Peering into Lasqueti's Past
The archaeological record of Lasqueti, like that of many of the Gulf Islands, bears witness to the island’s rich indigenous heritage. And, consistent with other island communities, Lasquetians feel a deep connection to their island and its history. These web pages are designed both to pay tribute to our island’s ancient heritage and to protect this heritage through education.
What kinds of archaeological sites are on Lasqueti and where are they?
Living on an island means, by definition, that many people will have homes on or near the water. People today choose these places so they can easily access the ocean, which in turn offers transportation and communication routes, sustenance, and, of course, beauty. Ancient people chose to put their homes in the same spots for many of the same reasons.
Our archaeological surveys of the island and perusal of private artifact collections tell us that First Nations used much of the island in the past. Large sites representing permanent settlements are located in almost every bay on Lasqueti These sites are composed of large amounts of mollusk shells and minor amounts of other remains (animal bones, artifacts). In many cases, ancient people created expansive flat, house platforms on otherwise rocky, unlivable surfaces by bringing countless basket-loads of shell from the beach. If these were properly excavated, we would find the remains of 1000s of years of super-imposed floors of longhouses (with hearths, post holes, storage pits, etc.) on top of these constructed platforms. Based on artifact styles, these longhouse villages date sometime within the last 2000-3000 years.
In association with some of the larger seaside settlements on Lasqueti are fish traps where the ancient Lasquetians trapped and sometimes stored the abundant fish of Georgia Strait. Such ancient extraction and management techniques allowed for the relatively high density of ancient settlements on the island. Click here for more information on one Lasqueti fish trap and to view photos.
Indigenous peoples used the inland areas of Lasqueti in two ways. Based on the artifacts people find in their gardens, we can tell that people hunted deer and gathered berries throughout the island’s interior. The form of some of the projectile points suggests people have been camping in Lasqueti’s inland since 6000-8000 years ago.
The second use of the inland was as a retreat during times of conflict. These refuge sites are recognizable by shell located a considerable distance inland and up slope from some of the larger settlements. Such sites are usually on promontories with good visibility out to sea, but as much as 40m above the ocean. Based on archaeological work elsewhere in the northern Gulf Islands, such sites date to the last 1000 years or so.
To find out more about the island and the region’s rich past, read these articles from the Isle & Times about the archaeology of herring and obsidian or go to this web site http://www.sliammonfirstnation.com/archaeology/
The status of Lasqueti’s archaeological heritage
Despite the fact that Lasquetians generally have a strong connection to and respect for our island, we are doing a poor job of protecting our collective archaeological heritage. Not surprisingly, many of the island’s coastal sites were destroyed in the mid 20th century as a result of logging, other development, and early settlements. Since that time, however, with easier access to bulldozers and backhoes, and increasing demand for waterfront property, the rate of archaeological site destruction on Lasqueti has increased greatly. Unless we make a concerted effort as a community to slow down the destruction of sites, the record of Lasqueti’s deep history will be lost forever.
To find out more about the laws that protect Lasqueti’s archaeological sites and your rights and responsibilities if you have an archaeological site on your property, read these two Isle & Times articles from 2002 and 2005.
|Our Collective Heritage (pdf)||69.69 KB|
|Call before you dig (pdf)||83.4 KB|
|Care and tending (pdf)||65.26 KB|
|Herring and archaeology (pdf)||64.91 KB|
|Marshall fish trap (pdf)||272.66 KB|
|Obsidian (volcanic glass) (pdf)||79.8 KB|
People often tell me that they’ve seen shells or blue ocean clays in unlikely places on Lasqueti – well inland and at much higher elevations than current sea levels. These deposits are remnants of higher ocean levels at the end of the last Ice Age and can be used to figure out where Lasqueti’s shoreline was in the ancient past. Since Northwest Coast peoples usually settled along the shore, understanding ancient sea levels can in turn help us find the archaeological sites associated with Lasqueti’s earlier occupants.
