Screenshot of PSAL Web Page.
It looks like big Northwest Coast projects on old sites are in the works at Oregon State University. I came across a new blog which is the public face of something called the Pacific Slope Archaeological Lab with the mission of “Discovery, recovery, and interpretation of First Americans archaeology in the New World’s Far West.” The blog points to a large number of projects which have been initiated or are planned under this research umbrella. How is such a wide-ranging and ambitious research project possible? A million dollar endowment making a fund under the direction of OSU Associate Professor Loren Davis isn’t hurting.
Dense fish trap / weir in an Oregon estuary. Source: Byram pdf @ WARP website
(edit: I completely stupidly mixed up who did the poster under discussion. Apologies all around, fixed the text below)
I mentioned the Wetland Archaeology Research Project (WARP) and their revamped website once before in reference to Nancy Greene’s pioneering fishtrap work at Comox. I’m glad to see they have another interesting conference-style poster available for download, this one by Robert Losey (now at the University of Alberta) Scott Byram on the topic of Oregon fish weirs in unusual settings (PDF).
If a cow patch strikes you as an unusual setting, of course.
Maxillae of the Great Sculpin. Source: PSU
OK, I have written more exciting headlines in my life. But as I noted before, zooarchaeologists – the specialists in identifying and interpreting animal remains – are some of the unsung heroes of archaeology. The discipline requires encyclopedic knowledge of hundreds of animal skeletons, the ability to relate even small fragments from archaeological contexts back to whole specimens of known species, and a thorough understanding of both culture and ecology – all this in addition to the normal skill set of a typical archaeologist. Master all this, and your reward is to be called “Bone Guy” (or worse) for the rest of your professional life.
Anyway, it is welcome to find another online guide to some common archaeological animal remains from the Northwest. While I know it is a bit too much information for many readers of this web site, it is important to share the link and information, since considerable time and effort was put into this admittedly niche set of illustrated fish bones, and archaeologists need to be aware of it.
Eulachon. Source: Sitnews.net
I often use eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus, a small, anadramous smelt) as an example of “archaeologically-invisible” food. They are also known as “candlefish”, on account of being so oily that a wick jammed down their throat will burn like a candle.
These small fish run by the millions up rivers to spawn, where they could be intercepted. Traditionally, many or most eulachon would be processed into eulachon oil, or grease: a highly nutritious, calorie-dense substance that preserved very well and could also be used to preserve other foods such as berries. The means of processing was to put them into a large container, perhaps an old canoe, known colloquially as a “stink box”, let them “rest” there for a week, and then heat them up, enabling the oil to rise and then be skimmed off, or pressed out. The residue (bones, guts, brains, etc.) would then be returned to the river and few or no bones would make it away from the processing site. In this way, eulachon provided a staple food, a nutritional supplement, a means of preservation, and an extremely valuable trade item – when Alexander Mackenzie arrived near Bella Coola in 1793, “Over Land, From Canada”, he did so on one of the well-worn grease trails that linked coast to interior. Since the fish arrive in the early Spring, they were hailed as starvation busters in lean years. Nonetheless, archaeologically they are almost invisible, relative to their importance.
Haisla eulachon catch from the Kemano River. Source: living landscapes.
It is therefore sobering to read that U.S. President Obama has listed the Columbia River eulachon as an endangered species: eulachon are becoming almost invisible relative to the real world now, it seems.
Posted in anthropology, First Nations, history, Northwest Coast, Oregon
Tagged aboriginal fisheries, anthropology, eulachon, First Nations, fishery management, fishing, history, Nass River, Northwest Coast, Nuxalk, oolichan, oolikan, Oregon, smelt, traditional use
A flake of obsidian from DhRr-18, southern British Columbia. This visually-distinctive glass is from the Mount Garibaldi obsidian source.
Obsidian is a kind of volcanic glass and was highly prized for making certain kinds of stone tools. Obsidian forms at places of relatively small outflows of magma, or liquid rock. Small flows can cool quickly, which allows the formation of a glassy crystalline structure ideal for stone tool manufacture. Small flows also represent a small sample of well-mixed magma, and thus each little patch of obsidian may share a very distinctive chemical signature. This signature, usually identified by trace elements such as Strontium, Zirconium, Yttrium and Rubidium, then allows for the chemical fingerprinting of each source. Any obsidian artifact found, whether at a source or not, can also be “fingerprinted” and then compared to a catalogue of known obsidian ources. Since the artifacts don’t move around on their own but only through the agency of humans, the distribution of obsidian artifacts is a proxy measure for the movement and interaction of people. When you have hundreds or thousands of such artifacts and a large database of known sources, then you can start to see large scale, long-term social interaction emerge from the silent archaeological record. Most obsidian isn’t visually distinctive enough to sort out by eye alone, so these geochemical methods are essential.
