General Research Interests
I am interested in the social and ecological impacts of past human interactions with their environment. My research focuses on complex hunter-gatherers of the Pacific Northwest of North America and also the Maohi chiefdoms of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. Within the Northwest Coast, I work in the traditional territories of and in collaboration with, several First Nations. I incorporate diverse technical and methodological approaches in my research, including household archaeology, regional survey, paleoethnobotany, and detailed paleoecological studies. My recognition of the value of different disciplines and kinds of knowledge has led me to believe strongly in multi-disciplinary and collaborative research. My research program has been strengthened considerably by my association with other archaeologists, paleoecologists, neoecologists, geomorphologists, and experts in First Nations traditional knowledge.
Summary of Dana Lepofsky's research programme
With my students, I am working on several projects, broadly focused on exploring how Northwest Coast peoples interacted with their land and seascapes. My team seeks to blend local ecological and historical knowledge with archaeological data to understand these interactions, and when possible, to apply this knowledge to current social and ecological issues.
After seven years, our team is beginning to wrap up our research with Tla'amin First Nation on the Sunshine Coast http://www.sliammonfirstnation.com/archaeology/. Under this collaboration, Julia Jackley completed her MA thesis focusing on the detailed history of one bay, and Nyra Chalmer is finishing her MA thesis focusing on the deep history of one major settlement. Sara Johnson took a mid-scale view by examining human land/sea interactions in a few bays and inlets in Desolation Sound. PhD students Megan Caldwell and Chris Springer are taking a considerably more zoomed out spatial and temporal look on how the Northern Coast Salish social and economic interactions played out on the marine and terrestrial environments, respectively (e.g., Caldwell et al 2012; Lepofsky and Caldwell 2013). Craig Rust is using the data from the regional archaeological survey as a basis for his modeling of site locations. Kasia Zimmerman (supervised by Dongya Yang) is combining interviews with the Tla’amin about their hunting dogs, with ancient DNA analyses of dog bones recovered from our excavations. Much of the field research conducted for all of these projects was in the context of the SFU Archaeology Field schools. We are now looking to wrap up these research projects and compile them, together with other historical information, into a Tla’amin Historical Atlas.
In the summers of 2012 and in 2013, I ran Archaeology-Ethnohistory field schools in Sliammon. In 2012, I co-taught with ethnohistorian Keith Carlson and his graduate students from the University of Saskatchewan. The goal of the field school was to break down disciplinary boundaries and to teach about Tla’amin history from a range of perspectives and knowledges. The student participants were from several universities in western Canada and beyond, and from a broad range of disciplines including history, archaeology, First Nations studies, and Anthropology. Community mentors guided the students in researching and conducting interviews on topics of interest to the Tla’amin. In addition, the students participated in many community events, and of course did some excavating of archaeological sites. In 2013, we focused on “Environmental Histories” – asking people how the land- and sea-scape had changed and how these changes affected the ways in which the Tla’amin interact with their surroundings and with each other.
Through the generous support of the Hakai Network of Coastal Peoples and Ecosystems, the Tula Foundation, National Geographic Research, SSHRC, Wenner Gren, and most recently, Washington Sea Grant, I have been involved in several other projects with coastal First Nations. First, with many collaborators --from university and non-academic communities from Alaska to Washington, I am one of the coordinators of the "Herring School". The Herring School brings together diverse kinds of knowledge and skills to understand the cultural and ecological context of herring - a cultural keystone species for many Coastal First Nations. The School has now hosted two workshops and is beginning to publish papers on herring and food webs, herring governance and management, ancient DNA of herring (Speller et al. 2012), the abundance and distribution of archaeological herring bones (McKechnie et al in press), and local knowledge about herring abundance, use, and management. http://www.sfu.ca/hakai/current-research-programs/herring-school.html
I am also one of the coordinators of another coast-wide research group titled the “Clam Garden Network”. Clam gardens are ancient intertidal features that were hand constructed by First Nations to enhance shellfish productivity. These features, which have been located throughout British Columbia’s coastline, consist of a boulder wall built near the zero tide line, and a terrace on the landward side of the wall that significantly expands bivalve habitat and productivity. Like the Herring School, the The “Clam Garden Network” is a collaboration of researchers from Washington and BC, and within and outside academia. Our team sees this archaeological set of features as a means not only of understanding regional and local culture histories, but also as a basis for discussions about modern management, food security, and governance. Our previous research, conducted by marine ecologists Amy Groesbeck, Anne Salomon, and Kirsten Rowell, made huge strides in understanding the ecological context of clam gardens in some parts of the coast (Groesbeck et al. in press). Archaeology MA student Misha Puckett is now looking at the archaeological evidence for the social and ecological effects of clam gardens by sampling shell middens and conducting site surveys in Northern Quadra. In the summer of 2013, members of the Network excavated garden walls in Quadra, Bella Bella, the west Coast of Vancouver Island, and the Gulf Islands. We will continue this work in 2014. Our current results indicate that these ancient management features are at least 1700 years old, are closely tied to ancient sea levels, and are widespread in many cultural and ecological contexts. http://www.archaeology.org/1109/features/coast_salish_clam_gardens_salmon.html
Another exciting project is a collaboration between Heiltsuk First Nation, UVictoria, and SFU, looking at Heiltsuk management of and interactions with the dazzlingly beautiful Hauyat watershed, in Northern Hunter Island (not too far from Bella Bella). Jennifer Carpenter, Nancy Turner, and myself are the "steering committee" for this collaboration. Part of this research is the focus of my now PhD student Julia Jackley. Julia, with Heiltusk archaeologists Elroy White and others have now conducted extensive surveys of the watershed. The landscape is rich in culturally modified trees, clam gardens and fish traps, intertidal root gardens, berry gardens, and historic and more ancient settlements. Many Heiltsuk continue to have a strong connection to this important place and are keen to participate in a project focused on Hauyat's deep and rich history.
As of May of 2013, I am co-editor (with Kris Gremillion and Lee Newsom) of the Journal of Ethnobiology, one of the publications of the Society of Ethnobiology. The journal publishes cutting edge articles on ethnobiology–the interdisciplinary study of past and present relationships between humans and their biological worlds.