In the past 15 years, archaeologists, working with various other “paleo-scientists” have learned a lot about ancient sea levels on the BC coast. For a long while, scientists thought about sea level using a very basic equation: during the Ice Age, when much of the ocean’s water was tied up in ice, sea levels at the global scale were lower than today. More recently, however, advances in a range of analytical techniques have made it possible for scientists to reconstruct detailed, local sea level histories. This is especially important in British Columbia where sea level history is vastly different from region to region. For instance, the sea level histories of the lower Fraser Valley or the west coast of Vancouver Island are quite different from the one early Lasquetians experienced.
Several factors cause sea level history to vary from one area to another. In the case of Lasqueti, among the most important factor was the enormous weight of the ice that covered the Island during the end of the last Ice Age (the Pleistocene), some 14,000 years ago. At that time there was a sheet of snow and ice several hundreds of meters thick that covered most of mainland BC and extended to just south of Seattle. Because the earth’s crust is flexible, the weight of the ice pushed down the earth’s crust (termed “isostatic depression”) and the relative level of the sea rose. This is despite the fact that a significant amount of the ocean’s water was tied up in that ice. In places that were ice-free south of Seattle, sea level was relatively lower, because there was no depression of the earth’s crust.
When the ice started to melt rapidly after 14,000 years ago, changes in sea level were dramatic. The melting of the ice sheet resulted in the crust immediately (geologically speaking) springing back (termed “isostatic rebound”)—which should result in relative sea level decreasing as the earth’s crust rose. However, at this same time, globally, sea level was rising because of the input of the melting ice into the ocean. The result is that changes in sea level can reflect a complex interaction between local isostatic rebound and global sea level rise.
What does this mean for Lasqueti? Well, thanks to the work of geomorphologist Ian Hutchison and others who visited the island about 10 years ago, and to Wayne Bright for showing me (very) old shells on his property, we have a pretty good idea of the local sea level history of our island. The geomorphologists sampled several lakes on the north end, and obtained radiocarbon dates for the layer of clams (an old beach) on Oben Road (at ~ 56 meters elevation). The attached figures show you what Lasqueti looked like between 14,000 – 13,300 years based on the work of the geomorphologists and a date on one of Wayne’s ancient beach shells.
Before 14,000 years ago, Lasqueti was actually represented by a few islets, with the largest island centered on Mt. Trematon (so, in protecting Mt. Trematon, we actually were conserving Lasqueti’s oceanfront, the ancient core of what is now a larger island!). A deposit of large clam shells found while digging a pond on Teapot House land likely dates to this time when sea level was 150 meters higher than today.
Between 14,000 – 12,500 years ago, the relative sea level around Lasqueti dropped dramatically and quickly, associated with the removal of the ice’s weight and consequent isosatic rebound. One of the shells sitting in the old beach in Wayne’s orchard (~47 meters elev.), dating to ~13,300 years ago, shows just how rapidly sea level dropped: from 150 m above current level to 47 m above the current level in just 700 years (see images below). The shells collected by Ian Hutchison’s team from the ancient beach at Oben Road (~56 meters elevation) were a similar age. By 12,500 years ago, sea level was about where it is today, but it didn’t stay at this level for long.
First Nations oral traditions from throughout the coast recount dramatic changes in sea level that almost certainly refer to these dramatic post-Ice Age changes in the land and sea. For example, the Sto:lo of the Fraser Valley have stories about some of the First Peoples taking refuge in caves or on mountainsides during times of rising water. The places on the landscape today that mark these refuges are about 200 m elevation – that is, just above the high sea level mark. We don’t know when the earliest people settled on Lasqueti, but we do know that people made it to the southern tip of Chile by ~15,000 years ago, and the oldest sites found in BC so far (from Haida Gwaii and the Central Coast) date to ~12,500 years ago; older sites in BC are almost certainly now covered by the ocean.
