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A History of the Native People of Canada
Volume II (1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500)

Late West Coast Culture (Précis, Chapter 28)

The West Coast is a relatively narrow band of coastal lands along the western face of the Coastal Mountains that includes some large islands like Vancouver, the Queen Charlotte, and the Alexander Archipelago of the Alaskan Panhandle. From the Copper River in the Gulf of Alaska to the southern Oregon coast involves 2,400 km; the total coastline, composed of numerous islands and long inlets, however, incorporates 16,000 km (Suttles 1990a: 16). There are two major coastal environmental zones, an outer coast exposed to the Pacific Ocean and an inner, sheltered coast. Climate is similar to that of western Europe with cool summers and mild, wet winters. Winds are prevailingly westerly. Tidal amplitude and times between high and low tides are complex and have a direct bearing on ease of access to intertidal foods like clams. Tidal bores and rip tides also influence water travel. On the British Columbia coast the dominant vegetation province is the Pacific Forest composed mainly of cedar-hemlock-spruce-pine-fir (McAndrews and Manville 1987). Under the dominant conifer forest cover are heaths and ferns while bogs and shoreline salt marshes are common. This forest represents a relatively homogenous ecological zone except for a tongue of conifers and Bigleaf Maples that cover the southern margins of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland. Europeans did not explore the coast until the end of the 18th century and significant white settlement did not take place until the mid-19th century. Thus, the time separating Native lifeways and the intrusion of European culture is shorter than in most parts of Canada.

Late West Coast Culture Village Scene - Vidéoanthrop Inc.; CMC I-A-42, S95-23505
A Late West Coast Culture Village Scene

Although idealized, the artist's rendition of a village scene illustrates many of the major characteristics of Late West Coast culture. Large multi-family plank houses form a row facing the sea with shell middens being present behind and between houses. A successful raiding party has returned with prisoners as slaves, the heads of slain enemy retained as war trophies, and loot in the form of material goods. The leader of the war party is greeted by the village leaders who are in ceremonial garb. In the middle background an old woman dressed in a woven cedar bark tunic, cape, and hat watches the proceedings while in the far background two dugout canoes have bark mats thrown over them to prevent the canoes from drying out in the sun and cracking. The man in the left hand corner wears a woven spruce root potlatch hat with three rings on top indicating that the individual has validated his rights and privileges in three potlatch ceremonies.

(Painting produced by Vidéoanthrop Inc., Montréal, under contract with the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The painting was done by M. François Girard using sketches and technical information compiled by M. Marc Laberge and the author.)

Attempts to understand the development of West Coast culture initially relied upon ethnographic studies with little or no consideration of Native history as reflected in the archaeological record. Given the recency of archaeological research, such an approach was understandable. Early hypotheses considered Asiatic and Oceanic influences as the major stimuli responsible for the formation of the complex societies observed by Europeans in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Subsequent archaeologically based explanations tended to rely upon a combination of migration in conjunction with the diffusion of cultural traits and technologies. More current efforts to explain culture change have focused on the availability of certain foods due to environmental factors such as sea level fluctuations and river gradient and climatic changes (Fladmark 1975). Undoubtedly there were a number of interrelated factors which influenced the development of the complex societies of the West Coast. An understanding of these factors and how they interacted with one another, however, must be viewed through time and this perspective can only be provided by archaeology.

