M.A. Theses: Lesley Susan Mitchell, 1996

The Archaeology of the Dead at Boundary Bay, British Columbia: A History and Critical Analysis

This thesis examines the context and development of human skeletal research in archaeology at Boundary Bay, British Columbia, Canada, with special reference to theoretical, methodological and socio-political factors that have affected the research to date. In recent decades there has been a rise in opposition, particularly by First Nations groups, to scholarly investigations concerning archaeological human bone. The 'reburial issue' in general and recent instances of skeletal reburial by local First Nations at Boundary Bay in specific, has prompted an historical, critical, and self-reflexive examination of osteo-archaeological research on native remains.

The thesis has several main focuses. To begin, it examines the First Nations' tradition regarding the relationship between the living and the dead in Coast Salish culture as revealed through ethnographic literature. Then, the scientific tradition, which views ancient human skeletal remains as 'data' invaluable for gaining an understanding of past human lifeways, is reviewed. Following this, an historical and critical approach is applied in order to identify trends in past skeletal research at Boundary Bay through a detailed analysis of osteological and archaeological reports. Two recent reburial case studies are also described. Finally, some insight into and guidelines for future work in osteo-archaeology in B.C. are offered.

This study has revealed that Coast Salish traditional belief systems maintain that unsanctioned or inappropriate contact with the dead can potentially cause serious harm to the living, and that the living bear the responsibility of ensuring that the spirits and remains of the dead are cared for properly. On the other hand, an investigation into the scientific study of human skeletal remains has brought to light the value and unique contributions that such remains can and have made to general human knowledge, and to First Nations communities in specific. Finally, results of the critical analysis in this thesis demonstrate that there have been significant shifts over time in the nature and content of human skeletal research at Boundary Bay. These changes include: increasingly comprehensive lines of inquiry; the employment of highly specialized techniques of analysis; the trend towards salvage rather than research-oriented excavation; and, finally, increased participation and control by local First Nations groups, including reburial of remains. The approaching millennium likely promises further intensified control by local bands over skeletal investigations - including reburial. However, rather than perceiving this control as impeding the progress of the discipline, it should instead be viewed positively since cooperation and communication between scholars and First Nations will surely bring new insight and direction to the study of the human past.