After 12,500 years ago, the sea level around Lasqueti continued to bounce around until the crust finally settled down. That is, the island’s shore was the same 12,500 years ago as it is today, but then sea level fell to a few meters below current levels and then rose a few meters above the current shore line until at least 5,700 years ago. As a result of this constant movement of the shoreline, finding really old sites on Lasqueti is going to be a challenge, since this rising and falling of sea levels could have easily obliterated lower early coastal sites (much like rising sea levels today will do to many coastal communities). We don’t yet know what happened to sea level in the last 5000 years, but my recent work on Quadra suggests that sea level has been falling there for the least 1500 years. Whether this is true for Lasqueti remains to be seen.
If you want to know more about Lasqueti’s sea level history, here’s the reference to research that resulted from the geomorphologists’ working here. It’s a good article, but some people might find it to be a bit academic.
Hutchinson, I., James, T. S., Clague, J. J., Barrie, J. V. & Conway, K. W. 2004. Reconstruction of late Quaternary sea-level change in southwestern British Columbia from sediments in isolation basins. Boreas 33:183–194.
An archaeologist’s view of False Bay
by Dana Lepofsky
We now know enough about the archaeology of Lasqueti to say confidently that our island, like most Gulf Islands, once supported a large, permanent First Nation population. Based on a few ancient spear points found inland and on high ground, people first visited Lasqueti some 8000 years ago, when Lasqueti was first emerging from the receding post-glacial seas. The diverse types of projectile points found in people’s gardens and on beaches tell us that subsequent use of the island was widespread. A variety of artifacts as well as archaeological sites further indicate that sometime after 2-3000 years ago, large permanent settlements as well as smaller short-term camps were established. Many of these sites were probably occupied until the first small pox epidemic spread throughout the Gulf of Georgia in the late 1780’s when local First Nations populations were decimated.
There is little doubt the settlement in False Bay was one of the largest and most important of the ancient settlements on Lasqueti. Given the huge sheltered bay, the once rich intertidal and marine life, and access to fresh water, this should come as no surprise. Remnants of this once vibrant community are visible throughout the bay from the at least the Blue Roof around to Cocktail Cove and all the way to the Finnerty Islands. Modern houses, workshops and gas pumps have destroyed a large portion of the archaeological remains associated with this large community, but there are still enough remnants to give us a glimpse at this once flourishing settlement.
Walking along the shore of the bay, even where there has been considerable recent moving of rocks and earth, you’ll notice shells and dark earth eroding from the land. While some are the remains of isolated meals of shellfish, the bulk of the shell is probably very old “construction fill”. That is, the ancient Lasquetians used discarded shells to create flat surfaces on which to build their homes. As we all know, “The Rock” isn’t known for either having flat or easily worked terrain. Basket load upon basket load of shell, however, provided a workable, well-drained platform on which large shed roof homes could be built.
The best example of these “house platforms” is on the spit located on the outside of Mud Bay, where it backs onto False Bay (at the end of Pemberton Road). If you go down to the water’s edge, you’ll see that the shell midden on land is a series of flat stepped surfaces. Each one of these large platforms – all created by ancient peoples, once held an ancient house.
I suspect that much of the False Bay midden used to be sculptured in the same way as that at Mud Bay. So, if you’re imagining how False Bay looked in the past, picture the bay ringed by 1 – 3 rows of longhouses oriented parallel to the beach. Also, imagine a much denser settlement than today. Imagine canoes on the beach, smoke from the longhouses, and lots of people working and playing on the beach and on land.
Another indication that False Bay was important to many people is that it appears to have been well defended. Again, if you walk to the end of Pemberton Road, you’ll notice not only the large shell midden below at the beach, but also a midden way above the beach on the point overlooking the bay. Based on the extent and location of this midden, I believe it’s a lookout or a fortification/refuge site where people went during attacks. Such sites are not uncommon in this region. They are located on points of land with good visibility, have the remains of shell that people had to haul a considerable distance up hill, and are often associated with large, permanent settlements that are located in easier to access, but also more vulnerable locations.
