After the building of Fort Victoria some of the Lekwungen peoples from outside winter villages moved into the inner harbor. In 1844, they became established at a new location on the west side of Victoria’s inner harbor. This village became what is now known as the Old Songhees Reserve (Keddie 2003).
By the mid-1840s a surface burial ground was established by the Lekwungen on the northern tip of Laurel Point across from the new village.
The burial ground was composed of several burial sheds covered with tuli reed mats and associated with prominent carved wooden burial figures that represented the dead who were buried there. The first Image of this location (fig. 1) was drawn by William McMurtrie a draughtsman in the hydrographic party surveying the American coast. He made a brief visit Victoria in July of 1850 (Monroe 1960).
In the 19th century, Laurel Point, earlier called Deadman’s Point, was a long thin rocky peninsula (Fig. 2). The burial ground was a feature seen by everyone coming into the narrow portion of the inner harbour. Drawings of the location with human figures in front of the wooden shed-like structures, and one figure wearing a European style top-hat, were the subject of several other artists and at least one photographer over the next nine years until they disappeared. Only a lithograph of the photograph has been located to date. Drawings and water colours were done on two occasions by marine surveyor James Alden during visits of the American steam frigate Active. A day after the ship arrival on September 16, 1854, Alden drew a close-up version of the wooden figures (Fig. 3). Alden did other drawings in the area and returned in 1857 to do another water colour of Laurel Point and burial sites at the Coffin and Deadman (Halkett) Islands. He drew his ship USS Active in Esquimalt Harbour on June 29, 1857.
James Anderson (the son of Alexander C. Anderson of the Hudson’s Bay Company) saw the burial sites in 1850, and commented: “the wooden effigies marking the place where some notable was laid to rest in his canoe or wooden sepulchre surrounded by many of the personal belongings.”
A drawing of the burial ground by Charles Chistian Nahl was being made into a lithograph engraving in 1858, but did not get published in the Gazette until October 16, 1859. The location was described on October 15, 1858, in the Victoria Gazette:
“The Burying Ground of the Songhish Chieftains, at Dead Man’s Point. The burying ground …of the chiefs of the Songhish tribe is located on Deadman’s Point, nearly west of Victoria …Subsequent to the migrations of whites hither in 1848-9, this burying ground has not been used … Since that period none of the deceased have been considered worthy of interment there. The four figures placed on the spot are rude carvings of wood, as large as life, each one representing the chief against whose grave it is placed. They are arranged in line, and are about two feet apart, facing the entrance of the harbour, and formerly struck the eye of the stranger …as a body of military sentinels on duty, guarding the inner harbour.
At one time they were very conspicuous, being painted in bright colors and with much taste, vermilion, black, &c, being the predominant hues. The old Laurel [arbutus] trees were well chosen by the Indians to shade their great dead.
One of the figures holds between his hands the skull of a dead enemy and rival chief, whom he killed in deadly fight, …He in his life was a warrior of renown, and the tradition with his deeds …in the memories of his descendants of the present generation, would make him a Songish Caractus.
The next to him was …a celebrated warrior; but more particularly famed as a spokesman, sagacious advisor, seer and statesman. He is represented as addressing the tribe, in an attitude of imperative command. The two others were renowned hunters revered in the oral annals of the tribe for daring feats in slaying the black bear, panther and wolf, …One is represented as holding in each hand a live wolf, rampant, the other is also grasping in either hand a wolf inverted”.
Water colours were drawn in three views by Tyrwhitt Drake in August of 1859’ Drake painted and described these figures as “sentinels over a large grave, of the family vault” – in one he saw an “old gentleman …doubled up into a sitting position, a bit of reed matting put over him & then he is built in with post logs of wood & a few stones to keep all snug” (King, 1999:153).
Figure 5. Three Paintings of the grave figures by Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake. August 1859.
Richard Mayne, a Naval officer on board the Plumper (1857-60) and Hecate (1861), first visited Vancouver Island in 1849. He had a lithograph (illustration 18, opposite page 271) done from a photograph for his 1862 publication, Four Years in British Columbia, showing the burial ground on Laurel Point (Mayne 1962). The present location of the photograph is unknown. We can only speculate that the original photograph was taken by one of the two Royal Engineers trained in photography brought over in 1859. We can give a suggested date of late 1859 or early 1860 for the photograph from which the lithograph was made (Fig. 6).
In this lithograph the animal figures and arms have been broken off the wooden grave figures. This same lithograph, but in reverse, is found in John Keast Lord’s vol. II of his The Naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia published in 1866 (Fig. 7).
Lord added drawings of artifacts not at the site and of three skulls, also not related to the burial site. These skulls have nothing to do with this burial – they have been drawn in this lithograph to represent the two dominant types of artificial head shaping – The northern Vancouver Island style on the left and the southern Island type on the right, compared to the unshaped skull in the middle.
Lord describes the burials and the objects that were added to the drawing that were not in the original photograph:
“ The Indian burial ground was drawn from a photograph. The huge figures, carved from solid trees, are placed round the boxes in order to keep away evil spirits; small tin vessels, pieces of coloured cloth, the skins of small animals, and all kinds of odds and ends, are hung by the relatives of the dead on the boxes containing the body. One thing they never fail to do – that is, to bore the bottom of the tin cups or vessels full of holes: thus rendering useless no one will steal them.
Scattered on the ground are flint implements, once used by the Indians, and the three skulls spoken of. The one to the left is that of the chief, brought from Fort Rupert (vide trip to Fort Rupert, Vol. I), showing the effect of circular pressure; the middle one is an unaltered head from the middle Columbia; whilst that on the left shows the effect of flattening of the forehead” (Lord 1866 (2):260-261).
Lord mentions the location of the middle skull dug out of a gravel bank: “The place from whence I obtained these singular relics was a gravel-bank, near Fort Colville, whilst digging out the nests of land-martins” Lord 1866 (2):103).
The Laurel Point peninsula has undergone a great deal of development and has been greatly expanded by land fill over the last 60 years (Fig. 8 & 9). It was only short lived, starting after 1844 and no longer being used by 1858. What happen to the ancestral remains is unknown. They may have been transferred over to the burial ground on Halkett Island.
Anderson, James Robert. RBCM Archives Additional Manuscript 1912.
Ayers, Jr. Darien. Drawing of Laurel Point in “1857”. Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, Plate 23, p.70 [mislabelled as “Departure Bay”]. Tacoma Washington; (NW 759.13 A358)
Drake, Tyrwhitt. 1859. Paintings and commentary of Tyrwhitt Drake. British Museum. Department of Ethnology. Document 1310. Letter: Am.BR56-TWR
Keddie, Grant. 2003. Songhees Pictorial. A History of the Songhees People as Seen by Outsiders, 1790-1911. Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria, British Columbia.
King, Jonathon 1999. First Peoples, First Contacts. Native Peoples of North America. London: British Museum Press.
Lord, John Keast Lord. 1866. The Naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia. Vol. 1&2. Richard Bently, New Burlington Street, Published in Ordinary to the Majesty, London.
Mayne, Richard Charles. 1862. Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island. An account of Their Forests, Rivers, Coasts, Gold Fields, and Resources for Colonization. John Murray, Albermarle Street, London.
Monroe, Robert D. Two Early Views of Vancouver Island. Beaver. Summer 1960:12-14. The image used is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, C18868, Acc.# 59.153, Titled: Graves at Laurel Point.
Stenzel, Franz. James M. Alden. “Indian Graves Laurel Point, Sept 17, 1854” (Plate 9, p.33). Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Albert W. Ayers, Jr.
Victoria Gazette. 1858. The Burying Ground of the Songhish Chieftains, at Dead Man’s Point. Oct. 15, Vol. 1, No.67.
Victoria Gazette. 1858. The Weekly Gazette, Oct. 16 “Contains a View of the Songhish Indian Burial Ground, At Deadman’s Point [Laurel Point], opposite Victoria”, Notice in Victoria Gazette of Oct. 22, p. 3.
Victoria Gazette. 1859. A lithograph engraved from a drawing by Charles Chistian Nahl. October 16. 1859. (Archives, PDP03722).
Lord, John Keast. 1866. The Naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia, Vol. II, p. 103, Richard Bentley, London.
Gilmore, Berenice. 1980. Artists Overland. A Visual Record of British Columbia 1793-1886, Burnaby Art Gallery, Century Park, September 10 to October 18, 1980. Provincial Archives of British Columbia, Victoria. November 3, 1980 to January 9, 1981. p. 44 [Mistakenly shows drawing as “Departure bay”].
Some people get angry when they miss a bus. This morning as I crossed Bowker Creek, and saw my bus heading south. It was a cool morning. It had rained overnight. The air smelled of spring. Birds were everywhere. Missing the bus was a good thing.
Even along suburbian streets, you can do a bit of bird watching when you miss a bus. Regulars along my street include: Northern Flicker, Common Raven, Northwestern Crow, American Robin, Bewick’s Wren, Merlin, Spotted Towhee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and Anna’s Hummingbird.
A nesting Anna’s Hummingbird – our neighbour’s Holly bush makes pretty safe nesting habitat.
Overhead you can see a range of gulls, Great Blue Herons, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Bald Eagles. Mallards and Canada Geese fly over on their way to and from the local golf course water traps, and a pair of Mallards have taken up residence on the neighbour’s lawn.
And it is no surprise we have exotics like the California Quail, House Sparrow, and European Starling.
Violet-green Swallow – always fun to see them overhead.
In summer we get Violet-green Swallows, Barn Swallows, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, White-crowned Sparrow, Purple Finches, and the occasional Western Tanager, Wilson’s Snipe and Common Nighthawk. A few years ago over 30 nighthawks cruised the neighbourhood – that was neat. Steller’s Jay, Varied Thrush, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco are more common in winter.
Missing from this list is owls – there have to be suburban owls in my neighbourhood – especially Barred Owls – I just haven’t seen any.
Great Horned Owl – not in my garden though (the jesses give it away).
This morning I walked smack into the middle of an irruption of Bushtits, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets. It’s hard to be mad at missing a bus when you are surrounded by those tiny energetic birds, each searching for a morning meal. Then an Anna’s Hummingbird chased one crow away, and while another crow flew by with nesting material in its beak. Seconds later, the bus arrived to ruin the fun – everyone on board staring at their smartphones.
I wonder if any of the passengers were checking a birding app? Were they on iBird? Ebird? Or adding a sighting to iNaturalist? I wonder how many know that a smartphone can be used for more than playing Angry Birds.
The diversity of wildlife apps is increasing at a time when global biodiversity is in peril. Some apps like the Sibley’s bird guide on my phone are more for simple identification and to log your life list. Others feed into bigger networks that help science and feed into wildlife management decisions.
Not sure which app is right for you? Read this review of 5 top birding apps.
If you aren’t interested in slogging through a birding app in a phone or tablet, maybe this would be for you – a project proposed for Google Glass – Glass Birds – as for this YouTube video though – anyone can ID a Western Tanager.
I wonder if Glass Birds is refined to ID birds like this Rock Wren? I need the Google Glasses for gulls, some sparrows, fall warblers, flycatchers, and shorebirds, and best of all, I would be a taxonomic cyborg!
We hear on the news about our armed forces personnel helping people overseas during peacekeeping missions. This year we saw our forces helping flood victims and airlifting communities threatened by forest fires here in Canada. But military presence also can help wildlife – yes, wildlife can flourish even on live fire ranges where tanks range far and wide.
A frame from Sebastian Koerner‘s film footage of a wolf pup and a Marten (Marder) in the Munster-Military training area Lüneburger Heide, Germany.
A recent article in the NewScientist detailed how military ranges are benefitting wolves in Europe. Large carnivores tend to fare poorly when in close contact with our species – we shoot them, our highways and industry fragment and destroy their habitat, and we can thank our automotive industry and its infrastructure for the term Road Kill.
On military ranges, the gun fire is routine and predictable and animals get accustomed to the episodic timing of activity. The range itself and the area nearby generally is devoid of people – except for the short periods during training exercises – and the military presence is a huge deterrent for poachers. I took a Wildlife Management course years ago, and the professor said, “Wildlife management is not about controlling wildlife, it is about controlling people.”
