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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume I (10,000 to 1,000 B.C.)

Northwestern Coastal Culture (Précis, Chapter 12)

There are divergent views regarding the origins of Southwestern Coastal culture and Northwestern Coastal culture. Among the options, the view favoured here follows an earlier hypothesis (Borden 1975) whereby two distinct cultures, one of southern origin and the other of northern origin, were involved in the initial coastal settlement of British Columbia (for a discussion see Fladmark 1982: 117-118).

Microblade Production - Drawing: Jaclynne Campbell Microblade Production - Drawing: Jaclynne Campbell
A Reconstruction of Microblade Production Using Specialized Cores

The drawing by artist Jaclynne Campbell of Simon Fraser University illustrates a possible method of locking the microblade core between two pieces of wood preparatory to striking off the microblades. Methods of fitting the microblades into wooden handles to produce sharp edged knives are shown below the Figure.

(Reproduced from Fladmark 1986: Plate 8 with the permission of Dr. Knut R. Fladmark, Simon Fraser University)

Northwestern Coastal culture, a regional development from the Northwestern Palaeo-Arctic culture of Period I, appears along the North Coast of British Columbia and adjacent Alaska between 10,000 and 9,000 B.P., reaching the Queen Charlotte Islands by 7,500 B.P. if not before. The maritime adaptation of this culture may have developed along the now submerged coastline of southern Beringia (Aigner and DelBene 1982). It is proposed that the southward movement along the coast was roughly coeval with a similar interior movement by the related Early Northwest Interior culture people of Period II. These two adaptations, coastal and interior, are believed to have quickly differentiated from one another (Carlson 1990: 68).

Erosional and depositional forces in conjunction with fluctuating sea levels have complicated the search for early Northwestern Coastal culture sites and as a result the construct is based upon limited evidence. The mainland portion of the North Coast was subjected to more dramatic sea level fluctuations than the Queen Charlotte Islands and sea level did not stabilize until 5,000 years ago (Fladmark et al. 1990). As a result, all of the evidence from the North Coast of British Columbia comes from the Queen Charlotte Islands. Between 7,000 and 2,500 B.C. sea levels around the Queen Charlotte islands were approximately 15 m higher than at present and it has been along the ancient elevated beaches where most sites have been located. Intertidal water-tumbled flakes, cobble tools, and even a microblade core, could possibly pertain to an occupation as early as 10,000 B.P. (Hobler 1978). Reworked beach gravels at the Skoglund's Landing site, containing cobble tools and cores, may date to 9,000 B.P. These findings could suggest the existence of a cobble tool industry and even microblade technology on the Queen Charlotte Islands at an early period (Fladmark et al. 1990: 231).

Northwestern Coastal culture technology is dominated by microblades and, on occasion, macroblades that are differentiated from microblades by widths of 10 mm or more. These narrow flakes with prismatic and triangular crossections were struck from specially prepared cores. Sections of the resulting microblades would have been used as inserts to arm wooden or bone lances, knives, and other composite tools. Microblade technology represents the most economic use of stone ever developed by stone age people. Ubiquitous cobble core and spall tools are also well represented.

Site locations on outer islands and the limited recovered faunal materials indicate that these people must have been superb mariners. No traces of watercraft have survived in the archaeological record but presumably such vessels were sufficiently substantial to navigate the dangerous waters of the North Coast and yet were portable enough to be lifted manually out of the water. It is speculated that the boats would have been sheathed in skins rather than bark and commodious enough to accommodate extended family groups. It is most unlikely that archaeology will ever be able to discover this essential element of Northwestern Coastal culture technology. There is a basis for optimism, however, that some insights into the large sea mammal hunting gear will eventually be unearthed on those sites with bone preservation. The technological elements of Northwestern Coastal culture that have survived in the archaeological record stand as a humbling example of the chasm separating the archaeological record of technology from what must once have existed.

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