Documenting 6,000 years of indigenous fisheries and settlement as seen through vibracore sampling on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada




Duffield, Seonaid
Walkus, Jennifer
White, Elroy
McKechnie, Iain
MacKie, Quentin
McLaren, Duncan

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American Antiquity


This article highlights the utility of vibracore technology to sample deep shell midden deposits on the Central Pacific Coast of British Columbia, Canada. Analysis of six core samples and 21 radiocarbon dates revealed that the archaeological deposits extended to a depth of 544 cm below surface and that occupation began approximately 6,000 years ago, continuing into the sixteenth century AD. Zooarchaeological identification of fine screened (2 mm) sediments shows that fish constitute 99.8% of identified vertebrate fauna, with a focus on herring (Clupea pallasii), salmon (Oncorhynchus sp.), rockfish (Sebastes sp.), and greenling (Hexagrammos sp.), followed by a variety of other fish taxa utilized throughout the occupation of this site. Despite a much smaller examined volume relative to conventional excavation, vibracoring was effective in recovering deep, stratigraphically intact, and adequate samples of zooarchaeological fisheries data as well as a considerable number of stone, bone, and shell artifacts (an estimated 550 artifacts per cubic meter of cultural sediments). These results show a persistent and sustainable ancient fishery through six millennia until the contact period. The field and laboratory methods described are especially conducive to sampling large and deep shell midden deposits repetitively.


Thanks to Heiltsuk Nation and Wuikinuxv Nation for supporting this project. Thanks to Rebecca Wigen of Pacific Identifications Inc. for assistance with faunal identifications. Duncan McLaren facilitated archaeological investigations and the overarching Hakai Ancient Landscapes Archaeology Project under Heritage Conservation Act, permit 2011-171. Thanks to Keith Holmes (Hakai Institute) for cartographic assistance and drone imagery, including access to lidar, and to Andrew Eckert for the artifact photo. Many thanks to Callum Abbott, Darcy Mathews, Duncan McLaren, Alex Nuchini, and Brittany Witherspoon (in 2015); and to Johnny Johnson, Maxwell Johnson Jr., and John Maxwell (in 2016) for operating the vibracore. The authors also thank the staff and support personnel at the Hakai Institute, Calvert Island Ecological Observatory. Finally, thanks to Ariel Reyes Antuan for translating the Spanish abstract, and to Debra Martin and an anonymous reviewer for helpful feedback.


Northwest Coast, Central Coast, British Columbia, Canada, zooarchaeology, core sampling, vibracore, shell midden, fauna, artifacts


Duffield, S., Walkus, J., White, E., McKechnie, I., MacKie, Q., & McLaren, D. (2021). “Documenting 6,000 years of indigenous fisheries and settlement as seen through vibracore sampling on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada.” American Antiquity, 1-16, DOI: