Tsimshian Archaeology: 50 Years of Research and 10,000 years of History

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Modern archaeological research began in the Prince Rupert Harbour area of Tsimshian Territory in 1966 with research from the National Museum of Canada (now the Canadian Museum of History) and supported by Tsimshian people and their governments. This work framed archaeological research across Tsimshian territory including the lands of the Nine Tribes (Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams), Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Gitxaala, Gitksan, and Gitga’at and developed the careers of many of the luminaries of archaeology and related fields. Their research and that of the generations of scholars they mentored have been at the forefront of interpretive and methodological developments and have advanced the understanding of Tsimshian archaeology and history. This session brings together case studies of leading edge genomic analysis, household archaeology, oral history analyses, paleoenvironmental reconstructions, ethnographic comparisons, Indigenous critique, spatial analysis, and radiocarbon modeling, showcasing the legacy of a half-century of partnership between different disciplines and communities in one of the world’s most well-known research programs.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-16 of 16)

  • Documents (16)

  • Archaeological investigations on the Lucy Islands, near Prince Rupert, B.C. from 2010 to 2013: New evidence relating to the Development of North Coast Culture. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only David Archer. Christine Mueller.

    In the summer of 1966, George MacDonald launched the wide-ranging North Coast Prehistory Project. One of his goals was to document the broader patterns of human settlement along the north coast of British Columbia, and in 1968, this led to the first test excavations at GbTp-1, a small seasonal encampment on the Lucy Islands, 19 km west of Prince Rupert, in the open waters of Chatham Sound. The data from that excavation showed that this remote site was already inhabited by about 2500 years ago,...

  • An Archaeological Test of A Settlement Pattern Shift Recorded in Tsimshian Oral Records (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kenneth Ames. Andrew Martindale.

    We archaeologically test a hypothesis derived from the Tsimshian oral record. That record recites a long history of settlement movement and conflict culminating in an invasion of coastal Tsimshian territory by northerners. This conflict reportedly caused the Tsimshian to temporarily abandon their coastal territories and retreat inland. We tracked settlement shifts through a site taxonomy and intensive analysis of a large 14C sample acquired by percussion coring. We found an occupational hiatus...

  • The Challenges and Benefits of Comparing Archaeological and Oral Records (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Marsden. Andrew Martindale.

    Archaeologists have referenced the oral record throughout the history of their research in Tsimshian territory. In this paper we frame our recent collaboration against this legacy and argue that that a symmetrical relationship is a necessary foundation for any conjunction between these complex datasets. Our collaboration recognizes the common history they represent, but also their different logical frameworks and empirical scope. In our context, the oral record was more complete, detailed, and...

  • Eight years of partnership with Coast Tsimshian First Nations on genomic research (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ripan Malhi. Jerome Cybulski. John Lindo. Michael DeGiorgio. Joycelynn Mitchell.

    In 2008 a partnership was established with the Coast Tsimshian to use genomics as a novel avenue of research to learn about the population and evolutionary history of these First Nations. Community based research methods were used as a way to establish research goals that were respectful and mutually beneficial to all parties. Through this partnership we have been able to gain insight into the present-day and ancestral Coast Tsimshian genetic structure. Specifically, we have demonstrated a close...

  • The Gitga’at – Simon Fraser University (GSAHP) Archaeology and Heritage Project: Developing Community-based Heritage Management Strategies in Gitga’ata Territory (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Nyra Chalmer. Spencer Greening. Chris Picard. Ginevra Toniello. Dana Lepofsky.

    The Gitga’at First Nation, traditionally known as the Gitga’ata, of the Tsymsyen peoples on the Northwest Coast of British Columbia is facing major marine developments in their ancestral territory, most notably tanker traffic related to several crude oil and liquefied natural gas export projects. While the Gitga’ata hold extensive oral knowledge about their history and past landscape use, until recently, little was known about the territory archaeologically. To address this knowledge gap, in...

    DOCUMENT Citation Only Gary Coupland.

    The practice of household archaeology has a long history in the Prince Rupert area, owing in large part to the remarkable preservation of sites in the region including the existence of house depression features on the ground surface of many village sites. Approaches to investigating these house features have shifted over the years as new theoretical paradigms have arisen to replace older ones. Issues of chronology and culture history dominated early investigations, but more recently questions...

  • The Kleanza Approach: The challenges of working in Tsimshian territory from a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) perspective. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Amanda Marshall. Stephanie Huddlestan.

    Working in Tsimshian territory as consulting archaeologists can be challenging at best particularly in recent years as a growing number of proposed development projects has put the Northwest Coast in the Provincial and Federal spotlight. As a company we strive to ensure our research objectives are guided by community heritage policies however given the nature of the business we are influenced by our client’s requests, confidentiality, binding contracts, budgets, and provincial guidelines....

