The Maritime Fur Trade before the Maritime Fur Trade on the Pacific Coast of North America

Author(s): Iain McKechnie

Year: 2017


The maritime fur trade on the Northwest Coast of North America (ca. AD 1778-1850) was a historically consequential process that unfolded throughout the Indigenous territories of the Pacific Coast. Tens of thousands of astronomically valuable sea otter pelts were traded by Indigenous chiefs with visiting ship captains, who then transported these pelts across the Pacific and sent profits home. The massive wealth generated by this colonial trade encircled the globe but also amplified existing political dynamics within and between Indigenous communities that continue to have political and ecological reverberations today. While this iteration of the ‘maritime fur trade’ is well documented, much less is known about how this short-lived trade was preceded by thousands of years of intensive occupation, use, and political control of the coast, including the role of otters in Indigenous hunting traditions and governance as well as the material culture of adornment and trade. This presentation reviews the zooarchaeological evidence for sea otters from hundreds of archaeological settlements along the coast and sketches some historical ecological hypotheses about the former abundance of this iconic marine mammal species, whose populations are recovering and once again exerting impacts on coastal ecosystems and the maritime foodways of Indigenous coastal communities.

Cite this Record

The Maritime Fur Trade before the Maritime Fur Trade on the Pacific Coast of North America. Iain McKechnie. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430276)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -169.717; min lat: 42.553 ; max long: -122.607; max lat: 71.301 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17666