Regulation of human activity in military training areas is so effective, wolves seem to prefer testing ranges in Germany – they are more abundant in military training areas than in nearby wildlife management areas. In addition, roads in testing ranges make convenient thoroughfares for large carnivores and have far less traffic compared to highways near parks.
While reading this NewScientist article I had a flashback to my M.Sc. supervisor, Ken Stewart and his recollection of a misty morning searching for snakes around the Canadian Forces Base in Shilo, Manitoba. The testing range near CFB Shilo is adjacent to the Sprucewoods region and what was once Lake Agassiz beachfront, is now undulating terrain and perfect for training against hidden targets. For tank crews, this sandy, gravelly substrate reduces the risk of ricochets during live-fire exercises and makes it easier to retrieve ordnance. This same sandy habitat also is home to some rarely encountered animals and plants in that province.
The Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus); photo by Dean Hester.
Ken described his morning, bushwhacking through a forested area adjacent to the base and how the conifers reminded him of the Ardennes Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. He imagined he morning’s sub-silence shattered by the clanking tracks and diesel engine of a Tiger Tank, and said, “All I needed was Lili Marlène playing on an old turntable to complete the scene.” But when Ken was there, it would have been a Leopard, not a Tiger ensuring that all but the most intrepid herpetologists were kept well-clear.
Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank; photo by Sergeant Dennis Power, Army News-Shilo. ©2008 DND/MDN Canada
Essentially, this pocket of land within the ranges of the Northern Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis) and Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) is protected by our armed forces and right next door to Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Ken’s story dates back years before he and I met – and so the concept of military ranges as critical shelter for wildlife is certainly not new. CFB Shilo, recently saluted for its work on wildlife conservation, has a Base Biologist who oversees natural resource management, gives tours of the sand dunes, and facilitates research in this restricted area. Other bases like CFB Suffield provide grassland habitat for a myriad of species including Burrowing Owls, Sprague’s Pipit, Pronghorn and Ord’s Kangaroo Rat. CFB Gagetown is working to protect one of nature’s tanks – the endangered Wood Turtle.
Sandy blow-out areas and mixed woods habitat protected by CFB Shilo, image courtesy of the Manitoba Association of Plant Biologists.
Since the concept of military ranges as shelter for wildlife is not new, the NewScientist story on wolves serves to reinforce the fact that human activity now is the primary factor influencing nature – as also stated in Bill McKibben’s book, The End of Nature. If we restrict human activity, nature thrives. Since wolves in BC capitalize on human activity and use pipelines, roads and seismic lines cut during oil and gas exploration, and well-packed snowmobile trails as easy avenues to track Caribou, you can bet BC’s wolves also could adapt to military ranges as their relatives do in Germany. The list of species protected on Department of National Defense (DND) land is extensive and it is good to see that in areas where soldiers practice and you’d expect disruption and devastation – the opposite is true – human activity is restricted, and life adapts to, and is protected by our armed forces.
There are many different sizes of bird bone artifacts found in archaeological sites in British Columbia. The function of many of these remains unknown. There is often no comparable artifact type in the ethnographic record. They are sometimes ascribed functions by archaeologists for which there is no evidence. Some of the long bird bone tubes referred to as “drinking tubes” are in fact, what I am calling bird bone snare guards – devices on snares which prevent marmots and ground squirrels from biting through the noose cord and escaping.
Here I present the evidence of how I determined, from my own observations and technology experiments, that some of the unidentified bird bone tub artifacts are snare guards. I also examine why split quills are superior material for making nooses.
When I was seven years old I assisted my 12 year old brother in snaring rabbits with copper wire. This was his spending money, as he received a dollar and twenty five cents for the skin and five cents for each foot. At the time the feet, with small attached chains, were sold in the stores as key chains and called “lucky rabbit feet”. This was not so lucky for the rabbits. Fortunately, I have partly absolved myself of this wasteful practice by being involved in the creation of new parkland habitats.
One of the things I leaned in setting snares is that rabbits and other small animals can easily turn their heads and free themselves by biting through snare nooses made of rawhide or plant fibres, especially when they still have their four legs on the ground.
I have undertaken many experiments in making bone tools, which has included cutting off the ends of bird bones to make hollow tube shaped artifacts. The tube artifacts are usually made from the leg and wing bones of larger birds such as great blue herons and eagles. The easiest way to cut through the bone is with a series of small serrated edged stone flakes (figure 3). I practiced to produce cut marks similar to those seen on the cut ends of ancient bird bones. If I am working quickly in removing the ends of a bird bone, I produce unintentional cut marks but these are usually alongside and parallel to the main intentional cut (figure 4).
When I observed sharp cut marks across old bird bone tube artifacts in the museum collection, especially those at an angle across the bone, the origin of many did not make sense as being a product of either butchering the bird or of cutting the bone in sections. Rodent chew or scrap marks seemed a better explanation for some of the marks. Examining the sectioned ends of the bird bones showed a minimum of cut marks next to the cut hole, if at all (figure 5). Cut marks seemed to occur mostly on bone tubes that had an elongate hole cut near one end that was distinct from the cuts made in sectioning the bone. These slots cut above one end of the bone would be for attaching a string cord. These slot holes are often heavily worn from having a string rubbing the hole.
I have observed thousands of bones of all sizes that show cut marks from human butchering, as well as bones that have been chewed by rodents as a source of calcium. Human induced cut marks and rodent marks can usually be distinguished from each other. By measuring the width of two parallel cuts representing the front incisors of a rodent we can sometimes identify which species of animal did the chewing. There is a difference between deep controlled chew marks and what on trap noose guards one might call quick panic scrap marks. In desperation to escape the rodent chews quickly at the bone tube covering the noose.
There is no mention of these noose guards in the ethnographic literature but I did find one of these bird bone tubes still attached to a snare in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History (figure 6). The marmot stake on the left of figure 6 shows the bird bone tube attached to the snare which is still attached to the whalebone stake. It was collected between 1869 and 1890. It is from the Chilkat of Haines Borough Alaska (AMNHCatalogue No. 19/568. Length 27cm; Maximum width 4cm). The stake on the right, without a bone tube, was collected in same time period by Lt. George T. Emmons from the Tlingit Aak’w clan (AMNH Catalogue No. 19/562; Length 28.2cm; carved end 3.3×2.3cm).
It became clear that one end of the snare string was tied into the cut hole near the end of the bone and the string was then passed through the tube. When the animal was caught the noose was pulled tight around its neck with the bird bone tube protecting the snare cord from being chewed.
(1) The string noose extends through the bird bone tube.
(2) The end of this noose is tied through a hole or around a groove at the lower end of the tube.
(3) The string is looped out of the bottom of the tube to form a noose.
(4) When the animal is caught and pulls on the noose the bone tube is pulled down to the animal’s neck.
(5) The animal cannot bit the string because it is covered by the bone tube.
(6) The bottom of the tube, where it is tied, gets tucked into the neck of the animal in a position that is difficult to reach.
(7) The animal tries to bite at the bone tube creating evidence of teeth marks that are mostly near the bottom end above the cut hole and at a slight angle to the hole. Biting further up the tube creates more angular teeth marks.
(8) The roundness and flopping around of the bone tube makes it difficult to bit through and break
One would predict that the gouge marks made from a marmot biting on a bird bone tube would include a series of close cuts across the surface of the turning tube or scrape marks randomly at angles across mid portions of the tube as the desperate animal dried to escape in a hurry.
In reading that split bird quills were sometimes used as trap cords, I experimented to see how well quills lasted compared to other kinds of strings. I knew from previously splitting of bird quills to put feathers on arrows that they split longitudinally without breaking across the string. If rodents bit into a quill from the side they might cause it to split over and over without breaking across the string. A quill string split many times lengthwise maintained much of it strength. I surmised that if animals tended to bite a cord from the side rather than cut across the quill cord the noose would keep splitting into more strands and not break without a lot of persistent chewing.
In order to test this I caught six invasive grey squirrels and four rats in two old Mink cages set in my back yard. I tied the trap doors tightly closed with a long strip of 3mm wide quill string from peafowl feathers (birds I had previously raised). If the animal bit the cord through, they could push the door open. Two of the squirrels and two of the rats bit the cord through and escaped. The other six animals had chewed the cords splitting them into long partial strips but the cord held in place, even when some of the longer stands had been severed. This demonstrated the probable preference for Indigenous peoples using quills as snare string. The other advantage was the slipperiness of the quills which will not catch on things like a plant fibre or rawhide cord. Some snares had special slip triggers made by setting a quill trigger in a quill noose.
Marmots were hunted in many parts of British Columbia for their furs and their fat content. Both Coastal and Interior peoples went into the mountains every fall to hunt them. Some First Nations continue to hunt marmots. See Appendix 1, First Peoples and Marmots of British Columbia, for a detailed regional overview of the role of marmots in Indigenous societies.
Deadfall traps and snares of various sizes were used for catching most species of mammals as well as birds. There are several types and sizes of artifacts in this general category of trap devices that were used by the Tlingit and their inland relatives for trapping mainly marmots and ground squirrels.
Small deadfall trap assemblages have ended up in museums, but it is the carved trigger mechanism of this mainly wooden trap device, especially those made of whale bone, that have been acquired for museum collections in the past. These are generally called marmot trigger sticks (Figure 2). The larger type would more appropriately be called marmot snare stakes. These are composed of a stake or peg pounded into the ground near a marmot den with an attached quill or leather noose. The latter are assumed to be larger than trigger sticks.
There is often confusion in the ethnographic and historic literature as to which type is being referred to. If they are called “trap sticks” it is not clear if they were the trigger mechanism of a deadfall trap or a stake with a noose stuck in the ground near a marmot hole. Both trap triggers and trap stakes were often carved from whale bone and had a carved design at one end.
A large number of those in North American Museums were collected by one person, Lt. George T. Emmons, from 1869-1894. Of the twenty examples in the American Museum of Natural History, all range in length from 24.3 to 30.3cm with one exception at 13.3cm (Cat. No. E/324 from Wrangell Island). The three examples from the RBCM collection range in length from c. 19.3 to 23.5cm. I am referring to these as trap triggers. There is no clear size separation in the broader museum examples between what can be called trap triggers and trap stakes. Museum specimens that still have a noose attached to them can be assumed to be trap stakes for sticking in the ground and not trap triggers. A 13cm whalebone stick would be a trigger, as it would not be long enough to hold firmly in the ground for catching small rodents.
Both deadfall trigger sticks and trap stakes have similar animal designs on one end. Both are curved down to a pointed end. Designs in museum collections include whole marmots; human heads with hats, marmot helmets, or below a wolf head; humans with fish or marmots on their heads; birds of prey eating small mammals; a fish on the top of a bird head or marmot head; a bird coming out of the mouth of a fish or a pair of small mammal heads.
Some of the symbolism may be related to traditions of the hunting families. The theme of the large predator bird eating a rodent is a common one. Thunderbird is frequently seen on wooden poles on the northern coast. On the poles of the family of Kweeyaiht at Kispiox, there is a depiction of a “Thunderbird holding a ground hog in his claws”. The Thunderbird or Mountain eagle frequently appears as a crest among members of the Sky clan (Barbeau 1929:88-91). Some family stories indicate that they had close associations with marmots as told in the story of The Man Who Became a Marmot (Teit 1921).
The designs on the stakes and triggers were used to entice the marmots based on the belief that they had special powers. Among the Tlingit: “Each boy was expected to learn the story of Kayak, the hero hunter, who did so much to free the world from monsters, and who also taught the people how to make carved halibut hooks, carved salmon spears and carved traps for catching game. He taught just how to carve so that some spiritual power would come and inhabit the hook or trap and thus make it more effective to attract the game to it” (Corser 1920:53). Anthropologist Fredericka de Laguna noted that for marmots the “magically effective designs or figures” used were “not considered necessary in trapping other animals” (de Laguna 1991:136).
