Tag Archives: Salish

Happy “Birthday”, Vancouver

Unidentified Musqueam Chief as portrayed by Cardero in 1792. Source: Vancouver Sun.

The City of Vancouver had its 125th anniversary yesterday, and the local press was full of reflective pieces on civic leaders, famous visitors, notable crimes and, of course, sports.  Well, it would be churlish not to wish Vancouver Happy Birthday!  Well done, Vancouverites.  But in all the coverage of this momentous event, I only see one single article which acknowledges that people might have lived at the mouth of the Fraser River for a tad longer than 125 years.  And a curious article (PDF)  it is: Ancient history of Vancouver’s first peoples: The city’s history predates its 1886 founding, with a native midden dating back 9,000 years

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Bridge River Housepit Geophysics

Magnetometry map of the Bridge River Site housepits. Source: Prentiss et al. 2009

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see what was underground without having to go through the time-consuming, expensive and destructive process of digging it up?  There are some nice geophysics techniques in archaeology for doing just that, though none are yet a substitute for excavation.  I noticed the other day (and you were quizzed on it) that there is a very comprehensive recent report online (45 meg PDF) by Anna Marie Prentiss and colleagues, on work at the middle Fraser pithouse village of Bridge River (EeRl-4).  This village lies in the territory of Bridge River Band (Xwisten) and the St’át’imc Nation.  While there is a huge amount of archaeological interest across the 350 page report as a whole, it was the use of geophysics on an interior pithouse village which got my attention.

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NW Geology Field Trips Lead to Chert?

The Aldergrove Glacial Erratic. source: geocaching.com

This is something a little different, leading to something cool: the NW Geology Blog has assembled quite a few self-guided geological fieldtrips, mostly in the Seattle to Vancouver corridor.  There are two in the Fraser Valley: the Aldergrove glacial erratic, and the Shasta erratic in Coquitlam.  The other BC field trip is to the recent, massive debris flow at Capricorn Creek.

But it was one of the Washington State trips which caught my eye though: a trip to a formation of Stilpnomelane at Blanchard Mountain, Skagit County, near Bellingham Washington.  The reason this caught my eye: the formation is intersected by massive, green chert beds.

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The Skagit River Atlatl

The Skagit River Atlatl. Image © UBC Museum of Anthropology, Photographed by Derek Tan. CC Licenced.

An atlatl, or spear thrower, is a device used to increase the velocity, and hence range or striking power, of a projectile.  These are usually made of wood or other organic material, and hence they seldom survive in the archaeological record.  Some years ago though, one was dragged up in a fishing net from waterlogged conditions in the Skagit River estuary in northern Washington State near Anacortes.  As the UBC Museum of Anthropology describes:

Made of yew, a hard yet flexible wood, the weapon survived 1,700 years buried in alluvium in the Skagit estuary until it was dredged from these silts by a seine fisher’s net in 1939 in the Lower Skagit between Townhead Island and Bald Head Island. It is believed that it hung in a fish shed, perhaps to dry slowly thus preventing some deterioration, until archaeologists became aware of it in the 1950’s.

Rather incongruously, the Southwest Archaeology blog Gambler’s House has had two in-depth posts about this artifact, here and here.  It’s worth reading both as they give excellent background and tons of links.

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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

Peabody Museum Ethnographic Collection

Haida carved cockle. Source: Peabody.

The Peabody Museum at Harvard has a predictably great collection from the Northwest Coast.  I’m more drawn to the archaeological-type artifacts vs. the masks and baskets and argillite, but fill your eyes with the charming Haida carving of a cockle, above, collected in “Massett Bay”.

One nice thing about this collection is the accession ledger is also scanned in and made available.  For example, if you go the the page for the cockle above here, you can click on the cockle picture for a higher resolution, on the first ledger page for the left hand side of the ledger book, and on the second for the right hand side.  It is possible in this way to do some ad hoc fact checking of their descriptions to finding additional information. For example, the cockle’s second page contains the notation “taken from the interior of R/200”.  Accession number R/200 turns out to be this unusual ?argillite carved box with inlaid shell.

Some of the other objects are equally unusual – I’d say there are more “wow – never seen one of those before” moments in this collection than any other I have seen.

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Lasqueti Island Archaeology

Projectile points and other artifacts from Lasqueti Island.

So many of the Gulf Island of the BC Coast are essentially unknown to archaeologists.  This goes for the larger ones as well as the small: I’d count Lasqueti, Hornby, Texada, Saturna, and Prevost Islands among those, while even major islands like Mayne Island and Quadra Island are often known only from one site, dug long ago.

