UNBC Students Research Ancient Village off BC Coast

August 3, 2011
Students at the University of Northern British Columbia recently finished the first-ever excavation of a possible large and ancient village in the Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy on Calvert Island located off of BC’s central coast. Students, staff and volunteers spent eight weeks on the Island excavating a very large shell midden site.

“Shell middens are the result of people discarding food remains, building structures, making tools and decorative items, and other activities,” explains Anthropology professor Farid Rahemtulla, who directed the project. “These middens can range from a few hundred to several thousand years of age.”

In addition to thousands of shells, fish and sea mammal bones, the students recovered dozens of fishing and hunting implements, made mostly of bone and antler. “The overall size and depth of the site would suggest that this was a prominent village,” says Rahemtulla, “However, further scientific analyses and consultation with the First Nations communities will shed more light on this.”

The area, just north of Vancouver Island, has a deep Aboriginal history, which is reflected in the oral histories and traditions of the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv Peoples. The central coast also has some of the oldest archaeological sites in British Columbia. University students worked alongside members of the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv communities, and all participants will receive university course credits.
“For many students this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, to be part of an archaeology project in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Dr. Rahemtulla. “Community members shared traditional stories and songs around the beach campfire, further enriching the group experience. Students also had an amazing experience observing land and ocean wildlife such as bears, wolves, deer, humpback whales, porpoises, and more.”

The project was part of an archaeology field school conducted by UNBC’s Anthropology Program in partnership with the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv First Nations, the Hakai Beach Institute, and BC Parks. The project included
6 UNBC students, 3 from other post-secondary institutions in North America, and 4 students from the Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv communities.
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Map of the relative location of Calvert Island
Map of the relative location of Calvert Island

Excavating a Shell Midden
UNBC student Cory Hackett excavates a unit in shell midden (photo credit: B. Alway).

Excavating a Shell Midden
Wuikinuxv student Andrea Walkus examines excavated material in a screen (photo credit: T. Nygaard).

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