tems swiya – “Our World”

By Aidan,

While in Sechelt, I had the pleasure of accompanying Allee to the tems swiya Museum. Tems swiya is a museum operated by the shíshálh Nation on the Sunshine Coast. This museum has the important task of housing, preserving, and displaying objects that are important to the social and cultural identity of the shíshálh Nation. The museum consists of an exhibition room that includes an interactive component as well as a lab room for analysis and an archive section. The museum host tours for students from grade schools and universities, and also makes visits to schools to give presentations. The very name of the museum, which means “Our World” in the shíshálh language, speaks to the sense of community present in this building; members of the Nation play an integral role in the functioning of the museum.

Photo: A. Holland Tyrone ready for the next tour.

Photo: A. Holland
Tyrone ready for the next tour.

Several times prior to my visit to the museum, I had been informed of the high quality of tours presented by Tyrone Joe-Mayes – and I was not disappointed. Tyrone led me and several other visitors through the various exhibits on display, explaining interesting facts and the cultural significance of objects such as woven baskets, mortar stones, and stone points.

Photo: A. Holland One of the beautiful displays at the museum exhibiting mortars and pestles.

Photo: A. Holland
One of the beautiful displays at the museum exhibiting mortars and pestles.

My favourite moment from my visit to the museum came when Tyrone told us the story behind the Sechelt Image, the centrepiece of the museum. The Sechelt Image is a stone sculpture of a woman cradling her son in her arms, and is estimated to be at least 3,000 years old. This sculpture was previously held by the Vancouver Museum for 84 years, but after 34 years of negotiation it was returned to the shíshálh Nation and placed in the tems swiya Museum in 2010. The oral tradition that accompanies this sculpture is hauntingly beautiful, and I highly suggest visiting the museum to learn about this story first-hand.

Photo: A. Holland Bone points displayed at the museum.

Photo: A. Holland
Stone and bone points displayed at the museum.

Something Tyrone taught me during the tour that I found very compelling was that, although stories such as this one were never written down, they were passed down orally through the generations and these stories were used to maintain and perpetuate the cultural identity of the shíshálh Nation.

Photo: A. Holland The Sechelt Image as the centrepiece of the display room.

Photo: A. Holland
The Sechelt Image as the centrepiece of the display room.

The next area of the museum Tyrone led our group through was the main exhibit currently being displayed at the museum, which focuses on the Sechelt residential school. Residential schooling, which began in the late 19th century, was a destructive practice implemented by European colonialists that attempted to systematically erase the cultural upbringing of First Nation children. In Sechelt, the residential school was built in 1907 and in operation until 1975. Looking at the black and white school photos hanging on the walls of the museum, it horrified me to think about the atrocities committed by the residential school system against those children and the shíshálh culture as a whole. However, I also thought that the tems swiya Museum is a testament to the fact that the residential school did not succeed in its goal, and the shíshálh cultural identity persists in the Sechelt community today.

Photo: A. Holland

Photo: A. Holland

My visit to the tems swiya Museum was both informative and fun, and I feel I have gained an appreciation for the importance of the shíshálh Nation to this land. I cannot thank Tyrone and Corinna enough for answering all of my many questions about the museum and its displays.

Mapping: “X Never Marks the Spot”

By Erina,

Mapping is an important part of any archaeological project. By creating a detailed site map, you can store information about terrain, elevation, feature location, and most importantly, the spatial relationship between features. To map the site we are working on this season, we are using a total station. To map a site with a total station you need two people, one to run the total station, and another to venture out into the site carrying what we call the “pogo”, which contrary to what the name suggests is not used for jumping. Rather, the pogo is a rod with a prism attached to the top, which is used to bounce back the laser that shoots from the total station.

Photo: N. Leclerc Erina using the "Pogo".

Photo: N. Leclerc
Erina using the “Pogo”.

