PhD Dissertations: Diane Kay Hanson, 1991

Late Prehistoric Subsistence in the Strait of Georgia Region of the Northwest Coast

Zooarchaeological data reported from twenty-two Developed Coast Salish horizon (1500 years before present to European contact) sites in the southern Strait of Georgia region were compared with subsistence information from regional ethnographies in an attempt to discover whether the ethnographic record is an accurate portrayal of late prehistoric subsistence. Additional data collected during the 1984 and 1985 excavations from DeRt 1 on Pender Island, British Columbia were included in the comparisons.

Cluster analyses of the zooarchaeological data showed that sites excavated in a similar manner tended to fall in the same cluster, indicating that archaeological methods were strongly influencing perceptions of regional subsistence patterns. Mammal assemblages were dominated by ungulates and canids. The dominance of wapiti on mainland sites contradicts the ethnographic record, which stated that wapiti were a staple only on Vancouver Island. Sea mammals were a minor component of the mammal assemblages. Not surprisingly, waterfowl were the most commonly identified birds recovered from the sites. As predicted from the ethnographic record, salmonids figured prominently, and were identified in all Strait of Georgia sites. In sites in which column samples were taken and sediments screened through fine-mesh screens, herring appeared to be more common than indicated from assemblages collected using coarser screens. Shellfish frequency data were not usually provided.

While the ethnographic records were useful for understanding general subsistence patterns, therewere some differences between the ethnographic and the archaeological record. The greatest differences were between ethnographic accounts of fishing activities and the archaeological fish assemblages. True cods, sculpins and perches were more important in some sites than expected based on the ethnographic information, while halibut was less important. This suggests that there was a change in the economic importance of these species associated with the introduction of the commercial fishing industry which emphasized salmon. The focus on salmonids in the Northwest Coast literature has apparently obscured the contribution of other animals which may have played a larger part in the subsistence of late prehistoric Southern Strait of Georgia people.