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Is home where the hearth is? : evidence for an early non-domestic structure on the Dundas Islands of north coastal British Columbia Ruggles, Angela Joy

Abstract

Northwest Coast cultures are commonly designated as "complex hunter-gatherers" (Matson and Coupland 1995:2; Ames and Maschner 1999:13). This means that although food procurement was from foraging, societies had socially hierarchical characteristics generally associated with late-stage sedentary agricultural societies. Tracing the development of social complexity in Northwest Coast prehistory has been a major endeavour in archaeological research but it has often been a progressive theoretical framework, inferring from material culture that the more 'complex' larger societies analogous with the ethnographic cultures on the NW Coast developed out of simpler, small-scale societies through the accumulation of traits like ceremony and feasting. In this thesis, I argue that the earliest periods of village life on the NW Coast did not lack these traits but were characterized by another type of ceremonial and ritual organization, one where communities shared control over feasts with somewhat equal access, at least as represented by the structures where these activities took place. I use data from the Dundas Island region on the north Coast of British Columbia to show that the recently-discovered early village at site T512-1, which dates to 2025 cal BC (1Σ = 2045 BC-1945 BC) includes a non-domestic structure (HP 1) not found in later Tsimshian style villages. To test this hypothesis, I compare T512-1 to another recently discovered village, T512-3, to the range of villages in the Tsimshian area and the suite of early houses known from the NW Coast. I have examined data on several scales of analysis from the village layout, the building architecture, building contents, and finally through a study of the central hearths and their contents in both structures. I believe that these data show that 1) HP 1 is non-domestic when compared to HP 20, the specific analogy of other Tsimshian houses, and general analogies of domestic behaviour, and 2) that the essence of this difference appears to be specific ceremonial and ritual behaviours that, in later times, are associated with the large houses of village chiefs.

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