To acquire some appreciation of the exceptional cultural and linguistic diversity of the people of the British Columbia coast it is recommended that the reader consult Volume 7, Northwest Coast, Handbook of the North American Indians. Particularly useful introductory chapters are those by Wayne Suttles (1990; 1990a). A recent volume, which focuses on the development of social inequality and cultural complexity along the coast, also examines the Northwest Coast culture area from a number of informative perspectives (Matson and Coupland 1995). Much unpublished information, residing in theses and provincial cultural resource management reports, has been included in the latter publication. At the time of European contact "Social stratification with hereditary slavery and the importance of wealth have been identified as the most distinctive features of the culture area..." (Suttles 1990: 4). The Northwest Coast cultural pattern included "...hereditary social inequality, semi-sedentary settlement with permanent winter villages, and intensive production and storage of resources, especially salmon" (Coupland et al. 1993: 59). There is evidence to suggest that societies were still structured as egalitarian corporate groups on the northern coast at the beginning of Period IV. Near the end of this period, in this same area, there is compelling evidence that certain villages were able to exclude neighbouring villages from access to certain locally available resources. Control of food resources was an essential ingredient in the development of inequality between groups. Earlier claims for the beginnings of the Northwest Coast culture pattern, including ranked societies, have been made for the southern coast at the Pender Canal sites in the southern end of the Strait of Georgia where "... the nearly full development of Northwest Coast culture - the memorial potlatch based on direct evidence for feeding the dead, craft specialization, masks and ceremonialism, different labret types indicating social ranking, wood working, three-dimensional art, and a continuity of marine subsistence" are identified between 2,250 and 1,250 B.C. during Period III (Carlson and Hobler 1993: 45). There are speculative elements to the foregoing statement that arise from a heavy reliance upon ethnographic analogy as an interpretative tool (Carlson 1990: 115). Ethnographic analogy is a useful down-streaming method that extends the historically documented practices of Native peoples back into pre-European times but it must be applied with considerable caution. The cultural chaos that resulted from the introduction of European disease, guns, alcohol, political machinations, and the imposition of a cash economy, not only massively altered pre-European lifeways suddenly but did so prior to scholarly study of the Native societies by trained ethnographers.

The development of ranked societies along the West Coast is the outstanding characteristic of Period IV and an important theoretical consideration of culture change where an archaeological contribution is essential. Social ranking on the West Coast cannot be equated with the usual European view of a hierarchical society consisting of a ruler holding sway over a number of noble families who exercised authority over many commoners who, in turn, may have been outnumbered by an even lower class of slaves. Such a pyramidal structure could actually be inverted on the West Coast with the nobles or 'worthy people' constituting more of the population than the lower ranked commoners and slaves. A survey of the ethnographic literature indicates that the nature of ranked societies along the coast was quite variable with major differences existing between the ranking systems of the northern and southern coasts. In Period IV, the historically documented Developed Northwest Coast Pattern was attained on the southern coast between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500 (Matson and Coupland 1995: 199). It is apparent that the factors leading to this pattern; concentration of dried salmon storage, shellfish harvesting, and winter villages, did not come suddenly together as a consequence of a stabilized land-sea interface beginning more than 5,000 years ago. Each of the aforementioned factors appear to have had independent histories that only coalesced when sufficient quantities of stored winter foods permitted population concentrations and consequently increasing cultural complexity. The economic impact of intensive salmon storage and concomitant social adjustments altered control of the already unevenly distributed resources and would eventually lead to social inequality. Thus social stratification followed rather than preceded intensification of the utilization and control of the salmon resource. In this sense "Economic change does alter the nature and value of the resources, and thus allows for different social arrangements to develop" (Matson and Coupland 1995: 305). Large-scale salmon exploitation has a long history and is not necessarily tied to either sedentary villages or ascribed social status. It is when such food storage permitted the aggregation of large groups of people into seasonal villages shortly before the beginning of Period IV that the foundations were set in place for social changes that were, at first, gradual but were to become exponential.

There is agreement among archaeologists that it was during Period IV (1,000 B.C. to A.D. 500) that ranked societies arose along the Pacific coast from Oregon to southwestern Alaska. Associated with this development were increasing sedentism and the exploitation of the fisheries. The processes involved in the formation of a class structure composed of powerful family lineages, commoners, and slaves, with status confirmation ceremonies, such as the potlatch, have justifiably attracted considerable attention. The West Coast, however, is far from being a monolithic cultural entity. An appropriate analogy is to view Late West Coast culture as a fabric where the warp, the vertical elements of the fabric, represent local distinct cultural traditions while the weft, the horizontal elements of the fabric, represent the numerous traits shared by these many local traditions to form a broader cultural co-tradition or pattern. Continuity with the preceding Period III is apparent and "...between 3500 and 1500 years ago the people of the Northwest Coast, in an impressive flowering of creative achievement, had expanded and elaborated cultural themes begun many thousands of years earlier" (Fladmark 1986: 84). Within this broadly shared cultural pattern the five most striking regional variations existed along the northern, central, and southern coasts and on the Queen Charlotte Islands and the outer coast of Vancouver Island, reflecting the regional variability apparent in the preceding period. The ethnographic pattern involving an increasing focus on marine resources and particularly fish, massive wood working, heightened ceremonialism, and the increase in wealth objects cross-cut the many distinct regional cultural traditions.

