Tag Archives: Washington State

D’Suq’Wub: Old Man House – a Poster

Old Man House: computer reconstruction of one end. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

“Old Man House” is on the Kitsap Peninsula just north of Bainbridge island, across Puget Sound from modern downtown Seattle.  The “house” was the subject of one of the earlier excavations on the NW Coast by Warren Snyder and team from the University of Washington.  The house formed the locus of a major village of the Suquamish Tribe, and its most famous historic resident was Chief Sealth, also known as Chief Seattle.  The Suquamish Tribe has a very nice poster on the history and archaeology of Old Man House which can be downloaded from their website – clicking here will start a moderately sized JPG file. (Edit 2018: archived copy here)

Interpretive sketch of Old Man House. Source: Suquamish Tribe.

It is a bit of misnomer to call this structure a “house” though.

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Yank that sucker out!

Mastodon rib from Manis site, showing protruding end of an intrusive object. Source: CSFA

The Manis Mastodon site near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula (map) is one of the great enigmas of Northwest Coast archaeology.  The site has been known since the 1970s and is purportedly a Mastodon kill-butchery site.  With radiocarbon dates (on plant material associated with extinct mastodon) of 13,500 to 13,900 calendar years ago, the site is clearly pre-Clovis.  As a pre-Clovis site on the Northwest Coast, Manis  should be of comparable stature to, say, the Clovis-killer Monte Verde site in Chile, which dates to about 14,500 calendar years ago.

Doubts remain about this site, though, mainly because it is not yet completely reported.  A preliminary report by Gustafson et al. in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology (which I don’t have handy — hey CAA, I know you sell CDs of your back issues, so how hard can it be to put them online?) was equivocal about the association of some flake and cobble tools with the skeleton, and while interesting conclusions were drawn about the fragmentary nature of the skeleton, nothing conclusive was resolved.  This is despite one of the clearest possible “smoking guns” one could hope for in archaeology.

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Association for Washington Archaeology

9,000 year old stone tools from Colville National Forest, Washington. Source: The Spokesman-Review.

I was a little surprised (and probably shouldn’t be) to find out there was an organization called the Association for Washington Archaeology – equivalent to the Archaeological Society of B.C.  They have a journal (equivalent to The Midden), and are clearly a respected avocational archaeology organization.  They have a pretty low profile, obviously: but partly this must be another symptom of the poor cross-border communication between BC, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon  – the core jurisdictions bounding the Northwest Coast.  They even have a blog called Washington Archaeology, which is only a few weeks old.  Their own link to it is both hidden under a “feedback button” and is broken: I hope that linking it here helps people find it.  There’s not much there yet, but it did lead me to a nice news roundup on the Tse-whit-zen site, and also to an interesting story on a 9,000 year old site in the Colville National Forest, near a town called Republic – just south of the Canadian border close to Grand Forks BC. (map).  Continue reading

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

Five Frogs’ Quiver

Five Frogs' quiver with five metal-tipped arrows. Source: WSU

The quiver and set of arrows above is from the McWhorter Collection at Washington State University.  It belonged to the Nez Perce warrior Pahka Pahtahank (Five Frogs), who fell in battle in 1877.  Ten arrows in total were in the quiver: five with metal tips, and five with plain wooden tips – or, more likely, unhafted (probably prepared for a side-hafting method).  The wooden five are illustrated below. What I find interesting about this quiver is that no two of the five metal-tipped arrows are the same.  Archaeologists are very prone to a simple “projectile point sociology” whereby the styles of (usually, stone) projectile points are used as proxies for archaeological cultures, or ethnic groups, or as temporal markers:  ‘The side-notch people”;  “The corner notch phase”.

It is therefore a little sobering when we see ethnographic instances of an apparently cavalier attitude towards stylistic consistency.  Sometimes, (at least rarely) being a little sober is a useful mindset.   Did the different arrowheads make no difference to accuracy, or to penetration, or even to their definition as “suitable arrows”?  What are the archaeological implications of Five Frogs’ diverse arrows?  In a classic paper, Polly Wiessner (1983) noted several mechanisms for a similar Kalahari case, including hunters exchanging arrows with each other as a sign of respect and affection.  Closer to home, Glen MacKay, in his excellent UVIC M.A. thesis, suggested diverse projectile points in a short occupation site in The Yukon was a technological mediation of kinship unease:

Was the ‘arbitrary’ technical choice of hafting techniques a subtle way for young men living matrilocally to express their discontent with this institution, a means of communicating a desire to return to the people with whom they learned to make spear points and hunt? Several contextual details fiom the KdVo-5 hunting stand support this proposition…..

