UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seasonality, shell midden layers, and Coast Salish subsistence activities at the Crescent Beach site, DgRr 1 Ham, Leonard Charles


This dissertation is concerned with the analysis of a late portion of the Crescent Beach shell midden (DgRr 1 ) situated on Boundary Bay in the southern Fraser River Delta of British Columbia. The basic objectives of this study are the recovery and analysis of shell midden layers and their constituents to obtain information on Coast Salish subsistence activities, and to initiate a better understanding of shell midden formation. The cultural history of the Strait of Georgia region is viewed as a 5,000 year long Tradition of Coast Salish Cultures. To place the archaeological materials from Crescent Beach in their proper cultural ecological perspective, the environmental, ethnographic and archaeological setting of the site and surrounding region is examined. The historic ecological communities of Boundary Bay are reconstructed and the abundance and availability of species of economic value determined. Ethnographic Coast Salish Culture and economic strategies are examined and possible settlement patterns reconstructed for Boundary Bay. To assist in identifying subsistence activities at Crescent Beach a shell midden model is presented outlining the systemic and archaeological transformation processes responsible for the site's development. In light of this model and the above environmental and ethnographic data the most probable seasons of site occupation are suggested. Archaeological data were recovered by the hand trowel excavation of a block of shell midden layers and the matrix, provenienced within a 0.25 m2 unit, was waterscreened through a 1.45 mm mesh screen. In total some 24 m3 of shell midden weighing 28.8 t were excavated. Recove of midden constituents was accomplished through a multiple tier sampling system. Radiocarbon estimates of 1350 to 480 B.P., place the 31 layers recovered from Crescent Beach in the Developed Coast Salish Culture. Seasonality dating of shellfish growth patterns and analysis of layer constituents indicate the site was a shellfish and herring harvesting camp occupied in February and March. Layers recovered from Crescent Beach reflect shellfish and herring processing (steaming, sorting, refuse discard, and meat preservation) as well as the immediate consumption of other foods. Artifacts indicate the manufacture, mostly in bone and antler, of tools used in fishing, woodworking and hide processing, the latter two activities conducted at the site. Procurement of shellfish, crab and most fish species probably took place along the 3 km stretch of beach south of the site where present ecological communities contain identical resources as found in the site. Petroglyphs and a fort-lookout site also attest to the use of this area. Shellfish were the most common faunal remain, followed by a much lesser quantity of fish, waterfowl and some large mammals. In addition to the Crescent Beach site, the Deep Bay site (DiSe 7) and Shoal Bay site (DcRt 1) may also be seasonal shellfish and herring harvesting camps, and it is suggested that Whalen II (DfRs 3) and the Locarno Beach site (DhRt 6) may have had similar uses. This evidence and the fact additional seasonal sites dating to the Locarno Beach Culture have been identified indicates the Proto-Coast Salish had a specialized economic system by 3,500 B.P. and possibly earlier. Indications of social ranking are also evident by this time. The approach followed in this study indicates accurate information on economic strategies may be obtained from shell middens. Where research is interested primarily in seasonality, settlement pattern and subsistence the controlled excavation of small blocks of shell midden layers, fine mesh water screening, and analysis of small numbers of shell samples will be adequate. This has important implications for the study and resource management of the shell middens of the Strait of Georgia region.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.