Topic: Fire pits
Oblivious to the mud-covered construction machinery rumbling in the background, dirt-smeared archeologists and Songhees Nation members have been chipping away at a 2,850-year-old aboriginal site, one of the oldest to be found on Vancouver Island, experts say.
“This find is quite rare,” said Shane Bond, a senior archeologist with Victoria-based I. R. Wilson Consultants, the company leading the archeological work. “I was terribly excited; my adrenalin was jumping.”
The researchers have been meticulously sifting through remains of a large below-ground house, clay oven and fire pit unearthed at a housing development, about 200 metres from the Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood, a Victoria suburb.
Only a handful of similar “house pits” have been uncovered on the West Coast: two at Crescent Beach near White Rock, one in Sequim, Wash., and another near Port Alberni, Mr. Bond said.
University of Victoria professor Nancy Jean Turner said this find is priceless because there are so few intact sites of this age in the area.
“It’s an amazing encyclopedia, waiting for someone who knows the code to crack it,” said Ms. Turner, a specialist in indigenous peoples.
The site was exposed in November when a trench for a water line was mistakenly dug in a space considered out of bounds for development. Earlier sample excavations indicated the area was archeologically sensitive.
The 850 BC dwelling was detected where evidence of house posts was easily seen via black dirt patterns against lighter-coloured soil.
The circular fire pit, another remarkable find, was marked by an extremely well-entrenched ring of upright stones where red, oxidized earth provided proof that flame was used for cooking and perhaps for heat.
“Most habitat sites are right on the waterfront, so this is unusual,” archeologist Kira Kristensen said of the site under what once was a farm and orchard.
In 850 BC, coastal aboriginals relied on fishing so they lived in cedar houses close to the water, not in below-ground structures typically found in B.C.’s Interior.
Archeologists are speculating that this inland site was used to prepare camas lily bulbs, which would have been roasted and eaten, Mr. Bond said.
Over the next eight years, close to 600 condominiums and townhouses will circle the historical area in a 20-hectare development known as Aquattro.
Working at what will become high-end housing has been uplifting and encouraging for Songhees Nation member Ron Sam, whose job is to document and preserve what is found.
“This is history I can show my young guy,” he said, referring to his four-year-old son. “It gives me the strength to carry on every day.”
Mr. Sam’s co-worker, Songhees member David Dick, has photographed artifacts with his cellphone camera.
More than 600 items – including arrowheads, spear points, small blades and wedges, some made of obsidian (volcanic glass) – have been unearthed.
Some were shipped to a Florida lab for carbon-14 dating, which revealed the 2,850-year age.
When Mr. Dick gets home after a day’s work, covered in dirt, he shows his three young daughters the day’s discoveries.
“I get to know who we were. Books can only say so much. When you see it, it has a deeper meaning,” he said.
Archeological evidence suggests that aboriginal cultures settled on the West Coast about 10,000 years ago.
The Aquattro site existed in what is known as the Locarno Beach period, defined by large, semi-permanent villages, food storage, basket-making, stone knives, elaborate rituals and by middens – massive piles of clam shells, fish bones, cooking stones and broken tools.
Aquattro’s developers, despite the archeological holdup, have not interfered with the crew’s work, due to be finished in a few days. B.C.’s Heritage Conservation Act sets out mandatory regulations for those who find archeological remains on their property.
Aquattro is wholly responsible for research costs and measures to protect the site, Mr. Bond said. His company’s bill could total about $170,000.
After research is complete, the site, roughly seven metres by six metres, will be “capped” to protect it.
Cloth, similar to landscape fabric, will cover the area and dirt will be placed on top. Human remains have not been found, Ms. Kristensen said.
In the future, archeologists will be able to access the buried house and fire pit.
“I’m happy they’re not building on top of the site,” Mr. Dick said. “Most places, they want us to remove everything and build on top.”
The Royal B.C. Museum is holding artifacts for the Songhees, who plan to display them.
And anyone thinking of stealing relics is warned that 24-hour surveillance is operating. Mr. Bond said.
“It’s happened in the past; artifacts get sold on eBay.”
By Shannon Moneo