This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any work, or that there aren’t interesting and revealing collections of archaeological material already in existence.  So it is great to see that Dana Lepofsky of SFU has put together a small web site on the archaeology of Lasqueti Island.  She deftly combines some ethnographic and traditional practice information with a series of photographs of private collections of artifacts.  Among these are projectile points apparently assignable to the Charles Phase, which dates around 5400 to 3600 years ago.  Also note the beautiful ground stone adze or chisel in this picture: the luminous green nephrite (B.C. “jade”) would have been imported from the Central Fraser River, probably no closer than the Hope area.  This flaked and ground sandstone club is an unusual find, probably used in hunting or fishing, but perhaps also in warfare.

If you click the photographs, then a window will open; if you click the “image details” link on the pop-up window then you will be taken to more information about that photo, if available.  There are also two PDFs linked, one to the role of herring in traditional subsistence, and another on mapping a fishtrap.  These stem from Lepofsky’s ongoing work (and excellent website) in Tla’amin territory on the Sunshine Coast (previously), where she will be running an archaeological fieldschool again this summer.  While this only scratches the surface of Lasqueti Archaeology, it does point to the usefulness of looking at what citizens have picked up over the years as a guide to some of the time depth and activities of an area.

Sadly, of course, some of the artifacts picked up may have resulted from, or even caused, unnecessary disturbances to the archaeological record.  Lepofsky provides a helpful “call before you dig” article as well – specific to Lasqueti yet applicable elsewhere.  In typical Dana fashion, as a Lasquetian herself, the number to call is her own!

Lasqueti Island intertidal fishtrap. Photo: Dana Lepofsky.

Tse-whit-zen whale

Tse-whit-zen whale sculpture.  Source: Peninsula News, Port Angeles.

Whale sculpture from the Tse-whit-zen archaeological site, Port Angeles. Source: Peninsula News.

The Tse-whit-zen site is a former Klallam Tribe village that was discovered by the construction of a graving dock at Port Angeles, Washington State.  The subsequent disturbance and archaeological project led to an astonishing series of events with over 300 human burials recovered, many more disturbed, 65,000 artifacts recovered and after a huge investment the abandonment of the graving dock project at a cost some estimate in excess of 100 million dollars.  This is a story I want to know more about and will probably post on from time to time.

But for today, set aside the sad history and feast your eyes on the above small sculpture of a whale discovered during the summer of 2009 at Tse-whit-zen during mopping up remediation.  The artist has captured the essence of whale!  The article doesn’t say, but there may be a socket on the lower back of the whale just in front of the tail – perhaps this was the handle for a small chisel, or a knife.  I also wonder if it doesn’t go the other way up — the mouth is asymmetric and the arching back of a diving whale would be a more natural posture.  Either way, this is a happy little sculpture, probably dating from about 2,000 years ago.

Captain Vancouver and Camas

Saranne, or lily, harvesting on the Strait of Juan de Fuca in May 1792.

I am sure it is well known to local ethnobotanists, but I don’t recall seeing the above account of plant cultivation reference before.  It is from page 123 of Captain Vancouver’s “Voyage of Discovery …. ” (1801 edition, which you can browse online here).

I didn’t figure out the exact locale of this camp but it is probably very close to Port Discovery, near Port Townsend at the north end of Puget Sound.  The camp is carefully noted as a plant-harvesting camp and also a place where shellfish were being processed. The houses are mere lean-tos.  It is interesting to see that the considerable number of “eighty or a hundred” women, men and children were engaged in turning over the earth here, “like swine” (!).  It gives a vivid impression of a well-orchestrated, community-level harvesting event.  Vancouver comments favourably on the product, a sort of paste or flour.

Vancouver refers to one plant as a species of wild onion, while the other two plants being cultivated are termed as resembling “saranne”.  That being a new term to me, I turned to the OED only to find it not listed, which is quite surprising.  Googling turned up some interesting historical references though, in which it is clearly a term used for members of the Lily family (camas is also a member of this family).  For example, see this 1792 clip from Pennant’s Arctic Zoology Volume 3, on the use of Saranne, or Lilium kamchatschense, by the inhabitants of (yes) Kamchatka (let your eyes skim, gentle reader, over the foregoing section on the use and abuse of hallucinogenic mushrooms). Perhaps this term, Saranne, was in use around the North Pacific at that time but it strikes me as odd it did not find its way into the OED.

Anyway, a few pages down from p. 123 you can also find a nice description of the Coast Salish wool dog, which is described as being much like a Pomeranian.

Camas flowers and bulbs. Source: Brenda Beckwith Ph.D. thesis, 2004. http://hdl.handle.net/1828/632