Keatley Creek Site

From ArchaeoWiki

Jump to: navigation, search
Loading map...
Culture(s) Interior Salish
Temporal Period(s) Late Prehistoric Period

Summary Details

Location: 16 km north of Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada (Approx. 50° 51' 16" N, 121° 51' 44" W)
Period: Late Prehistoric Period - Shuswap Horizon (3500-2400 BP), Plateau Horizon (2400-1200 BP), Kamloops Horizon (1200-200 BP)
Date Range: circa 1500 BC to AD 1750

Keatley Creek is an archaeological site located in British Columbia, Canada. This site is considered to be a large housepit village that contains over one hundred different structures. These housepits vary in size, from 20 metres to 5 metres in diametre Speller et al. (2005). The exact dates for Keatley Creek vary among researchers, but most agree the site was occupied from the Shuswap horizon (4000-2400 BP) to the Kamloops horizon (1200-200 BP), where the area was ultimately abandoned. There are many important aspects to the site. The structure known as housepit 7 is particularly of interest. However, there are also an abundance of artifacts that are intriguing to researches as well. Artifacts such as coiled basket fragments and salmon bones are useful to archaeologists in terms of dating the periods of occupation. Overall, Keatley Creek is an impressive site with an even more impressive history.


There are many reasons why Keatley Creek is a significant area. One reason is that Keatley Creek's occupational history suggests that there was a hierarchical system implemented. This system seems to be prominent during the final stages of occupation Prentiss et al. (2003). The site is thought to have an elite ruling class that controlled non-elite labour, resources, and trade Prentiss et al. (2003). Peripheral structures within the overview of the area suggest a place for elites to gather in secret and make ritualistic offerings. However, this is only speculation at this time. Keatley Creek is also significant as it contains periphery structures that are thought to have been used in ritual context Morrin (2010). These structures are distinctive from the rest of the housepits as they are sparsely organized and uniquely assembled. Structure 106, which is about 90 percent excavated, is thought to be either a shrine, secret meeting place for the elites, or a ritual seclusion structure Morrin (2010). The mysterious peripheral structures date back to the Classic Lillooet period, where the site reached its optimal peak. Debris from these structures reveals that there are storage pits, earth ovens, and roasting pits found in the site's older core Morrin (2010). These periphery structures give archaeologists some insight to possible secret societies being documented on the Central Northwest Coast Morrin (2010). These peripheral structures date between the Plateau Horizon and the Kamloops Horizon, meaning they are not original to the area Morrin (2010). The key concept of these structures happens to be their remoteness from the rest of the village. Structures 104, 105, 106, and 109 are all located between 150-200 metres from the core area Morrin (2010). An abundance of artifacts have been recovered from structure 106. These include: what could be a type of war club, small tomahawk type war club, crescentic biface, broken fan-tailed biface, bone scratcher, bird bone tube, bird bone, and cervid tooth bead Morrin (2010). Radio Carbon dating has shown that there have been occupational breaks within the village. These breaks date roughly between 1490-1360 cal B.P. and another break at roughly 1240 cal. B.P. Hayden (2005), however, specific reasons for these breaks are still unclear. Recent analysis conducted on the Lillooet Glacier demonstrates haw there was a small glacial advance lasting between 1700-1400 B.P., meaning that the climate must have been cooler and wetter during this time Hayden (2005). This cool climate may correspond to site abandonment between the period of 1490-1360 cal. B.P., but nothing has been confirmed at this time. The occupational breaks in the area are not fully understood. There is even some debate over whether these breaks were as dramatic as previously suggested or if they only lasted a short period of time. Keatley Creek represents a complex hunter-gatherer society with an assortment of mysteries.

Housepit 7

Housepit 7 is a crucial structure in Keatley Creek and as a result it is one of the most researched structures in the village. Housepit 7 is one of the largest housepits found in the village, which suggests that it may have been an elite residence. This structure's occupation dates as far back as 2300 cal. B.P. Hayden (2005), making it one of the oldest. Housepit 7 is of significance because it contains subterranean structures known as subhousepits. The subhousepits are not fully understood in the grand scheme of the site. These substructutres are hypothesized to be possible entrance ways into the larger housepit Hayden (2005). They may also represent smaller structures that have been built over by larger housepits. Subhousepit 3 is directly under the floor in housepit 7 while three other subhousepits are located in close proximity of housepit 7 Prentiss et al. (2003). William Prentiss and his team of researchers conclude that there was a small housepit in the space where housepit 7 would occupy. It was after an increase of population that this housepit was built over in oder for housepit 7 to come to life Prentiss et al. (2003).

Research History

Keatley Creek has been subject to a number of research projects. Brian Hayden is possibly the most persistent archaeologist associated with the area. He has been involved in numerous articles, but his work always seems to come back to housepit 7. Although early excavation of the Mid-Fraser area, where Keatley Creek is located, began in the early 1970s, it has been Hayden's long-term excavation program that has offered the most insight to the cultural patterns of the area Prentis et al. (2003). William C. Prentis is another major figure in the excavation of Keatley Creek and has always contented with Hayden's conclusions and dates for the site. The two researchers have never agreed on theories based on occupation, which makes it difficult to find consistent dates for the site. Over the years the area has been investigated by an abundance of research teams. These include researchers from Simon Fraser University and MacMaster University.