While the origins of Late West Coast culture are seen to be with the Early West Coast culture of Period III, a simple linear evolution is a bit too facile. In particular, qualifications pertain to the relationship between the Lower Fraser River occupants of the Hope-Yale region and those of the Strait of Georgia (Borden 1970; Burley 1980; Mitchell 1971). Similarly, to the north, the relationship between the interior Kitselas Canyon development and what was taking place at the mouth of the Skeena River in the Prince Rupert Harbour area has elicited controversy (Allaire 1978; Coupland 1988). A partial hiatus in the archaeological record at the end of Period IV around A.D. 500 (Fladmark 1982: Figure 7, 111) has also caused problems in applying the direct historical approach to Late West Coast culture. This approach identifies historically documented Native villages containing European trade items and then traces a sequence of related villages lacking the European goods back through pre-European time. Despite some weaknesses in the current evidence, most researchers see the regional expressions of Late West Coast culture as leading directly to the Native populations that were encountered by Europeans. For example, in the Prince Rupert Harbour region of the northern coast, between 1,500 B.C. and A.D. 500, settlement patterns, economic, and social development are regarded as leading directly to the Tsimshian in the late 18th century (MacDonald and Inglis 1976).

Regional cultural complexes, either in part or in total, pertinent to Late West Coast culture of Period IV are represented by the following: on the southern coast, and specifically the Strait of Georgia, the sequential Locarno Beach and Marpole complexes; on the outer coasts of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula of adjacent Washington State, the Yuquot Zone II complex; on the central coast, Namu III and IV; on the northern coast, Prince Rupert II; and on the Queen Charlotte Islands, the Graham tradition. The Baldwin and Kleanza complexes of the lower Fraser and Skeena rivers, respectively, represent interior but still coastally related developments. Within this considerable cultural regionalism was a shared cultural pattern involving "...increased evidence of status differentiation in burials; the full development of complex and diversified fishing and sea-mammal hunting equipment generally similar to that of the ethnographic period; evidence of significant population aggregates, and the first strong indications of warfare" (Fladmark 1982: 113). New traits to appear or to acquire coast-wide distributions were toggling harpoons, labrets, bark shredders, and perforated stone sinkers. In the Strait of Georgia area on the southern coast sculpture in hard stone, ear spools, brow bands, and probably burial mounds appear for the first time. As noted, the Late West Coast culture construct represents a loose cultural fabric within which a number of regionally distinct cultures interacted to a sufficient degree to sustain a broadly shared cultural pattern. The introduction of a new element of technology, however, could have a sudden and dramatic impact upon this pattern. A discontinuity on the southern coast near the end of Period IV involving the replacement of chipped stone tools by ground bone tools appears to have been partially the result of the introduction of the bow and arrow weapon system. The bow and arrow arrived in the Strait of Georgia region from the Canadian Plateau around A.D. 400 (Charlton 1980: 56), an event that not only correlates with the disappearance of the spearthrower but also shortly thereafter a replacement of the vitreous basalt arrowheads of interior origin by ground bone arrowheads (Ibid: 56-57). It appears that it did not take the coastal people long to come to the conclusion that the new weapon system would work just as well without the imported stone points. As a result of this technological transfer and likely other factors the transition from the late Period IV Marpole complex to the Period V Gulf of Georgia complex appears from an archaeological perspective to have been quite rapid (Mitchell 1971a: 167).

In the Strait of Georgia the earliest ancestors of the Coast Salish are generally attributed to the Marpole complex (Mitchell 1971: 71). Cultural continuity, in part, is based upon the appearance of wealth objects and an apparent uneven distribution of said wealth objects in graves. The appearance of head deformation at this time has also been interpreted as a status marker as have labrets and ear spools. It has been speculated that wealth was converted into prestige through its redistribution by means of the potlatch ceremony. This important ceremony involved the reaffirmation of rights and privileges of people of rank. An uneven distribution of wealth objects in graves has not been noted in the preceding Locarno Beach complex, which presumably was a more egalitarian society. Differences between the Locarno Beach and Marpole complexes, however, are still ones of degree rather than kind (e.g. Carlson and Hobler 1993) and it has been observed that the way of life of the former was "...basically similar to that of the ethnographic Northwest Coast" (Matson 1981: 64). Marpole complex, with its inferred ranked burials, multi-family plank houses, evidence of large watercraft in the form of beach haul out skids at some sites, resource scheduling involving the procurement, preservation, and storage of salmon, a flourishing art tradition, complex ceremonialism, and participation in a broad trade network, is best regarded as a continuation of a lengthy process of increasing cultural complexity rather than some kind of sudden cultural fluorescence. Evidence relating to the Locarno Beach complex is more limited than that for the Marpole complex. Large communal houses were present in the region by at least 1,000 B.C. and, further, the frequent wooden and antler wedges of the Locarno Beach complex suggest the production of house planks. Procurement and processing of ground fish on a large scale in the Locarno Beach complex, as apparent at the Hoko River site on the Washington State side of the Straits of Juan de Fuca (Croes and Hackenberger 1988), demonstrate the capability of processing substantial winter food supplies long before the Marpole complex. In fact, this capability extends as far back as 7,000 years ago at the Namu site on the central coast (Cannon 1991).

