UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Inscribing identities on the landscape : a spatial exploration of archaeological rock features in the Lower Fraser River Canyon Supernant, Kisha Marie


The research presented in this study is an archaeological exploration of the role of monumental rock features in the formation and maintenance of community identity in the past among the Coast Salish peoples of the Lower Fraser River Canyon region of south-western British Columbia. An area of intensive seasonal aggregation during the height of the salmon fishing season, the Lower Fraser River Canyon is an area where ownership and access to valuable commodities has been paramount through time. This central place is marked by a type of archaeological feature rarely found anywhere on the Northwest Coast – large scale, stacked rock walls, terraces, and other constructions. I apply a landscape approach to understand the cultural dynamics of social interaction in this region and argue that people evoke identities at various scales and defend their territory on the landscape through the construction of these features. Since only preliminary research had been undertaken on the rock features, I conducted a survey of the Lower Fraser River Canyon and located 82 rock features along a 7 km stretch of river. Characteristics of these features, along with three-dimensional maps of several sites where features cluster, form the basis of my analysis. I outline uses for the rock features, including fishing, defense, living surfaces, and ownership makers, before applying spatial analyses to evaluate whether or not these features formed a defensive network throughout the Canyon. The results of the Defensive Index, a quantitative measure of site defensibility, illustrate that the building of the rock features, even if their primary use was not defensive, enhances the defensibility of village sites. In addition, viewshed analyses indicate that sites with and without rock features are intervisible, supporting the hypothesis that signals could be sent through the Canyon as a warning of impending raids from either upriver or downriver (Schaepe 2006). I conclude that while rock features were a result of co-ordinated community activity and had an impact on the identities of people living in the Canyon in the past, assigning ownership of a place to a family or community has always been an active and ongoing process.

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