So far, so Archaeology 101. I was really happy to find that Oregon’s Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory has a web site not which not only solicits business, but is a highly educational and informative site about many aspects of obsidian analysis, with a focus on the Northwest. Continue reading
Posted in Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, Lower Mainland, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Oregon, Technology, Uncategorized, Washington State
Tagged Archaeology, artifacts, lithics, obsidian, Oregon, stone tools, volcanics, volcanos, XRF
Stone lamp from interior Oregon with inset eyes of abalone shell. Source: OMNCH.
The Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History has some very nice exhibits and it looks like their underlying collections are superb. Their online photo-gallery “Oregon: Where Past is Present” is some pretty nice eye-candy, though I would love to see them give a little more information about each piece. The sculptural lamp above is simply superb.
So-called "wealth blade" made of flaked obsidian, length 25 cm. Source: OMNCH
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Oregon, pics, Uncategorized
Tagged anthropology, Archaeology, artifacts, museums, Northwest Coast, Oregon
Part of a sunken fleet of recreational dories, Emerald Bay, California.
The US National Parks Service has a useful page summarizing policies and laws regarding “submerged resources” – which includes underwater archaeological sites. The sections most of interest to the six readers of this blog are probably the pages on Washington State, Alaska, Oregon and California — though the fact that Idaho has a page is, at least, surprising until you remember the importance of paddle-wheelers in the earlier interior historical period all over the west.
Posted in Archaeology, California, history, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Uncategorized, underwater archaeology
Tagged alaska, Archaeology, California, CRM, Idaho, Northwest Coast, Oregon, underwater archaeology, Washington State
Archaeologists? No -- "Pothunters" destroying a site on the Columbia River, ca. 1966. Source: flickr user gbaku.
Archaeology in Action is a large set of pictures of archaeologists doing archaeology on the photo sharing website flickr.com. Not too much Northwest Stuff there that I could find with the notable exception of many pictures put up by a former University of Oregon professor under the name of gbaku (you can find his real name easily enough). His pictures are a wonderful tour of Oregon and Alaskan archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s – these are not sets of pictures of stratigraphy, or backdirt (interesting though those things are) but are predominately of, well, archaeologists in action. It would be fun to see more NW Coast pictures up here — I know Grant has a large collection of pictures of archaeologists going about their business and I am sure we all have some pictures of people in with the endless pictures of yet another bone.
Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason mysteries and many other books, and Luther Cressman, pioneering archaeologist and ex-husband of Margaret Mead, at Fort Rock Cave in 1966.
Posted in alaska, anthropology, Archaeology, archives, history, Northwest Coast, Oregon, pics
Tagged alaska, Archaeology, archives, Northwest Coast, Oregon, photographs, pictures
Paisley Cave human coprolite dating older than 14,000 cal BP. Source: PBS.
There is a tantalizing news item in a recent edition of Nature indicating that the team led by Dennis Jenkins has found a bone tool in the old layers at Paisley Cave in southern Oregon. This cave already returned a number of pre-Clovis dates on human coprolites. Although there was some vociferous opposition to this finding, a vigorous defence of these feces was mounted and to my mind was effective. (Note that one of those claiming the human poop is actually camel poop posts a slightly hysterical online comment on this Nature news item. This charge of excess fibre is dealt with in Gilbert et al’s 2009 rebuttal in Science, which is not mentioned in the Nature comment. Clearly there is a new generation of data-selective Clovis Police being groomed out east.)
Anyway, this bone tool, which I assume will be published soon, is said in the Nature article to date to 14,230 cal. BP, from which I infer a 14C estimation of about 12,250 – exactly contempraneous with the poop. According to the article,
The dating of the bone tool, and the finding that the sediments encasing it range from 11,930 to 14,480 years old, might put these questions to rest. “You couldn’t ask for better dated stratigraphy,” Jenkins told the Oregon meeting.
Seeing the tool itself will of course be very interesting and hopefully definitive, as there is a long history of bone pseudo-tools in North American archaeology. So far this date has only been announced at an unspecified “meeting” and peer reviewed publication will be essential to form a final judgment.
You can watch a PBS news clip on the poop discovery from a link here which gives a good idea of the setting of the cave, and also includes nice footage of Luther Cressman!
Camel astragalus from Paisley Cave. Source: U of Oregon.
Dalton, Rex. 2009. Oldest American artefact unearthed: Oregon caves yield evidence of continent’s first inhabitants. Nature: doi:10.1038/news.2009.1058.
Replica of a Clatsop House.
Leland Gilsen, former State Archaeologist of Oregon has a pretty impressive website. His extensive notes on aboriginal house styles are particularly worth a read — well referenced, well illustrated, and thoughtful, and he reproduces a lot of plan diagrams from the grey literature. He also has good pages on “pyroculture” (deliberate landscape burning), and extensive notes and commentary on culture history, through a culture-ecological lens. His image-rich virtual museum is a fun and educational slideshow. Hmmm, someone should do a site like this for BC, or Vancouver Island at least. Dr. Gilsen seems like a proud processualist of the Arizona school (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a serious scholar. At first glance, this web site could easily be used as an undergraduate textbook for a course on the Archaeology of Oregon. Hats off, if I see you at NWAC, first beer is on me.