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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shadow and substance : a computer assisted study of Niska and Gitksan totem poles Shane, Audrey Mackay


This thesis attempts to distinguish varying styles in a particular set of massive carvings from the Northwest Coast of North America, the totem poles of the Niska and Gitksan. The method of investigation is based on the use of hierarchical clustering and multi-dimensional scaling computer programmes. These programmes are of a type used in ecological, geological, and archaeological studies. Their purpose is to establish a numerical taxonomy from which inferences may be drawn. The data used in the study are based exclusively on photographs, and it is possible to include artifacts no longer in existence. There is an ethnographic record against which the success of the methodology is measured. It is concluded that there are four distinctive styles of carving and organizing the totem poles. Two of these are attributed to the Niska and two to the Gitksan. A rhythm of order is demonstrated in the placement of figures on the poles. It is concluded that the taxonomy gives positive support to the hypotheses of previous investigators in regard to clan formation: originally there was a two-fold rather than a four-fold division among these Tsimshian groups. Traits associated with individual artists are not defined by the programmes, although associated traits preferred in certain locations are described.

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