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The diversity of northwest coast shell middens : late pre-contact settlement-subsistence patterns on Valdes Island, British Columbia McLay, Eric Boyd

Abstract

This study explores the nature of late pre-contact settlement-subsistence activity (1400/1000 - 200 B.P.) on Valdes Island, a large southern Gulf Island in the Gulf of Georgia region of the Northwest Coast. Settlement-subsistence patterns on Valdes Island demonstrate an economic orientation toward exploiting critical resource locations in the marine environment, specifically sandy intertidal environments and tidal streams, where populations aggregated to collect predictable, localized and abundant coastal resources, particularly shellfish and Pacific herring. The diversity of shell middens (or shell matrix sites (cf. Claasen 1998)) on Valdes Island agree with patterns of logistical mobility indicative of a "collector strategy" (cf. Binford 1980). The majority of small-sized, shallow shell matrix sites on Valdes Island represent limited-activity sites, such as shellfish resource-processing locations and task-specific field camps, where specific, highly localized resources in the coastal environment were collected. Large, deep, highly-stratified shell matrix sites on Valdes Island - several of which are identified as ethnographic Central Coast Salish Halkomelem winter villages - represent long-term residential bases located to maximize access multiple, overlapping coastal resource zones in proximity to the tidal streams and sandy foreshore environments of the southwest coast. This settlement study identifies an important strategy Central Coast Salish populations used to engage the highly variable, locally diverse nature of subsistence resources in the Gulf of Georgia was to strategically position settlement locations at dense, biologically-diverse marine micro-environments. This settlement strategy enabled these complex hunter-gatherer populations to generate economic surplus for subsistence, exchange and feasting, and provided the economic base for competition among elites.

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