The total station measures the time it takes for the laser beam to return and uses the difference in time to calculate the distance from the station to the rod as well as other attributes such as elevation. The total station also allows for more complex functions such as coding, which allows us to map features. The data stored in the total station is then used to create a high definition topographic map. As always, the outcome of your map depends on the quality of the points that are collected in the field. Mapping heavily forested areas such as the site which we are working this year presents many obstacles. The first obstacle we encountered was the view obstruction by trees and branches. The more trees and other obstructions there are on site, the more times that the total station operator has to change location. While it is necessary to change the location a few times to get a whole view of the site, too many changes can result in the accumulation of error when calculating future points, and therefore affects the overall quality of the map.

Photo: N. Leclerc Aidan looking through the total station.

Photo: N. Leclerc
Aidan looking through the total station.

Site maps can also be created by hand, and points can be collected and recorded manually utilizing other tools such as a transit and stadia rod, but this method is much more labour intensive and requires the operators to record and calculate all points by hand, which can lead to human error. This makes me very glad that we are using the total station, which in essence works like computer, capable of computing calculation on the fly and recording them in its database. In addition, these calculations are calculated to a much higher degree of accuracy than any calculations done by hand. Standing in the site and observing the surrounding features is one thing, but once we have a map on hand, we will be able to assess the location and spatiality of the features to a greater extent, hopefully allowing us to gain greater insight on their construction and use.

Gary teaching students how to map using the "Old School" transit and David looking through the "High Tech" total station. #outwiththeold #inwiththenew

Gary teaching students how to map using the “Old School” transit and David looking through the “High Tech” total station. #outwiththeold #inwiththenew

Survey: A Tale of Ferns, Wasps, and a Machete

By Jeremy,

Survey is a key aspect of beginning any archaeological project. Like any task, it’s important to fully understand what the parameters are and what the nature of the task is. Survey does this by allowing archaeologists to find sites, features, and artifacts visible on the surface of the landscape without extensive excavations. This is not only time and cost efficient, it is also the least invasive or destructive method of conducting field work; allowing us to record information about our focus without destroying it. Most material of historical or archaeological importance in the field is not found at the surface level, however surveying is a good preliminary step for conducting work over a very large area.

Photo: T. Clark Erina searching for features.

Photo: T. Clark
Erina searching for features.

Survey can be conducted in a variety of ways, from the simplest, such as informally walking around a location, to the more complex, such as systematically dividing the area into a grid and walking straight lines across it, all the way to high tech survey methods, like using a plane with specialized remote sensing equipment. Any serious archaeological work done today tends towards the more structured methods, with the systematization of our methods, lessening the effect of human error in our work.

Photo: E. Baci Jeremy fighting through the dense brush with a machete.

Photo: E. Baci
Jeremy fighting through the dense brush with a machete.

For our work this year in the shíshálh territory we’ve begun with both simple and systematic survey. The site has proven incredibly dense with features. From the very first day on site, members of the team and the shíshálh band have been finding more and more previously undiscovered features of the site. With a group of six to seven people covering a width of around thirty metres, we marched at least a hundred metres in every direction.

Photo: T. Clark Jeremy and Erina discussing the survey tactic.

Photo: T. Clark
Jeremy and Erina discussing the survey tactic.

Having only conducted fieldwork for five days, we have identified near on two hundred locations of possible historical human activity, and have confirmed the presence of about two-dozen in the centre of the site, showing an intense human presence in the site, which has been roughly estimated to be two thousand years old.

The work has not been without its difficulties. This part of the world can be incredibly wooded with large swaths untouched by humans for decades, leading to less than favourable conditions for ground survey.

Photo: A. Holland One of the multiple wasp stings we endured during survey.

Photo: A. Holland
One of the multiple wasp stings we endured during survey.

We’ve trekked through large groups of sword ferns and dense trees, which have made it hard to even see the ground, let alone try and find things. We’ve endured multiple wasp stings, falls, and cuts, but marched on never the less, knowing that what we were doing was in the pursuit of bettering the understanding of an incredibly important aspect of the local cultural history, and with the knowledge that no matter how difficult the work may seem, this is an incredibly rare and special opportunity that we’ve been afforded here by the shíshálh people, and that we therefore owe it to them to make sure this work is done properly and with its due respect.