An even more impressive fortification site associated with False Bay is one my daughter, Gavia, discovered this summer while we were camping on the Finnerty Islands. The site is located on a small island that is surrounded by about 30m high perpendicular rock faces. On top of the entire island, however, is relatively thick shell midden. The island has no drinking water, and only a very small beach that is exposed only at low tides. A small portion of the beach may have been cleared of its rocks to increase clam habitat, but in general, it’s not an hospitable place to either collect clams or to live. What the island does have, however, is a superb view to the east to the Strait and to Vancouver Island, and a relatively calm and easy route to and from False Bay to the west. The thickness of the midden so high up on this island – thicker than I’ve seen at other fortification sites in this region – suggests that either many people used this site and/or it was used many times over a long period. Regardless, it indicates the importance of the False Bay settlement in the ancient past.
Finally, the extent of the ancient False Bay community is indicated by the extensive evidence of management and use of marine resources. The intensity of use is indicated, of course, by the huge amounts of shell and sea mammal and fish bone that make up the middens of False Bay. The clearing of beaches of rocks, presumably to increase clam productivity, is another indication. And, there is at least one large fish trap on the Finnerty Islands that is, like the defensive site, most likely associated with the ancient False Bay community. The trap is a complex design that incorporates both the natural configuration of the islets, the flow of water, and human-made walls and dams. At one time, there was considerable activity on the now deserted Finnerty Islands.
Beyond these tantalizing and general facts, we know few details about the lives lived in False Bay. A stunning jade (nephrite) chisel found in the bay indicates that at least some of the residents were probably wealthy and well connected to long-distance trade networks (the Fraser Valley). The usual array of projectile points, fish weights, and scrapers has also been found by the current False Bay residents. However, none of these have been found within the layers of an archaeological site, so these isolated artifacts can only tell us a limited story.
Some of the ancient stories of False Bay are still there for the telling. They’re hidden in the undisturbed portions of middens that still remain on the bay. These layers of house floors, cooking hearths, and storage pits are the legacies of thousands of ancient people. However, given the current rate of development in False Bay, none of this rich, 8000 years of history will survive more than a few decades. Is that the kind of legacy the current residents of False Bay want to leave?
As always, I’d love to talk to any islanders about the ancient heritage of Lasqueti. Please contact me at dlepofsk [at] sfu [dot] ca or #8600.
"Call Before You Dig"
Archaeological texts claim that, with the pace of global development, in 50 years there
will be no undisturbed archaeological sites left. While I tell my introductory students
this, I never really believed it applied to us in British Columbia.
After spending the past two years in the Fraser Valley searching out known ancient
village sites, and observing how impacted even the most remote of them are, I realize that
this statistic is very much about our home.
Here on Lasqueti, where we are lucky to have an abundance of archaeological sites, our
heritage record is also threatened. I have seen a variety of sites across the island and
there are none that are not at least somewhat altered by past and current land use. Many
have been largely destroyed. This destruction is on-going at the same exponential rate
that is happening in the rest of B.C. and world-wide. We continue to build on
archaeological sites without trying to minimize the disturbance to the sites -- and some of
us even dig local sites to augment our personal collection of artifacts.
Archaeology sites are more than a collection of artifacts – they are a detailed history of
the lives lived in one spot. The spatial relationship of the artifacts to each other and to
the layers of sediment are an essential part of telling that story. Without these details, the
artifacts become little more than curios – isolated, incomprehensible fragments of a once
I have some suggestions to encourage the preservation of the archaeological heritage on
1. If at all possible, avoid any disturbance to an archaeological site. If a project can be
moved or altered to avoid a site, do so. Perhaps we could train some community
members to recognize different kinds of archaeological sites and form a sort of
community archaeological team that could be called upon for advice.
2. In cases where disturbance to a site is unavoidable, it is important to salvage as much
information from the site as possible. Though it is more problematic, perhaps the
community archaeological team could be trained to do basic archaeological
excavation (including taking appropriate notes). Then, when people want to do a
building project on Lasqueti, they could call the archaeological team in before they
3. Several people have asked me about conducting an archaeological excavation on
Lasqueti, for instance, in the context of my SFU Archaeology field school. I hope to
do this in the next few years—perhaps we could think about excavating parts of
already damaged sites or ones that will be disturbed in the future.
