A Heiltsuk village site on B.C.’s mid-coast is three times as old as the Great Pyramid at Giza and among the oldest human settlements in North America, according to researchers at the Hakai Institute.
The excavation on Triquet Island has already produced extremely rare artifacts, including a wooden projectile-launching device called an atlatl, compound fish hooks and a hand drill used for lighting fires, said Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria.
The village has been in use for about 14,000 years, based on analysis of charcoal recovered from a hearth about 2.5 metres below the surface, making it one of the oldest First Nations settlements yet uncovered. Dates from the most recent tests range from 13,613 to 14,086 years ago.
“We were so happy to find something we could date,” she said. What started as a one-metre-by-one-metre “keyhole” into the past, expanded last summer into a three-metre trench with evidence of fire related in age to a nearby cache of stone tools.
“It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit, what we are calling a bean-shaped hearth,” she said. “The material that we have recovered from that trench has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.” [continue]
I’ve come across dozens of interesting things to share with you lately, but I’ve also been quite short of time. So here are a whole bunch of things I think you’ll like, all at once, for your weekend reading pleasure.
I’ve thought of doing this for a while now: occasional posts full of linky goodness. But a pleasing name for such postings failed to suggest itself to me, and so I was thwarted. This morning, though, the name arrived in my brain. This is An Exaltation of Links. Because why should the larks have all the fun?
Maple tree seedlings appear all at once here, it seems, through vast swaths of the forest. Usually I spot them on February 11th (a friend’s birthday, so easy to remember) but this year they’re over a month late. At any rate, they’re everywhere now. And they look so much like the sprouts I grow in my kitchen that I wonder if I can add baby maple trees to my salads.
Broad-leaved Maple was not widely used as food, but the Saanich and Cowichan placed the leaves in steaming pits to flavour meat, and according to Barnett (1955), the Vancouver Island Salish ate the fresh cambium in small quantities, although “it made one thin to eat too much”. The cambium was constipating, so was eaten with oil. It was also occasionally dried in criss-cross stips for winter. The Nlaka’pamux people at Spuzzum, near Yale in the Fraser Canyon, and possibly also the Upper Sto:lo peeled and ate young maple shoots raw, and also boiled and ate the sprouts when they were about 3 cm tall.
So! That sounds promising, yes?
I wonder if Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta has eaten maple seedlings. She’s not too far from me, and notices lots of details in the forest. The photos she publishes are so often like the ones I have just taken!
Everywhere they looked, there were corpses. Abandoned, overgrown villages were littered with skulls; whole sections of coastline strewn with bleached, decayed bodies.
“The skull, limbs, ribs and backbones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were found in many places, promiscuously scattered about the beach in great numbers,” wrote explorer George Vancouver in what is now Port Discovery, Wash.
It was May 1792. The lush environs of the Georgia Strait had once been among the most densely populated corners of the land that is now Canada, with humming villages, harbours swarming with canoes and valleys so packed with cookfires that they had smog.
But the Vancouver Expedition experienced only eerie quiet.
They kept seeing rotting houses and massive clearings cut out of the Pacific forest — evidence that whoever lived here had been able to muster armies of labourers.
And yet the only locals the sailors encountered were small groups of desperately poor people, many of them horribly scarred and missing an eye. [continue]
The Tlingit and Haida, indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast (NWC), have used carved wooden hooks to catch halibut for centuries. As modern fishing technology crept into use, however, the old hooks practically disappeared from the sea. But they thrived on land—as decorative art.
The hook’s evolution from utilitarian tool to expression of cultural heritage is the subject of a paper by Jonathan Malindine, a doctoral student in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Anthropology. In “Northwest Coast Halibut Hooks: an Evolving Tradition of Form, Function, and Fishing,” published in the journal Human Ecology, he traces the arc of the hook’s design and how its dimensions have changed over time.
“I used to be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and also lived in a Tlingit and Haida community,” Malindine said. “So, the intersection of fisheries and Alaska Native art has always fascinated me. These NWC hooks are really effective at catching halibut, and also are intricately carved with rich, figural designs. Between the technology and the mythological imagery, there’s a lot going on.” [continue]
On a small island off Canada’s west coast, a group of people is rebuilding ancient clam gardens.
For thousands of years, indigenous people all along the Pacific Northwest coast have cultivated clams by manipulating beaches to encourage the growth of more and bigger shellfish. These clam gardens supply a reliable and abundant source of nutritious food year round. [continue]
Researchers are documenting Sahtu Dene caribou fences in the Northwest Territories, marking a physical record of Indigenous history in the area.
Tom Andrews, an archeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, is documenting a kilometre-long wooden fence believed to have been used about 100 years ago in the Sahtu region.
“It’s a real smart hunting strategy that’s probably been used for thousands of years,” Andrews said.
Hunters used the fence to corral caribou, making it easier for them to hunt them in large numbers. [continue]
The usual archaeological/anthropological view of First Nations peoples (that’s the Canadian version of the term American Indian) in British Columbia is that they were hunter-gatherers, getting what they needed from the land and sea without adopting agricultural practices. But a series of studies from Simon Fraser University is challenging that idea: the team, led by archaeologist Dana Lepofsky, has found and dated “clam gardens” from thousands of years ago, and these early shellfish farms turn out to be anything but simple.
“Of course, First Nations knew they were there all along,” said Lepofsky in an email. “In fact, my friend Clan Chief Adam Dick/Kwaksistalla told anthropologist Doug Deur about them ages ago, but Doug, not being an archaeologist, assumed all western scientists already knew about them. Nope.”
The clam gardens were constructed as a series of stone terraces on specific parts of the shore to protect them from the sea, basically making calmer pools where clams can grow more safely and easily. The key is to alter the slope of the soft-bottomed beach as it stretches out to sea—if you can make it a relatively flat surface, the clams will grow much more quickly. In a study last year, the team built clam gardens as similar as possible to the remnants of the ones they found. The researchers found that the output of littleneck clams nearly doubles and the volume of butter clams actually quadruples over the amount harvested from unmodified clam beaches. The new study found evidence that these indigenous people were replanting baby clams in pretty much the exact same way that modern farmers grow clams today. These weren’t accidental pools; these were farms. [continue]