Touring the Skookumchucks on our day off

By Emilia,

On July 12 our team visited the Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, which was created in 1957*. The name Skookumchuck is a Chinook phrase meaning fast moving, turbulent water. The park is known for its scenic paths, breathtaking foliage, remnants of old growth forest, and refreshing air. What a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Photo: E. Barc The journey begins.

Photo: E. Barc
The journey begins.

Our 40 minute trek along the inviting, easily accessible path was invigorating, exhilarating, and filled us with awe for the natural beauty surrounding us. Moss covered tree trunks and branches appeared otherworldly, while the entire path was enveloped by majestic forest and enchanting flora. The air seemed infused by scents of the forest floor, trees, and freshly fallen rain.

Photo: E. Baci The moss covered woods.

Photo: E. Barc
The moss covered woods.

Coalescing with the perfume in the air was the smell of turbulent water as furious white rapids intertwined before our eyes when we reached the shore. Watching kayakers skilled in their craft joyously battle the currents, we were amazed at the human ability to engage with and celebrate the sheer force of the water. We sat and watched as the kayakers played with and navigated the angry currents, while gazing at the mountains and clouds suspended between the treetops.

Photo: E. Barc Kayaking the rapids.

Photo: E. Barc
Kayaking the rapids.

After a quick snack we headed back along the same path, which somehow seemed transformed – it grew more beautiful with every step. The hollowed out trunks of old growth trees provided ample photo opportunities and great ambush spots to jump out and frighten the rest of the team! Rain began to fall gently, forming circular patters on the water, which dispersed only to make room for new ones. As the rainfall intensified, we made our way to a quaint little café, drank tea, and marvelled at the astounding allure of the British Columbian wilderness. Once the rain passed we walked to the car, filled with fresh memories of our recent adventure.

Photo: E. Baci The hike back.

Photo: E. Baci
The hike back.

*Date 1957 and name etymology taken from BC parks website.

Introducing the Crew

We are just a week away from embarking on this year’s field season in Sechelt, BC, and we are all looking forward to what lies ahead.

This year we have invited four talent students from the University of Toronto to the field. This July, they will be trained in archaeological field methods and will have the opportunity to learn about shíshálh culture. They will also be blogging throughout the month and sharing their experiences.

To introduce you to the University of Toronto Undergraduate Student team, here are a couple words about each of the U of T members.


Photo: I. Dunin-Markiewicz

Photo: I. Dunin-Markiewicz

Jeremy is a third-year Archaeology Specialist from Toronto. He got involved in the project through the 399 program at U of T which offered the opportunity of field work. He is excited for the possibility of working on a new site. He sees this as an opportunities in archaeology that really captures the spirit of discovery that draws so many, himself included, to the field. Aside from that, he is excited to see scenic Sechelt for himself and to put a picture to a name.


Photo: E. Baci

Photo: E. Baci

Erina is a fourth-year Archaeology Specialist at the U of T. She always knew that she wanted to become an archaeologist. It was her curiosity to know and understand the past that drew her to archaeology. She joined this project because she saw it as a wonderful learning opportunity to learn field methods and more about the Shishalh people and how their complex culture evolved. Erina looks forward to working on the site first hand and with a bit of luck, hopes to uncover an artifact or two.


Photo: J. Deer

Photo: J. Deer

Emilia is a third-year Anthropology student at U of T. She has recently returned to university after a 9-year break to continue her academic pursuits in Anthropology. Emilia was especially attracted to this project as it offered a rare low-cost opportunity to go into the field. After studying archaeology theory at the U of T, she felt that participation in this project would satisfy her curiosity for actually ‘doing’ archaeology. Emilia is excited to take in the Sechelt cultural experience and you can expect her hitting the art and music scene.


Photo: A. Fournier

Photo: A. Fournier

Aidan is a fourth-year U of T student majoring in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology. Originally from Aurora, Ontario, she has recently moved back to Toronto and could not be happier. She has a passion for reading, cats, and archaeology. She finds great pleasure in exploring the past through the clues it leaves behind. Her goal for this summer is to learn as much as she possibly can. This will be her first real experience with archaeological field work and she is excited to get started.

