Dr. Alan McMillan: Huu-ay-aht Archaeological Project

Fax: 778.782.5666 • Email: mcmillan@sfu.ca

Huu-ay-aht Archaeological Project

The Huu-ay-aht First Nation has funded and encouraged recent archaeological research in their traditional territory of eastern Barkley Sound, near the modern community of Bamfield. Alan McMillan and Denis St. Claire co-directed this work. The large abandoned village site of Huu7ii, from which the Huu-ay-aht derive their name, was the location for archaeological excavation in the summers of 2004 and 2006. A row of distinct flat platforms where houses once stood can still be discerned on the site surface. All excavation took place within House 1, the largest house platform at the site. This house location, which is about 35 meters in length, was likely where the head chief's residence stood.

The 2004 project took place in a rear corner of the house, corresponding to the most highly ranked area in Nuu-chah-nulth houses. Excavation continued through the house floor to underlying shell midden deposits. Only one unit reached the original beach sand at the base of the deposit at a depth of over two meters. Radiocarbon dates indicate that this area of the site was first occupied about 1500 years ago. The 2006 excavation stripped off a large area of the house floor across the platform, exposing such house features as hearths and pits, as well as a large quantity of artifacts and animal bones. Several radiocarbon dates from hearths at the base of the house floor suggest that this structure was first constructed between about 900 and 700 years ago, and dates from the upper surface indicate that the house was abandoned over 400 years ago.

Evidence of earlier occupation was encountered on an elevated landform behind the main village area. Excavation units on this back portion of the site went down over two meters and revealed evidence of human presence from about 3000 to 5000 years ago, corresponding to a time when sea levels were several meters higher than present.

In addition to the professional staff, Huu-ay-aht band members made up a significant part of the crew in both summers. In 2006, the University of Victoria field school was held at this site. Numerous volunteers also contributed greatly to what the project was able to achieve. Analysis of the data recovered is now underway. The great quantity of faunal remains consists largely of fish (a wide range of species, from small herring and anchovy to huge bluefin tuna) and sea mammals (mainly whales, porpoise, and fur seals). Almost a thousand artifacts were recovered, most of which are of bone and are recognizable as parts of fishing or sea mammal hunting implements.

Public education plays an important role in this project. Over the last three summers of fieldwork, more than 2200 visitors to this island portion of Pacific Rim National Park have viewed the excavation in progress. Tseshaht guides explained the history of the site and of the Tseshaht people, providing visitors with a greater understanding of this beautiful archipelago. Another major focus was to provide training for Tseshaht youth, who made up a significant portion of the excavation crew, in research into their own history and culture. Tseshaht elders and other community members took an active interest, making the lengthy journey from Port Alberni to see the excavation in progress on several occasions. The Tseshaht are actively working with Pacific Rim Park to protect their heritage resources in the park and to make visitors aware of their lengthy history in this area.