4. I encourage Islanders to call me to see your sites if you are planning to dig/develop in
them. If at all possible, I will try and come by and we can figure out a game plan to
To me, a defining thing about being a Lasquetian is knowing that we are privileged to
live here and that it is our responsibility to look after this magical place. I am eager to
discuss with people about how we might best take care of our archaeological heritage.
Please call or email anytime.
Dana (333-8860, 604 929-6678, dlepofsk [at] sfu [dot] ca)
The Care and Tending of Our Archaeological Heritage
Many people wanted to understand the relationship of native land claims to
archaeological sites on private property, and in particular whether you are liable to have
your land taken away in a claims settlement. In short, the answer is, "No". While First
Nations include both Crown land and private property in their claim areas, they only ask
that Crown land be given back to them; compensation (monetary or otherwise) is sought
in lieu of private land within the claim area. Thus, compensation might be requested by
First Nations for all the privately owned land on Lasqueti, but individual parcels, whether
they have archaeological sites on them or not, are highly unlikely to be singled out for
return to First Nations as part of a claim settlement. As I understand it, there are
currently five First Nations groups that include all or part of Lasqueti in their claim area.
People have also asked me about the legal and ethical aspects of disturbing an
archaeological site. The law is clear: disturbing a site, whether on private or public land,
whether knowingly or not, is against the law—and can result in substantial financial
penalties. However, the enforcement of the law is considerably less clear and in fact, no
one has ever been convicted under the Act. Most archaeologists would say the law is not
intended to apply to casual, minor, disturbance of sites, such as in the course of digging a
garden. It is, however, clearly intended to provide protection to sites being destroyed
during larger-scale development.
Archaeologists are working with policy makers to create legislation that clarifies the
intent of the law, but it’s complicated. For instance, an Islander told me that a few years
back she was working with a company on Vancouver Island that was putting in a
swimming pool for an expensive home. In the course of excavating the pool they
uncovered twelve native burials. A quick decision was made–the one that is usually
made in such cases–to put the bodies in the flowerbeds at the edge of the pool and to keep
the whole thing quiet. What was the owner’s responsibility in this case? Should s/he
have paid the money to for a professional to properly excavate those remains? To me,
the answer is a clear "Yes". But, what if it was someone on Lasqueti who discovered the
burials in the course of putting in a much needed orchard or developing a new garden?
Many people here could not pay for such archaeological work to be done. What is the
landowner’s social responsibility in this case? From the perspective of an archaeologist,
if the landowner cannot afford a proper excavation of such a site, then they should try and
plan the garden or orchard in such a way as to avoid it.
Beyond the simple legalities of the issue, it is important that we understand why we
should protect our archaeological sites from destruction. Archaeological sites are
nonrenewable resources (despite the fact that the Liberal Government just moved the
Archaeology Branch to the Department of Renewable Resources!).
That is, they contain a detailed history of the past that, once disturbed, is gone forever. That
history is represented by the artifacts, bones, and shells that people find, but even more
importantly by their relationships to each other in layers in the ground.
The analogy that I like best is this: an archaeological site is like a book, where the
artifacts and layers are like the words on pages. If the words are ripped from the book
and scattered, they still might be beautiful words, but the story they once told is lost
forever. So too for artifacts that have been removed from a site without recording details
about their context. Was it found in a trash heap and possibly no longer functional? Was
it in a burial and possibly a family heirloom? Was it in a storage pit and intended for
future use? As many people saw that night at the school, for most artifacts, all I could tell
you was its function and roughly (within a thousand years or two) how old it was. The
rest of the story those artifacts could tell has been lost.