Supervising Team:

Allee Holland

Photo: T. Clark

Photo: T. Clark

Allee is a PhD student in the department of Anthropology at McMaster. Her research is currently in the field of medical anthropology, but she has worked as a bioarchaeologist for eight years and has worked on the shíshálh Archaeology Project for three years as an osteologist. Being a bioarchaeologist, she specializes in working with ancient human remains in order to find out information on their age, sex, health, and diet. She has not been in the field for the last two years and id excited to be going back to Sechelt and to have the opportunity to be part of a really interesting project.

David Bilton

Photo: B. Letham

Photo: B. Letham

David has worked on the Sechelt Archaeology Project since its beginning in 2008. Since that time, he has excavated at five different sites in shíshálh traditional territory and wrote his PhD dissertation about the fish remains that the team recovered from these sites. Currently, he is a teacher at James Robinson Public School in Markham. David is excited to return because he hasn’t been for over 3 years now and this time he will get to do it in a role which combines his two passions – archaeology and teaching.

Natasha Leclerc

Photo: G. Wieners

Photo: G. Wieners

Natasha is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto in Archaeology and will be starting her Master’s degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland in the fall where she will be studying shíshálh clam harvesting practices through isotope analysis. She was a member of the shíshálh Archaeology Project in 2013 and has been working on archaeological material from the project in the lab ever since. Natasha is excited to come back to Sechelt, this time, playing a bigger role in the project.

Gary Coupland

Photo: T. Clark

Photo: T. Clark

Gary is co-director of SARP and a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. After spending much of his career excavating archaeological sites in rainy Prince Rupert Harbour, the shift to the Sunshine Coast in 2008 was one of the best decisions Gary ever made.

Terry Clark

Photo: A. Holland

Photo: A. Holland

Terry is the director of SARP and works as Curator of Western Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of History. He recently served as Lead Curator for the exhibition the Greeks – Agamemnon to Alexander the Greek which is currently touring North America. Although working in Greece has been a great experience, Terry can’t wait to get back to digging in Sechelt.

In a future blog we’ll introduce of shíshálh team members. Stay tuned…

Nous sommes de retour!

Ça fait un bout de temps déjà! Une première saison de travail sur le terrain en 2014 a donné le coup d’envoi au projet de recherche archéologique shíshálh. Nous serons de retour à Sechelt dans quelques jours. L’équipement a été emballé et expédié sur les lieux, alors nous n’attendons plus que notre départ vers la Sunshine Coast.

C’est pendant des moments comme ceux-ci que je cède à la nostalgie. J’ai retrouvé ce t-shirt dans mon attirail. Il remonte à l’époque de mon apprentissage des techniques de fouilles archéologiques sur le terrain, sous la supervision des professeurs Don Mitchell et Becky Wigen de l’Université de Victoria, en 1994. Ce t-shirt est sans doute plus vieux que la plupart des membres faisant partie de mon équipe cet été.

Photo: T. Clark

Photo: T. Clark
Nous ne cessions de trouver des échantillons d’un artefact appelé « pièce esquillée », un éclat de pierre bipolaire. Comme nous peinions à prononcer « esquillée », nous appelions ça plutôt « pièce qu’est-ce que c’est ». Cette blague d’initiés a été immortalisée ici, sur nos t-shirts de fouilles.

Nous nous trouvions au site de Kosapsom (DcRu 4), à Victoria, en Colombie-Britannique. Il s’agissait de l’école de rang Craigflower, historique, située près de l’anse Gorge Waterway. Des artefacts témoignant de la culture des Salish de la Côte sur 4 000 ans étaient ensevelis sous la petite école. Jusque-là, je ne savais pas trop encore où me mènerait ma carrière. J’ai eu la piqûre au bout de quelques semaines consacrées à chercher des artefacts qui n’avaient pas vu le jour depuis des milliers d’années. Depuis mon passage à cette école de fouilles, j’ai profité de chaque été des 21 dernières années, sauf trois, pour creuser dans l’histoire de la Colombie-Britannique, une pelletée à la fois. Certains de nos étudiants seront peut-être inspirés cet été autant que moi il y a quelques années.