In the ethnology collection of the Royal B.C. Museum we have three carved whale bone trap triggers (Figure 2). These triggers are all made of whale bone. The carved ends depict (bottom) a predator bird eating a small animal; a bird coming out of the mouth of a fish (top); and two animal heads (one broken) which represent marmots (middle).
RBCM #4127. Whale bone. The carved top has a 6cm long figure of a bird coming out of a fish head. The total length of the artifact is 12cm, but a large portion of the bottom is missing The broken lower portion is only 6cm long, but its estimated original length is 20cm based on having similar proportions to stake #18157. The top of the long round bottom portion below the carved figure is 1.3cm in diameter. This Tlingit artifact was originally in the collection of William Tolmie of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The on old paper tag attached had, “Carved bone from Juneau S. E. Alaska” – “382”, written on it. It was on a for sale list produced by his daughter in 1927 as #49. “Carved bone (382) birds – part of Marmot trap. Juneau Al.”. It was likely collected by Tolmie in the late 19th century.
RBCM #18156. Whale bone. The carved 5.2cm x 3.5cm top has two marmot heads, one above the other. The total length of the artifact is 18.5cm, but a portion of the bottom is missing. The round top of the bottom portion below the carved figure is 1.3cm in diameter. The broken bottom portion is (13.3 cm) long. Its estimated original length is 19.3-20.3cm. The bottom portion shows extensive rodent chewing on one side. This, as well as artifact RBCM #18157, were both purchased in 1983. They once: “Belonged to Ernest V. Steele a blacksmith in the Omineca area in the early 1900’s. His brother William was a trapper in the same area”.
RBCM # 18157. Whale bone. The 5cm x 4cm carved top is of a predatory bird eating a small animal. The total length of the artifact is (23.5cm). The nearly complete bottom portion is (19.5cm), with the original length being c. 21cm. The top of the oval shaped bottom portion below the carved figure is 1.2cm X1.7cm (see information on RBCM #18156).
These triggers helped to support a central post which held up heavy logs. The point of the trigger was delicately set into a notch. A trip wire of twisted rawhide looped between the trigger and the support post. When the marmot tripped on the rawhide cord the trigger was released causing the post to collapse and drop the heavy logs on to the marmot.
Schwatka provided a firsthand account of marmot hunting in Tagish territory in the Narns-Bennet Lake area of northern B.C. while they were camped near a lake caribou crossing:
“Ouite a number of marmots were seen by our Indians, and the hillsides were dotted with their holes. The Indians catch them for fur and food … by means of running nooses over their holes, which choke the little animal to death as he tries to quit his underground home. A finely split raven quill, running the whole length of the feather, is used for the noose proper and the instant this is sprung it closes by its own flexibility. The rest is a sinew string tied to a bush near the hole if one be convenient, otherwise to a peg driven in the ground. Sometimes they employ a little of the large amount of leisure time they have on their hands in cutting these pegs into fanciful and totemic designs, although the Sticks .. are usually much inferior to the Chilkats in these displays, and the illustrations give on page 112 are characteristic rather of the latter tribe that the former. Nearly all the blankets of this Tahk-heesh [Tagish] tribe of Indians are made from these marmot skins, and they are exceedingly light considering their warmth“ (Schwatka 1894).
The drawing from Schwatka is reproduced here in figure 7. These are trap stakes and not trap triggers – as they have nooses attached to them. The trap stake on the right with the marmot carving on top is now in the Metropolitan Museum as No. 1979.206.899. It is 26.2cm long. A very similar one is now in the American Museum of Natural History as Catalogue No. 19/562 recorded as “Tlingit Auk”. It is 28.2cm long. It was collected by Lt. George T. Emmons somewhere in the period from 1869-1890. Emmons collected most of the marmot trap triggers and stakes in North American Museums. The stake on the left side of Schwatka’s drawing was in a private collection and is currently being sold in an auction in the United Kingdom with the incorrect function listed as “salmon trap stake or trigger” (see figure 7a).
A study of the sizes and context of all museum artifacts referred to as marmot trap triggers and marmot trap stakes needs to be undertaken to see if it can be determined if there is a distinct size difference between the two items. Those artifacts with nooses attached near the top are clearly trap stakes, as in the examples of Schwatka. Where trap stakes have lost their nooses or they have become detached and catalogued separately in Museum collections it will be difficult to classify them except on the bases of size. Whatever they may be, the trap devices and their designs demonstrate an interesting relationship between marmots and humans as perceived by Indigenous peoples.
Barbeau, Marius. 1929. Totem Poles of the Gitksan, Upper Skeena River, British Columbia. National Museum of Canada. Canada Department of Mines. Bulletin No. 61. King’s Printer, Ottawa.
Corser, H. P. 1920. Totem Lore and the Land of the Totem. Including Totem Lore Seventh Edition and Through the Ten Thousand Islands of Alaska. Third Edition. The Nugget Shop, Juneau, Alaska.
de Laguna, Frederica. (Ed) 1991. The Tlingit Indians. George Thornton Emmons. Edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver.
Emmons, George Thornton. 1991. The Tlingit Indians. Edited with additions by Frederica de Laguna and a biography by Jean Low. Douglas & MacIntrye, Vancovuer/Toronto. American Museum of Natural History, New York. 134-136.
Schwatka, Frederick. 1894. A Summer in Alaska. A Popular Account of the Travels of an Alaska Exploring Expedition Along the Great Yukon River, From Its Source to its Mouth, in the British Northwest Territory, and in the Territory of Alaska, St. Louis, MO, J, W. Henry.
Teit, James. 1921. Tahltan Tales. No. 65. The Man who became a Marmot, pp. 343-345. In: The Journal of American Folk-Lore, vol. 34, Oct.-Dec. No. 134.
By GRANT KEDDIE, ROYAL B. C. MUSEUM, 2003.
During the visits of fur trader John Meares to the Northwest coast of America between 1786 and 1788, he observed that the skins of marmots occurred in “great quantities” (Meares 1790:2).
Ethnographer Philip Drucker, in speaking of the Northwest coast in general, notes that: “The marmot… furnished a light but finely furred pelt, prized throughout the area for clothing. In days before European blankets, these hides were one of the chief articles used in potlatches. Marmots were plentiful in many localities in the higher mountains. The grounds were usually privately owned, and huts or cabins were built on them. The hunters with their families went up in the fall when the fur had set but before time for the marmot to hibernate. The season was a short but rich one, for the animals were easy to catch, and the hunting parties came out with quantities of valuable furs.” (Drucker 1950:246)
I provide here an overview of select sources to give the bigger picture of the role of marmots in the Indigenous Cultures of British Columbia.
On the northern coast wealth was directly measured in marmot skins among the Tlingit and the Gitksan of the upper Skeena River (Drucker 1950:233). Drucker notes that the: “Skins of the whistling marmot were regarded as very valuable, particularly among Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and the northern Kwakiutl divisions. It seems that anciently a robe made by sewing together many of the small soft-furred hides was about equal in value to the sea-otter robe (Drucker 1955:39).”
Along the Skeena River area before European trade blankets were introduced, “caribou and groundhog skins were the standards by which the values of other articles were compared. Bundles of forty caribou skins, and later blankets, were used for the larger potlatch gifts” (Garfield, 1939:329). It would appear that the large number of marmot skins allowed their use as a kind of small change in the trade economy. One large caribou skin exchanged for 40 marmot skins or a small caribou skin for 30 marmot skins. Forty marmot skins were traded for one large box of olachen grease; ten skins for one large hemlock bark cake or a box of pressed seaweed cakes. In comparison, only one seaweed cake could be obtained for a martin or beaver skin (Garfield, 1939:329-30).
In 1822 the chief trader William Brown observed that the Carrier of Babine Lake gave the visiting Gitksan traders marmot skin robes and dressed skins when their other furs did not equal the value of the coastal goods brought by the Gitksan (Brown 1822).
Marmot skins were distributed by wealthy families at important events. To announce the birth of a child of a chief, marmot skins were “distributed to every lineage head in the village” and when a chief died marmot skins were “carried by relatives to every dwelling in the tribe to which the deceased belonged. One was given to everyone, man, women or child” (Garfield, 1939:221, 239).
Among the Gitksan of the upper Skeena River area a secondary crest was a “white groundhog”. This was a headress made of the whole skin with head and paws of the marmot or a headress and a robe. Among the coast Tsimshian, of the Lower Skeena river area, was a crest known as “garment of groundhogs” used as a robe (Beynon n.d.:432, 452).
The significance of marmots is reflected in the naming of moons. The Yakutat Tlingit of Southern Alaska refer to September as the “digging moon” when marmots “put up food for the winter” (de Laguna 1972:801).
To the Kispiox Gitksan, September is the “marmot hunting moon” when marmots were hunted on the upper Skeena river (Drucker 1950:271). Today marmots are not present in most of the traditional territory of the Nishga, Coast Tsimshian and Southern Tsimshian and are not found on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands).
It is therefore of interest that the Kitkatla or Hartley bay Tsimshian of Dolphin Island and the Gilutsau and Kitsumkalum Tsimshian speakers of the lower Skeena River are reported to have hunted marmot (Drucker:174; McDonald, 1985). These people either moved long distances up the Skeena River to hunt with relatives in other groups or marmots were eliminated from some of their traditional territory during the fur trade period.
At Kitselas Canyon, 120km up the Skeena River, marmot remains were recovered from the Gitaus site in the Gitaus phase dating between 4300 B.P. and 3600 B.P. (Allaire 1979).
The Tsetsaut in the upper Portland Canal region had territory once stretching from the southern headwaters of the Stikine to the headwaters of the Nass. One of these groups displaced from the large flat area at the headwaters of the Nass River – that was heavily populated by marmots – were the “Tse etseta ‘people of the adult marmot headgear’”(Duff 1981:444-5). A Tsetsaut Levi Dandjalee told Boas that:
“before our times the country was inhabited first by the ts’ak’e’, who wore marmot-skins; later on, by the futvud’ie’, who wore bear-skins”, but these people spoke the Tsetsaut language (Duff, 1981:455). ”Their principal food was the marmot, though they also relied on mountain goat, bear, and porcupine. …For both sexes traditional clothing consisted of pants of cured skins and thigh-high marmot skin ‘boots’ (probably the Athapaskan all-in-one moccasin legging). Mittens, jackets, short coats, robes, and belts, all of skins, complete the costume … For taking marmots, deadfalls were commonly used” (Duff 1981:456).
The Russian trader Khlebnikov, writing in 1820 about the marmot pelts the Tlingit supplied to the Russian trade, mentions the: “tsukli, the familiar pelts of marmots from the Charlotte Islands, which are very much liked by the native inhabitants of North America. The Kolosh [Tlingit] receive about 30 rubles per 100 of these pelts.” (Dmytrshyn and Crownhart-Vaughan 1976:70).
There is no evidence, at present, that marmots were once present on Haida Gwaaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands), it is most likely that this statement of Khlebnikov indicates that the Haida were the middlemen in trading marmot skins obtained from other groups on the mainland.
On the central coast, in Bella Coola territory, marmot skin blankets are mentioned in traditional stories as being given as a reward for assistance and as being used by the hero of an event (McIlwraith 1948:1:305; Vol. 2:487). Mackenzie reports the taking of marmot furs on July 17, 1793:
“we descended into a beautiful valley, watered by a small river [Kohasganko River]. …we came to the termination of it, …and began to ascend. We now perceived many ground hogs, and heard them whistle in every direction. The Indians went in pursuit of them, and soon joined us with a female and her litter, almost grown to their full size. They stripped off their skins, and gave the carcases to my people”. [Rainbow range between Dean and Bella Coola River]. (Lamb 1957:211).
The Oowekeeno, Bella Bella, Haihais, Haisla and Bella Coola, all hunted marmot with deadfalls (Drucker 1950:174).
