CHARLIE LAKE, B.C. – After six weeks, the groundbreaking University of Northern BC-led archaeological dig at the National Tse’K’Wa Historic Site has come to a close, uncovering over ten artifacts and more than a thousand artifact flakes.
Executive director of the Tse’K’wa Heritage Society, Alyssa Currie, says these artifact flakes are small artifacts created in the process of creating a stone tool.
“You start with a core or a large rock, and you hit that rock repeatedly, breaking off small flakes until you’re eventually left with a stone tool,” Currie explained.
Dr. Farid Rahemtulla, a senior instructor at UNBC, says that he finds the flakes very interesting as, in his opinion, they prove that tool maintenance and repair took place at the site.
“To me, that means that a lot of the activities happening here were things like maintaining their tools, resharpening knives, and basically working on broken tools. Those are the kinds of flakes you get with those kinds of activities,” Rahemtulla explained.
“It shows that people that are here, first of all, and secondly, give us a little bit of a hint as to what they’re doing. But we still have a long way to go to really understand what’s happening here.”
The discoveries uncovered in the dig, Rahemtulla says, confirm what community members have been telling the archaeology team since their first meeting.
“That’s exactly what the community said to us is that we need to look back here because they thought that this is more likely the area where people were camping. So far, that’s what the evidence seems to be pointing at,” Rahemtulla said.
The dig also presented the archaeological team with some challenges, such as a significant amount of soil disturbance, due to the property previously having a homestead and garden.
“In one of the excavation units, we found bits and pieces of brick red brick, which are obviously mass manufactured and underneath that, we found evidence for stone tool making.”
Rahemtulla believes the red brick originated from the fireplace inside the homestead, built from salvaged materials.
“We have that mixture between more recent and much older new material. It’s going to take a little bit of time to try and understand what’s actually going on,” he said.
Reflecting on the field school, Rahemtulla says the project went well and believes it was a significant step in decolonizing archaeology.
“People from the community are not just helpers; they’re actually in the field school, and they’re taking it for credit. Capacity building is a huge aspect of our field school,” Rahemtulla said.
“Eventually, the hope is that the communities that we work with will be able to do their own archeology someday. That’s a big part of the decolonization process as far as we’re concerned, but it’s a partnership,” he continued.
Currie echoed Rahemtulla’s thoughts regarding the project, adding that she feels privileged to witness her first archaeological dig when reconciliation and decolonization are front of mind.
“Many of the visitors that we’ve had to the field school, whether it be elders or visiting archeologists, have mentioned how different this field school is from either the field schools or the archeological studies of old where cultural heritage was not recognized in the same way,” Currie said.
“I feel lucky that I get to come in at a transformational stage for archeology as a field and to be part of something that has reconciliation at front of mind, from the very beginning.”
Both Currie and Rahemtulla say they look forward to advancing the partnership between UNBC and the Tse’K’Wa Heritage Society.
“We’re really looking forward to working with SFU and UNBC over the next few years. There will be lots of opportunities for us to do research work in the lab to better understand the material that we’ve excavated, but also to talk about future field schools and how we can improve on this experience,” Currie said.
Next summer, a research session with Simon Fraser University’s Dr. Mike Richards and an SFU laboratory team will re-evaluate materials found in this year’s dig.
The Tse’k’wa Archaeology Field School is made possible by First Peoples’ Cultural Council, Northeast Native Advancing Society, and other funders.