There is merit in the proposal that cultural phases or types or complexes like Locarno Beach and Marpole actually represent economic stages of development rather than discrete cultural entities per se (Croes and Hackenberger 1988: 79). Perceived changes leading to the differentiation of such cultural constructs may simply reflect adjustments to subsistence acquisition methods resulting from over-exploitation of certain resources compounded by population growth. Certainly the ethnic integrity of a construct like Locarno Beach can be questioned. At the Hoko River site on the Olympic Peninsula the stone and bone technology clearly relate the site to the Locarno Beach complex and yet the basketry styles from the site produced distinctively different forms from the basketry styles of the contemporary Locarno Beach component of the Musqueam Northeast site in the Fraser River Delta (Borden 1976). A complex manufactured item, such as basketry, appears to be a more sensitive indicator of regional cultural development than the stone and bone artifacts; the very artifacts most commonly used to establish culture constructs. In this instance, two sites, Hoko River and Musqueam Northeast situated less than 150 km apart, shared certain elements of technology but not others, such as basketry styles, suggesting that the two sites represent separate local cultural traditions who, however, participated in a broader co-tradition. Unfortunately, relatively few sites have conditions suitable for the preservation of the wooden and bark elements of technology. Traits that do survive in archaeological deposits are often more typical of the broad co-tradition than distinctive local facets of technology. Thus, archaeology is undoubtedly receiving a warped view of the degree of technological heterogeneity in any particular region as local variability may be masked by the more preservation prone elements of an over-riding technological co-tradition. A critical ramification of this proposal (Croes 1989: 118) is that if constructs such as Locarno Beach and Marpole are economical plateaus rather than 'total' cultures, as suggested by regional basketry styles, then such archaeological constructs may be ill-suited to identify Salishan (Musqueam Northeast) from Wakashan (Hoko River) linguistic distributions. Migration would not be required to explain many linguistic distributions as different linguistic groups could have shared in the same economic plateaus most often reflected in the archaeological technological record. In other words, economic horizons represented by complexes such as Locarno Beach apparently cut across regional ethnic continuities involving totally different language families as suggested by the basketry styles and the application of the direct historical approach. The evidence that "The region wide horizontal trends seen in these economic stages or plateaus may reflect a widespread evolution and resulting shift in subsistence solutions, not "ethnic" cultural style or population shifts" (Croes 1989: 124) can accommodate both archaeological and linguistic distributions. In a similar fashion, on the northern coast even though the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian shared many ethnographic features and interacted to a considerable extent their basketry styles were quite distinct from one another. The only available archaeological wet site materials available from the region are from the Lachane site in Prince Rupert Harbour. Here basketry styles of 2,000 years ago correspond to the historically documented Tsimshian styles of the same region (Croes 1989: 124). As the distribution of language families along the West Coast has frequently loomed large in the interpretation of West Coast archaeology (Borden 1951; Cressman 1977; Mitchell 1988) the underlying assumption of a one to one relationship between languages and archaeological cultural constructs must be critically re-assessed as well as the kinds of evidence that have been used in the past to support language migrations (see Suttles 1987: Chapters 14 and 15: 256-281).