On the southern coast Peter Puget documented the use of Marmot in 1792. While visiting a village on Eld Inlet, Northwest of Olympia Washington, Puget mentions that: “The Natives had but two sea otter skins which were purchased & a variety of marmot, rabbit, racoon, deer & bear skins were also procured” (Bern, 1939:27). On April 8th, 1825 while at Baker’s Bay near the Columbia River John Scouler noted the existence of “a robe made of the skins of a species of marmot” (Blackwood, 1826:378). These first documents are probably in reference to Marmots of the Olympic peninsula. On the west side of the Olympic peninsula the Quinault and Qeets hunted marmot from June to September (Singh 1966:67).
Ethnologist Ronald Olsen was told by Quinault elders, on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, that of all the furs sewn to make robes, the marmot was the favorite (Olsen 1936:57). The Marmot or kwukwu’k were “usually sought during the season of elk hunting in the mountains. They were easy to kill. Their skins were much used in the manufacture of bed blankets. Small shoulder robes of four to six skins of the animal were sometimes made. A single skin made a handy seat when one had to sit in a cold or damp spot. The flesh of the marmot was regarded as excellent and well-flavoured meat because they eat grass” (Olsen 1936:43). The Quinault Bob Pope (born c. 1835) and others “had pet marmots, but people grew tired of their infernal and eternal whistling so let them go” (Olsen 1936:137).
In referring to the natives of Puget Sound in the 1880s Myron Eells records that they made robes of “the skins of the deer, elk, bear, whistling marmot, and wild cat” (Castile 1985:122). A Chinook story is recorded which includes the trading of twined willow bark rope from Shoalwater Bay to Chehalis to “exchange it for ground-hog blankets” (Boas 1894:220).
In 1826 David Douglas refers to “The ground rat, or a species of Arctomys, the skin of which the Chenooks and other tribes of Indians near the coast make their robes, I have been unable to procure. They are plentiful in the upper parts of the Cow-a-lidsk River” (Douglas 1914:156).
Among the Twana a man named “Tyee Charley” got his medicine power in the 1840’s when encountering a marmot on a spirit quest to Mt. Elinor on the east side of the Olympic peninsula (Elmendorf 1992:212). In July of 1858, Mrs. Manson, while camped on Manson’s Mountain near Hope, reported that their cook “went out hunting and brought back two marmots” (Lugrin 1928:113).
The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)is recognised by Alexander C. Anderson of the Hudson’s Bay Company in his notes written between 1834 and 1867: “The skins of the marmot sewed together make a light warm robe. The rocky mountain marmot of the mainland are generally grey in colour whilst the marmot of Vancouver Island and some of the Northern mountains are black or very dark brown. Robes made of alternate grey and black skins are very effective and valued accordingly” (Anderson 1920). While in Kyuquot territory at Nootka Sound in 1786, Alexander Walker observed marmot skins, but these may not necessarily be products of Vancouver Island. Furs of mainland animals such as fox and rabbits were also observed (Fisher 1982).
Anderson talks in general about aboriginal peoples in winter digging up the “mountain marmot”. He mentions that: “From fifteen to twenty occupying a lair and being in good condition both as regards the flesh and fur are quite a prize” (Anderson 1920). It is uncertain which species Anderson is talking about but it is not likely that he is referring to Vancouver Island marmot. In 1867 he refers to the “Rocky Mountain Marmot” which he notes “resembles closely in its habits the Alpine variety, but is larger” (Anderson, 1867:81).
George Louie, of the Ahousat First Nation, provided me with the anglicised version of the local southern Nuu-chah-nulth name for the marmot, which is Shee-shee teelth. The literal interpretation has not been ascertained but it is clear that the Shee-shee part is an onomatopoeia for one of the calls made by these marmots – namely the chirping sound that is repeated at intervals.
George Hamilton reported to ethnologist Philip Drucker that the Opetchesaht of the Port Alberni area hunted marmots with deadfalls (Drucker 1950:211). Luke Swan of Hotspring Cove and Ahousat, who was born in 1893, recorded information in his native language on the ownership of resources in Manhousat territory. The Manhousat lived to the north and west of the Ahousat before merging with them in historic times. George Louie translated a tape which notes that only one chief owned the high forested areas along the mountains which included the homes of the fur bearing animals such as the wolf, bear, and elk but implied that “no one” had ownership rights over the Marmots. This statement shows recognition of the presents of Marmots but may reflect knowledge from a time period in which marmots were no longer hunted.
Philip Drucker mentions that the Gold River Muchalat were one of the smaller groups of Nuu-chah-nulth who depended more on land based resources. They alone of the northern groups ate grouse and also beaver and “an animal that sounds, from modern vague descriptions, like marmot.”(Drucker 1951,p.36; p.61).
Marmot furs were not traded on the northern and central coast at Hudson’s Bay Company forts from 1828 to 1855. A change occurred in 1856 when 575 marmot furs were taken at Fort Simpson and another 1337 the following year. The steamer Beaver trading along the coast collected 1032 marmot furs in 1856 and 2188 marmot furs the next year. At Fort Rupert on the N.E. coast of Vancouver Island 166 marmot furs were acquired in 1857. This represents a total of 5298 marmots taken in a two-year period. No marmot furs were acquired in these years at Fort McLoughlin or Fort Victoria.
The best information regarding the hunting of the Vancouver Island marmot is in the archaeological record. Marmot remains were found at the old native village now known as the Shoemaker bay site (DhSe2) in the upper Alberni Inlet (McMillan and St. Claire 1975a, 1975b, 1982; Field and Laqueur 1975; Calvert and Crockford 1982). In the upper part of the Shoemaker site, which dates from about 500 A.D., 24 marmot bone elements were found distributed both horizontally and vertically within the deposits. This would indicate that marmots were utilised at least sporadically throughout the last 1400 years.
Four marmot-hunting sites have been located in high mountain areas where the Vancouver Island marmot is now extinct.
In 1987, a collection of about 300 marmot bones representing a minimum of 13
animals was found in a cave in Sutton pass on the Clayoquot Plateau at an elevation of 1220m (Nagorsen 1989). These were dated to between B.C. 807 to B.C. 600 (Beukens 1987, 1989). Many of the remains show evidence of butcher marks and are clear proof of aboriginal use of this resource in the Clayoquot area about 2500 years ago.
In 1992, a cave containing large concentrations of the bones of a minimum of 81 marmots (as well as small numbers of deer, bear, martin and blue grouse) were found at an elevation of about 1220m on Mariner Mountain at the south end of Strathcona Park (Keddie and Nagorson 1993). This location is above the headwaters of the Bedwell River in the historic territory of the Owinmitisaht group of Nu-chan-nulth people who eventually amalgamated with the Ahousat.
Many of the bones show skinning and butchering cut marks. It appears that the marmots were skinned for their furs and the bulk of their body fat taken away attached to the backbone and ribs – most of which are missing from the sample.
The bones were associated with four artifacts. Fragments of a Mytilus californianus shell were possibly part of a knife used in the process of removing or scraping the hides. A green stone flake with a sharp edge was likely used to skin and butcher the animals. However, many of the cut marks are made by a very thin and sharp blade. There is an overhang of bone on one side of many cuts. This is suggestive of the use of a finely sharpened iron blade. A sandstone abrading stone may have been used for sharpening knives made of different raw materials. A tree branch knot was burnt at one end suggesting use as a torch.
Six bone samples from five separate bone concentration areas provided radiocarbon estimates with a time range of 1022 A.D. to 1211 A.D. (971 to 782 years ago), or representing a maximum period of 189 years. This strongly suggests a relatively short time span during which the marmots were hunted and deposited in this cave.
A second site in Strathcona Provincial Park on the S.E. side of the Golden Hind Mountain is indicated by the presents of marmot bones from 4 individuals in a rock shelter. One bone that exhibited evidence of cut marks dated to 1225 A.D.
In 1993, a marmot hunting rock shelter was located at the 1185m level on the north side of Limestone Mountain which is located between central Alberni Inlet and the headwaters of the Nitinat River. A bone sample recovered from an alcove in the shelter included remains from a minimum of 52 marmots along with some bear, deer, two martin and a blue grouse. The site was used for a short period of time judging from the dates of 990 A.D. and 1015 A.D. on bones from the bottom and top of the litter mat – which contained them.
The Vancouver Island marmot was used as a source of furs and food by at least some native groups at intervals over the last 2600 years. The distribution of the species in prehistoric times was far beyond that of its present habitat. The effect of hunting on the distribution of this species over long periods in prehistoric times and the possible effects of intensified hunting for pelts to be exchanged in the European trade system in historic times remains to be determined by archaeological evidence and a more detailed examination of fur trade records.
The fur trade records show that as the Hudson Bay Company became more established in local areas the furs of a greater variety of species were traded. The scale of harvesting of smaller species of animals was greatly increased when animals began to be hunted more for their exchange value in European trade goods (Hammond 1988). If this was the case with the Vancouver Island marmot its numbers may have been reduced to a critical point where overhunted areas were no longer re-colonised as they may once have been with larger populations and more closely spaced colonies.
Another likely cause for the elimination of the marmot from some areas of the island may have been a result of more recent hunting by prospectors or minors using the animals as a food source or the shooting for “sport” by hunters. The answer to the later question may yet be determined by interviews with long term residents of the region and archaeological examination of bullet cartridge distribution and bones in areas where marmots are know to have disappeared in more recent times.
The effect of changing environments undoubtedly had a broad effect on the distribution of marmots over time and possible a serious effect in some areas during short periods of more dramatic local change. The marmots at three of these sites were hunted in the warm period before the Little Ice Age that began about 1300 A.D. If marmot-hunting sites are not found after 1300 A.D. in some areas this would strongly suggest that the cooling climate may have been responsible for eliminating Marmot habitat. Further recovery of archaeological and paleontological remains of marmots will undoubtedly show a more complex picture of marmot history than we can now imagine.
In September, the middle Taku River Inland Tlingit: “after several weeks of berrying, and upland hunts for ground squirrels, groundhogs, and big game, began to gather in settlements near their supplies of stored salmon” (McClellan, 1981:472).
The Tagish living on the headwaters of the Liard River in the Yukon and N. B.C. – “By late summer, families began to move upland in groups of two or three households to hunt groundhogs (woodchucks, Marmota monax), caribou, moose, and sheep. They cached the dried meat in convenient spots to which the younger men could return for supplies in winter or to which the families themselves could move”(McClellan, 1981:483).
Kaska Honigmann used the term’s “ground hog” and “gopher (marmot)” (1954:14;146). Sinew thread for traps is from the backbone of caribou or in emergencies tendons of Mt. Sheep and goats (p. 29). In (Honigmann 1981:444) he uses ‘gophers’ and ‘groundhogs’(marmots)”as some of the animals that were hunted “in late summer, when game fattened, hunters and their families moved into the mountains to hunt goats, sheep, woodland caribou, and…” (above)
“Sleepers lay covered by robes of woven rabbit or ground-hog skins or blankets containing a number of beaver and marten pelts sewn together.” (Upper Liard Kaska) (Honigmann, 1954:60). “People lived on a carpet of spruce brush and at night covered themselves with robes of sewn marten and ground-hog pelts or plaited rabbbit-skin.” (Dease River Kaska) (Honigmann, 1954:62). “During cold weather fur robes supplemented tanned-skin garments. These had been tanned by women workers or else been plaited from strips of rabbit, ground-hog, and gopher skins without the aid of a frame.” (Upper Liard Kaska) (Honigmann, 1954:63). “Ground-hog skin sewn to the front of a man’s winter parka probably served both for warmth and adornment”. (U. L. Kaska, Honigmann, 1954:65). “In winter men and women added coats of ground-hog, fox, sheep, and other skins to the previously mentioned garments. People avoided fur when traveling because they feared perspiration and dangerous chilling. Woven-skin clothes originated from the pelts of ground-hogs and squirrels, the lines cut from the skins of those animals exceeding the strength of rabbit fur.” (Ibid p 67). “The simp[lest type of headgear for both sexes consisted of an approximately triangular piece of tanned skin that was lined with muskrat or ground hog fur. In wearing these the fur rested next to the head. The lower edges tied beneath the wearer’s chin this covering the ears and cheeks.” (Dease River Kaska, Honigmann, 1954:68). “Hunters knew specific, and presumably lucky, moose, ground hog, caribou, and beaver songs. All chants were generally wordless and in essence consisted of a few syllables repeated over and over in a minor key.” Dease River Kaska, Honigmann, 1954:73).