In the past few weeks I have been excited by how much of Lasqueti’s archaeological
history is still left—and saddened by how much has been lost. Both older and more
recent logging has disturbed many sites, and roads have cut through sites. I have heard
stories of tourists coming to the island and taking artifacts away. I know of at least two
extensive collections of artifacts gathered by former Lasqueti residents that have now
been lost. Such things happen all the time. The question is, as a community, what can
we do to preserve the precious sites that have large portions still intact?
There are several things I think we could be doing. First, when planning on building a
house or garden in an area with an archaeological site, choose a location that will have
the least impact on the site. If you do find artifacts while building or gardening, then put
them in a bag in your house with as many details as possible about where they were
found (the depth below surface, which portion of which garden, whether there was
charcoal, shell, etc. with it). What you swear you won’t forget now, I promise will
become blurred in several years unless you write it down—and it may be someone else,
not you, who is trying to recreate the context for those artifacts. The same applies to an
artifact you find on the beach. Most of these likely eroded out from a site on the shore,
and thus have lost much of their archaeological meaning, but it is still important to record
from where on the beach an artifact was collected. I guarantee, as archaeological sites
become rarer on the planet (like all non-renewable resources), this information will
become increasingly important. On Lasqueti, we have been granted the stewardship of
many resources that are in short supply elsewhere, a
Herring and Archaeology?
With so many environmental disasters facing us these days, sometimes it’s hard to
know where to put our energy to try to "make things right". For me, I am sometimes
consumed by sadness about the world’s loss of cultural and biological diversity. Because
I work closely with First Nations communities, often in remote places, I am daily faced
with how inter-twined and how significant these losses are.
In my current archaeological research, I am trying to actively blend my
commitment to the preservation of heritage with conservation of the natural world. In
particular, I am interested in incorporating archaeological evidence of resource use and
management with indigenous and local ecological knowledge, as a framework for
managing our resources today. These interests have recently converged in a study on
herring with Tla’amin First Nation, on the Sunshine Coast.
Herring, a once abundant and important component of our coastal ecosystems, is
severely threatened. In British Columbia, three of the five "management units’ are now
closed to fishing. Most Tla’amin and other coastal First Nations say that herring runs are
too small to make it worthwhile to fish or collect spawn. They attribute this dramatic
decline to over-fishing by seine boats in the 1980’s, when there were so many boats in
Tla’amin territory that "you could easily walk from boat to boat".
The past ecological and cultural importance of herring is echoed in the region’s
archaeological records, which indicate that in places like the Georgia Strait and the west
coast of Vancouver Island it was herring – not the now more popular salmon – that was
the primary food species. For many indigenous people, herring undoubtedly classifies as
a "cultural keystone species", because of its fundamental cultural importance.
Photographs, interviews, and oral traditions demonstrate that for generations, tons of
herring roe and the fish themselves were gathered each spring and dried in abundance to
be used throughout the year. Such abundance is also reflected throughout the coast by
place names such as "Tee Sho Shum" for the main Reserve of the Tla’amin First Nation,
meaning, "Milky waters from herring spawn".
Importantly, these white waters were the ecological signal that it was time to fish.
Modern fishing practices involve harvesting pre-spawn fish at sea for roe which is
exported overseas as a delicacy. At best, the male fish and the gutted females are ground
into meal. In contrast, indigenous fishers gathered herring in the spring in bays after
spawning. And although the roe was also collected and consumed, it was a fraction of
the spawn that was deposited. At Tla’amin, community members are frustrated and
insulted by the insistence of government fisheries managers that there was no long-term,
sustained herring fishery in their bays. This flies in the face of local knowledge, place
names, and preliminary archaeological work conducted by our team– all of which point
to the long-term cultural importance of reliable and abundant herring stocks.
