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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An archaeology of food and settlement on the Northwest Coast McKechnie, Iain Mitchell Patrick


This dissertation examines multiple scales of Indigenous history on the Northwest Coast from the disciplinary perspective of archaeology. I focus on cultural lifeways archaeologically represented in two key domains of human existence: food and settlement. The dissertation consists of six individual case studies that demonstrate the utility of applying multiple spatial and temporal scales to refine archaeological understanding of cultural and historical variability on the Northwest Coast over the Mid-to-Late Holocene (ca. 5,000-200 BP). The first of three regionally scaled analyses presents a coast-wide examination of fisheries data indicating that Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) exhibit a pervasive and previously under-recognized importance in Northwest Coast Indigenous subsistence practices. Next, I use zooarchaeological data from the southern British Columbia coast to identify a pattern of regional coherence in Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth hunting traditions reflecting the scale of intergenerational cultural practice. The third study re-calibrates the settlement history of a small and historically significant locality in Coast Tsimshian territory (Prince Rupert Harbour) to clarify the temporal resolution of existing radiocarbon datasets and test inferences about social and political change. Following this regional exploration of scale, I document site-specific temporal variability in archaeological fisheries data from a Nuu-chah-nulth ‘big-house’ reflecting climatic and socio-economic change. I examine Indigenous oral histories and archaeological datasets to evaluate these parallel records of settlement in the neighbouring territory of an autonomous Nuu-chah-nulth polity before and during the occupation of a large defensive fortress. Finally, I demonstrate how everyday foodways are archaeologically expressed and reflect ecological differences and active management strategies within several spatially associated sites over millennial timescales. These linked case studies offer new clarity into long-standing debates concerning archaeologically relevant scales of cultural-historical variability on the NWC. They collectively demonstrate an enduring regional and temporal coherence for key aspects of indigenous resource use and settlement and a historical dynamism at finer scales. I argue this has cultural, historical, and archaeological significance as well as relevance for contemporary understandings of the Northwest Coast environment. I conclude that a focus on the pervasive aspects of the everyday over millennia offers insight into individual actions across broader patterns of history.

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