Major Finds/Insights

There have been numerous artifacts recovered from Keatley Creek. One of the more interesting artifacts to be collected is a charred fragment of coiled basketry which dates back to the Plateau Horizon Wittike et al. (2004). This piece of basketry is about 17 centimetres in length and about 8 centimetres in width Wittike et al. (2004). According to researchers the fragment lacks an import function and is likely part of the basket's wall Wittike et al. (2004). The fragment is also very poorly preserved on one side making it hard to determine its function, however, the basket was likely used as a water or cooking vessel Wittike et al. (2004). Researchers have determined that the fragment is made of Western Red Cedar, which was scarce in the Upper Lillooet area, and therefore suggests that the material was imported into the area through trade Wittike et al. (2004). The basket is thought to have been an item of prestige during the protohistoric and historic period Wittike et al. (2004). Another study was conducted on the chert that was found in the Kamloops component of the site. Analysis suggests that the inhabitants of Keatley Creek were using locally derived chert for their stone tools Kendall and MacDonald (2015). This is important to note because sites often suggest trading for exotic (non-local) chert. The chert used in Keatley Creek is described as opaque and varies in colour Kendall and MacDonald (2015). There is no evidence of tools being manufactured at the chert site, thus proposing that the chert was taken from its source back to the village to be manipulated. In addition to the chert there have been a number of projectile points recovered from the site. These points date back to the Shuswap Horizon and Plateau Horizon Kendall and MacDonald (2015).These points were recovered from concentrated areas near established housepit structures. There have also been a total of 60 salmon remains retrieved from the area. Three different species have been identified: Sockeye, Chinook, and Coho salmon Speller et al. (2005). Sockeye salmon seems to have persistent to the site for the last 1000-2000 years. This therefore suggests that salmon was a staple to the diet of the people of Keatley Creek Speller et al. (2005). A total of 4964 salmon specimens have been discovered in the matrix of the floor in housepit 7 Butler and Chatters (1994) . This allows researchers to believe that Salmon was a staple in the diet of the occupants of the site over a long period of time.

Research Methods

Research methods for data collecting vary for different projects. In Mathewes and Pallat's book on climate change during the last 10,000 years, the two authors mention a recent project in Greenland that analyzed ice cores to determine a drastic global climate changes during the early Holocene Mathewes and Pellat (2000). Mathewes and Pallet focus their work on British Columbia and note that many methods have been used to track the climate alterations since the start of the Holocene. Here, they list projects that have used numerous data collecting methods, such as, pollen analysis, close-core-sampling analysis, corporlite analysis, and tree-ring analysis (Dendrochronology) to see how the ice-age altered the vegetation Mathewes and Pellat (2000). There have also been extensive research projects centred around the soil and chert found near the site. A recent report looks at the elemental composition of chert toolstone deposits by using pXRF (portable X-Ray Fluorescence) and INAA (Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis) Kendall (2007). Another research projrct looked at the residue from housepit 9 to determine the chemical composition left in the soil by using Inductiely coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy Middleton and Price (1996). Artifacts found at the Keatley Creek site have been subjected to various forms of testing. The most prominent form is radiocarbon dating. This method appears in numerous studies and is possibly the most reliable form of methodology in terms of dating important components in the area. This method has been used for primarily for the non-organic materials discovered at the site. This includes debris such as points or debris from the structures of the village. The peripheral structures found around the area have been analyzed by comparing them to the residential housepits located in the core section of Keatley Creek Morrin (2010). This way it will be easy to tell whether these structures were in fact specially designed configurations or if they were used in a domestic sense. Lastly, DNA analysis as well as radiographic analysis are used extensively on the salmon remains, dog remains, and even skeletal remains of humans in the site.

Formation and Occupational History

Keatley Creek is considered to have been a winter pithouse village Speller et al. (2005). The dates of Keatley Creek's occupational history is largely based off of housepit 7. Subsurface floors have been excavated in certain pithouses, specifically housepit 7 where the earliest date is 2300 cal B.P. Hayden (2005). With this information it is speculated that medium-to-large houses came about in the Shuswap horizon, or 2400 B.P. Prentiss et al. (2003). The site likely started off as a small sprawled out village, but later grew into a large community. Human occupation of the site may have started as early as ca. 7000 B.P. MacDonald and Kendall (2015). The pinnacle in size is thought to have occurred by the Plateau horizon around 2160 B.P., however, it is thought that the large scale occupation of the site may have began as early as 2300 B.P Prentiss et al. (2003), with a population of around 1000 inhabitants Speller et al. (2005). Finally, the area was completely abandoned sometime between 1000-1100 B.P. during the Kamloops horizon Prentiss et al. (2003). The reason for this abrupt abandonment is still up for debate, but researchers think that the reason for this had to do with the change in climate which would have had a devastating effect on the natural resources, such as salmon which was consumed by the inhabitants of Keatley Creek.There is evidence of several abrupt transitions in climate dating back to the early Holocene (around 8,200-7,800 years ago) Mathewes and Pellat (2000). It is believed that the first settlers of Keatley Creek arrived just as the salmon population was expanding in the Pacific Northwest, which allowed for readily available resources. This optimal salmon condition also allowed for the complexity of the site to expand Speller et al. (2005). Large individual houses are occupied consistently for approximately 1,600 years Prentiss et al. (2003). It is believed that there were breaks in the habitation of the village. There appears to be a large gap of occupation which spans from 1489-1361 cal. B.P. and another break during 1236 cal. B.P. Hayden (2005).

Site Map

Loading map...


Personal tools