In our current research, we’re bringing together fisheries ecologists, archaeologists
and Tla’amin researchers to systematically study the past abundance and diversity of
herring on the Sunshine Coast, and the long-term use and management of this important
resource. We’re mapping herring fish traps, digging cores in archaeological sites to
determine past abundance of herring, and extracting DNA from these herring bones to
determine genetic diversity of herring over time and space. Given the dramatic reduction
of herring today, and the reluctance on the part of Dept. of Fisheries to seriously engage
in management which supports herring abundance and diversity, the only way to begin to
document the spatial and temporal variability of herring is by combining indigenous
knowledge and archaeological data. Our goal is to present these data to Provincial and
Tla’amin fisheries managers with the hopes of improving future management of this
ecologically and culturally foundational species. It’s now or never. Now is good.
More on our archaeological heritage
Since writing my last piece in the Isle and Times, I’ve had several conversations with Islanders about archaeology. Two kinds of questions arose in these discussions: People asked “If I bring attention to the archaeological site on my property, will it mean my land will get taken away in land claims?” and, “What can we, as a community do to preserve our archaeological heritage?” I’ll address both of these here.
Land Claims and Archaeology
Many people across British Columbia are fearful that revealing archaeological sites on their property will result in their land being taken away. However, this fear is generally unfounded. First, it’s important to understand that many of the sites in British Columbia, and certainly most of the sites on Lasqueti are already known both to government archaeologists and First Nations. This is especially true for those sites along the coast line. Recorded sites are listed in a Provincial data base with formal site numbers attached to them. Thus, you don’t need to worry about “bringing attention” to your site, since it likely is already part of public knowledge.
However, even though the locations of sites are generally known, sites on private land play only a minor role in First Nations land claims. First Nations include both Crown land and private property in their claim areas, but only ask that Crown land be given back to them. Compensation (monetary or otherwise) is sought in lieu of private land within the claim area. There is no legal precedent supporting the return of private land in land claims.
Further, archaeology, more generally, has played only a minor role in land claims. There are two primary reasons for this. First, since it has already been established in the courts that First Nations have been in British Columbia since “time immemorial”, archaeology isn’t needed to show this. The second reason relates to how difficult it is to figure out “ethnicity” from the archaeological record. Although often asked, archaeologists can rarely determine “who lived here”. That is, I can not tell from the style of a projectile point whether it was made by someone from what is now the Sechelt or Nanoose First Nations. There generally just isn’t enough variation in artifacts across the region to determine “who”.
To my knowledge, three First Nations claim Lasqueti within their “core area”. They are the Tla’Amin (Sliammon), Nanoose, and Qualicum. The core claim areas of the Sechelt and the Comox just skirt around Lasqueti.
What can we do?
The first and most important step towards preserving our archaeological heritage is for us to decide that this is something that is important. Once we truly decide this, the rest is relatively easy.
As I wrote last time, the best thing is to avoid any impact to archaeological sites, but this may not always be possible. So, if you can’t move your project to a different location, consider ways to minimize impact. For instance, instead of leveling a building site by digging, bring in fill and put it on top of the archaeological deposits. Then the archaeological deposits are covered and protected.
When destruction can’t be avoided, have an archaeologist excavate at least some of the site that is going to be disturbed and destroyed. (Remember from our past discussions that we can only reconstruct the history of a site if the artifacts and features are observed in their original archaeological context.) While an archaeological excavation can normally be a somewhat expensive process, I am hoping to train a “community archaeological team” to do basic archaeological excavation and note-taking on a volunteer basis. Initially, at least, this should be under my direction. I am working towards getting the appropriate archaeology permits (required by law) to make this possible. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of this.
In the meantime, if you have an interest in being part of our “Lasqueti archaeology team”, or have any questions about archaeology, please contact me.
Dana (333-8600, 604 929-6678, dlepofsk [at] sfu [dot] ca)
Obsidian (Volcanic Glass) and Ancient Trade Relations on Lasqueti
A while back I asked Lasquetians to share with me any ancient artifacts collected
from Lasqueti that were made of obsidian (volcanic glass). This is part of a larger study
on ancient trade relations that I am conducting on the Sunshine Coast. Four people
responded to my call. Two of the artifacts were probably not originally from Lasqueti
(i.e., they were collected on someone’s holiday in Mexico), but ended up in people’s
Lasqueti collection. The other two were in deed from Lasqueti archaeology sites. These
two, in combination with several artifacts from the Sunshine Coast, give us some insights
into ancient social relations within and between communities in this region.
