Vero Beach, Florida, mammoth engraving. Source: National Geographic.
I’ve been vaguely aware that in 2009 at Vero Beach (map) near Miami, a sensational find came to light of a bone with a mammoth engraved onto it. So far there has not been a lot to say about it but now I read that Dennis Stanford at the Smithsonian has inspected it and found no reason to think it is not genuine (yes, that kind of double-negative convoluted opinion).
Anyway, the story is interesting in its own right and perhaps has some lessons for us on the NW Coast as well, which I’ll discuss at more length below.
The Skagit River Atlatl. Image © UBC Museum of Anthropology, Photographed by Derek Tan. CC Licenced.
, 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.
Gwayasdums house under construction 1899. Source: SFU.
The Bill Reid Centre for Northwest Coast Art Studies is part of the Department of Archaeology and First Nation Studies at Simon Fraser University, although it is physically located in downtown Vancouver. It currently shares space with the Bill Reid Gallery on Hornby St., near SFU’s Harbour Centre Campus. They have a website that looks to be growing fast with some good content – and despite the name of the centre, it is not only about Haida Art, or even just about Art:
A major activity of the Centre is to visually document through photographs, drawings and other works, the depth and richness of Northwest Coast Art in the hundreds of communities in which monumental architecture and sculpture were recorded.
I’ll point out a few highlights and make some comments “after the jump”
Signs of Lekwungen "Walk in Two Worlds", near corner of Fort and Wharf Street in Victoria. Source: Flickr.com user ngawangchodron
The city of Victoria in collaboration with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations has fairly recently created a series of outdoor art installations which mark culturally-significant places. As the City’s online brochure explains,
Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en) is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years.
The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are part of the Coast Salish family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups. Lekwungen is the original language of this land.
The Signs of Lekwungen consist of seven unique site markers – bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.
Posted in First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged art, Butch Dick, Esquimalt, First Nations, Lekwungen, Songhees, Spindle Whorls, Victoria BC
Mystery panel pipe. 12 inches long by 4 inches high.
I got contacted the other day by someone who was handling the estate of an elderly art collector. The entire collection is African with one exception, the panel pipe shown above, and with more pictures below. The person is looking for some basic information about these pipes and I suppose they will be charged with its disposition. They contacted me thinking I might know something about them because I have posted about such pipes before, but of course I am just an archaeologist and make posts about a lot of things of which I am largely ignorant.
Mystery panel pipe, detail.
I’ve given them contact information for someone who actually does know but in the meantime they said it would be ok to post these pictures here and see what the readers have to say.
Village of the Friendly Indians near Bute's Canal. Watercolour by William Alexander. Source: University of Illinois.
Yesterday I posted an engraved view of a village near the entrance to Bute Inlet, the view seen in 1792 during the voyage of Captain Vancouver. Much as with the earlier posts on John Webber (1, 2, 3), there are multiple versions of these scenes. The above shows a watercolour rendering made by William Alexander, a well known artist and draughtsman of the late 18th century. It seems his series of works on the NW Coast was not done from life but was a commissioned finalization of the drawings of William Daniell, who was actually on Vancouver’s voyages, and perhaps other artists/oficer’s sketches. At least that is the story I’ve been able to winkle out, starting from a position of sheer ignorance. Nicely, though, Alexander’s watercolours from the Vancouver Voyage series, covering Alaska, the Northwest Coast and some views of California and Chile, are all available online through the Newberry Library at the University of Illinois. These renderings were not familiar to me and perhaps not to you, either.
Posted in alaska, Archaeology, California, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, pics, Vancouver Island
Tagged art, Captain Vancouver, Coast Salish, Salish Sea, watercolours, William Alexander
I’m a big fan of classic Northwest Coast art – it’s hard not to be. But there is also a large and highly talented array of indigenous Northwest Coast artists who work in a variety of media and contemporary idioms. One who recently caught my eye is Sitka Tlingit artist Nicholas Galanin. You probably recognize the figure in the foreground above: Bill Reid’s iconic “Raven and the First People” (if not from class, then from your 20$ bill), which tells the story of Raven-Travelling in ancient times, finding a clamshell, hearing noises inside, and releasing people and animals into a transforming world.
But wait, what’s that figure in the background, on the other side of the glass window, in the courtyard of the MOA?
