M.A. Theses: Corene Texada Lindsay, 2003

Investigations into the Ethnographic and Prehistoric Importance of Freshwater Shellfish on the Interior Plateau of British Columbia

The remains of freshwater shellfish are frequently found during archaeological investigations of prehistoric Aboriginal sites on the Interior Plateau of British Columbia. This thesis examines and analyzes a significant number of archaeological reports and has presented what is hopefully a representative picture of the extent of shellfish utilization across the region. In addition to the archaeological material, this thesis has investigated ethnographic and contemporary records and accounts that describe Aboriginal shellfishing practices along the Columbia River in Washington State as a late winter/early spring activity, when stored foods were in scarce supply. On the Interior Plateau of British Columbia, ethnographer James Teit has described freshwater shellfish as 'famine food'.

The research indicates that shellfish were harvested along Plateau waterways during the Middle-Period (7,500-3,800 B.P.), peaking during the Plateau Horizon (2,400-1,200 B.P.), and markedly declining by the Historic period (A.D. 200-present). Shell remains were identified at 124 archaeological sites in amounts ranging from minimal shell fragments to sometimes significant amounts.

Although the research for this thesis has identified the shell-bearing archaeological sites, and the archaeological periods during which they are found, the evidence is not sufficient to conclude that molluscs were an important food resource for Aboriginal peoples, nor does it suggest that they represented only starvation food. The seasonal availability and the ethnographic accounts that link shellfishing with food scarcity may be responsible for James Teits’ description of freshwater shellfish as 'famine food', consumed only in the absence of all other resources.