Kilgii Gwaay

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Culture(s) Early Holocene
Temporal Period(s) Paleoindian Period

Summary Details

Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada (Approx. 52° 27' 6" N, 131° 32' 13" W)
Period: Paleoindian Period
Date Range:

Overview and Research History

The site of Kilgii Gwaay is located in the south of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. It is an intertidal site formerly exposed but now resting in the mouth of a bay on Ellen Island. It is primarily described as a shell midden, and has other faunal and lithic assemblages. A local archaeologist first discovered the site, at which time a surface collection of 1200 lithic artifacts was gathered. Parks Canada continued excavation in 2000 and 2001 when the area became threatened by a local fuel storage construction project. The site has since been dated to the early Holocene, between 9450-9400BP (Fedje et al., 2005). Around 9400 the site turned intertidal by rising sea levels, becoming fully submerged up to 16 metres by about 5000BP, with the surrounding geographic area rising to present levels via tectonic uplift. Lithics, fauna, and bone tools comprise the majority of the artifact assemblage of Kilgii Gwaay.

Major Finds/Insights

Faunal Assemblage

The fauna are a mixture of terrestrial and marine resources, including 13 taxa of fish, 6 of mammals, and 20 types of bird. An examination of the taxa and quality of the assemblage shows that by this time, the marine area of Haida Gwaii was similar to that found in modern times, with all marine resources evidenced here still being present today (Fedje et al., 2001). The excavators speculate that the low prevalence of salmon remains could possibly indicate that the salmon runs which characterize the area today had not yet been as well established, possibly due to localized dramatic sea level changes. The prevalence of offshore marine resources suggests that watercraft technology was well in use at Kilgii Gwaay (Arnold, 2006). Bear is the one terrestrial mammal found at Kilgii Gwaay, and as such the excavators question terrestrial resource acquisition and overall terrestrial viability as a relative unknown at this time (Fedje et al., 2001). The excavators interpret the bears’ presence and abundance, a unique terrestrial resource in an otherwise viable marine economic setting, as possible indication of bear ceremonialism (McLaren et al., 2005). At other local, contemporary sites, bear remains are not as abundant, though they are still mostly present as a resource, and as such it is this assemblage that creates a unique signature at Kilgii Gwaay. Here, McLaren et al. link ethnographic studies, archaeological evidence, and biological data from around the world to create an interpretive framework for the unique characterization of this bear assemblage. The differential frequency of bear elements combined with the type of cut marks found on the bones and the presence of burned bear bones leads McLaren et al. to speculate on the possibility of bear ceremonialism. Relying most strongly on pan-Boreal ethnographic and ethnohistoric work conducted in 1926 for their inference base, McLaren et al. conclude that the treatment of bears at Kilgii Gwaay evidences ceremonial behaviour. Figure 3 shows the NISP of bear elements. Differential transport is argued to be the cause of the signature of elements here, and along with the instances of burned long bones and crania – an element not usually taken as a piece of high meat bearing value – ceremonialism at Kilgii Gwaay is thus deduced. McLaren et al. discuss the pattern of burnt bones:

Seventy burnt bone fragments were recovered from Kilgii Gwaay. Of these, half (35) could be attributed to land mammal – most likely bear – but only one specimen to sea mammal, even though the two taxa are represented in similar frequency in the assemblage. The remaining burnt fragments consist mostly of fish (29) and some bird (7). The differential treatment of the mammal remains resembles the ethnographic patterns of ceremonialism bestowed upon bear and the first salmon caught in the spring.

Lithic Assemblage

Excavators recovered four thousand lithics artifacts, mostly debitage. The site has an unusually low showing of bifaces for the time period and region in which it was occupied, with unifacial technolgoy dominating. Figure 4 is a drawing of a unifacial point tip that could have been associated with styles of resource procurement, though its exact function is unclear. Aside from this one tool, unifacial flakes and scraper edges constitute the assemblage of other tools at Kilgii Gwaay. Fedje et al. note that many of the lithic artifacts from upper levels in the excavated units demonstrate post-depositional edge-rounding (Fedje et al., 2001). The assemblage is dominated by large secondary flakes and the excavators assume that most of the primary flaking was done offsite; local high-quality basalt is the main raw material, with sources no more than 10km away. This quarry area has not been further investigated.

Formation and Occupational History

Material Culture

General Notes

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