  • Metagenomic analysis of pre-contact diet using ancient dental calculus from Prince Rupert Harbour, British Columbia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Alyssa Bader. Julie M. Allen. Ripan S. Malhi.

    Prior to the displacement caused by European colonization, the Coast Tsimshian harvested an array of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine dietary resources as they moved between coastal settlements and the nearby Skeena River valley. Conventional paleodietary analysis using faunal analysis and isotopic values has provided valuable data which, when paired with the knowledge of First Nations communities, can help reconstruct how ancestral communities utilized food resources prior to the cultural...

  • The Metlakatla first nation and archaeology: an Indigenous Community's Views in the course of 50 years of archaeological and related research in the Prince Rupert Harbour Region (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Barbara Petzelt.

    This paper discusses the Metlakatla First Nation’s views and roles in the archaeological and related research that has occurred within their traditional territory over the past 50 years, the core of which is the Prince Rupert Harbour area. Unlike many other First Nations, Metlakatla has long embraced the opportunity to actively participate in the documentation of their ancient history, rather than merely being a subject of research. This view of archaeology has led to mutually beneficial...

  • The North Coast Prehistory Project of the National Museum of Canada (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only George MacDonald.

    The objective of the North Coast Prehistory Project was to investigate the development of Maritime adapted cultures in the Pacific Northwest and the role of exchange systems in the subsequent development of stratified societies including advanced systems of trade and warfare based on Northeast Asian prototypes. Excavations of the extensive shell middens of the Prince Rupert Harbor yielded evidence of elaborate militarism along with extensive inland trade. The project worked closely with the oral...

  • A radiocarbon test for significant demographic events in written and oral history. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Thomas Brown. Kevan Edinborough. Andrew Martindale. Kenneth Ames.

    We present the results of a simulation based test for the existence and significance of two known demographic event horizons. We extend the Shennan et al. (2013) summed probability distribution frequency method to provide a value of statistical significance for the period between two defined calendar dates. Case-study one extrapolates population data from the Western historical record relating to the catastrophic European Black Death and finds a consistent statistically significant drop in...

  • Re-imagining the colonial encounter through Gitxaała eyes (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charles Menzies.

    Archaeology on the north coast of British Columbia has focussed on three zones of attention: Namu, Haida Gwaii, and Prince Rupert Harbour. These loci have created a kind of orthodoxy that, while reasonable in certain aspects, has unduly shaped contemporary political interactions between First Nations and the state. This paper draws from an Indigenous intellectual framework (that has appropriated the tools and techniques of anthropological archaeology) to challenge and redefine the orthodox...

  • A Tale of Two Villages: Exploring the Role of Villages with Massive Shell Accumulations as Anthropogenic Coastline Modifications in Prince Rupert Harbour (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Bryn Letham. Andrew Martindale. Kisha Supernant. Kenneth Ames.

    3D mapping, percussion coring, and radiocarbon dating are used to explore the geoarchaeology and chronology of two villages composed of massive shell deposits in the Prince Rupert Harbour. We map out accumulation and development of these sites through time and demonstrate that they are major anthropogenic coastline modifications, which, with dozens of other large villages in the area, form a substantial built environment. As well as providing well-drained terraformed terraces on which to build...

  • Tsimshian households and trade: the view from Casey Point (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Morley Eldridge.

    Large-scale excavations at GbTo-13 and GbTo-54 near Casey Point, Prince Rupert Harbour, revealed house remains whose differential contents of exotic features, goods, and wealth or status-signalling artifacts strongly suggest that one household ranked above others. All labrets and all mountain goat horn cores were associated with a single house. Even the households lacking these prestige goods have more wealth items than at almost any regional assemblage. The extraordinary amount of bracelets...

  • The Use and Cultural Importance of Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) on the NWC: An Example from Prince Rupert Harbour. (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Katherine Patton. Trevor Orchard.

    Eulachon was an important resource for many NWC First Nations. Ethnographers such as Garfield and Boas note the particular importance of this fish among the Tsimshian. One of the primary eulachon spawning locations on the coast is at the mouth of the Nass River, north of PRH, and rights to fish at particular locations in this area were owned by Tsimshian descent groups. Access to this fish, its processing, and storage played an important role in structuring subsistence and settlement patterns,...

  • "We lived there for the food": Archaeologies of Dalk Gyilakyaw, home of the Gitsm'geelm (Kitsumkalum) Tsimshian (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Brenda Guernsey. Chelsey Geralda Armstrong.

    The Gitsm’geelm are a galts’ap (community) of the Tsimshian Nation. Today, Kitsumkalum is located at the confluence of the Kalum and Skeena Rivers. There are a number of documented archaeology sites in the core territorial lands, down the Skeena River to the coast where Gitsm’geelm people hold various types of resource use sites. Dałk Gyilakyaw (Robin Town), a large terraced village site replete with evidence of maintained gardens, orchards and distinct archaeological features, is located at the...