Emotion in archaeological interpretation!  Stamp it out.

Tips of Five Frogs' wooden arrows. Source: WSU

The top five arrows are from Five Frogs' quiver. The bottom four are from another Nez Perce warrior, Yellow Wolf (Hemene MoxMox), made as deliberate replicas. Source: WSU/

References:

Wiessner, Polly   1983.  Style and Social Information in Kalahari San Projectile Points.  American Antiquity, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 253-276

MacKay, Glen R.   2004.  The Nii’ii hunting stand site : understanding technological practice as social practice in subarctic prehistory.  Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria.  Download.

Swan Down

Watercolour by James Gilchrist Swan (1818-1900) of the Klallam people of chief Chetzemoka (nicknamed 'the Duke of York'), with one of Chetzemoka's wives (nicknamed 'Jenny Lind') distributing potlatch at Port Townsend, Washington, USA. Source: Yale, via Wikipedia.

James Gilchrist Swan

lived one of the most varied and colorful lives in the early history of Washington Territory. He was variously an oysterman, customs inspector, secretary to Congressional delegate Isaac Stevens, journalist, reservation schoolteacher, lawyer, judge, school superintendent, railroad promoter, natural historian, and ethnographer. Above all, Swan was a chronicler. He wrote one of the earliest books describing life in Washington Territory, two Smithsonian monographs, many newspaper articles and technical publications, and more than 60 volumes of still-unpublished diaries. These works document not just pioneer society but also the Northwest Indian cultures that pre-dated white settlement and existed along-side it. Swan’s appreciation of and efforts to record Indian art, technology, history, legends, and language made him a rarity among early Washington settlers.

No doubt Swan wrote some of the most important and interesting accounts of early aboriginal life on the Northwest Coast and you would be lucky to own any of them as hardcopy editions. They are informative and vivid.  While they contain some of the biases of the day, there is absolutely no doubt that Swan was a sincere friend and companion of the Makah, Klallam and other Olympic Peninsula Tribes and he set out to tell their story fully in a way of which many anthropologists of the day would be proud.  Consider for example, this account of a Makah method of catching flatfish: Continue reading

Samuel Hancock witnesses smallpox among the Makah, 1852-53

Front page of Samuel Hancock's memoirs.

Samuel Hancock’s reminiscences were published in 1927 as a very small print run, and contain one of very few contemporary eyewitness accounts of the effects of smallpox on a Northwest Coast people, in this case the Makah Tribe of the Olympic Peninsula. So far as I know, these memoirs are not available anywhere online and are hard to find in libraries.  My brother Al Mackie (I told you only my family reads this thing) sent me a scan of parts of Hancock’s narrative relating to the smallpox epidemic, and so this is in essence his guest contribution.

The  excerpt  is a powerful and distressing account that hints at the social and cultural turmoil which arises from catastrophic depopulation and the witnessing of mass death, as noted elsewhere:

A smallpox epidemic in 1852 decimated the Makah population and caused one of the five ancient villages, Biheda, to be abandoned. This loss was not the only problem. The extreme number of fatalities further disrupted the line of authority in most families. In addition, knowledge of the critical components of some ceremonies and rituals were suddenly lost. People also died without transmitting ceremonial rights or privileges through a potlatch. The complicated social and ritual life that had existed for thousands of years began to fall apart.

The part of Hancock’s book quoted below is on pages 181-183 (PDF).  Such stories must have been passed down in Makah circles as well, much like the smallpox account of Skidegate Haida elder Solomon Wilson.  More detail on the author and source is given below the excerpt.

“Soon after this, a brig commanded by Capt. Fouber arrived here from San Francisco, having on board two natives who lived here, and also a white man with smallpox; the two natives left the brig, and went on shore among their friends, but in a few days were prostrate with the same disease, contracted on the vessel; one soon died and the other recovered, but the disease spread among the natives, proving very disastrous, for in a majority of instances it was fatal. After resorting to every means in their power to arrest its progress and fatality in vain, for their friends were dying in vast numbers daily, those who had escaped became almost frantic with grief and fear, and conceived the idea of crossing the Strait and going to the Nitanat tribe living on Vancouver’s Island. They crossed over to this place, carrying the infection with them, and soon nearly all those who fled from Neaah Bay, besides a great many of the native tribe, became victims to the epidemic.