Upper Liard Kaska – quoting (Field, Unpublished manuscript ) – Pelley River people – moved into ‘a good game country about the end of August when all game is fat, to put up a cache of dry meat for the winter months.’ In fall women busied themselves drying groundhog and gopher.” (H. p. 46). Tselona Kaska – animals eaten “ground hog”. “Ground hog, the informant pointed out, furnished a far more important source of food in the aboriginal period than did the rabbit. Women preserved a large number of ground hog from the fall for winter consumption.” (H. p. 45).
Upper Liard Kaska – “Taku people used to meet the Kaska at a Groundhog Lake near the headwaters of the Rancheria River. Here the Kaska went in autumn to hunt groundhog.” (H. p. 22).
Upper Liard Kaska – The translation of the name of the Kaska name – “?ustelisa” for October is “female ground hog moon” (Honigmann 1954:32). Ground hog snares featured a rock toggle and required two-strand twisted babiche. The family provided itself with a number of six- or seven-foot long forked poles in the fall and packed these above the timberline. The trapper firmly planted one such pole for each snare in a rock cairn near a ground hog den. On either side of the pole ran a small fence about a foot high. After forming the snare loop between these fences, the snare line was bent and knotted around a small trigger stick [see his fig. 3. p.34] before continuing through the fork of the pole. Halfway below the fork the line was weighted with a 20-pound rock. The trigger stick was fitted under a convenient knob or protuberance on the upright pole, the toggle’s weight serving to keep it fixed until an animal entered the snare and dislodged the stick, whereupon the rock fell to the ground. The weight of the falling toggle lifted the animal off the earth. In timbered areas lifting-pole snares like those frequently used for rabbits were also set for ground hog. In fact, the rock toggle appears to represent an adaptation of the lifting-pole principle to treeless country. Men, boys, and women built ground hog snares.” (Honigmann 1954:33). “ground hog were also hunted with deadfalls”.. “Ground-hog deadfalls also followed the platform pattern, the 14-inch Samson post consisting of a bent alder limb or crooked spruce root”. (H. p.34).
“After gutting a gopher, a person placed a stick reaching from the head to the hind quarter in the body cavity and allowed the carcass to dry in the sun. A light pounding softened dehydrated meat [meat in general here] before it was stored in a skin bag. From dried meat came pemmican, the flesh being heavily pounded and mixed with fresh berries on a sheet of babiche. After adding melted grease the product was stored in untanned groundhog skins or in a casing of cleaned intestines.” (H. p. 40).
Sekani – In cold weather they wore “a rectangular robe of marmot or hare skins, fastened on one shoulder and cinched with a belt”(Denniston, 1981:437) “The hunter who killed an animal useful for food would not even retain its hide, but presented it so some other man in the camp, lest he should be accused of unsociability and niggardliness. The only exception was the skin of the groundhog, because it had little or no value”(Jenness, 1937:44). A baby was “wrapped in a bag of groundhog or rabbit fur, was carried on its mothers back”. (Jenness, 1937:54-5). Up until the 1880s coffins carved out of a large spruce and set in tree branches sometimes had a lid cover of “groundhog robes” instead of a board (Jenness, 1937:59).
Among the Sekani peoples the hoary marmot was also killed with “sticks, after smoking them out of their holes or flooding them out by diverting a stream; and if the ground hogs retreated into crannies among the rocks they twisted long sticks in their fur and pulled them out into the open” (Jenness 1937).
“Their dress consists of robes made of the skins of the beaver, the ground hog, and the reindeer, dressed in the hair, and of the mooseskin without it. All of them are ornamented with a fringe, while some of them have tassels hanging down the seams; those of the ground hog are decorated on the fur side with the tails of the animals, which they do not separate from them. Their garments they tie over the shoulders, and fasten them around the middle with a belt of green skin, which is as stiff as horn”. (MacKenzie, June 10, 1793:122).
Observed in cache at Portage lake between Parsnip River and James creek above MacGregor river – “a kind of wooden trap, in which, as our guide informed me, the ground hog is taken.” (MacKenzie, June 12, 1793:130)
“In cold weather both sexes threw over the shirt a rectangular robe (tsede’) of groundhog or woven rabbit skins, fastening it over one shoulder and drawing it in at the waist with a belt. Some of the best hunters had robes of marten fur, but they disappeared as soon as marten fur became commercially valuable. The groundhog robe, though no longer worn on the person, survives as a sleeping robe or covering for a bed. An average specimen 5 feet by 6 feet … contains about twenty-four skins arranged in parallel rows, trimmed to fit and sometimes roughly matched for colour.” … “In winter both sexes wore round caps (tsa”) of various furs, beaver, marten, fisher, groundhog, etc.” (Jenness 1937:30).
In the early 1800s, Daniel Williams Harmon reports “There is a small animal found only on the Rocky Mountain, denominated, by the Natives, Quis-qui-su, or whistlers, from the noise which they frequently make”. (Lamb, 1957:266).
The Nak’azdli Carrier chief named Kwah, from the Stuart Lake area offered “a marmot robe and a beautiful necklace of dentalium shells” as an appeasement gift (Morice 1904:28). In an 1836 food provisions list from New Caledonia, Peter Ogden noted “8 marmots” (Morice 1904:173). In 1870, when Father McGuckin went to visit the Sekanais of Bear Lake, he “crossed over the snow-capped mountains which lie between the Skeena and Fort Connolly, living on marmot and dried salmon” (Morice 1904:333).
Simon Fraser’s trip to the confluence of the Stuart and Nechaco Rivers in June 1806 where they met 30 men “arrayed in robes of beaver, lynx, and marmot skins.” (Morice 1904:60).
On June 12, 1793 Alexander MacKenzie, while on Portage Lake between Parsnip River and James Creek above McGregor River, saw an aboriginal cache with “a kind of wooden trap, in which, as our guide informed me, the ground hog is taken.” (Lamb, 1960:130).
Driftwood Valley Mountains – Stanwell-Fletcher report that Marmota monax petrensis was rare during 1937-41 but was told by aboriginal informants that they were common previous to this time. The Marmota caligata oxytona was reported as common during the former period.
On June 18, 1808 while at a Nlaka’pumux village on the Fraser River – one mile north of the Stein River where there were a mixture of Lillooet and Thompson peoples – Simon Fraser and his men were given a marmot to eat (Lamb 1960:86).
In regard to the trading region around Fort Alexandria in the central interior of B.C. – “The marmot …affords an exquisite repast and excellent covering made into Robes” (McGillivray 1827).
Okanagon (Teit 1930)- “Every one had one or more robes to wear, as conditions required, and to sleep in. Probably the most common robes were those made of skins of deer, fawn, antelope, buffalo, beaver, otter, marmot, coyote, and lynx, all dressed in the hair. Robes of twisted strips of rabbit skin were made and worn by all the tribes. …Most cloaks and capes were made of skins of small animals …marmot”. …The principal smaller kinds of game hunted for food were rabbits, marmots, and beaver.” (Teit 1930:230-31).
Tete Jaune Cache to Jasper area – At Tete Jaune Cache July 17, 1863 – “From these Indians also, Milton, …obtained a couple of marmot robes” (Milton and Cheadle 1865:267). “They were clothed merely in a shirt and marmot robe, their legs and feet being naked, …These Shushwaps of the Rocky Mountains inhabit the country in the neighbourhood of Jasper House, and as far as Tete Jaune Cache on the western slope. They are a branch of the great Shuswap nation, who dwell near the Shuswap Lake and grand fork of the Thompson River in British Columbia. Separated from the main body of their tribe by 300 or 400 miles of almost impenetrable forest, they hold but little communication with them. Occasionally a Rocky Mountain Shuswap makes the long and difficult journey to Kamloops on the Thompson, to seek a wife. Of those we met, only one had ever seen this place. This was an old woman of Tete Jaune Cache, a native of Kamloops, who had married a Shuswap of the mountains, and she had never re-visited the home of her youth.
When first discovered by the pioneers of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the only clothing used by this singular people was a small robe of the skin of the mountain marmot.” (Milton and Cheadle 1865:241) They sleep at night “wrapped in a marmot robe” …”They live by hunting the bighorns, mountain goats, and marmots”… The Shuswaps of Jasper House formerly numbered about thirty families, but are now reduced to as many individuals.” (Milton and Cheadle 1865:242).
The Stein River was a ‘noted hunting area where mountain goat, deer, bear and marmots (“groundhogs”) could be found. …Whistlers, also called hoary marmots, but commonly referred to as ‘groundhogs’, were shot at Mount Roach and Akasik Mountain [according to Andrew Johnny] where they live in burrows in sandy sidehills [according to Louis Philips]”. [S. of Stein River. Mount Roach is S. E. of Stryen Creek and Akasik Mountain between Earl Creek and Stryen Creek].
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There is a type of artifact found in British Columbia that I suspect archaeologists have been missing during the process of excavation. Some have a minimum of grinding on the ends and are difficult to identify if they are not carefully examined. These are artifacts made from the tubular shaped shell or tunnel cast of the Teredo mullosc, the common shipworm.
These Toredo tube shells have been used in historic times as hat ornaments (figures 1-3) and as smaller beads (figure 4-5) in ancient times.
The Teredos are intertidal species of salt water clams famous for eating holes in ships and other wooden objects. It is the wood tunnel lined with calcareous material extruded by the mollusc that creates a round sectioned tube. This tube was used by Indigenous people for making body adornment artifacts such as the beads and hat ornaments shown here. The tubes can be up to 600mm long and often range from 4-12mm in thickness (figure 4).
There are six shell tubes strung on leather cords that can be seen as ornamental design on the Bella Coola hat (figure 1). Their length ranges from 40 to 62mm. Only a few of the tubes show evidence of grinding on the ends. This hat was collected in Bella Coola in 1893.
The larger of the two tube beads (figure 4-5) is from archaeological site DeRv-107 in the Maple Bay area of Vancouver Island. It is 21mm long by 13mm wide and has been ground on the ends. The small bead from site DeRt-9 at Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island is 8mm long by 7mm wide. It has been ground on the ends as well as the sides. The ground ends of the two beads can be seen in figure 5.
In 2006, the “Spirit bear” was adopted as the provincial mammal of British Columbia.
The term “Spirit Bear” has to a large extent been overused as a media hype word. It has often been misinterpreted as a direct aboriginal name of a unique type or species of bear. The circular movement of information between indigenous peoples and popular writers, have created some modern myths such as comments that white bears, also referred to as “ghost bears” were not traditionally hunted. Today they are referred to as a subspecies of black bear called Ursus americanus kermodei.
The environmental movement of the western world has over-simplified the portrayal of all white coloured black bears by using them as a symbol of political opposition to the destruction of our valuable ecosystems. In a positive way this has produced an expanded awareness of the role of bears in the forest eco-systems of British Columbia and resulted in the protection of some of our valuable habitats. However, we must see the protection of habitats and the genetic diversity of all plants and animals as important. Discussions need to expand beyond what we call “endangered species” to what we think of as “common animals” that have, and continue to be, extirpated from many parts of our Province. Caribou (which are reindeer) once expanded over large areas of the Interior of the Province. It should not be necessary to find ones with red noses to justify saving their habitat.
The Strategic Plan for our planets biodiversity developed by participants to the 2010 Convention on Biological diversity adopted 20 targets. Target 11 involves making 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas into conservation areas (Piero et al 2019). By world standards British Columbia is a leader in developing conservation areas like the Great Bear Rain Forest. However, as Piero and colleges emphasize, we cannot use square kilometers as a measure of success but need to document the biodiversity impacts of conservation areas. By placing a focus on protecting white coloured black bears we need to understand what effect are we having on the bigger long term picture of the genetic diversity of black bears.
