Tse’K’wa Cave Field School is underway


By Tom Summer

Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative

A new dig at Tse’K’wa Cave at Charlie Lake continues this month, with students from the University of Northern British Columbia and members of the local First Nations community already uncovering shards of stone tools thanks to their field school.

It is the first time in more than 30 years that archaeological research has been carried out at the historic site, picking up where Simon Fraser University professor and bone expert Dr Jon Driver left off in the 1960s. 1990 at the start of his career.

Driver says they’ve only scratched the surface of the cave’s scientific potential and he was thrilled to see the site in the hands of the Doig River, Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations, who have it. purchased in 2012. Plans are underway to open a cultural center telling the story of their ancestors.

“What I find so great is that the site is protected, the three nations came together, they bought the land, they now own the site which is incredibly important to their history, and they control what happens here,” he said. “And so it can be a centerpiece to talk about their traditional knowledge, their culture, their history and pass that on not only to their communities, but also to the general public.”

“You have here one of the most important scientific sites in Canada, it’s incredible. I think that will fit in as the interpretive side of it develops,” Driver said.

He added that the anthropological relevance of the site extends beyond First Nations, with 12,000 years of human history to learn.

“This is the only place in Canada, where you can start in the Ice Age and go all the way back to modern times, it’s a complete history of the animals that lived here and the people that lived there, and their interactions,” Driver said.

Tamara St. Pierre, a member of the Prophet River First Nations, participated in shovel tests and said she felt like her ancestors were there giving their blessing to the new dig.

“When we did the opening ceremony with a prayer and drums, we saw an eagle go by, I feel like it was our ancestors giving us their blessing, they want us to find things here “said St. Pierre, who works in land and water resources management.

Taylor Orton, a third-year student at UNBC, was born and raised in northern British Columbia. According to Taylor Orton, field school is the opportunity of a lifetime. She has a double major in anthropology and First Nations studies.

“I want to be an archaeologist, that’s my career goal. So as soon as I heard about the field school opportunity, I was definitely up for it,” she said. “It’s really cool to be able to work with a community member and get Tamara’s perspective on this.

I’m not indigenous at all, so it’s really cool to work with someone who is so grounded.

Driver also said the technology has improved dramatically over the past 30 years, with DNA sequencing being in its infancy when it was first excavated, but has since become common practice. Bones of fish and other animals found in the cave can be sequenced on demand, providing new insights into the cave and the early people who lived there.

“The more science we apply to the materials we’ve already excavated, the more we’ll find,” Driver said, noting that chemical analysis of the fish bones is already underway.

Tse’K’wa was once surrounded by grasslands after a glacial lake receded. Bison, wild hares, ground squirrels and other animals settled, but left for the plains of Alberta once the boreal forest formed.

“All the furry animals they’ve trapped are all out there, fisher, wolverine, otter, muskrat, beaver, they’re all out there, hunted and trapped,” Driver said. “And the big game that they traditionally hunted, deer, elk, moose, bison, they’re all there.”

Dick Gilbert, the archaeologist who first studied the cave in the 1970s, said the story goes beyond the simple movement of animals, theorizing that a trade route may have existed between First Nations for that obsidian makes tools, extending from peace to the region of Stikine. of northwestern British Columbia

“The concept of trade and movement across the landscape, and knowing and being able to trade with your neighbors, trusting them to come to your camp is difficult, but not impossible to interpret from the archaeological record,” Gilbert said.

Obsidian flakes have been found at the site, Gilbert noting that only people could have brought it here, as it does not occur naturally in the Peace region.

“He didn’t come here by miracle. As the crow flies it’s only about 900 kilometers, it would be something to go up there and interact with the people who believe it’s theirs. It’s much more likely that there were trade networks,” Gilbert said.

Driver and Gilbert agreed that the abundance of animals would have been ideal for providing them with valuable trade items such as fur, a necessity for the cold climate.

Gilbert said he always looked back fondly on when he discovered the cave, hired to conduct archaeological investigations in 1974 for the Site C dam. First Nation members first told him about the Tse’K’wa, he said.

“It’s not my story, but if I can do anything that can help you make sense of something, or solidify a site like this, twelve thousand five hundred years of undisputed data _ no one can come and tell you you weren’t there,” he said. “People were here, and that’s one of the biggest things that archeology can contribute to.

Tom Summer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works for the Alaska Highway News. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island News does not receive funding from the LJI government.

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