Archaeological excavation of a subterranean pit house at Seabird Island in August, 1974. The dig was supervised by Roger Poulton from Simon Fraser University. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

HISTORY: Uncovering Agassiz’s buried secrets

Columnist Lindsay Foreman dives into archaeological history in the Agassiz-Harrison Valley

By Lindsay Foreman

The temperate climate and environment of the Agassiz-Harrison Valley, which has long supported an abundance of plants and animals, has been known and occupied by people since time immemorial. Many Stó:lō and Sts’ailes oral histories describe the landscape and the changes that have occurred over the past 10,000 years. Not surprisingly, the most significant transformations within the valley are associated with the arrival of European, Asian and East Asian settlers over the course of the last two centuries.

Up until 1960, land altering activities, such as logging, aggregate extraction, building, road and dyke construction could be conducted across B.C. without licensed archaeologists first completing heritage overview and impact assessments. As a result, many Indigenous and early non-Indigenous hunting, fishing, camp and settlement sites have been affected. Some of these sites were completely removed from their original context without any documentation or research. We have lost much knowledge about important cultural places to development activities in the Agassiz-Harrison Valley.

SEE ALSO: First Nations, developer call for return and protection of sacred B.C. burial site

Today, most of B.C.’s archaeologists work as consulting “cultural resource management professionals,” completing assessments and monitoring machine excavation work for their developer clients.

Archie Charles and Harry Bouchard at the archaeological excavations at the Maurer property in 1973. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

This greatly contrasts with the academic roots of the discipline, which characterizes much of the archaeological work that has taken place within our community. A recent review of our archives produced photographs of two separate academic excavations that took place in the 1970s by researchers from the Department of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby.

The Maurer Site (DhRk-8) was investigated between 1971 and 1973 by a combination of SFU students and local volunteers. Previous logging, mining, and landscaping activities on the property led the team to focus their efforts on the south slope of Hopyard Mountain, which included a depression and a pit house. Approximately 6,000 items were recovered, the majority of which were tools made from rocks and debris from tool production.

The Maurer Site’s early occupants were present about 4,500 years ago. The acidic soils did not allow for the preservation of wood, plant, or bone from the site. As such, it is difficult to determine their food procurement and processing activities, and therefore what time of year, and for how long, they stayed at this location.

Archaeological excavation of a subterranean pit house at Seabird Island in August, 1974. The dig was supervised by Roger Poulton from Simon Fraser University. (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

SEE ALSO: Archaeologists look to make B.C. Indigenous site an outdoor classroom

In 1974, SFU students and local volunteers also excavated a couple of pit houses on Seabird Island.

Under the direction of Roger Poulton, the team collected a variety of rock tools, pollen and soil samples to complement the excavation notes, drawings and photographs. Additional information about this excavation and the interpretations of the site’s use and length of occupation could not be found.

Other academic research within the Agassiz-Harrison Valley, including at the McCallum Site (DkRk-2) between 1945 and 2004, has demonstrated consistent occupation over the last 6,000 to 10,000 years. The groups that occupied these sites were likely small and family-based, moving around to harvest, hunt and fish. Additional sites will need to be identified and interpreted to provide further information about the day-to-day lives of our valley’s early people.

If you participated in any archaeological excavations within the Agassiz-Harrison Valley, we would love to hear from you! The Agassiz-Harrison Museum is working to grow our knowledge and archival collections about the investigations of “buried” heritage within our community. Please contact us at agassizharrisonmuseum@shawbiz.ca or 604-796-3545.

-Lindsay Foreman is the manager and curator at the Agassiz-Harrison Museum



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