Collaborative project brings shíshálh Nation face-to-face with ancient ancestors

May 10, 2017


For immediate release

Gatineau, Quebec, May 10, 2017 — On July 1, the Canadian Museum of History will open its new signature gallery, the Canadian History Hall, which will present the story of Canada and its people more inclusively and candidly than ever before. Today, the Museum unveils a digital facial reconstruction based on the ancient remains of a high-status shíshálh family, estimated to be 4,000 years old, which will be presented in the Hall for all to see. The result of nearly three years of collaboration between the Museum, the shíshálh Nation and the University of Toronto, this forensically based, three-dimensional and animated facial reconstruction is the first of its kind in North America.

“This was the shíshálh Nation’s remarkable story to tell, and we are honoured to have been able to work so closely with them to bring it to life,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History. “To be involved in research that brings the shíshálh Nation face-to-face with their ancient ancestors for the first time was a very meaningful project for us, and we were honoured to have been asked to collaborate.”

“Today’s announcement shows the tremendous relationship that the shíshálh Nation and the Canadian Museum of History have built over the past 10 years,” declared Chief Warren Paull. “With its in-depth knowledge and exceptional experience, the Museum of History has proven an ideal partner for our nation. We look forward to future discoveries that provide further proof regarding what we have said from the beginning: that we as shíshálh people have been stewards of our land since time immemorial.”

At the request of the shíshálh Nation, archaeologists from the Museum of History and the University of Toronto helped excavate a burial site located near the modern community of Sechelt, British Columbia. The remains of five individuals were discovered and estimated to be approximately 4,000 years old. The individuals — a male of 50; a female aged 19−23; male twins aged 20–25; and one infant of indeterminate gender — had been buried with hundreds of thousands of stone and shell beads, indicating the family’s tremendous wealth and power. This has been one of the most significant chiefly burial finds in North America. After being studied in depth at the Museum of History, the remains were returned to Sechelt for reburial.

The Museum then collaborated with the shíshálh Nation to produce scientifically accurate reconstructions of each of the faces, further including hair, jewellery, facial expressions and clothing. The reconstructions based on scientific data were completed by Visualforensic, the world’s foremost forensic CGI studio.

Another version of the module is being constructed for the Tems Swiya Museum, in Sechelt, in order that the story of these ancient shíshálh ancestors be similarly told in their home community. The module in Sechelt is expected to open on July 1, coinciding with the Museum’s opening of the Canadian History Hall.

The Hall will trace Canada’s history from the dawn of human habitation to the present day, exploring the central threads of our national narrative through the diverse stories and perspectives of individuals — some famous, and many not. The Hall is divided into three galleries, each focusing on a separate era of Canadian history. Each gallery presents significant and engaging stories that illuminate the richness and diversity of the Canadian experience. Together, the stories bridge the gap between past and present, and explore how the Canada we know today came to be.

Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History welcomes over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum’s principal role is to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped Canada’s history and identity, as well as to enhance Canadians’ awareness of world history and culture. Work of the Canadian Museum of History is made possible in part through financial support of the Government of Canada.

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