1998 TOP SECRET TIP PAGE
Have you ever wondered why so few artifacts
are excavated at DhRl 16
and on the Northwest Coast in general?
Well, as we discussed in this year's Clue
page, wood does not preserve very well.
Instead, we find mostly stone artifacts
and things preserved by burning, like hearths.
This is unfortunate because, for the peoples
of the Northwest
Coast the cedar tree was very important
in their lives.
It was used for cooking, hunting, canoes,
clothing, tools - everything !!
Since we rarely find any cedar preserved
at archaeological sites (like DhRl 16),
we can only get a tiny hint of what was
really going on, what the people who
used to spend time there really did.
This is a tip because we must always keep
it in mind when working on the
Northwest Coast, the stone artifacts we
don't show us the whole picture.
Hilary Stewart's book, Cedar:tree
of life to the Northwest Coast Indians (1984)
tells of how very important this wood
was in these people's lives.
These things are known to us from
the men and women who arrived with pen
and paper from Europe just over
200 years ago. Some of these people recorded
what they saw, it is lucky
that they did because when they came they
brought diseases that had
never been known in the land, and to which
the people of the coast had no
immunity. The worst was smallpox,
which raged along the coast, wiping out
whole families and sometimes entire villages,
until populations dwindled to very few.
Here is a (slightly modified) excerpt
from Cedar which shows how much this wood
was used and how much we are missing from
the archaeological record:
small clearing in the forest, a young woman is in labour. Two
women companions urge her to pull hard
on the cedar bark
rope tied to
a nearby tree. The baby, born
onto a newly made cedar
bark mat, cries its
arrival into the Northwest Coast world.
Its cradle of firmly woven cedar
root, with a mattress and a covering
of soft-shredded cedar
bark, is ready.
The young woman's husband and his uncle
are on the water in a canoe carved
from a single red cedar
log and are using paddles made from lengths
Wearing a cedar bark
hat, cape and skirt to protect her from the rain
and cold, the baby's grandmother collects
berries. She loads them into a basket
root and adjusts the broad cedar
tumpline across her forehead and returns home.
The embers in the centre of the cedar
house leap into flame as the grandmother's
niece adds more wood. Smoke billows past the cedar
rack above, where small fish are hung to
cure. The young girl takes red-hot
rocks from the fire with long tongs, dips
them into a small cedar
box of water to rinse off the ashes, then
places the rocks into
a cedar wood cooking box to boil water.
The young girl then coils two fresh
diapers from soft-shredded cedar
bark and goes to tend a crying baby, while the child's
father prepares long, slender withes
to lash a stone hammer to. With the
hammer finished he uses it to pound
wedges into a cedar
log to split off a plank for
a tackle box to fits in bow of his
Wow! They used a lot of
cedar!! I bet that hundreds or thousands of
years ago at DhRl 16, there
was tons of wood there !! We just can't
find any of it anymore because
it has decomposed.
Phew! No wonder archaeologists
have to be good detectives!