Why study obsidian artifacts?
Archaeologists have two means for studying ancient social relations. The first is
by looking for similarities in the form of artifacts (projectile points, baskets, house
styles). This research is based on the assumption that shared styles indicate shared ideas
and thus communication. Another way to understand past social and economic relations
is to track down the origin of the raw materials used to make the artifacts recovered in
Obsidian, formed by the rapid cooling of volcanic magma, is ideally suited for
this second method. This is because the magma associated with each volcanic eruption is
composed of a distinct combination of minerals. Once "we" figure out the distinct
combination of each eruption and each volcano, it is possible to compare the make up of
the artifacts we find archaeologically to this information.
There are several reasons why obsidian is a good material for tracking social
relations. First, it is a highly valued raw material for artifacts because of its fine
crystalline structure. It’s fine structure means both that it fractures predictably during
tool-making and it will produce a razor sharp edge. But, what ultimately makes obsidian
so well suited for tracking social relations is that this material is in short supply in most
parts of British Columbia. Thus, in order to get obsidian, people would have either 1.
lived close to the source, or 2. had social (kin?) or economic relations with the people
who did live close to the source.
Where do obsidian artifacts in the Sunshine Coast region come from?
Based on just 19 obsidian artifacts, we are beginning to get a picture of ancient
trade relations in this region in the last 2000 years or so. In general, obsidian in this
region comes from four sources. From north to south, these are 1. Kingcome Inlet in
central B.C, 2. Mt. Garibaldi in Squamish, 3. Whitewater Ridge, in central Oregon, and
4. Gregory Creek, just east of Whitewater Ridge, Oregon.
Both the Kingcome Inlet and Garibaldi obsidian are of only moderately good
quality. This is because they have some larger crystals in the rock that makes the
obsidian fracture less predictably during tool manufacture. Thus, all things being equal,
neither of these sources should have been preferred by ancient people. That is, unless
these sources were the only ones that were socially and/or economically available to
them. Today, the Kingcome source is well within the territory of Kwakwakwakw First
Nations, and Mt. Garibaldi is within Squamish First Nations territory.
What does all this tell us about social relations in the past?
In general, there are clear differences in the origin of the obsidian artifacts found
in this region. Obsidian from Lasqueti and sites south of Powell River on the Sunshine
Coast come from central Oregon and Mt. Garibaldi (Squamish). This suggests that the
people who lived on Lasqueti and nearby settlements were more closely affiliated with
folks further south than to the north. This pattern roughly fits with the social-linguistic
break between the Tla’amin and Sechelt First Nations today.
Moving northward, the pattern changes. At Powell River sites we have both
Garibaldi obsidian, but also the Kingcome Inlet source. Further north still, north of
Powell River and into Desolation Sound, there is a clear preference for Kingcome
obsidian. The relative abundance of Kingcome artifacts in the northern sites, and the mix
of Kingcome and Garibaldi sources in the Powell River sites, suggests that there is a shift
in trade (and kin?) connections somewhere around what is now Powell River. That is, it
seems that people living north of Powell River looked more northerly for their
social/economic relations, while the folks to the south of Powell River were more
connected to the people further south.
Of course, as we figure out the source of more obsidian artifacts found while
excavating, or in people’s personal artifact collections, we will be able to fine-tune our
story. In particular, I am curious how this pattern changes over time. For instance, at
about 2000 years ago, large villages are established on Lasqueti and elsewhere in this
region, which undoubtedly changed how people interacted. Then, about 1000 years ago,
we start to see "defensive sites" on Lasqueti and elsewhere in the region. As we well
know from modern times, conflict can result in dramatically altered trade relations and
the same was undoubtedly true in the past.
As always, please contact me if you have any questions/ideas/comments about Lasqueti’s
archaeological heritage. dlepofsk [at] sfu [dot] ca