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Beached Canadian Artwork Sparks Controversy

Beached Canadian Artwork Sparks Controversy

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An archaeologist from the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada is being attacked online for “speculating” that a curious carved stone figure found on a western Canadian beach in British Colombia was a Lekwungen people artifact. While the artifact “might” be modern, when you know the facts, perhaps you, like me, will want to jump into this scrap and cover the controversial Mr. Keddie’s back. He deserves the support of all of us history lovers out there.

The stone carving was discovered by Bernhard Spalteholz while walking on a beach in British Colombia, Canada. The Canadian artwork has since sparked controversy due to its possible misidentification by an archaeologist at the Royal British Colombia Museum. (Bernhard Spalteholz / Royal B.C. Museum)

The stone carving was discovered by Bernhard Spalteholz while walking on a beach in British Colombia, Canada. The Canadian artwork has since sparked controversy due to its possible misidentification by an archaeologist at the Royal British Colombia Museum. (Bernhard Spalteholz / Royal B.C. Museum )

Misinterpretation of the Canadian Artwork

Weighing around 100 kilograms (220 lbs) the stone face discovered on a Canadian beach has bulging eyes and a twisted nose and lips. It was discovered by local man, Bernhard Spalteholz, early one morning last summer on a British Colombia beach. The artifact finder notified an archaeologist at the museum in Victoria . Jack Lohman, head of the Royal British Columbia Museum said in a blog post at the time that he was “astounded” and that the discovery was “a remarkable find with a remarkable story.”

In January last year museum archaeologist, Grant Keddie, announced that the stone figure was “most likely” a ceremonial pillar carved by the Lekwungen people who have long lived in the area. However, a recent article in The Guardian says that a Canadian artist, Ray Boudreau, who lives nearby the beach, told a local paper that “he had carved the figure no more than three years ago.”

Is it a modern-day work of art, or an ancient indigenous carving? (Bernhard Spalteholz / Royal B.C. Museum)

Is it a modern-day work of art, or an ancient indigenous carving? (Bernhard Spalteholz / Royal B.C. Museum )

The Mistake in Identifying the Canadian Artwork

Last week sculptor Ray Boudreau told a Times Colonist that “it’s absolutely 110% my carving” and supporting his claim he provided photos of a sculpture he executed in 2017 which the Times Colonist writer called “a strikingly similar sculpture.” Boudreau said he used a simple hammer and chisel to shape the distinctive face before the stone vanished from the beach. What happened next is the controversial bit.

After Boudreau’s comments became public, according The Guardian , “the museum quietly deleted the blogpost and any other references to the discovery.” This “apparently” sly act sparked a fierce debate over the museum’s methods of identifying the initial findings. Now, their entire approach to such discoveries is being brought into question.

Left: Photograph by Bernhard Spalteholz of the beached Canadian artwork. Right: Photo by Victoria artist Ray Boudreau of a rock he carved back in 2017 which he believed had been stolen.

Left: Photograph by Bernhard Spalteholz of the beached Canadian artwork. Right: Photo by Victoria artist Ray Boudreau of a rock he carved back in 2017 which he believed had been stolen.

Reaction from the Royal BC Museum

It takes a brave, and selfless person, to stand up and speak out in support of someone when they come under public attack. The champion of this story is Lou-ann Neel , head of the Royal BC Museum’s Indigenous Curation and Repatriation Department, who says perhaps “the public has been too quick to pass judgment.” Neel said there are a lot of questions she’d like to ask the artifact finder. For example, it is yet unclear if Mr. Boudreau started working on a stone “that already had a carving on it”. Furthermore, Neel points out that the shape of the carved face is “wide on one end and tapering at the other,” and as an Indigenous artist herself she is perfectly qualified to point out that it is similar to other Indigenous stone figures discovered in the region.

Don’t Shoot the Archaeologist!

Let’s now personify the museum archaeologist, Grant Keddie, who last year “speculated” that the stone pillar discovered in Canada “might” be the same one Indigenous elders talked about in the 1880s, and that it was “probably” used in Lekwungen salmon and puberty ceremonies. Note the words “speculated,” “might” and “probably.”

Skeptical, and many deeply-cynical, locals are marching on social media shunning Keddie for his initial findings. However, the fight just got bigger, because Keddie just found a new ally - good old me (and hopefully us). Why should we rally around Mr. Keddie? Because has over fifty years’ experience as archaeological curator at the Royal B.C. Museum and he himself is a museum of knowledge pertaining to the natural and social history of the Indigenous First Nations cultures in Canada.

Right now a faction of armchair archaeologists is stretching their fingers, getting ready to annihilate me, and perhaps Mr. Keddie again too. But think about this for a second. At the best, maybe Mr. Keddie realized his earlier speculation was inaccurate and didn’t want to mislead the public further, so he simply deleted the post. At worst, he tried to cover his ass and protect his professional integrity. Wouldn’t you do the same?

Top image: The Canadian artwork was discovered on a Dallas Road beach below Beacon Hill Park at low tide. Museum archaeologist Grant Keddie speculated that it “might” be a Lekwungen people artifact. Source: Bernhard Spalteholz / Royal B.C. Museum

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated on 17-2-2021 to remove the incorrect assertion that Mr Keddie deleted his original post. Although the post was deleted, it is not known by whom.

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

Boudreau did carve that pole in 2017, that fact is not in dispute.

The only question is, did he carve a natural rock? Or re-carve an authentic Indigenous pole that had fallen from the cliff and became weathered by the elements? Or did he carve a piece of construction debris, a sandstone block that fell off a barge that ran aground in 2016 in the precise location Spalteholz took the photograph as proven by news photographs. 

It’s not a natural deposit, the closest sandstone deposit is over 30 km away so we know humans brought it there. Is it a recarved Indigenous pole? It may be impossible to find out as we know little about the poles of this area, and what little we know indicates poles were not elaboratively carved and the effect of the water and sand on the soft sandstone may have erased any clues. Is it construction debris? We would have to interview the constuction crew that loaded that barge to find out if a block of sandstone was among the items taken from the deconstruction of the old ferry terminal and dock on Victoria’s historic Inner Harbour.

What is also concerning is the numerous red flags missed by Keddie, the most important being the fact that section of the beach was well known to the public, and Keddie, as a location for amateur stone carvers to practice their skills on beach rocks. 

M Saad Chundrigar's picture

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I’m not sure what you’re suggesting – that a fool should persist in his folly?  There’s absolutely no doubt that Boudrou carved the piece.  He even released videos of his working on it in 2017.  It is exactly the same, even down to the little expression marks around the eyes.  When found it was greenish from algae growth, but was otherwise identical.

Keddie allowed his desire to tell a politically correct story to overrule his professional judgement.  When the truth came out he deleted his post.  End of story.

Gary Moran's picture

I’m not buying the local artist’s claim. In comparison to the photo of his recent work, the ‘found” stone has a much more finished, polished look, and I don’t think that could be accomplished by only three years of natural weathering. The found one appears to have been much more carefully finished to me, and it doesn’t even look like the same type of stone. Ok, I’m no “recognized expert”, just my observation.

If this was set in Australia, with an Australian Indigenous-themed artwork and the artist was not of local Indigenous heritage, he would be likely pursued for 'cultural appropriation'. Unless he moved in approved circles, of course, whereupon it could all be forgotten fairly quickly after a mea culpa.

Online witch hunts are normal now. The choice of which witch to pursue is a matter for a mob to decide it would seem.

Well done, Mr Cowley. It's hard enough for archaeologists to tiptoe round cultural sensitivities and the like, without being rounded on for an understandable mistake.

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