Given the significance of the cultural information provided by archaeological basketry styles, it is appropriate to repeat the fabric analogy of West Coast archaeological culture classification. Evidence that the weft elements of culture tend to relate to economic adaptive systems occurring over large areas while the warp elements are more local, ethnic, and conservative, means that a single archaeological cultural construct, like the Locarno Beach complex, was composed of a number of different ethnic groups. The analogy of equating warp-weft to local-broad facets of archaeological technology is by no means a novel proposal; "The fabric of Bering Strait archaeology, it appears to me, has its warp in the patterns of behaviour handed down by parents to their children in a single locality, and a weft made up of the continuous interchange of thoughts outward through space" (Giddings 1961: 157). There is little doubt, for example, that if the Northeastern Iroquois co-tradition of the Great Lakes area was not characterized by local pottery styles that, with the exception of the St. Lawrence Iroquois with their highly distinctive bone tool assemblage, the remaining archaeological material culture of arrowheads, adzes, metates/manos, scrapers, most bone implements, etc. would have been classified as a single cultural construct rather than the eight archaeological constructs that are now recognized.

In addition to the complexities involved in recognizing the interplay of a series of widely shared horizon styles with a number of regional technological expressions there is the problem of understanding the nature of the relationship of interior riverine archaeological complexes and their coastal contemporaries. For example, it has been suggested that the archaeology of the Hope-Yale region of the Lower Fraser River represents a blending of interior and coastal traits with coastal influences being represented by ground slate projectile points and knives and interior influences by pit houses and the abundant use of chipped stone tools throughout the sequence. While the suggestion that the mixture of interior and coastal traits may reflect a culturally transitional area certainly has merit (Von Krogh 1980), there is still the problem that the general lack of bone preservation in the Lower Fraser River region seriously hampers comparisons with coastal assemblages such as Locarno Beach and Marpole. Also, there are a number of parallels between the Baldwin complex of the Fraser River (1,000 to 350 B.C.) and Locarno Beach of the Strait of Georgia, such as projectile point styles, nephrite adzes, microblades, ground slate projectile points and knives, stone beads, labrets, pendants, and biomorphic sculpture. During the succeeding Skamel complex of the Lower Fraser River, however, there appears to have been a more intensive intrusion of Late Plateau culture people or influences into the Hope-Yale area (Borden 1970) followed by a further fusion of interior and coastal traits (Von Krogh 1980: 222). As the deepest language cleavage between the Interior Salish languages and the Coast Salish languages is " the Lower Fraser Valley or Fraser Canyon" (Suttles 1987: 260) perhaps a mixed archaeological picture should be expected. Similarly, on the Lower Skeena River of the northern coast at Kitselas Canyon an initial coastal occupation followed by a permanent interior occupation with subsequent acculturation by Late West Coast culture from the Prince Rupert Harbour area has been recorded (Allaire 1978: 251), a process quite analogous to that of the Fraser River Canyon. More recent work, however, (Coupland 1988) suggests that the Kitselas Canyon sequence is basically of coastal origin. Like the situation on the Fraser River, comparisons are hampered by the general lack of bone preservation in the interior. The preceding is a caution that the boundaries between different cultures are rarely conveniently clear.

Given the diversity of foods and their uneven distribution along the West Coast, there was predictable variability within Late West Coast culture subsistence. Extremes ranged from inland hunters, seasonal salmon fishermen, and root gatherers along the lower reaches of major rivers to the outer coast sea-mammal hunters and fishermen of the Queen Charlotte Islands and the west coast of Vancouver Island. Late West Coast culture people followed a broadly based subsistence pattern that would have been supplemented by trade in various food stuffs such as eulachon oil and dried salmon. There has been an understandable tendency to emphasize the importance of salmon as the foundation of Late West Coast culture (e.g. Burley 1979: 131) as salmon was the only resource to appear in sufficient seasonal abundance to provide a critical component of the winter food supply. Salmon was the most important single food throughout the exceptional 7,000 year faunal record of the Namu site on the central coast (Cannon 1991) and yet, the so-called classic ethnographic Northwest Coast pattern did not appear in the area until much later. This ethnographic pattern would have been based upon a number of interrelated factors, cultural as well as economic. Stabilization of the coast that permitted population aggregations at key permanent resource-rich areas was likely as important as salmon in establishing the foundation for later developments. In certain areas of the coast, for example, flatfish and groundfish or eulachon exceeded salmon in importance. Plant foods, ranging from berries, tubers, rhizomes, and crabapples to sea weeds, that were so important at the time of European contact all along the coast, are for all intents and purposes absent from the archaeological record, reflecting more a problem of preservation and archaeological recovery methods than the importance of plant foods in the diet. The foregoing is not to denigrate the importance of salmon but to emphasize that the role of salmon in the winter food supply should be seen as one element, albeit an important one, in a composite of foods that included shellfish, eulachon oil, ground fish, land and sea mammals, and plants.

