Tag Archives: Royal BC Museum

More on Stone Bowls and Reality Shows

Screenshot from Times-Colonist of Qualicum bowl which may be subjected to reality TV auction by CBC.

Screenshot from Times-Colonist of Qualicum bowl which may be subjected to reality TV auction by CBC.  Click to enlarge.

The Times-Colonist has another article (PDF) on the seated human figure bowl which may go up for auction as part of a crass CBC reality TV show. The new article has some good information about the bowl from Grant Keddie and reactions from the B.C. Archaeology Branch and the CBC.  Thanks to twoeyes for posting this article in comments in the prior post; I thought it needed a new entry of its own.

The bowl was apparently found in Qualicum Beach in 1988, and is known to the Royal BC Museum – it has been photographed by them (see screenshot above).  I’m not sure if there has been any publications about this bowl, if the Qualicum First Nation knew about it before this mini-controversy, or what has been said to the owner about the importance of the item. The Times-Colonist does have some interesting quotes from those involved.

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Highlights from the Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi Project

Screenshot from the online document about Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, showing his iron-bladed “man’s tool”, and a small copper bead found with the body. Source: Royal BC Museum.

[Edit Nov 2017: The Book is now available, also through Amazon, etc.]

Many readers of this ever-more occasional blog will be aware of the exciting and profound discovery in 1999 of the well-preserved remains of a young man frozen in a glacier in Northwestern British Columbia.  Found within the traditional territory of the Champagne-Aishihik First Nation, the man was given the name Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, or “Long Ago Person Found.”  In the spirit of discovering what messages from the past that Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi might bearing, a remarkable collaborative research project was commenced. Results of this study have been presented at numerous conferences and in the scientific literature, but a landmark event hopefully just around the corner is the publication of a book recounting all the cultural and scientific knowledge borne into the present by this unfortunate young man.

While we wait for the book, it is very exciting to see that the Royal BC Museum has made a non-technical, well-illustrated overview document online which tells the main threads of the story of Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi. (edit, try this link instead, RBCM seems to have killed this document?)

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Images from the Likeness House

Cover of Dan Savard's new book. The RBCM caption reads: "This man has been variously identified as a chief from four different areas of BC’s interior, including possibly Tyee Jim from the central interior (tyee means “chief” in Chinook, a trade language). John Wallace Jones or Thomas McNabb Jones photograph, about 1897." Source of this photo: Amazon.ca

There is an exciting new book in the pipeline on early photography and First Nations of the historic period.  The author, Dan Savard, is senior collections manager of the Royal BC Museum’s anthropology audio and visual collection.  The promotional blurb reads:

On a winter’s day in 1889, Tsimshian Chief Arthur Wellington Clah visited Hannah and Richard Maynard’s photography studio in Victoria to have his portrait taken. “Rebekah ask if I going likeness house,” Chief Clah wrote in his diary, “So I go, to give myself likeness. Rebekah stand longside me.” In Images from the Likeness House, Dan Savard explores the relationship between First Peoples in British Columbia, Alaska and Washington and the photographers who made images of them from the late 1850s to the 1920s.

I won’t be here (have some bottom sampling to attend to in Haida Gwaii), but Dan is giving a free public lecture and will sign copies of his book next week at the RBCM.

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Bird bones at the RBCM

Swainson's Hawk skull. Three views from RBCM Avian Osteology site.

I made a post the other day on a cool M.A. thesis about how to tell deer, bear and human wrist and ankle bones apart.  Identification of bones is one of the essential specialist activities in archaeology: the bones don’t come out of the ground labelled, and yet they are a key way to understand past diet, behaviour and environmental change.  Being able to identify a bone from the ground to the species it comes from requires a collection of bones of known species – a comparative collection – and these do not grow on trees.  They are laborious to produce and finicky to curate.  The one at the University of Victoria, for example, contains over 1,500 skeletons and is in constant use by archaeologists and biologists, not to mention the awesomely talented people at Pacific IDentifications. Mind you, the UVIC collection is one of the best anywhere in North America, but most archaeology departments and even many consulting archaeologists attempt to have a basic comparative collection on hand.  This is a burdensome chore!

While looking at pictures will never be a substitute for a three-dimensional bone for comparison, it can nonetheless be better than nothing.  It is therefore nice to see a really useful, if preliminary, set of web pages at the Royal B.C. Museum on Avian osteology.

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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?

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Maps and Charts at the RBCM

1849 Indian Fort at Cadboro Bay

Indian Fort at Cadboro Bay, 1849

The Royal BC Museum was ahead of the curve in putting significant parts of its collection.  One thing I like is their small but relevant collection of maps and charts.  The 1849 chart inset to the left shows an “Indian Fort” in Cadboro Bay, for example.  There is a good selection of Admiralty Charts from the mid 19th Century, Pemberton’s 1861 map of Victoria (the “Bay” in this section is the real “James Bay”, now landfill under the Empress Hotel , where the bridge shows is now the causeway), and a 1911 map showing the Economic geography of Haida Gwaii (which interestingly includes Sea Otter as part of the fauna “on the west coast” since that species is thought to have been extirpated much earlier).  It is always surprising and sobering to see just how quickly remote areas were divided up and labelled according to their perceived economic value in a way that borders on propaganda, but there is realism too check out the instructions to family men.  Now the bad news: the price of being first is often not being very good.  I suspect when these went online bandwidth was a realy problem.  Each chart is split up into 100kb segments and it is not possible to download the entire thing at once.  The full size images must exist, so how about a quick project at the RBCM to make them downloadable in their entirety?  Same goes for the picture archives.

Pickford on Excavation of “Indian Middens”

A.E. Pickford's ideal plan of an earth oven.

A.E. Pickford's ideal plan of an earth oven.

A.E. Pickford was the Assistant in Anthropology at the Royal BC Museum, when it was still known by its proper name of the Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology.  Here I link to his indispensible 1947 article, “Archaeological Excavation of Indian Middens” – the examination of such middens by means of sampling.

The rationale for the publication is interesting:  “In case of private ownership, if a person is unable to restrain the impulse to dig on his own land, we urge that he shall adhere to some such principles as those which follow, then he will have the satisfaction of knowing that his work is well done and, when brought into focus with similar undertakings, will help to build up that sound formation of knowledge, without which the correct story of the early population of this country cannot be written.”

After encouraging the study of lofty topics such as racial and cultural origins, foods, housing …. etc., Pickford busts out his inner schoolmarm: “He who digs for relics alone may be likened to the child who tears a book apart in order to secure the coloured plates which it contains, being the while all unaware that in scattering the printed pages to the wind he is losing forever a valuable source of information about those same plates and the life which they represent”.

Reference: Report for the Year 1947.  Victoria: Provincial Museum of Natural History and Anthropology, Province of British Columbia, Department of Education.  [yes, education].