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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs