M.A. Theses: Alexandra Maas, 1994

The Adoption and Use of 19th Century Ceramics at Old Bella Bella, British Columbia

This thesis provides an analysis and interpretation of a ceramic assemblage from Old Bella Bella-Fort McLoughlin. Processes relating to the adoption and use of 19th century European ceramics by a Native community on the Central Coast of British Columbia are addressed. Fort McLoughlin, a short lived Hudson Bay Company fur trade post built in 1833 and abandoned ten years later, provided the impetus for the coalescence of the Heiltsuk community known as Old Bella Bella. The community developed over the rest of the century until it was also abandoned in the late 1890s.

With the arrival of Europeans, change happened very rapidly at some Central Coast contact sites and much more slowly at others. At Old Bella Bella in particular, archaeologists have noted the apparent rapid replacement of much of the Native material culture inventory with European material culture items during the last quarter of the 19th century.

The study of interethnic dynamics has been the subject of ongoing academic attention throughout the last half of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1940s theories of culture change have suggested that trade goods are initially sought that have meaning and continuity in the adoptive group. Desirable trade goods convey meanings and perform functions which are consistent with the values and customs of the adoptive culture and this quality may initially outweigh considerations of expedience where incoming goods are concerned. Further, modifications may be made in the form or use of new items, thereby indicating a fundamental relationship between form, use and meaning.

Recent approaches to the study of interethnic dynamics have shown that motivations for the adoption and use of new items of material culture are complex, reflecting sociohistorical and cultural considerations for both cultures in the contact situation. Thus explanations for the adoption and use of 19th century ceramics at Old Bella Bella are offered in the context of an examination of the changing cultural dynamics underway in Old Bella Bella in the late 19th century.