Regarding settlement patterns, the winter shell midden villages that first began to appear along the coast part way through the preceding Period III increase in frequency during Period IV in most regions. On the northern coast, for example, between 1,500 B.C. and A.D. 500 larger sites suggest increasing populations. The frequent occurrence of wedges, adzes, and hammers indicate the increasing importance of plank houses and dugout canoes. There is also evidence of expanded trade in the form of dentalia and obsidian. Evidence of warfare appears in the form of clubs, daggers, trophy skulls, and skeletal trauma (MacDonald and Inglis 1976: 77). Curiously, in the Strait of Georgia region the shell midden sites do not increase in size until Marpole times around 500 B.C. and, in this respect, contrast with the rest of the West Coast including the outer coasts of Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. A number of settlement features are common to shell midden sites, such as proximity to fresh water, a beach suitable for landing canoes, a sheltered location in a sound or bay, proximity to mussel and clam beds and other resources such as salmon spawning streams. There can be considerable local variation on these themes, even to the extent of shell middens occurring in caves (Haggarty 1982).

The picture of Late West Coast culture settlement patterns has been biased by the concentration of archaeological excavation on the large coastal shell midden sites. Some special purpose sites, such as pictograph/petroglyph sites, also tend to be associated with the large shell midden sites (Simonsen 1973). Small sites are known from the outer islands where specific varieties of maritime sources would be acquired as part of the seasonal round (MacDonald et al. 1987). There would also have been major seasonal camps established at resource rich locales such as salmon and/or eulachon spawning rivers. It is nearly impossible for archaeological reconnaissance methods to detect evidence of the innumerable task specific sites which undoubtedly existed within commuting range of the larger settlements. Such archaeologically invisible sites would be berry, root, and rhizome gathering sites, bark harvesting sites, and sites where plank removal from the living red cedar trees took place. Evidence of stone quarry sites are also limited and likely reflect both the decreasing importance of chipped stone in the tool kit and the widespread availability of local stone suitable for simple flake and cobble core tools.

The elaboration of art between 500 B.C. and A.D. 1 from its simple beginnings around 2,500 B.C. has been attributed to a long-lived and deep rooted personal guardian spirit and shamanic belief system (Carlson 1983: 204). In the Strait of Georgia about 500 B.C. a number of new or elaborated mortuary traits appear such as the inclusion of abundant offerings with the deceased, particularly large numbers of shell and stone beads, cairn burial, and very likely burial mounds. Some of the cairn burials occur in cemeteries isolated from habitation sites (Smith and Fowke 1901) suggesting the existence of 'sacred places' set aside specifically for the disposal of the dead. The archaeological record from the preceding 500 years, however, is too limited to assume that these innovations were unique to the Marpole complex. Similarly, on the northern coast, graves richly provided with offerings appear in the shell middens. Much of the rock art found in proximity to the major winter villages likely pertains to Period IV but the direct dating of rock art still defies archaeological methods. Indirect methods of dating, such as the motif inscriptions on small stone objects from radiocarbon dated components, suggest considerable time depth for the practice (Lundy 1983). Between 1,000 B.C. and A.D. 500 the incidence of modified human bone, particularly skull parts, on the northern coast suggest shamanistic practices and possibly the initial development of historically documented cannibal societies (Cybulski 1978).

The observation that "The prehistory of the Far West differs from that of the rest of the North American continent because it developed on its own terms" (Cressman 1977: 208) is only partially valid. A distinctive cultural pattern did emerge but it was certainly not immune to external influences. On the southern coast the bow and arrow technology was introduced from Late Plateau culture towards the end of Period IV. From the same region cosmological concepts expressed in the form of the soapstone seated human bowl statues, often with depictions of rattlesnakes and toads/frogs, also reached the coast. Major geological sources of both the jade-like nephrite and soapstone occur between Lillooet and Yale in the interior and represented important trade items with the coastal people. Nephrite adzes appear to have been particularly valued. Labrets that were inserted through a hole or holes cut in the cheek or lip are found along the entire coast with the earliest evidence of their use coming from the Queen Charlotte Islands some 4,500 years ago (Severs 1974). Whether labrets originated in the north and diffused south along the coast or vice versa is uncertain. Certainly labret styles suggest a relationship between the British Columbia coast and adjacent southern Alaska in the Pacific Eskimo region (Clark 1984). If there is a direct relationship between the slate grinding technologies of the Alaskan and British Columbian coasts then it would reinforce the likelihood that influences flowed from north to south as this technique for fashioning stone appeared around 2,500 B.C. in the north. It has been speculated that ear spools, the toggling harpoon, stone sculpture, and burial mounds, are all traits introduced to the West Coast from elsewhere in North America (Fladmark 1986). While it is possible that stimulus diffusion was involved, the toggling harpoon style of the north is distinctively different from the composite toggling harpoon of the West Coast. Independent invention on the British Columbia coast of some of the foregoing traits cannot be ruled out at this point.