The white fur coloration in bears is caused by a single recessive gene called Mc1r, a melanocortin 1 receptor which is involved in melanin production. Melanin is primarily responsible for the pigmentation of the skin, hair and eyes of humans and other animals. The chemistry involved here is called melanogenesis. The Mc1r gene produces enzymes such as tyrosinase which play an important role in melanin synthesis. The same chemical process is used today in making tooth whiteners, where chemicals are used to suppress the tyrosinase enzyme and stop the production of colouration (see Reimchen and Klinka 2017; Hedrick and Ritland 2011; Klinka and Reimchen 2009; Marshall and Ritland 2002; Ritland et. al. 2001).
The chemistry produced by this gene causes some bears fur to be white or black. If both a female and male have the recessive Mc1r gene, one of their four offspring will have white hair and two of them will have recessive genes for white hair. A white furred bear mating with a bear with the recessive gene will have two white bears and two with the recessive gene. There are other genes related to thyroid hormone production that create combinations of white and black fur colours in bears (see Crockford 2006; 2003).
There is currently discussion as to how one uses genetics (with or without obviously physical morphology) to define an animal subspecies. It is likely there are genes with currently unrecognized functions that are far more important for the survival of black bears than genes that affect hair colour. Today we could target and edit out the single gene that produces the tyrosinase enzyme that affects pigmentation, and make all black bears white albinos if we choose to. Responsible people, of course, would not do this, but it emphasizes how such minute genetic differences can affect cultural attitudes and land use policies that affect species diversity and the future of animal and human survival.
The flogging of the name “spirit bear” stems out of activities of the early 1900s when there was an over-abundance of new species and sub-species of bears named on the bases of sometimes flimsy physical evidence (see Merriman 1918; Holzworth 1930). In 1905, we saw the naming and promotion of black bears with the recessive genes for white fur being mistakenly given status as a separate species, Ursus kermodei – after the Provincial Museum director Francis (Frank) Kermode.
White coloured bears were documented in Northwestern North America as early as 1805, during the Louis and Clark expedition. In the 19th century British Columbia Indigenous people were known to bring in white bear skins to fur traders. Mayor Findlay of Vancouver wrote about his observations of white bear skins: “I have in my possession a skin which I secured in 1896. In Bella Bella in the store of John Clay, five skins at one time, brought there by the Bella Bella Indians of Princes Royal Island. I have at other times seen skins of this bear in Robert Cunningham’s store at Port Essington, as well as one or two in cannery stores in Rivers Inlet” (Daily Colonist Nov. 23, 1912, p. 6).
It was Robert Cunningham, of Port Essington, who previous to 1904, provided Francis Kermode of the Provincial Museum with the first white furred bear specimens which included a mother and two cubs. These were mounted at different times in two museum display cases seen in figure 2a&b. It was reported that Kermode was “at a loss to classify it” and sent the skin of a female bear to Dr. W.T. Hornady, the director of the New York Zoo. Hornaday was in Victoria in 1900, where he “was led to believe that such a white bear existed by the discovery of a skin at the premises of J. Boscowitz” (Daily Colonist 1905; 1925). The mother bear and cubs were mounted specimens that were not catalogued into the Museum collection at the time they were received. The Provincial Museum’s 1909 Natural History & Ethnology Catalogue, in referring to the Ursus Kermodei (Hornaday) notes that: “now the species is represented by a group of five specimens” (1909:18). This reference seems to refer only to those five mounted bears shown in the display case in the same publication. At this time only four specimens had received catalogue numbers, which did not seem to include one or two of these mounted bears. The two cubs shown in the exhibit case were later given catalogue numbers RBCM 020317 and RBCM 020318.
The Museum received a male partial skull and white skin of a bear from Gribbell Island in May of 1904 (RBCM 001369). This became the type specimen for what was later seen as a species and then a sub-species. Other specimens of white coloured black bears in the Royal B.C. Museum collection include another two from Gribbell Island. One was the skull of an immature bear (RBCM 001371) collected May 22, 1906 and the other a mandible of a young bear (001638) collected May 28, 1907. Two specimens were later collected from Princess Royal Island, an adult skull (001367) collected on June 1, 1908 and an adult male skull and skin (001370) collected May 22, 1910. Future DNA analysis will be needed to match a few of the skins with the other catalogued remains.
In 1911, “One whole specimen Kermode’s white bear” was shipped to Vienna Austria for an exhibit at the international Sportman’s Show which was reported on by B.C. hunter Warburton Pike (Daily Colonist 1911). This resulted in an international interest in acquiring specimens of the white bear. In 1912, the Victoria Daily Colonist reported that Dr. French of Washington was willing to pay $250 for a live white bear (Daily Colonist 1912b).
A live six month old white colored black bear was captured on Prince Royal Island in 1924, by Indigenous people and brought to Ocean Falls where it was sold to a Virginian, O.W. Flowers for $60. Flowers brought the bear to Powel River and then to Vancouver. It was seized by the Game Commission in Vancouver and sent to Kermode in Victoria. It was put into a cage in Beacon Hill Park on July 31, 1924 (figure 3). It remained in the Park until it died in December 1948. The skull and skin where put in the Provincial Museum collection on December 5, 1924 (RBCM 005526).
Much later two specimens came to the RBCM from the Terrace area, an immature male skin and skeleton collected in September 1, 1974 (RBCM 009047) and a skin, skull and hyoid bones collected in May 1985 (RBCM 016007). A specimen from the Penticton Game Farm that died at the age of 19 years was acquired on January 26 1990 (018558).
More recent summaries based on morphological studies have defined five subspecies of black bears in British Columbia: ursus americanus altifrontalis, ursus americanus carlottae, ursus americanus cinnamonum, ursus americanus kermodei and ursus americanus vancourveri (Hatler et. al. 2008). Ongoing DNA studies have, so far, identified three subcontinental clusters (lineages or haplogroups), which are further divided into nine geographic regions. The Western genetic population cluster included the region from western Alaska along the Pacific Coast to the American Southwest (Puckett et. al. 2015). More extensive whole genome research will be needed to gain a better understanding of the range of genetic diversity and the extent of the various recessive genes found in black bears in British Columbia.
In traditional societies, indigenous people were very aware of the complex physical and behavioral diversity of animals. The term “Spirit bear” is a little more complex in its meaning than what is generally presented in the media. Indigenous peoples knew that this was a variation of the black bear. If we were to go back in time and observe Indigenous bear hunters we would probably label them all – to use the modern jargon – as “bear whisperers”. Before the introduction of the rifle, bears were hunted in their winter dens and caught in dead fall traps (see appendix 2. Bear Traps and Indigenous Laws Pertaining to Bear Hunting). Detailed knowledge of bear behavior was crucial for survival. First or second hand observations about bears by Indigenous peoples are scattered through the ethnographic and historic literature. A selection will be presented here that make reference to the complexity of bear fur colours and the in depth relationship of Indigenous peoples with all bears.
The term Moksgm’ol (different ways of writing it) which can be interpreted as “spirit bear” is used in a Tsimshian Raven creation story. Various Tsimshian and Niska families have held family crests with names translated as “white bear”; “white grizzly”; “robe of white bear”; “hat of white bear”; “grizzly of winter”; “robe of white breast [of bear]”. There are both grizzly and black bears with various degrees of white as well as albino bears (Sapir 1915). Figure 4, shows a person dressed in a bear costume in a theatrical ceremony that demonstrates the alliance of the Fort Wrangell Tlingit chief Shakes with the bear family from whom he traces his descent (Niblack 1888).
Tlingit and Tsimshian stories mention bears with unusual white markings. The “Story of the White-faced Bear”, is about a bear that was once a human who had killed too many bears. As a bear he had killed many humans. He was considered invincible: “Each time that he kills a man he tears him, and examines him carefully, as if he is searching for some marks on his body. He is unlike other bears, in that his head and feet are white” (Golder 1907).
Some of these stories are told as more recent historic events and others in the context of a man marrying a bear-woman or a woman marrying a bear-man in the distant past. A Tsimshian story relates how their clan is descended from the survivors of a great flood – a woman and a bear with white fur. A Tlingit hunter killed a bear with a “white furred belly”, which after he skinned it, turned into a woman who helped him (Swanton 1908:228-229). Stories of bears transforming themselves into humans and marring humans are common – such as the story told by Tsimshian, Henry Tate (Maud 1993) or the story told by indigenous peoples of Hartley Bay of a marriage to a female bear with a “very white belly’ (Cove and McDonald 1987).
In 1972, I had discussions with the late Leo Taku Jack (1909-1979) of Atlin, who told me about the variations in white markings on the belly, sides and necks of black bears that he hunted along the Nakina and Taku rivers in the 1930s to 1950s period (see figure 5).
Indigenous bear hunters were good observers and aware that black bears came in variations of browns and various degrees of creamy white, as well as the white of albinos. When I talked to the Bella Coola bear hunter, Clayton Mack in 1969, he would specify white markings on grizzly bears when telling stories of hunting episodes. This seemed to be a way of remembering events surrounding individual bears.
Individual bears might be noted in stories because of their distinct colour patterns – but they were all recognized as being black bears (Ursus americanus) or grizzly bears (Ursus horribilis) and noted as such in the various indigenous languages. Because of genetic variation there is a greater propensity for certain colour variations to be located in specific regions. Pale blue-grey, coloured individuals of a black bear litter were more common near glaciers in the area from Mount Saint Elias to the Skeena River. Hunters often called these “glacial bears”. George Emmons recorded observations of Tlingit hunters in the 1890s. The Tlingit called all black bears “tseek” but recognized colour phases. They called glacier bears “klate-utardy-seek or klate-ukth-tseek” meaning “snow like black bear” or “tseek noon” meaning “grey black bear” (Emmons 1991:133).
Based on hunter’s accounts and fur trade records, the all white black bears were once more widely distributed along the mountains of the mainland coast from the Skeena River to the Bella Coola regions but have since been extirpated from much of the area. White bear skins were rarer and therefore more highly valued. Cultural selection in the past may have played a role in reducing the gene pool that allowed for the recessive genes to take affect and produce more white furred bears in some areas.
It appears from early written accounts that there were a greater occurrence of regional colour and or size variants of both black and grizzly bears (see appendix I). Over hunting in the last one hundred and fifty years may have exterminated some of these regional genetic variants. In 1909, Richard Pocock presents the state of knowledge of non-indigenous peoples about bears of the northern coast forests:
“The White bear (Ursus Kermodei), a few specimens of which have been shot at points along the extreme northern coast, are confined to a very limited area; but a similar variety, ranging in colour from almost pure white to a dirty grey, are seem or shot occasionally in the Western Cascades from Bella Coola north to Taku River, including the lower reaches of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers. These bears are small in size, and called by the various names of white bear, rock bear, white rock bear, blue bear, glacier bear and ice bear” (Pocock 1909).
Pike notes in referring to “Ursus Kermoda” in 1910, that: “this little white bear has so far been found only in that part of the coast range of mountains which lies immediately South of the Skeena River and on the adjacent islands known as Gribbell and Princess Royal Islands, and perhaps a dozen specimens in all are to be seen in the museums of North America. It has lately been classified by American naturalists as an entirely distinct species of bear; but there is still no record of any white man having seen this animal in the flesh, although now and then an Indian brings in a skin to one of the small trading posts of the mouth of the Skeena.” (Pike 1910)..
Holzworth, while on Admiralty Island in 1928, noted that an elderly Indigenous person told him of “a very peculiar type of bear, a dark brown with a yellow stripe which runs all the way down its sides from the shoulders to the rump, about four inches either side of the back bone. He saw two or three hides himself, all from the same locality on Admiralty Island. They were killed by Anderson a white man about fifteen years ago, who found them in the interior of the northern section of the island. An Indian had killed two or three similar ones on Chichagof Isle” (Holzworth 1930:73-74).
It was generally believed by indigenous peoples that the spirit of a bear (as with other animals) could be acquired as a guardian spirit. Bear spirits were considered one of the more powerful spirits. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears.
