M.A. Theses: Inge Rosemarie Dahm, 1994

Cultural and Social Dimensions of the Prehistoric Gulf Islands Soapstone Industry

This thesis is based on an analysis of a large and unique collection of prehistoric soapstone artifacts from the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. Until recently lack of archaeological context and inadequate sample sizes have prevented detailed analysis of the soapstone complex artifacts. The purpose of this analysis is to characterize the collection and to derive socio-cultural information about the nature of society during the time these artifacts were in use. The significance of these soapstone artifacts lies in the fact that they indicate aspects of behaviour rarely identifiable in the archaeological record. Standard archaeological methods are employed in this analysis. These methods include the following: classification and description of the artifacts and formulation of a typology; 14C dating and cross-dating of types to determine the chronology of the artifact types; and the use of ethnographic analogy and archaeological context to determine the role these artifacts played in the society which produced them. The study has resulted in several conclusions. Since the soapstone came from distant sources, trade connections over a wide area can be inferred. Properties of the raw material and artifact morphology indicate that these artifacts were ornaments. In the Gulf of Georgia region the soapstone ornament industry is limited temporally to between 5000 and 2000 years ago. Archaeological context and ethnographic analogy indicate that they were part of a system of cultural practices related to social status and cosmology expressed through personal adornment. Diversification and elaboration of forms of soapstone ornaments over time are consistent with an increase in interest in status and rank during this period.