News / USA

    Archaeologists Hope to Solve Ancient Mystery

    Canada dig explores why nomads settled into villages

    Aerial view of Dionisio Point where archaeologists are examining why nomads in the area settled into village life.
    Aerial view of Dionisio Point where archaeologists are examining why nomads in the area settled into village life.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Tom Banse

    Many archaeologists believe humans first migrated to North America over the Bering Strait 15,000-to-18,000 years ago. They lived a nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering. Then, starting about 2,000 years ago, some of them settled in large, permanent villages.

    An on-going excavation to find out why this fundamental transformation occurred has archaeologists focusing on an ethnographic group in the Pacific Northwest called the Coast Salish people.

    The skyscrapers of Vancouver, Canada twinkle across the water while tall Douglas firs shade the excavation squares and sifting stations as researchers from Washington State University and the University of British Columbia kneel in pits, carefully scraping away with trowel or brush.

    At Dionisio Point Provincial Park on Galiano Island in British Columbia, WSU archaeologist Colin Grier leads a 10-member crew probing what he considers one of the best preserved early village sites of the Coast Salish people. Grier hopes this place can answer a burning question about what caused previously nomadic bands to advance into a more complex society.

    Colin Grier (center) discusses a find with graduate students Chris Arnett (left) and Kelly Derr (right).
    Colin Grier (center) discusses a find with graduate students Chris Arnett (left) and Kelly Derr (right).

    "Why did the transformation happen when it happened? That's probably the most difficult question to answer," says Grier. "When do people start to settle down?"

    In many parts of the world, the rise of village life is associated with the introduction of farming.

    "But of course, here no one invented agriculture," says Grier. Instead, the Salish people relied on fish, clams, game and wild plants.

    The archaeologists have identified the ruins of six big, ancient houses which form two neighboring beachfront villages. The largest of the buildings could shelter eight to 10 families. Based on radiocarbon dating, they were occupied around 1,500 years ago.

    Grier's team can infer economic changes from the variety of shells and animal and fish bones in the refuse piles outside doorways.

    "With a settled village life, you have to bring the food to you," he says. "So the diversity of resources in these village sites is very high."

    An illustration of the Dionisio Point village as it may have looked 1,500 years ago
    An illustration of the Dionisio Point village as it may have looked 1,500 years ago

    Other evidence of the transition to a more complex society includes trappings of wealth and a social class system.

    Grier catalogs some of what they've found. "A cache of 5,000 slate beads, some labrets, which are actually plugs that get inserted through the lip, that were status markers."

    Still, there's that nagging question of what caused these people to settle down and adopt customs that vaguely resemble some of ours today. One theory is that population pressure triggered the change. Grier isn't sure that's it, but he's finding evidence that seems to suggest that.

    "When settlement gets dense on a landscape, you have to create more food for people to eat. You have to intensify," he says. "So you have to reorganize a lot of what you do to feed more mouths."

    The researchers consult closely with the local Indian tribe. Penelakut tribal member Robert Sam, who believes ancestors of his lived in the village, supports the excavation.

    "It is really interesting to me to see the work that is being done," says Sam. "It shows more of where we were, all the sites that need to be catalogued for our people, our younger generation."

    Like other tribes, the Penelakut are sensitive about excavations which could disturb human remains. But Sam says there’s little risk of that while digging amongst the old longhouses, since the ancestral burial grounds were outside the village.

    Grier has worked here off and on since 1997, and says the ancient tribal village is slowly giving up its secrets. He has funding for two more summer seasons, and hopes that will be enough time to get to the bottom of the story.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora