Image from the Mammoth Trumpet. Source: CSFA. Click to enlarge somewhat.
While we wait patiently for the definitive word on the rumoured exciting new developments regarding the 14,000 year old, pre-Clovis Manis Mastodon site near Sequim, Washington, I thought it was worth a new post to pass on an article a regular reader of this blog brought to my attention.
The Center for the Study of the First Americans, the same organization who is now re-analysing Manis Mastodon, have for many years published a very informative newsletter they call the Mammoth Trumpet. Some of the early issues are online, including one which has a 1987 report on the Manis site(PDF). I had not seen this before (the whole archives are worth a post on their own) and the article has some interesting information, including the picture above.
Screenshot of Manis news from the website of the Center for the Study of First Americans. Click to go to page.
[October 20 edit: Manis article now out in Science, my post here.]
Quite a while ago I posted about some of the frustrations I felt about the Manis Mastodon site, near Sequim on the Olympic peninsula. This 1970s find of a Mastodon skeleton had one singularly enigmatic feature: there appeared to be the broken tip of a bone point embedded in one of its ribs. As I wrote before: yank that sucker out! – so we can determine for sure if this is a human made artifact dating to the same age as the Mastodon – about 14,000 years ago. Being well pre-Clovis and right near the coast, this find would be of profound importance to our archaeological understanding of the first arrival of people into the Americas. Now, as you can read above, there is an intriguing hint that Manis has finally been re-examined, and found to be a legitimate Pleistocene archaeological site. It’s real. Wow.
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Washington State
Tagged bone technology, clovis, first peopling, Manis, mastodons, pre-clovis, Sequim, zooarchaeology
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.
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)
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Uncategorized
Tagged anthropology, Archaeology, conservation, First Nations, fishing, Northwest Coast, palaeoenvironment, salmon, zooarchaeology
Paul Kane: Mt. St. Helens erupting by night, 1847. Source: Wikipedia
Today is the 30th anniversary of the cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens, an explosion so large that it could be heard as far north as southern Vancouver Island. The mountain has erupted many times in the past – one of which was captured by the well known painter Paul Kane (above) – and will continue to erupt indefinitely. Many of these eruptions and its fickle nature loom large in oral histories. The ash from prior eruptions forms important geological marker horizons all over the Northwest. Judging by this map, there are no known obsidian sources directly associated with Mount St Helens. These are the more obvious kinds of connections to archaeology and they shouldn’t be discounted. Another approach exemplifies a kind of morbidly creative lateral thinking.
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Technology, Washington State
Tagged bone technology, bones, experimental archaeology, Mount St Helens, Site formation processes, taphonomy, volcanoes, Washington State, zooarchaeology
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.
Swainson's Hawk skull. Three views from RBCM Avian Osteology site.
I made a post the other day on a cool M.A. thesis about how to tell deer, bear and human wrist and ankle bones apart. Identification of bones is one of the essential specialist activities in archaeology: the bones don’t come out of the ground labelled, and yet they are a key way to understand past diet, behaviour and environmental change. Being able to identify a bone from the ground to the species it comes from requires a collection of bones of known species – a comparative collection – and these do not grow on trees. They are laborious to produce and finicky to curate. The one at the University of Victoria, for example, contains over 1,500 skeletons and is in constant use by archaeologists and biologists, not to mention the awesomely talented people at Pacific IDentifications. Mind you, the UVIC collection is one of the best anywhere in North America, but most archaeology departments and even many consulting archaeologists attempt to have a basic comparative collection on hand. This is a burdensome chore!
While looking at pictures will never be a substitute for a three-dimensional bone for comparison, it can nonetheless be better than nothing. It is therefore nice to see a really useful, if preliminary, set of web pages at the Royal B.C. Museum on Avian osteology.
Posted in Archaeology, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized
Tagged bones, faunal remains, museums, Northwest Coast, osteology, owls, RBCM, Royal BC Museum, University of Victoria, uvic, zooarchaeology
Cranium of 14,000 year old Bison antiquus from Ayer Pond, Orcas Island, Salish Sea. Source: Kenady et al. 2010 (in press)
One of the challenges in archaeology is to take a familiar landscape and, by considering the known data from the paleo sciences, make it strange and unfamiliar and ripe with possibilities for strange and unfamiliar archaeology. Right here in the southern Salish Sea there is an excellent example of this coming to light. As the ice retreated at the end of the last glacial period, the Salish Sea saw dramatic changes in sea level (both higher, and lower), in vegetation (tundra, grassland, and forest) and in the animals present on that dynamic landscape.
Location of known Bison antiquus remains in Salish Sea. Source: Wilson et al. 2009.
For years now, we have known that one of the large land mammal species of the Salish Sea around 14,000 years ago was bison — and not just any bison, but Bison antiquus, the extinct giant bison. A number of remains of this creature have been found, mostly on the Saanich Peninsula and on Orcas Island, which is one of the largest islands in the Salish Sea, sitting just south of Saturna Island, close to the Canadian Border. Since these remains mostly clocked in at around 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, most archaeologists were interested in them primarily for their coolness factor and not because they seriously thought there might be relevance to early human presence here – these bison pre-date the Clovis Culture which was the consensual evidence for the first peopling of the Americas. I have previously posted on this with reference to Clovis in Puget Sound, to the controversial Manis Mastodon site, as well as to the nearby Wenas Mammoth and even the Paisley Cave finds in Oregon – evidence is coming together for both a Clovis and a pre-Clovis occupation of the Salish Sea and environs.
Now with a new paper by Kenady et al. in press, these numerous bison finds take on a new importance: one of them is most likely archaeological.
Posted in Archaeology, Northwest Coast, palaeontology, Vancouver Island, Washington State
Tagged bison, Bison antiquus, clovis, Orcas Island, pre-clovis, Salish Sea, San Juan Islands, taphonomy, zooarchaeology
Human and Bear cuboid bones compared. Source: Smart 2009.
Some graduate theses are clearly meant to be both a research excercise and produce a demonstrably useful document. I’m not saying these are any better than any other kind of thesis, but they do have an aura of public service and virtue about them. The best example of these which I have seen recently is Tamela Smart’s 2009 Carpals and tarsals of mule deer, black bear and human: an osteology guide for the archaeologist. If you click here it will start an automatic download of the 3.7 meg PDF from Western Washington University (unfortunately, no way to link to a download page). (edit: try this link instead)
The premise of this research is that despite obvious differences on the outside, there are surprising similarities between the hand/wrist and ankle/foot bones (carpals and tarsals) of bears, deer, and humans.
Posted in anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Resource Management, Northwest Interior, Northwest Coast, Teaching, Washington State
Tagged Archaeology, black bear, bones, carpals, deer, osteology, skeletons, tarsals, Washington State, zooarchaeology
I linked once before to the excellent quantitative zooarchaeology blog written by a mysterious anonymous figure. Turns out the anonymous fish guy also has some great advice for graduate students – two pages worth, tailored to different stages. I found myself agreeing with quite a bit of it. Here are a few excerpts, but there is much more in the two excellent posts here and here.