The category is: “Thing that are old.” What is Great Pyramid at Giza? Good answer. What is Stonehenge? Better. What is a Heiltsuk village site on Triquet Island in British Columbia? Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner! Charcoal recovered from a hearth buried in a Heiltsuk village site dates back 14,000 years, making it one of the oldest First Nations settlements in North America and older than the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge combined.
I remember when we get the dates back and we just kind of sat there going, holy moly, this is old.
Attendees at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology this week will hear about the discovery from Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria who worked at the excavation on Triquet Island, 320 km (200 miles) south of the Alaskan border and about 500 km (310 miles) northwest of Victoria, Canada. In addition to the charcoal, Gauvreau and the rest of the archeologists found rare artifacts such as a wooden projectile-launching device called an atlatl, compound fish hooks and a hand drill used for lighting fires.
It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit, what we are calling a bean-shaped hearth. The material that we have recovered from that trench has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.
That narrative lends credence to the stories told by the indigenous peoples of the Heiltsuk tribe about ancient settlements that appeared to date back prior to previously-accepted estimates of their first arrival on the island. Stable sea levels kept the artifacts well-preserved just a few feet below the current ground level.
The artifacts and sediment also show that two tsunamis in the village’s history may have caused residents to vacate for a time and, when they returned, change their eating habits. The evidence shows the Heiltsuk people’s ancestors hunting and eating seals, sea lions and other large mammals for about 7,000 years, then switching to fin fish and shellfish.
One of the best ways to determine how ancients cultures lived is to look at their trash and there’s a five-meter-deep (16 feet) midden (trash heap) that runs for 70 meters (230 feet) between the beach and the village that Gauvreau plans to dig in next. The team will also begin similar excavations on other coastal islands to see if the tsunamis resulted in dietary changes there.
What have we learned from the excavation on Triquet Island? Dead men may tell no tales but their garbage tells all of their secrets. And there are people who still say “holy moly.”