa Weighton – Victoria News

Published: January 11, 2010 3:00 PM

Updated: January 11, 2010 3:34 PM

Mayor Dean Fortin is making First Nations relations a priority.

Last month, the city invested $9,400 in a traditional reburial ceremony after discovering 300-year-old human bones during a sewer retrenching project on Dallas Road, Aug. 27.

“We feel like we have an obligation to work with all other levels of government including our First Nations,” said Fortin.

The cost was a drop in the bucket in the overall $2.4 million-project said Derk Wevers, the city’s sewer and storm water quality technician.

Following consultation with Esquimalt First Nation elder Mary Anne Thomas and Songhees First Nation elder Elmer George, a reburial service was held Dec. 8.

The city also financed a traditional burning ceremony and feast on the Songhees First Nation reserve late last month, which included wages for a city contractor, gifts, food and the gravestone.

Fortin said he was eager to take part despite the reserve not being within Victoria’s boundaries.

Haida Archaeology at the Virtual Museum of Canada

Rodney Brown at the Cohoe Creek Site, 1998. Source: CHIN.

The Canadian Heritage Information Network (the venerable CHIN) has, via the Virtual Museum of Canada,  a small online exhibit of Haida Gwaii archaeology posted.

I hate to be all grumpy since such initiatives should be supported, but seriously – the problems with this exhibit are manifold.  First, a number of the facts are wrong, despite the content being copyrighted 2009.  They use a figure of 9,000 years for first occupation, not the figure of 12,500 which is more reasonable.  That’s more than a 30% difference.  They state it was a grassland 10,000 years ago, when the better number would be 14,000 or more. It’s written in the first person, so apparently a Haida person wrote it – but really should that be an excuse? Maybe the details don’t really matter.

So, factual errors are unfortunate.  But they also have completely crap illustrations – low resolution, poorly lit images from ethnological collections are used to represent the archaeological record.  This is misleading on a number of levels.  Archaeologists do not usually find beautifully decorated clubs, for example, and it diminishes understanding of the archaeological record and process to imply they do. Indeed, the text of the exhibit lists the following “learning outcomes:

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Describe the history of Haida people revealed by archeology
  • Describe some Haida objects found in archeological excavations

As far as I can tell, not a single object “found in archaeological excavation” is shown and essentially no archaeological facts are given.

Also, all the pages, including “Haida Society since European Contact” are under the header of “Haida Ecology” which is a bit unfortunate.  Put the whole thing under “Haida history”.

It’s also regrettable that the pictures are of such poor quality, like this one of fish hooks.  I mean, this is a national institution, and the year of the web is 2009, not 1995.  People expect more and will tune out if you don’t offer them some substantial eye candy.  I think they have a right to receive it from the Ottawa heritage establishment – after all the NMC is sitting on a superb collection that most of us never get to see.

Finally, the information content is miniscule.  The whole thing can’t add up to more than 500 words and is cluttered with jargon like “Print this Learning Object” and “View the complete asset”.  What kind of robotic geek came up with that sort of bullshit management-speak? And every bit of this information has a copyright notice on it, even pictures from other institutions.  This page has SEVEN separate, identical copyright notices “© 2009, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. All Rights Reserved.”

Memo to CHIN and the VMC:  no one wants to copy your minimalist, factually incorrect and low-resolution information anyway.  If you can’t do decent eye candy then do decent information.  If you can’t do either, then don’t try to bully me with copyright notices.

C’mon guys, you can do so much better than this, especially if your goal is to educate.  Email me, I’ll send you some pictures and fact-check your page.  No fancy consultancy charge will apply!

I just noticed this was NW Coast Archaeology blog post #100. To counteract this being so grumpy, here's a nice picture of camp life on Tanu Island.

Vapourware: Journal of Northwest Archaeology

Looks like someone at SFU is about to launch a new archaeology journal focusing on archaeology of the Northwest.  (Presumably NW North America, but you never know when it comes to SFU).  The pages are formatted, but blank, except for the instructions to authors.  I hope this journal template turns into something real.

Stephen Hume kicking ass (but whose?)

Desecrated spiritual site: the Big Rock at Campbell River

Stephen Hume has written some great columns on BC archaeology and history over the years and he comes out swinging in this recent piece:

Beside Highway 3 near Keremeos, a large glacial boulder has myths attached that extend far into B.C.’s past. It’s our own Stonehenge but it’s defaced with graffiti. Not far away, somebody jackhammered out of a cliff face one of the most significant ancient rock paintings in North America. Near Campbell River, another cultural site of great significance to first nations — the Big Rock — is also covered with graffiti. On Saltspring Island, effluent filters through a grave site with government approval. Near Qualicum, the bones of persons of great importance were mixed into paving material for a parking lot.

We pay lip service to first nations culture; we trot it out when we’re on the world stage — at the Olympics, for example — but our actions betray our venal hypocrisy. When conflicts arise between private commercial gain and public protection of our now-shared ancient heritage, money seems to trump culture almost every time.

I use the term “our” to describe this heritage because we are all citizens of B.C. together, first nations and settler society, fused by our braided history. We have one shared narrative in this province. It is composed of many stories. They begin not with the recent arrival of European adventurers or Asian monks but in a far more ancient past.

When we permit the desecration of important first nations sites, it’s our shared history that we abuse and our children’s legacies that we steal.

I am not convinced that the private member’s bill to which he is refers is the answer, and in any case it died on the vine – more on that later.  And the BC Archaeology Branch is kept on a short leash through the expedient of under-funding.  But I certainly appreciate Hume’s  take-no-prisoners attitude – we need a few vocal bulldogs on the case.  Incidentally, in a parallel universe to this blog, Hume’s brother is in a UVIC archaeology class right now, so maybe another bulldog can be raised – it seems to run in the family.

Notably,  it looks like there is a move afoot to designate the Big Rock, spearheaded by Frank Assu of Cape Mudge.  Let’s hope this succeeds, and maybe we won’t see it get dressed up again as a pumpkin.

Vandalized Pictograph Boulder near Keremeos.