Evidence pertaining to human biology increases markedly during Period IV. Period IV people, like their historically documented descendants, were of "...medium stature, short and broad trunks, long and powerfully developed arms, and less strongly developed lower limbs" (Cybulski 1990: 53). Research indicates that while there is evidence for local breeding populations along the coast these populations were not closed systems and, therefore, there is neither genetic uniformity nor discrete genetic boundaries. Identified diseases include congenital and venereal syphilis, criba orbitalia related to iron deficiency anaemia, low occurrence of cavities but high incidences of abscesses, arthritis, the joint disease ankylosing spondylitis, and trauma. Of particular interest is the latter where bone fractures were likely the result of warfare on both the northern and central coasts. Evidence of trauma consists of facial, head, limb, and spinal fractures suggestive of club and club-blow parrying wounds. Trophy skulls and decapitated bodies are also most reasonably interpreted as the products of warfare. Artificial cranial deformation appears on the southern coast around 500 B.C. but did not spread to the northern coast. This feature was historically associated with ascribed status and its high incidence (Cybulski 1975) may relate to an inverted ranking system whereby 'worthy' people were more numerous than those classified as either 'worthless' or 'slaves' (Suttles 1987: Figure 1). As cranial deformation must be initiated by binding the head of an infant, the trait clearly is related to some form of hereditary statement of status.

The development of social inequality in the form of ranked societies during Period IV has been a major theoretical concern of West Coast archaeologists. Proposals relating to the development of status inequalities have largely been based upon such considerations as the growing importance of wealth objects like obsidian, marine shell beads and pendants, nephrite adzes, and native copper, the uneven occurrence of grave offerings in cemeteries with some infants being richly provided suggesting wealthy lineages and families, head deformation on the southern coast as well as burial mounds, and the association of sophisticated art with the preceding assumed indicators of status. There is also the suggestion of the beginnings of the potlatch as a ritual means of enhancing and reinforcing rights and privileges (MacDonald and Inglis 1976: 70). A tendency to overemphasize the importance of some traits relative to their economic and social significance can be noted, such as the association of thin ground slate knives with the scoring of salmon fillets for the storage of 'food wealth' required to support an upper class (Burley 1980). Processes leading to the ranked societies of the West Coast are best regarded as an accretionary development pushed by population pressures and concomitant cultural adjustments (Croes and Hackenberger 1988). Most compelling of the evidence of social inequality is the discovery that all villages in one locale did not have equal access to all of the local resources indicating control over certain resource areas by some villages to the exclusion of others (Coupland et al. 1993). It is no longer just a matter of inequalities between individuals and families in a single community but inequalities that effected entire communities. Attempting to specifically pin-point when these processes of social change from egalitarian or 'non-ranked' societies into ranked societies took place is likely a fruitless exercise. Some of the so-called status indicators, such as the abundance and nature of grave offerings and the acquisition of exotic items, can be just as readily explained by cultural and other factors unrelated to wealth acquisition for status and prestige. For example, there is no archaeological record of perishable grave offerings and, therefore, their role in mortuary procedures and their potential relevance to rank cannot be evaluated. Head deformation is a much better indicator of ascribed status. The technological, demographic, economic, and social processes which transformed egalitarian societies into ranked societies were undoubtedly complex, requiring time and evolving organization to acquire a necessary degree of social acceptance. While the first faint glimpses of this process begin to appear archaeologically by 1,000 B.C., it is likely that undetectable social processes were already underway much earlier. Certainly it was during Period IV that ranked societies of various forms were in place along the entire coast. As is apparent from European documentation, however, the nature of this social ranking was quite variable with the most striking differences existing between the northern and southern coasts.

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