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Researchers probe the ocean floor in Juan Perez Sound with University of Victoria’s AUV

13,800-year-old Haida site found underwater in Canada

Estimates of people’s presence in the Americas have ranged from about 12,000 to 50,000 years. A new study by a team of archaeologists that has been researching the subject, has found a site dating back 13,800 years, now underwater in the Juan Perez Sound off British Columbia in Canada.

The underwater area they examined was once dry land, inhabited by the Haida people. The Haida have an old flood tale on Frederick Island that tells of how the peoples became dispersed in the New World.  Frederick Island is a different site than the one recently studied.

The team, led by archaeologist Quentin Mackie of the University of Victoria, found the site this past September near the Haida Gwaii Archipelago. They found a fishing weir, a stone channel structure that was probably used to catch salmon, the CBC reports.

Haida Gwaii islands as seen from Hecate Strait

Haida Gwaii islands as seen from Hecate Strait (Wikimedia Commons)

“He's far from certain, but Mackie is hopeful the images show at least one stone weir — a man-made channel used to corral fish. The scan suggests a wall of large stones was placed in a line at a right angle to the stream, a fishing technique used by many other ancient cultures, including those that thrived along B.C's coasts,” the CBC says.

Global BC news broadcast on the Haida discovery

Mackie says the findings make sense in the context of his research there over the past 20 years. Indian Country Today Media Network says the findings also fit in with tribal oral histories.

A Haida story from the book American Indian Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz tells of a great flood that force people to move. An excerpt:

… the old people told them to stop laughing at the stranger. At that moment the tide was at low ebb, and the woman sat down at the water’s edge. The tide began to rise, and the water touched her feet. She moved up a little and again sat down. The water rose again, and again she moved back. Now she sat down at the edge of the village. But the tide kept rising; never before had it come so high. The villagers grew frightened and awe-struck. Having no canoes, they did not know how to escape, so they took big logs, tied them together into a raft, and placed their children on it. They packed the raft with dried salmon, halibut and baskets of spring water for drinking.

The woman kept sitting on higher and higher ground, and the water kept climbing. Waters covered their island, the Haida story says, and hundreds of survivors were adrift without anchors.

By and by the people saw peaks sticking out of the ocean. One of the rafts drifted to a piece of land and its survivors stepped off there, while other rafts were beached elsewhere. It was at that time that the tribes became dispersed. - Based on a tale related by Henry Young in 1947 and repeated by Marius Barbeau in 1953.

Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe, sculpture by Bill Reid in bronze, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington

‘Spirit of Haida Gwaii’, the Black Canoe, sculpture by Bill Reid in bronze, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington (Wikimedia Commons)

The superintendent of the Gwaii Hanaas park, Ernie Gladstone, told the CBC that people lived in the area for many thousands of years, but much of their ancient territory is under waters of Hecate Strait now.  Stories like the one recounted in American Indian Myths and Legends and other collections may be actual history told in semi-metaphor.

The book Mythology of the American Nations says the waters and lands where the Haida people lived were so rich with fish and game that they had a social structure more like advanced agricultural societies. They had private property, ranked social classes and a rich history of art. Governments and missionaries made strenuous efforts to assimilate Haida people on the islands and mainland. But the Haida resisted and instead preserved much of their culture and homelands, wrote the authors, David M. Jones and Brian L. Molyneaux.

Several months ago, the archaeologists used an unmanned, robotic vehicle to examine under the waters around the islands. The weir is under 400 feet (122 meters) of water.  The researchers say the area under water was dry land at sea level 14,000 years ago, from the islands to what is now the British Columbia mainland.  The area has been underwater since after the last Ice Age ended and a warming period began about 11,000 years ago.

The archaeologists saw other formations on the sea floor that they think may have been camps from around the same time.

The oldest artifact ever found previously in Canada came from near the same weir site, in Gwaii Hanaas National Park Preserve from 12,700 years ago. The latest finding therefore constitutes the oldest ever evidence of human habitation in Canada.

Featured image: Researchers probe the ocean floor in Juan Perez Sound with University of Victoria’s AUV. The team will soon use a remote vehicle to dig for artifacts. Credit: The Canadian Press

By Mark Miller

Comments

I would like to find out about family trer

Awesome! A history of my people!

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