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

Early West Coast Culture (Précis, Chapter 19)

Around 4,000 B.C. increasing cultural regionalism from the preceding cultural base established by Southwestern Coastal culture and Northwestern Coastal culture is apparent. These two earlier cultures may simply represent geographic variations of a single culture. Stabilization of the coastal environment appears to have encouraged the development of increasingly complex cultural adaptations. As a result of the more or less stable sea levels, riverine deltas and tidal flats were able to support richer coastal and riverine ecosystems. Within these ecosystems, salmon, eulachon, and shellfish were of particular importance. The appearance of large shell middens represents a major difference from the preceding period. Red cedar, so critical to the material culture of the ethnographic West Coast people, also became more available. Progressively larger village sites reflect a settlement pattern approaching the coastal winter villages recorded at the time of European contact. It is only at the end of Period III, however, that direct evidence of plank house villages appears. Art work was still relatively rudimentary and arguments for social structure changes represented by the appearance of certain status objects are not convincing until after 3,000 B.C. It is apparent, however, that cultural systems were progressively trending towards the cultural pattern documented by Europeans. A seasonal pattern of coastal winter settlement in the deltas of major rivers, such as the Fraser and Skeena, with summer interior extensions up the rivers to key salmon capturing and processing locations was evolving throughout Period III and would eventually lead to permanent interior settlements. Within a broad cultural pattern sometimes referred to as the Northwest Coast culture type, distinctive regional patterns were already in existence. Not only are there differences which characterize the southern, central and northern coastal regions but both the outer coasts of Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands developed in ways distinct from that of the mainland coast. Finer distinctions have been noted within each particular region. Three major subareas, for example, have been identified for the south coast (Mitchell 1990: 357). Indeed, there is a plethora of regional cultural designations. If the Northwest Coast 'culture type' of Period III is considered progressing from north to south along the coast then the following local names by regions pertain: North Coast - Prince Rupert/Skeena River - Prince Rupert III/Haqwilget A, Gitaus VI, and Skeena Complex; Queen Charlotte Islands - Transitional complex and Graham tradition; North-Central Coast - Namu II and III, McNaughton I, and Cathedral phase; South-Central Coast - Bear Cove II and O'Conner II; West Coast of Vancouver Island - Early and part of Middle Yuquot, Shoemaker Bay I; Georgian Strait and Lower Fraser - Maurer, St.Mungo phase and the early portion of the Locarno Beach phase; Gulf and San Juan Islands - Mayne phase, and the early portion of the Locarno Beach phase; and Fraser Canyon - Eayem and early Baldwin phases (Carlson 1983: Figure 1:2). All of these regional classifications are here lumped under the rubric 'Early West Coast culture.

Basket Forms - Drawing: David Laverie
Common Musqueam Northeast Basket Forms

Drawing: David Laverie
A Wrap Around Plaiting | B Checker | C Open Wrapping

Cordage Varieties - Drawing: David Laverie
Cordage Varieties
A Single strand withe, twist to the right (s twist) | B Two-strand cordage, laid to the right (z twist) | C Three-strand cordage, laid to the right (z twist) | D Four-strand cordage, laid to the right (z twist)

Early West Coast Culture Basketry and Cordage

Due to water saturated soil conditions in the lower deposits of the Musqueam Northeast site in the Fraser Delta organic materials were protected from the normal processes of decay. Among the items recovered were sophisticated examples of basketry and a range of cordage varieties. Western red cedar limbs and bark were the raw material used in the manufacture of these items.

(Adapted from Borden 1976: Figures 5, 7, and 11. Drawing by Mr. David W. Laverie.)

The role of coastal stabilization in cultural developments along the coast cannot be overemphasized. While it has been noted that earlier people already had "... the fundamental technological and economic basis of Northwest Coast culture..." (Fladmark 1982: 132), the cultural elaboration of Period III correlates with resource concentration and accessibility. Thus, the appearance around 4,000 B.C. of large, semi-permanent settlements coincides with the expanded exploitation of salmon. The emphasis upon salmon, in turn, correlates with the "...attainment of a relatively fixed land-sea interface..." (Fladmark 1975: 288). A simple formulae would be coastal stability = summer/fall salmon fishing and storage = winter villages = winter shellfish exploitation = major shell middens. It should be noted that much of the salmon exploitation actually would have taken place away from the winter villages.

It has been suggested that the West Coast can be viewed as a co-tradition or interaction sphere at this time (MacDonald 1969). Just prior to 1,000 B.C. there is increasing evidence "... of trade, resource ownership, wealth, and social stratification (suggested by skull deformation, lip labrets, and other ornaments)" (Harris 1987: 3). Technological changes do occur, such as the increasing use of ground slate tools on the south coast around 2,000 B.C., but the basic stone tool kit associated with the ethnographically recorded populations appears to have been largely present by the beginning of Period III (Ames 1981: 797; Hobler 1990: 298). Cultural continuities all along the coast clearly extend into Period IV.

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