The bear hunter had to purify himself by bathing and fasting. It was important for the hunter to refrain from announcing that he was going bear hunting for it was believed that a bear could hear and understand everything that humans said and be forewarned of its approaching death. When a man killed a bear he and those with him painted their faces and sang a bear song or prayed to the bear as a way of appeasing or thanking it for allowing itself to be killed. When being butchered it was believed that the bear could sing through the body of the hunter. Sometimes certain parts of the black bear would be ritually burned during a prayer ceremony (see Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95).
In 1970, I was told by the late Jack Koster of Canoe Creek a story of an experience of his father in the 1920s when he went hunting with an Indigenous uncle who was an old bear hunter from the Canoe Creek Reserve. After the bear was killed, the old hunter chanted a prayer and “cut off the tip of the nose and tongue and took out the bear’s eyes and eardrums to bury together. They believed that a bear’s spirit would return in the form of a bad man to seek revenge. This was necessary to eliminate the senses so the bear – as the Indians said – ‘will not find me again’.”
The importance of bears in the cultures of Siberia and their similarity to those of cultures of the New World was brought to the forefront of academic discourse by the publication of A.I. Hallowell on Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere (Hallowell 1926).
On the Eastern Pacific Coast bear imagery can be seen on everything from monumental poles and house screens, to boxes, rattles and combs. These physical objects are a manifestation of a complex way of life that involves Indigenous beliefs and practices. Bears have played a role in the ceremonialism and magico-religous practices of human cultures across the northern forests of the world for thousands of years.
Indigenous traditions suggest that bears are the shamans of the animal world. Skinned bears resemble humans. On the northern coast bears are considered ancestors due to the earlier encounters, and sometimes resulting marriages, between transforming bears and humans. Clan crests, with social and economic rights, are linked to these early encounters between humans and bears (for example see: Swanton 1908:228-229; Swanton 1905:94-95) .
On the west coast of Vancouver Island, the butchered remains of bears are commonly found in cave and rock shelter sites. One recorded site, that was briefly visited, is reported to have contained 22 bear skulls in four piles. Bears appear to have been, at least, partially butchered in these more remote locations away from village sites (Keddie 1994). There are still stories to be told about human-bear relationships waiting to be revealed by archaeology.
Black bears with the genetic variants that produce white or partly white furred bears are believed by indigenous peoples to have special spirit powers – but so do all bears. Bears that have unusual markings and more extensive white in their fur may be seen as being of special significance because they occur more rarely. Indigenous peoples, however, did not see all white bears as a separate and distinct species and give them distinct names meaning “spirit bear”. Older traditions show that white markings allowed individual bears to be identified, and that indigenous understanding was much more complex than that presented in the media.
Non-indigenous people from the cities related to bears in the 1950s in a way that we would find appalling by current standards (see appendix 3). The spotting of white coloured “Spirit bears” or “Ghost bears” is increasingly become a focus of the Tourist industry and sometimes the cause of a romanticized view of the natural world. We need to step back and think about how this behavior will be looked upon 50 years into the future
David Thompson, while travelling in western Canada in the 1798-1807 time period noted that: “The only bears of this country are the small black Bear, with a chance yellow Bear, this latter has a fine fur and trades for three Beavers in barter, when full grown” (Thompson 2009:122). He notes that the black furred bears trade for one or two Beaver skins depending on their size. As Thompson discusses the grizzly bear elsewhere, it appears he is referring here to the “yellow Bear” as a variation of the black bear.
Daniel Harmon was an early observer of bears in the Interior of B.C. In 1810, around Ft. St. James, he observes: “The brown and black bear differ little, excepting in their colour. The hair of the former is much finer than that of the latter. They usually flee from a human being. …The brown and the black bear, climb trees, which the grey, never does. Their flesh is not considered so pleasant food as the of the moose, buffalo or deer; but their oil is highly valued by the Natives, as it constitutes an article of their feasts, and serves, also, to oil their bodies, and other things. Occasionally, a bear is found, the colour of which is like that of a white sheep, and the hair is much longer than that of the other kinds which have been mentioned; though in other respects, it differs not at all from the black bears.” (Lamb 1957:260).
Black, travelling on a branch of the upper Stikine River on August 3, 1824, with an Indigenous Slave notes bears of a pale white colour. Black explains “there are Bears, Black, blue or Grizzly & brown of different shades & they all appear large, the Old Slave is by no means inclined to attach them, the other day Mr. Manson & the old Slave in Company saw two Bears of a pale white colour, but the old Gentleman would not consent to attach them, such is the Idea of these Indians regarding Bears” (Rich 1955:153).
Crompton, who travelled extensively in B.C. in the mid 19th century stated: “The black bear is subject occasionally to albinism like most for the other animals on this coast thus I have seen white (black) bears, white otters, white racoons, white martins and white minks. The Indians set a great value on the white bear skin & I was shown one which was supposed to be the paternal originator of the Tsimpsean race after the flood for their tradition of the deluge is that only a woman & a bear were saved on a mountain & that from this peculiar miscegenation the Tshimsean race arose.” (Crompton 1879:51).
Frederica De Laguna acquired information from both Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the territories of Tlingit peoples in the 1930s to 1950s, which shows the confusion of bear descriptions at the time: “The Yakutat people; face a variety of large brown bears and grizzlies. These have never been classified to the satisfaction of biologists, but for the native all these large species are “the bear” (xuts; Boas, 1917, p. 158, xuts), the prize of the intrepid hunter and an important sib crest. The very large, dark grizzed Dall brown bear, Ursus dalli, lives northeast of Yakutat Bay, especially along the Malaspin Glacier. The forester, Jay Williams (1952:138),
reports this huge bear at Lituya Bay, it may be another variety, or there may be a break in its distribution between Yaktat and Lituya Bays. Apparently confined to the south-eastern side of Yakutat Bay is the Yakutat grizzly, U.nortoni, a large true grizzly with yellowish or golden brown had and dark brown rump and legs, the whole looking whitish from a distance. It seems to range as far south as Lituay Bay (Williams, 1952:138). Also known at Yakutat is the giant brown bear of Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Prince William sound, U. Middendorffi. The Alsek, U. Orgiloides, a cream coloured medium sized bear with long narrow skull, ranges the foreland east of Yakutat, especially along the Ahrnklin, Italia, and Alsek Rivers. It is not known whether this bear, or the closely related Glacier Bay grizzly, U. Orgilos, is the form found at Lituya Bay. Between Cross Sound and the Alsek delta is the large Townsend grizzly, U. Townsendi, the exact range of which is undefined.
The black bear (sik), found along the coastal glaciers form Lituya Bay (or Cross Sound) northward to the eastern edge of Prince William Sound or Cape Saint Elias, is very much smaller than the ordinary American black bear. Furthermore, in addition to the usual black and brownish colors, many from the same litter are blue-gray or maltese. These are called glacier bears, U. Americanus emmonsii, formerly Euarctos emmonsee or Ursus glacialis. The Indians make no distinctions, as far as I know, between the color variants, unless what Boas (1891:174) recorded as the “polar bear” (caq, i.e., cax) is really the blueish glacier bear. A few bones of the black bear were found in the site of Knight Island.” (Laguna 1972:36-37).
Swanton (1905:58-69) was told the story of a bear hunter and his traps by a Haida, Jimmy Sterling. In telling the story he gets a detailed description of how the traps are constructed. Haida names were provided for each part of the deadfall trap.
In the Haida bear path deadfall trap shown in figure 9b, the letters indicate: A- Four posts, two on each side of the bear trail. B-Short cross posts tying each set of vertical posts together. C- Between the posts lays a post on the ground. D- The deadfall log that drops on the bear. E- The suspended end of the deadfall post is held by a loop which passes over a short stick E. Stick E is supported by post B. A rope is fastened to the inner end of stick E and carried down to a notched in stick F which is tied to a stake pounded into the ground on one side of the bear trail. Other cords G are fastened across the two front posts and down to the same loop. The bear steps over the log and comes against these latter cords causing the rope to slip out of the notch and the deadfall log to fall (Swanton 1905:6).
Koppert gives one of the better explanations of the use, design and traditional laws around the subject of bear traps or “Chim mis yek ”. Koppert was informed that, if one eats “bear meat or venison, one must abstain for two months from eating fish, especially salmon and halibut”.
In regard to the hunting grounds of bears: “There are no special districts set aside for hunting. Traps are set in places frequented by the animals. An Indian has full right to an animal trail as long as his traps are there. Once he removes his trap, any other Indian may put his trap there and claim all the animals on the trail. An exception to this law is made with regard to the bear trails. The bears are a very valuable animal to the Indians, and the trail is, therefore, owned by the individual whether he has his trap set or not. No one may hunt on such ‘roads’, even though no trap is set. Such bear trails, as well as creeks in which certain Indians have the sole right to fish with trap-boxes, are called ha-how- thle, meaning: belonging to so and so”. These (ha- how- thle) are inherited in the same manner as “house grounds”. They may, however, be ‘leased’, or given away and be lost forever to the family and descendants. A traveller may not take or capture an animal if traps are set in the vicinity.
Koppert describes how bears are trapped in the following manner: “poles driven closely together into the ground near a stream where the bears follow the creek. These poles are about four feet high and arranged in a semi-circle with a diameter of about three feet [See Fig. 10]. The top and sides are covered with branches and sod to make the trap and ‘cave’ appear natural and to make the interior dark. The entrance, at the center of the semi-circle, is just large enough to admit the head and shoulders of the bear. Over the entrance are erected two uprights and a cross-piece. Resting on this cross-piece and projecting about six inches, is a pole reaching back to the farther end of the ‘cave’. A strong string is tied to the inner end of the pole and let down into the ‘cave’; three stakes are driven into the ground at the back of the ‘cave’; to the tops of these stakes and lashed to cross-pieces forming a V …the V is closed by a stick held in place by the pull on the cord which in turn is tied on the ‘tripper’; the ‘tripper’ suspends the weighted log at the entrance of the ‘cave’. To the same stick, a stout string is tied at the end of which is the bait of salmon. Above the entrance, a log is suspended by a thong from the end of the pole resting on the cross-piece. The log at the other end has a dozen or more other logs resting on the top of it as well as heavy stones. When the bear snatches the fish he releases the string that suspends the weighted log over the entrance, and is crushed under the weight of the fallen log. This effective dead-fall is still commonly used. It either kills the bear outright or so cripples him that he cannot run away.” (Koppert 1910:78-80).
In the type of trap shown in figure 10, the bear sticks its head into the cave-like structure and pulls the bait on the rope. The rope pulls a short post out from the edge of a rectangular structure that is holding down, by a rope, one end of a long pole that extends across the cave and over a post across the entrance to the cave. The other end of this post is tied to the large heavy deadfall log. The release of distant end of the long post causes it to flip up over the entrance post causing the deadfall log to come crashing down on the bear.
Father Morice wrote how the Carrier of the Interior began to ritually prepare “a full month previous to the settling of his snares. During all that time he could not drink from the same vessel as his wife, but had to use a special birch bark drinking cup. The second half of the penitential month was employed in preparing his snares. The omission of these observances was believed to cause the escape of the game after it had been snared. To further allure it into the snares he was making, the hunter used to eat the root of a species of heracleum (tse’le’p in Carrier) of which the black bear is said to be especially fond. Sometimes he would chew and squirt it up with water exclaiming at the same time: Nyustluh! May I snare you! Once a bear, or indeed any animal, had been secured, it was never allowed to pass a night in its entirety, but must have some limb, hind or fore paws, cut off, as a means of pacifying its fellows irritated by its killing. …The skulls of bears whose flesh had been eaten up are even to-day invariably stuck on a stick or broken branch of a tree. But the aboriginals fail to give any reason for this practice (Morice 1893:107-108).
In the type of deadfall trap in figure 12, the bear crawls part way into the wooden structure to get the bait on the inner end of a bait stick. The outer end of this bait stick has resting on it a short post holding up the deadfall log. This upright support post is in a notch on the bait post. When the bear swings the bait post around the short upright support post slips out of its notch and causes the deadfall log to crash down.
