Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
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 recover
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:
"In a 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 of yellow
cedar. 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
of cedar 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 canoe."
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!