Photo: Bruce Pollock, WikiCommons Ancienne école de rang Craigflower, à Kosapsom

Photo: Bruce Pollock, WikiCommons
Ancienne école de rang Craigflower, à Kosapsom

Au cours des vingt dernières années, j’ai eu le plaisir de travailler partout en Colombie-Britannique, de découvrir de magnifiques lieux et de croiser de merveilleuses personnes. De sites judicieusement nommés comme ceux du lac Horsefly et du glacier Fubar, à d’autres, vagues et accessibles par hydravion ou hélicoptère, en passant par celui de Kispiox, sans cesse assailli par les mouches noires; chaque projet m’a fait vivre des aventures nouvelles et passionnantes. Je me souviens encore de ma rencontre avec un ourson Kermode, ou Esprit, qui zigzaguait le long de la route près d’un lac de lave sur une route au pays des Nisga’a. Je me revois aussi en train de vaporiser du gaz poivré à un ours noir un peu trop curieux, près de Williams Lake. L’ours n’avait pas même éternué, mais je ne m’en plains pas puisqu’il ne m’avait pas dévoré non plus. Je me rappelle très bien la raison pour laquelle il faut prendre le temps de regarder où l’on s’assoit près de Kamloops, là où pousse un cactus, la raquette à crins blancs. Et je repense souvent au long parcours en remorqueur entamé chaque matin dans le brouillard pour nous rendre sur l’île Pender, en compagnie de membres des Premières Nations Tseycum, Tsartslip et Tsawout.

Mes souvenirs les plus chers sont ceux que je garde des personnes avec lesquelles j’ai eu le privilège de travailler. Une série de projets m’a amené sur le territoire des Qualicum, où j’ai eu l’occasion de collaborer de près avec les chefs Kwaksistala Adam Dick et Kim Recalma-Clutesi. Ceux-ci m’ont donné si généreusement de leur temps, partageant leurs connaissances et m’accordant leur amitié. J’ai également eu l’honneur de prendre part à la cérémonie de réinhumation d’ancêtres Qualicum et Pentlatch à Deep Bay.

Par ailleurs, j’ai travaillé pendant quelques années dans la région centrale intérieure de la Colombie-Britannique, avec les Premières Nations de Williams Lake et de Soda Creek. J’ai beaucoup appris sur l’archéologie et le territoire au contact de personnes remarquables comme Leo Michel et Glen Dixon, ou encore de sommités comme les archéologues Darcy Mathews et Nicole Nicholls.

Je considère cependant le projet de Sechelt comme mon préféré, sans l’ombre d’un doute. Les meilleurs ingrédients y sont réunis : des personnes inspirantes, un lieu extraordinaire et un riche site archéologique. Je me sens chez moi sur la Sunshine Coast.

Photo: N. Leclerc Le bras de mer de Sechelt

Photo: N. Leclerc
Le bras de mer de Sechelt

C’est en 2011 que j’ai rejoint, à titre de directeur, le projet lancé en 2008 par Gary Coupland à l’Université de Toronto. Le projet a pris de l’envergure grâce à l’excellent appui de la Première Nation shíshálh, ainsi que de son chef et de son conseil, du ministère de l’Éducation, des services des droits et des titres ancestraux, et du tems swiya Museum. L’ajout d’un programme de formation pour les jeunes shíshálh en 2012 et en 2013, que nous sommes heureux de remettre en œuvre cette année, témoigne de l’expansion du projet au fil des ans. Nous avons aussi tenu la journée de l’archéologie shíshálh, au cours de laquelle nous avons présenté nos résultats à la communauté. De plus, nous avons encouragé des étudiants à prendre l’initiative à leur tour afin d’expliquer leur culture auprès de leur communauté. La troisième journée de l’archéologie shíshálh se déroulera en juillet, et je souhaite qu’elle attire plus de personnes et soit meilleure que jamais. Je suis très enthousiaste à l’idée de mon retour. J’espère que vous suivrez nos progrès sur le blogue du projet de recherche archéologique shíshálh.

We’re Back!