“It was truly shocking to witness the ravages of this disease here at Neaah Bay. The natives after a time became so much alarmed that when any of their friends were attacked, all of the other occupants who lived in the house would at once leave it and the sick person with a piece of dried salmon and some water, laying all their personal effects by the sick persons, not intending to ever approach them again; sometimes the retreating ones would lie down anywhere on the beach till they died. I have, in walking along, encountered them lying in this situation when they would beg in the most supplicating manner for medicine or something to relieve them, promising to serve me as slaves all their lives should they recover, if I would contribute in some way to their recovery, while I did not have it in my power to do anything to ameliorate the sufferings of the poor creatures other than by furnishing them food or water if needed. Continue reading

Hoko River pictures are back

Hoko River project director Dale Croes, apparently wearing chaps, at the site in 1977.

(Edit 2018 October: look here for current location of these pictures)

Some time ago I pointed readers to the vast repository of Hoko River wet site excavation pictures put online by Dale Croes.  Unfortunately, those links broke but now, via  blog reader APM, I hear that the Hoko photo gallery is back online.  I will definitely be mining this repository for lots of posts.  Not only is this one of the most interesting sites ever excavated on the Northwest Coast, the pictures are a superb combination of excavation, artifact, and camp life – the latter a visual record of local archaeology as social practice in the 1970s. Also, as I mentioned previously, the lush, rich colour of the old Kodachrome slide film is stunning – you just don’t see that in modern digital cameras or even print film, despite the undeniable advantages of digital.

From the main page, many of the most interesting pictures are found under the “camp life” link.  There you will be confronted with an awkward frames-based link layout.  Not all links work still, but I’d say 90% do.  You can browse easily by clicking on the pictures that open on the right-hand frame to get the next picture.  This is easier than keeping the mouse centred on the picture number to the left.  Right click on the picture to bring it up in its own window or tab.  Some pages are organized as thumbnails, such as the wet site stratigraphy series. Because of the slightly awkward interface, I’ll aim to create a series of posts here which point to what I think are interesting aspects of this wonderful site.

Richard Daugherty and survey crew evaluate potential of Hoko Site in 1967 in WSU research vessel.

Ancient Basketry from the Biderbost Site

2,000 year old basketry from the Biderbost Site, Seattle. Source: Burke Museum.

The Biderbost site is on the Snoqualmie River near Seattle.   Since 1960, a series of excavations have revealed a remarkable set of artifacts made from organic materials, preserved because of the water-saturated, anaerobic conditions of deposition.  The Biderbost site was the first site of its kind to be excavated in the Northwest, at least to a professional standard.  The Burke Museum has an excellent page on this site, including a page of basket photos (reasonable resolution, yay), weaving techniques, and conservation of these delicate artifacts.  There are also three informative (if not exciting) videos on YouTube about:

These artifacts, which include a large number of basketry pieces, date about 2,000 years ago.  Since most archaeological sites in the Northwest preserve stone, shell and bone fairly well but not wood, bark or root, these sites (which also includes Ozette, Hoko River (pics now broken fixed), Pitt Polder, Qwu?gwes, Kilgii Gwaay, and others) offer remarkable insight into the organic technology.  Ordinarily, we don’t see this stuff at all archaeologically and yet it may be the majority of the traditional technology; it may be stylistically distinctive and different compared to stone and bone tools; and it may be disproportionately representative of the lives of women.

Why there aren’t more archaeologists focusing research questions on these sites is unclear to me: yes, they are awkward sites and expensive and time consuming, but then so are shell middens.  I suspect it boils down to the unfortunate fact that the key NW wet-site researchers in the last thirty years (Dale Croes and Kathryn Bernick) were never in the kind of academic position where they routinely supervised graduate students and hence they were never able to harness the energy and intellect of that backbone of NW Coast Archaeology: the Master’s student and their diverse and often excellent theses.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that the Burke Museum has a Biderbost “Adopt a Basket” program to help with long term conservation of this remarkable suite of artifacts.

Basket rim and body fragment from Biderbost. Note the mud embedded in the weave. Source: Burke Museum.

Fishing weight wrapped in basketry with sticks attached. At a normal site this would appear to be an unmodified pebble. Source: Burke Museum.

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.