Posted in alaska, First Nations, Haida Gwaii, Northwest Coast
Tagged art, Bill Reid, Haida Art, MOA, Museum of Anthropology, museums, Nicholas Galanin, sculpture, Sitka, tlingit, Tlingit Art
Argillite and ivory compote attributed to Haida master carver Charles Edenshaw. Height: 30 cm. Source: Liverpool Museum.
I only have a short post today since I am up to my neck in alligators, courtesy of my day job. So, take a moment and check out the spectacular argillite compote (a pedestaled serving dish), attributed to Haida master carver Da.axiigang, Charles Edenshaw. This particular dish is in the collection of the Liverpool Museum – an institution that holds a collection donated by well-known coastal collector, casual ethnographer, and (apparently) former Liverpudlian, Dr. Charles Newcombe – many of the items in their Northwest Coast section must come from this source. It is one of the more striking pieces of Argillite I have seen in that the form is so clearly derived from silverware: it is sublimely ridiculous, and I can’t help but feel that Edenshaw was in on the joke. Yes, he would make what would sell, but a piece like this makes me wonder if he wasn’t slyly pulling the touristic leg, somewhat.
Posted in anthropology, history, Northwest Coast
Tagged anthropology, argillite, art, artifacts, british columbia, Haida Art, ivory, LIverpool, museums, Northwest Coast
Detail of a Nootka Sound watercolour by John Webber, 1778. Click to enlarge. Source: British Museum.
From the British Museum, a superb watercolour:
Nootka Sound, on the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island in Canada, was discovered by Captain Cook in his two ships, Resolution and Discovery in 1778. This drawing records this bay and some of its inhabitants. It is drawn in ink, pencil and wash and watercolours. The artist, John Webber (1751-93), accompanied Captain Cook on his third voyage of exploration in the South Seas and Pacific Ocean, which lasted for four years from 1776 to 1780. Webber was one of several artists employed to record the peoples, animals birds, fishes, plants and landscapes of the newly discovered Pacific Islands.
The written descriptions of the location are confirmed by the drawing. It is severe and inhospitable. High cliffs, rocks that reach right down into the sea, and the jagged shore line gave it a ‘melancholy appearance’. The terrible weather, which left the trees ‘mutilated by rough gales’ contrasted greatly with the tropical scenes ans palm trees enjoyed by the explorers in Tahiti.
Webber also drew the native people. Their clothing, basically the same for men as for women, consisted of a woven cloth, fastened at the shoulder or neck. According to Captain Cook, the cloth was the bark of the pine tree, beaten flat like a sort of rough felt. The head was covered with a conical hat made of matting. It is probable that Webber modified the drawing for the sake of decency and for public viewing. Cook described the men’s dress as generally bare in the ‘… Middles, nor are they ashamed to appear naked’.
It’s not clear what the kneeling man on the right is doing: is he using a mussel shell to dig? Several harpoons complete with foreshafts seem to be visible. It is a skillful and atmospheric rendering of Nuu-chah-nulth life shortly after first contact with Europeans.
"Euclueliat village, Barclay Sound, Vancouver Island, N.W. Coast. H.M.S. Satellite" pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, click through for large size.
The above is a rendering of Ucluelet Inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, made in 1859. You can clearly see the aboriginal village to the right. Artfully, the artist has caught a whale hunt at the exact moment of harpooning in the foreground. I’ve zoomed in on the village below.
Detail of Ucluelet Inlet village.
Interestingly, the next picture in this folio from Yale University is labelled as a “Songhee” Village (below), yet rather than a Victoria area settlement, it fairly clearly shows what I think is another Ucluelet-area village, with the distinctive saddle-shaped hill to the east side of the inlet. (The trees are different which makes me think it is a different one than above) Anyway, nothing earth-shaking but I had never seen these historic drawings before.
Songhee? Village. North West Coast Vancouver Island. Barclay Sound. H.M.S. Satellite." pen and ink and watercolor drawing 1859 Mar. Source: Yale. Click for original, then click through for large size.
Posted in anthropology, archives, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Vancouver Island
Tagged art, Barkley Sound, british columbia, ethnohistory, First Nations, history, HMS Satellite, Nuu-chah-nulth, Ucluelet