Well, it’s been awhile. The shíshálh Archaeological Research Project (SARP) took the 2014 field season off, but will be up and running again in Sechelt in a few days. The gear is all packed and shipped, and now we just wait until we get back to the Sunshine Coast.

It’s times like these that get me feeling nostalgic. I found this t-shirt in my field gear. It’s from my very first dig: a field school with the University of Victoria, taught by Don Mitchell and Becky Wigen in 1994. The t-shirt is older than most members of my crew this summer.

Photo: T. Clark

Photo: T. Clark
We kept finding examples of an artifact called a pièce esquillée, which is a bipolar stone flake. We had trouble pronouncing the name, so we called them a pièce qu’est-ce que c’est (a piece — what is it?). That nerdy inside joke was immortalized here, on our dig t-shirts.

Photo: T. Clark

Photo: T. Clark

We were at Kosapsom, DcRu 4, in Victoria, BC. The site was the historic Craigflower Schoolhouse, located along the Gorge Waterway. Under the schoolhouse were 4,000 years of Coast Salish culture. Up until that point, I was unsure where my career would take me. After spending a few weeks finding artifacts that hadn’t seen the light of day in thousands of years, I was hooked. Since that field school, for all but 3 of the last 21 years, I have spent each summer digging into the history of British Columbia, one trowelful at a time. Maybe some of our students will be inspired the same way this summer.

Photo: Bruce Pollock, WikiCommons Craigflower Schoolhouse

Photo: Bruce Pollock, WikiCommons
Craigflower Schoolhouse

Over the past two decades, I have had the pleasure to work all across British Columbia, seeing some amazing sites and meeting some wonderful people. From the aptly named Horsefly Lake and Fubar Glacier, to some sketchy landings in floatplanes and helicopters, to the unrelenting blackflies of Kispiox, each new project brought something new and exciting. I can still remember seeing a Kermode bear cub (spirit bear) wandering along the side of the road near Lava Lake on the Nisga’a Highway. I can also remember spraying bear spray at a curious black bear that was a little too close for comfort near Williams Lake. The bear didn’t even sneeze — but it also didn’t eat me, so I can’t complain. I vividly recall why you need to watch where you sit in prickly-pear cactus territory near Kamloops. And I still think about the slow tugboat ride through the fog each morning to the site on Pender Island, with a crew from the Tseycum, Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations.

My fondest memories are of the great people I have had the privilege of working with. A series of projects brought me into Qualicum territory, and I worked closely with Kwaksistala Chief Adam Dick and Chief Kim Recalma-Clutesi. They were so generous with their time, knowledge and friendship. I was also honoured to take part in the reburial ceremony of Qualicum/Pentlatch ancestors at Deep Bay.

I worked for years in the Central Interior of British Columbia as well, with the Williams Lake and Soda Creek First Nations. I learned a lot about archaeology and the land from great people like Leo Michel and Glen Dixon, not to mention top-notch archaeologists Darcy Mathews and Nicole Nicholls.

Without a doubt, though, the Sechelt project has been my favourite. The project has it all: great people, a great location and great archaeology. The Sunshine Coast feels like home.

Photo: N. Leclerc Sechelt Inlet from a floatplane.

Photo: N. Leclerc
Sechelt Inlet from a floatplane.

The project was started in 2009 by Gary Coupland of the University of Toronto, and I joined the project as director in 2011. With tremendous support from the shíshálh Nation, Chief and Council, the Education, and Rights and Title departments and the tems swiya Museum, SARP has flourished. Growing every year, we have added a training program for shíshálh youth, which we ran in 2012 and 2013, and we are happy to do again this year. We also held shíshálh Archaeology Day, where we showed our findings to the community and encouraged our students to take the lead in explaining their culture to their community. We will hold our third shíshálh Archaeology Day this July, and I hope it’s bigger and better than ever. I am very excited to be going back, and I hope you’ll follow our progress on the SARP blog.

This year, our blog will be run by University of Toronto students, so you can expect a lot of updates as we work on two different archaeological sites in shíshálh territory. In our next post, Natasha Leclerc will introduce our team and talk about where we are digging this year.