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The political economy of stone celt exchange in pre-contact British Columbia : the Salish nephrite/jade industry Morin, Jesse


This study investigates patterns of trade and exchange in pre-contact British Columbia through spatial and mineralogical analyses of stone celts and celt production debris with specific focus on celts made of nephrite/jade. More specifically, I explore the hypothesis that emerging elites in British Columbia controlled or manipulated aspects of the production-exchange cycle of stone celts to gain profit and prestige. This research is framed according to concepts of political economy as applied to the study of archaeological remains, focusing on the social organization of labor and how wealth was generated and distributed within past societies. A sample of 2029 relevant artifacts were identified and analyzed using a near-infrared (NIR) spectrometer to determine their mineralogy, to statistically correlate those made of nephrite to their place of manufacture, and these results were analyzed spatially using GIS mapping techniques. Through these analyses 6 distinctive regions were identified based on unique reliance on celts made of particular raw materials and were interpreted as separate interaction spheres. I hypothesize that such interaction spheres were at least partially structured by integration of disparate groups at seasonal trade fairs where celts, among many other goods were exchanged. It was found that nearly all celts on the Salish Sea and the Canadian Plateau were made in two discrete localities along the Fraser River. While there was considerable potential for elites to intensify the production of stone celts, there is little archaeological evidence that they did so. The exchange of functional celts on the Salish Sea may have been mediated or directed by either elites or specialist woodworkers, but such evidence is equivocal. I hypothesized that the patterns celt distribution by site on the Salish Sea could be in part accounted for by the existence of high and low status winter villages – perhaps a two-tier settlement hierarchy. On the Canadian Plateau, large non-utilitarian celts appear to have had predominantly social, rather than functional roles, and were integrated into a widespread system of elite interaction.

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