Cultural forests of the Southern Nuu-chah-nulth: historical ecology and salvage archaeology on Vancouver Island's West Coast




Earnshaw, Jacob Thomas Kinze

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Cedar, represented by Western redcedar (Thuja plicata) and Yellow Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) was known as the “Tree of Life” to the Nuu-chah-nulth on Vancouver Island’s west coast, and most other groups of the Pacific Northwest. This thesis investigates the Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs), or more specifically Tapered Bark Strips (TBS), created through the extraction of cedar bark removed for all manner of material goods. CMTs are now the most common archaeological site type within British Columbia. Current regional chronologies have inherent biases that make interpretations difficult. The chronologies created through Archaeological Impact Assessments (AIAs) are weighted heavily to the contact period and the highest frequency of use corresponds with indigenous population collapse rather than peak. Investigations are made into the true distribution of existing CMT features. This thesis details the survey of 16 recent old growth cedar clearcuts which found extensive unrecorded CMT features that have recently been logged throughout the southern Nuu-chah-nulth study region. Half of all TBS scars in exposed stumps were found embedded within healed trees, otherwise invisible to archaeologists. Comparing all AIA report dates (surveyed prior to logging activity) with all post-impact assessments surveys it was found the latter contain a greater and older distribution of scarring events corresponding to high First Nations populations before the contact period. The study also compares CMT chronologies with local histories, investigates the antiquity of Northwest Coast CMTs and the indigenous management of cedar trees to maximize bark harvests. The findings of this research hint at the expanded extent of anthropogenic forests in the Northwest Coast, the inadequate recording and heritage protections of CMTs, and what it all means for Aboriginal Land Rights in British Columbia.



CMT, Culturally Modified Tree, Vancouver Island, northwest coast archaeology, Historical Ecology, Salvage Archaeology, western redcedar, thuja plicata, first nations land claims, bark stripping and peeling