Tag Archives: salmon

Harpoon Arrows

Fishing at the Dalles, 1850, pencil drawing by George Catlin. Source: NYPL.

Fishing at the Dalles, 1850, pencil drawing by George Catlin. Source: NYPL.

I’m probably the last person to get the memo that you can fire a harpoon with a bow and arrow.  In fact,  I only just got my head around firing a harpoon with an atlatl.  Anyway, take a squint at the picture above – the figure in the lower left background is clearly shooting a harpoon-arrow from his bow.  The picture is from about 1850 and is a pencil drawing of a scene at The Dalles, on the Columbia River.  I’ll take a closer look at this picture below. Continue reading

Salmon species now knowable from vertebrae

Measurement of vertebral height. Source: Huber et al. 2011

Salmon are a crucial cultural keystone species across most of the Northwest,  of very high importance to many coastal and interior cultural groups for thousands of years.  Many archaeological sites are chock full of salmon bones, and the oldest of these are around 10,000 years old.  As a cultural story, the importance of salmon is obvious.  Increasingly though, the archaeological data are also invoked to tell the history of salmon themselves.  The very long-term view of the archaeological record provides  knowledge of their ranges, their relative abundance, their life histories, etc.  These data can then be harnessed as part of conservation and fisheries management of these threatened species of fish.

Each species offers different things to people: some run early, some late; some are more fatty, some leaner; some run in huge compact numbers, others tend to dribble by; some can be caught in large numbers in the open ocean, others can only be caught efficiently in streams.  There’s just one problem with using salmon bones in archaeology: until recently, you really couldn’t tell one species of salmon from another based only on their bones.

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Long term salmon resilience

Salmon lice infestation. Source: Georgia Strait Alliance.

I’ve just dipped into an interesting paper (PDF) by Sarah Campbell and Virginia Butler, which explores 7,500 years of relationship between First Nations and Pacific Salmon.  While, as ever, the archaeological evidence is discontinuous and somewhat patchy, the authors reach profound conclusions that go far beyond the usual archaeological focus on the past, as if the past still exists other than in the present.

The Northwest Coast was estimated to have the second highest indigenous population density in North America (after California) at European contact, with population estimates ranging from 102,100 to 210,100 (Ubelaker 2006). Haggan et al. (2006) propose an annual average per person consumption rate of 230 kg/yr based on two 19th- century estimates. At this rate, 200,000 people would annually consume 46,000 metric tons (50,706 tons) of salmon, comparable in magnitude to the average yearly commercial catch between 1901 and 2000 (Jones 2002). (emphasis added)

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More on Comox Harbour Fishtraps

Fishtrap stakes delineating chevron patterns in the intertidal zone of Comox Harbour. Photo credit: Greene 2010.

I posted once before some time ago on the incredible fishtrap complexes in Comox Harbour on eastern Vancouver Island, highlighting Megan Caldwell’s M.A. thesis (downloadable) on the topic, and mentioning in passing that primacy of investigation should perhaps go to Nancy Greene, who has been mapping and dating these features for about a decade.  I was glad to find the other day that Nancy Greene has a 2010 downloadable poster on the topic (link starts a 4 meg PDF)  from an academic conference: WARP, the Wetland Archaeological Research Project, which itself has a nifty new website.

These Comox Harbour fishtraps are one of the wonders of B.C. Archaeology and it is highly welcome to see some more of Greene’s reconstructions and mapping.

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