Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology




Using radiocarbon and other dating methods, archaeologists found out that people had been using the site since 3000 bp (recall that this means "before present"). To get some perspective, let's go back three thousand years and take a look at what was going on in the rest of the world. If we go back only one thousand years to what is now England, we would find that the Normans had just landed at Hastings and conquered the Britons. In Africa the ancient Shona might have been laying out the plans for Great Zimbabwe. If we go back 2000 years to the Middle East, we would find complex kingdoms with bustling urban centers. In Mexico, the Olmecs were just beginning to form the some of the earliest urban centers in the world. In China, complex farming communities were forming along the Yellow River. But throughout much of the world 3000 years ago people were living in small groups that survived off of a few domesticated animals and plants. There might have been chieftains and religious leaders, but most people were probably equal in wealth and status, that is, they were an egalitarian people.

Many archaeologists are very interested in when complex societies arose and why. The archaeologists that were digging at Skowlitz also wanted to find out when complex societies arose in this part of the world. When Europeans arrived in this part of the world, they wrote that the Salish people of this area were divided into three classes: nobles, commoners and slaves. When a society has different classes like this, it is said to be stratified, and is more complex than egalitarian societies. The archaeologists wanted to know when this society became stratified.

You've already read that the burials at DhRl 16 indicate stratification. Archaeologists based this conclusion on the grave goods found in the mounds and cairns. But the burials only go back to about 1500 bp. Before that people lived in houses at the site. You also already know that archaeologists can tell house floors from flattened, compacted earth and postholes. But what can we find out from these house floors?

You know that after a while a whole lot of stuff can accumulate on the floor of your own house. But that stuff (clothes, papers, or old candy wrappers) will eventually be cleaned up. Similarly, archaeologists are rarely lucky enough to find the home of a really messy person who left a lot of things lying about on the floor. So instead they look for little bits and pieces that people wouldn't have seen and picked up. This is where the floatation device comes in handy. Using this machine, archaeologists found seeds and pollen of spring and summer plants used by the Skowlitz people. What is interesting is that the first Europeans that came to the area wrote that the Salish people only lived in large settlements during the summertime and spent the rest of the year at smaller camps. But the seeds and pollen were a clue that people were living at Skowlitz year-round. Large, stable occupation sites are a marker of social complexity. Other things suggest that this settlement may have been for year-round occupation. There were a lot of different tools found, ones that would have been used in both the winter and the summer. Also, the location of the Skowlitz site (on a river terrace in the middle of high mountains) allows a lot of different plants to grow within a fairly small area, so that the people that lived there may not have had to travel to seasonal camps to get different kinds of food, all they had to do was hike up a mountain next to their village.

  But houses from the earliest phase were all about the same size and all pretty small. It was only between about 2400 years ago and 1800 years ago that some houses started to get a lot bigger. The extra space could be used for storage of food and other goods, and for housing visitors. More food, goods, and visitors implies a rise in status. But it also takes more work to make a house like this. So it makes sense that the people who were able to build the larger houses were more wealthy and powerful than the people who lived in small houses, today we can see the same relationship between house size and wealth.

feature bench and postholes