Archaeological Field Work September 2021

Sept 2021 Community Field Work
Local islanders and members of the Tla'amin Nation engage in archaeological field work
Photo: Dana Lepofsky

In the last week of September, despite crazy rains and winds, the Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archaeology Project (XLAP) completed a hugely successful inaugural week of fieldwork.  

While our project team has been meeting regularly via Zoom over the year, Covid has prevented us from meeting in person and getting dirty together. We were so lucky to be joined by K’omoks Guardian Watchmen Candace Newman and Cedar Frank, K’omoks archaeologist Jesse Morin, Tla’amin Guardian Watchmen Bryce McKenzie and Andrew Timothy, and Tla’amin GIS expert Jenn Kester.  From Xwe’etay, our team members were Dana Lepofsky, Peter Johnston, and Faren Wolf, and from SFU, we were joined by project co-leader Sean Markey, post-doctoral fellow Chris Springer, and our two wonderful community policy and planning graduate students, Madeleine MacLean and Mary Kelly.  We were housed and fed by Katy and Violet and transported by Natty.  Oh yes, and then there was the many Lasquetians who braved the weather to join in.  Thank you all!

As people know, the overall goal of this project is to figure out ways to honor both Lasqueti’s Indigenous and settler heritage. We aim to do that by bringing Xwe’etay’s Indigenous and settler communities together to encourage discussions, make connections, and “do archaeology.” Though just the beginning of a three-year project, this first week of fieldwork made significant steps towards reaching these goals.  

From an archaeological perspective, the goal of the of fieldwork week was to visit a variety of sites on the island to get a sense of the huge diversity of the archaeological record, and to begin to investigate a few sites where landowners invited us to explore.

The overall ethic for our archaeological explorations is to “minimize disturbance and maximize information gained.” To that end, we sought to determine site size and figure out when sites were first occupied and when they stopped being lived in.  Site size tells us something about the size of the community that lived in any one spot and allows us to eventually start imagining “neighbourhoods” in different parts of the island.  

To determine site size and age, we dug small “test pits” (35cm across) in select places and also extracted “percussion cores” to get samples of charcoal we could send to the lab to determine site age.  In some of the sites, we also took small bags of dirt that we will process in the lab to extract animal bones and charred plant remains (e.g., seeds, charcoal). These will tell us about what people ate, the time of year, the kinds of fuel woods used, and how the environment has changed (e.g., we note that the site in Long Bay was a herring processing site – where are all the herring now?!).

Extracting a “percussion core” from Steve’s orchard. As the metal casing is pounded into the ground, a plastic tube inside is filled with the different layers of the site.

Plastic tubes collected from different sites. We will remove charcoal from the bottom and top of the tube and send these to a radiocarbon lab to determine when the site was first occupied and when it stopped being lived in.

Even though we only had five days in the field, we already have our work cut out for us in the lab.  This involves sending in the radiocarbon dates (can’t wait!), sorting and identifying the animal bones and plant remains, recording site boundaries, setting up a database, and establishing a new, high precision system for recording where sites are on a map. Thankfully, our Nation partners are guiding us along the way.

In addition, we are busy planning heritage workshops and webinars for the Lasqueti and First Nations communities for the Fall and Spring.  

Stay tuned for information on more results and other initiatives. In the meantime, here is a summary of some of what we learned about the few settlements that we visited.

Archaeologists and community members engage in field work
Photo: Dana Lepofsky

In addition to “doing archaeology” many Lasquetians and members of our crew joined together at Teapot House on Sept 30th to recognize “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.” Although many of us are new to these discussions, it’s clear that we’re keen to have them.  

"In my experience, reconciliation often happens moment by moment – not in grand actions that are motivated by getting votes. I witnessed many such moments over the course of our week of fieldwork. I’m grateful to be part of and to witness this process."

- Dana Lepofsky

Lasquetians and Tla’amin guests gathering at the Teapot House to share ideas and food on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Photo: Ken Lertzman