Long Bay archaeology weekend

Exploring Lasqueti’s Indigenous heritage at Long Bay

Dana Lepofsky


On a beautiful fall weekend in September – replete with sun, clouds, pouring rain, and wind – six professional archaeologists and over 30 Lasqueti community members had the privilege of exploring in depth Lasqueti’s archaeological heritage.  We were working on Long Bay, where several large pits had been excavated with an excavator in advance of building on the site.  When it was realized that the excavator had disturbed a previously intact archaeological site, I was called and we devised a plan to mitigate the damage done and find out as much as we could about the lives lived on that spot.

Prior to our work, we knew there was a registered archaeological site in and around the old homestead.  The site was recorded in the 1970’s before archaeologists were thinking about the extent that Indigenous people modified their landscapes to make places their homes.  Consequently, the official site forms said that site was small (~100m long) and largely destroyed through historic logging.  We now understand that the site is almost three times this size, and is the remains of a very large and vibrant village.

After revisiting the site, and based on our “shovel tests”, we know the site mostly extends along the bay’s edge to where the rocky outcrops rise abruptly. While the excavator pits instantly revealed the depth of the site at the back of the cove, the ancient occupation is also visible from the land’s surface – if you know what to look for.  Once pointed out, it was obvious to all visitors that the landform is composed of a series of flat terraces from ~6 meters above the water and extending down to the high tide line. 

Based on previous archaeological experience, we know that these terraces are deliberately constructed surfaces designed to support a range of activities and structures, including homes. That is, people deposited crushed and whole shells on the naturally sloping land to make the landform more livable.  Through time, the terraces built up, both through deliberate and accidental deposition of shells and other material.  In the end, a series of flat surfaces were created that today make ideal places to put our homes.  Not surprisingly, many of the current seaside Lasqueti homes are built on these not-so-natural flat areas.

The extent of the Long Bay settlement shouldn’t surprise us.  Long Bay was a great place to live in that it was protected from the weather and had a healthy stream that provided water and a rich riparian habitat from which to harvest foods.  As we experienced while working there, the location has a great view out to the ocean, but according to locals, the angle of the bay makes it difficult to see from the sea.  Also, based on the extensive archaeological remains at Marshall’s Beach and Lenny’s Lagoon, we know that part of the island was heavily populated, so in addition to the community around the cove at Long Bay, there were other neighbours close by to share in the work, food, stories, and fun.

Best practices in archaeology today are driven by the mantra “collect the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of disturbance”.  Thus, in modern excavations, we would never choose to dig large holes like those that had been machine-excavated at Long Bay.  Instead, we would dig very small holes or even better, take core samples that easily extracts all the site’s layers in one tube.   As the visitors to the Long Bay site now know, archaeological sites are made of complex mosaic of superimposed and intertwined layers of dirt; each layer has its own story to tell.  Once jumbled into a single pile with an excavator, those details are lost.  But, when excavated in place the story of that location can unfold in reverse time and then be pieced together to get insights into the past. 

Despite the clear downside to the large excavations, it was exciting to be able to see, in a single glance, the history of that settlement as recorded in the earth.  To find out as much as we could about the site, we chose a two-pronged approach.  First, the many visitors to the site screened the backfill piles associated with each excavation in the hopes of finding artifacts and animal bones fragments.  Normally, we would screen through 1/8-inch screen, but since these deposits were disturbed and thus the inferences would be limited, we screened through 1/4-inch mesh.  For now all material recovered will be housed in the repository at Simon Fraser University.

Second, the archaeologists spent a considerable amount of time “cleaning” the sidewalls of each excavation unit to more clearly reveal the various layers. After that, we photographed and drew each wall’s strata and then sampled each layer so that we could do more detailed analyses in the laboratory.  These analyses will tell us how long ago the site was occupied, during what time frame they did certain kinds of activities, what time of year people were there, what foods and raw materials they selected, and so on.  The possibilities for interpretation are vast once we have these samples from undisturbed contexts.  

The excavation units, ranging in depth from ~40 cm to over ~1m, revealed in full view the complex layers that reflect the years of lives lived on that spot.  The story began with the first occupants who worked and lived on what were forest soils – now well below the current ground surface.  On the west side of the terraces, the stratigraphy revealed many cooking and storage features, but no floors.  Thus, we surmise that these messy activities were conducted outside of structures.  On the east side, we saw the discrete layers of multiple house floors, each built on top of the previous, as the first one burned down or needed refurbishing.  People used whole shells to do major landscaping, and crushed, burned shell to clean and create the house floors.  Our radiocarbon dates will help define when people built these houses, and our analyses will tell us what they did in them.

The community’s valiant screening efforts also produced some neat information.  The artifacts appear to be “late” in age (so, sometime in the last 1500 years?), but since we don’t know what layers they came from, our temporal inferences are limited.   More exciting was the recovery of beaver bones (thus putting an end to the discussion about beaver not being here prior to Europeans), dog (likely for hunting, based on size), and what appears to be an elk tooth (traded from Vancouver Island?).  Also exciting are some very small chunks of quartz crystal that had small flakes removed from them to be used as knife blades.  This technology was common in the Fraser Valley some 2000 years ago.  Finally, people were pretty excited about a small stone bead that was recovered.  Usually, these were sewn into people’s clothing and when we find them in place, they’re associated with someone special.  Also super interesting, and a bit of a puzzle, is that we found very little in the way of fish bones.  Maybe our more detailed look at the sediment samples will reveal some.

Stay tuned for updates on both this site and on-going archaeological work several of us are hoping to do on Lasqueti over the coming years.  Many, many thanks to our community for your on-going support of and interest in Lasqueti’s precious archaeological heritage.  As always, please contact me if you’d like to participate in future archaeological endeavors on the island.




Jess's picture


So cool!

Thanks for posting

Thanks dana and all who were involved. Please keep us updated on what happens in the lab!

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