In the 1950s bears were often seen as entertainment animals with little understanding of their relationship to their natural habitat. As bears lost their fear of humans they mingled together (see figure 13). When I camped in Banff and Jasper as a child it was common to see large line-ups of cars on the highway feeding bears. Ice cream cones were their favorite treat. My father would drive us to the local open garbage dumps where large number of bears came at dusk (figure 14a&b). In one incident a large bear climbed up onto the front of our car and looked at us through the windshield. My father (not a “bear whisperer”) blasted his car horn causing him to be required to explain later how his company car received some very large scrape marks down its entire front. We know today that feeding of wild bears usually ends in them having to be shot. We need to continually educate people not to do this.
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I recently spent an enjoyable day hunting Common Wall Lizards to help Camosun College students with a research project. Lizards were easily caught with nooses, by hand, and using elastic bands. These lizards are to be used in a diet study to see whether there is any pattern between historic and current arthropod diversity in pitfall trap samples, and to determine what lizards are selecting from the available invertebrates.
We sampled at Haliburton Farm in Saanich, here on Vancouver Island. Lizards were everywhere – and that is no exaggeration. Every few steps would cause one or more lizards to skitter way into the forest of potted plants and garden veggies growing at the farm.
My Google Earth Map totally under estimates the number of lizards because I couldn’t map the location of each one. There were hundreds of lizards in each section of the farm. Adults were predominant in the heavily modified areas, and yearlings seemed to be occupying peripheral areas that were almost semi natural – young ones likely avoided the main farm to avoid cannibalism.
The tree and a closer view of the knot-hole where the Wall Lizard sought refuge.
One lizard stuck out in my memory – because it was trying to shed the “wall lizard” stereotype by living in a tree. I spotted an adult male well up a tree – and as I approached, it bolted into a knot-hole. The knot-hole led to a significant cavity inside – I used a long dry grass stem to get an idea how large the cavity was. It was at least 20 cm long, plenty of room for an adult Wall Lizard. Years ago Richard Hebda noted that Common Wall Lizards had started to occupy grassy habitat as well as the typical more solid habitat. This lizard seemed more interested in becoming a Tree Lizard – sorry Podarcis, you can change habitat, but not your taxonomy. Luckily Urosaurus ornatus does not live here and won’t have to deal with this arboreally inclined invader.
The armoured glyptodonts and ankylosaurs are one of my favourite examples of convergent evolution, the evolutionary phenomenon in which distantly related animals evolve similar structures or body shapes. Ankylosaurs are the armoured dinosaurs covered in bony plates called osteoderms, and are one of my favourite groups of dinosaurs. Glyptodonts, on the other hand, are mammals – they’re an exinct group of giant, herbivorous armadillos that disappeared about 10 000 years ago. The last time glyptodonts and ankylosaurs shared a common ancestor – a great-great-great-great-grandparent, if you will – was over 300 million years ago, but these two groups of animals evolved similar anatomical features. Most unusually, both ankylosaurs and glyptodonts evolved weaponized, sledgehammer-like tails.
In this study, I worked with my colleague (and former postdoctoral supervisor) Dr. Lindsay Zanno at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to figure out whether or not ankylosaurs and glyptodonts had followed similar evolutionary trajectories when evolving their unusual tail weaponry. Lindsay and I have previously worked on understanding the evolution of bony tail weapons across amniotes (turtles, lizards, crocodilians, birds, mammals, and their extinct relatives) and found that certain anatomical features like armour, large body size, and a stiff backbone were correlated with bony tail weaponry. For our new study, we dug deeper into the anatomy of ankylosaurs and glyptodonts. We wanted to know whether or not ankylosaurs and glyptodonts evolved some of their distinct features in the same way – did certain features evolve before others in both groups? By studying fossils in museums around the world, we were able to map features onto the family trees for ankylosaurs and glyptodonts and see at what points different features first evolved. It turned out that, despite a few differences, the overall pattern was the same: both groups evolved armour, large body size, and stiff backs before weaponizing their tails, and tails became stiff before the tip of the tail was expanded.
What does this similar pattern tell us about how or why tail clubs evolved in glyptodonts and ankylosaurs? When we see similar adaptations in unrelated species, it tells us that there might only be a few good solutions to the challenges that nature throws our way, or in other words, similar features evolve when species are faced with similar selective pressures. In this case,
Lindsay and I speculate that a heavy, expanded tail tip might not be able to evolve unless the tail is already modified to support the extra weight. Similarly, swinging a heavy tail club around might be easier if you have a stiff backbone to help brace against impacts. And lastly, the rarity of species with tail clubs in the fossil record also suggests that tail clubs aren’t easy structures to evolve, and might only be able to evolve when a lot of other anatomical features (like armour) are already in place.
Funding for this research was generously provided by NSERC, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the Jurassic Foundation.
Arbour VM, Zanno LE. 2019. Tail weaponry in ankylosaurs and glyptodonts: an example of a rare but strongly convergent phenotype. The Anatomical Record.
Abstract: The unusual clubbed tails of glyptodonts among mammals and ankylosaurines among dinosaurs most likely functioned as weapons of intraspecific combat or interspecific defense and are characterized by stiffening of the distal tail and, in some taxa, expansion of the distal tail tip. Although similarities in tail weaponry have been noted as a potential example of convergent evolution, this hypothesis has not been tested quantitatively, particularly with metrics that can distinguish convergence from long‐term stasis, assess the relative strength of convergence, and identify potential constraints in the appearance of traits during the stepwise, independent evolution of these structures. Using recently developed metrics of convergence within a phylomorphospace framework, we document that convergence accounts for over 80% of the morphological evolution in traits associated with tail weaponry in ankylosaurs and glyptodonts. In addition, we find that ankylosaurs and glyptodonts shared an independently derived, yet constrained progression of traits correlated with the presence of a tail club, including stiffening of the distal tail as a precedent to expansion of the tail tip in both clades. Despite differences in the anatomical construction of the tail club linked to lineage‐specific historical contingency, these lineages experienced pronounced, quantifiable convergent evolution, supporting hypotheses of functional constraints and shared selective pressures on the evolution of these distinctive weapons.
Last summer my wife and I bought a new car – it is less than a year old and has already transported quite an assemblage of BC species (Southern Resident Killer Whale foetus, Mule Deer, River Otter, Red Fox, Northern Alligator Lizard, Common Wall Lizard, Commander Skate, and 49 species of birds – including the museum’s first Brown Booby). The most recent passenger was a 1.2 meter Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus) which easily fit into the back of a 2018 Nissan Leaf. Chalk up another reason why electric cars are awesome.
The Mako Shark (wrapped in plastic) arrives at the RBCM loading bay.
As far as I know, this is the second Shortfin Mako Shark specimen from BC waters. The first specimen, from 185 nautical miles west of Cape St. James (Haida Gwaii), was made into a taxidermy mount and only a few of its teeth were deposited in the Royal BC Museum collection (993-00039-001). You have to wonder how often they range this far north?
The mako shark thawed and ready for a long soak in formaldehyde.
This new mako, found September 27, 2016 on shore in Florencia Bay, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is almost perfect. It had been studied by Jackie King (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), tissue samples were taken, and then was shuttled to the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) in Sidney. I picked up the fish at IOS and kept it frozen until I had the time to prepare the shark for the Royal BC Museum collection. Mako sharks are most streamlined representatives of the Family Lamnidae, the same family containing the Great White Shark. It was a thrill to see this amazing fish up close. Its only damage came from scavengers – the left eye is missing, and something – a wolf(?) – had ripped at the gills on the left side.
Tooth rows are easy to see in the jaws of this Shortfin Mako.
The teeth are amazing – and let’s face it – this is what most people want to see on a shark. But have a look at the tail! Without an efficient tail – the teeth would have nothing to bite. Mako sharks are amazingly fast and almost appear nervous when they are swimming – they are certainly the Formula-e cars or jet fighters of the shark world.
The base of the tail on our new mako shark.
Makos have a lateral keel at the base of the tail which allows the fish to efficiently oscillate its tail fin from side to side. In lateral view the base of the tail is narrow – in dorsal / ventral view – the tail base is broad. Salmon Sharks (Lamna ditropis), Porbeagles (Lamna nasus) and Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) have this same feature – it is all about efficient locomotion – hydrodynamics which submarine designers envy. Even the Ninespine Stickleback (Pungitius2) has this basic tail structure – but on a far smaller fish. Evolution is awesome.
Enough fish worship – back to the task at hand. Preservation of a large fish. You have to make sure the internal organs and muscles fix – and since formaldehyde takes time to infiltrate tissues – you inject 10% formaldehyde deep into the muscles to make sure the specimen fixes from the outside in, and inside out.
If the specimen does not fix fairly rapidly – then decay of the tissues begins. The specimen degrades and gas is produced. A gas-filled specimen displaces fluid and can result in a bit of a mess in the lab. When I was a student, we put a sizable sample of suckers in a vat of formaldehyde, closed the lid, and then left them to fix. Oily suckers are always a challenge to fix, and these were no exception. They bloated over night and displaced formaldehyde – which spilled out of the vat. The spill was large enough to draw the attention of the University of Manitoba’s Workplace Health And Safety team. Ooops.
Reptiles also can be tricky to fix – their skin slows the uptake of formaldehyde. As a dewy-eyed student I was keen to check out all the specimens in the vertebrates lab – and was particularly happy to find a forgotten jar with dark brown glass – a mystery. I had to know what was inside. When I reached in and grabbed the snake – it simply fell apart – ribs straining through my fingers. The mouth and cloaca allowed formaldehyde to enter and so the snake’s head and tail preserved well. Its body though, had rotted from the inside out and was mush.
The rattle from the rotten Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus).
I now use a needle to perforate reptile legs and tails to make sure formaldehyde infiltrates everywhere. I also inject 10% formaldehyde into the body cavity to make sure the internal organs of reptiles fix rapidly.
This mako shark was no different – I injected about 500 ml formaldehyde into the body cavity to make sure the internal organs fixed well – then left for the weekend. After a day in formaldehyde, the body already was rubbery and well on its way to making a decent specimen (yes I came to work on a Saturday to check on my precious). It also was not floating – that is a really good sign that the specimen is fixing well and not filling with decay gases.
The mako shark after a day in formaldehyde.
Once the mako shark is fixed (maybe three weeks in formaldehyde just to be sure), then it will get a rinse in water for a few days, and will go into a vat of alcohol for permanent storage. Alcohol is far easier on the eyes and nose than formaldehyde. Ethanol or Isopropanol are our preservatives of choice. Call me crazy, but I am guessing this shark will be a popular item during museum collection tours, so it better be stored in a manner that is fairly safe for visitors. I may as well get a few more larger fishes preserved while the formaldehyde vat is fresh – next up is a 1 meter Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) and a similarly sized Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus).
Museums contain the commonplace, normal, typical specimens as well as the specimens we call TYPES which serve as the golden standard when doing systematics research. But the real attention goes to the oddities – they seem to naturally draw your eyes away from all other specimens. Leucistic birds, albinos, a marmot with overgrown incisors, an Orca with nasty dental issues, an Orca with spinal deformity – these are the specimens that get the WOW vote on collections tours.
Albino Starlings in the Royal BC Museum Ornithology collection – abnormal specimens certainly do catch your eye.
A year or so ago we were clearing out an area we referred to as Room 17 (our version of Area 51), and found jaw fragments from a Sperm Whale mixed with the bones of other whales. Sperm Whales have teeth along the lower jaw but no teeth along the upper jaw and Sperm Whale jaws are long and straight. It does not take a scientific eye to notice what is wrong with these jaws.
The section of Sperm Whale jaw in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Both dentary bones are hooked to the left and it looked like the teeth were fairly normal with decent sized sockets. We have no idea what the upper lip looked like – but I assume these jaws just hooked out of alignment and hung out to the side of the animal. What a drag that would have been. The jaws are large – so this animal was able to feed – the teeth towards the back of the jaw probably functioned normally and it certainly could have performed suction feeding to catch fishes and cephalopods.
Strangely enough, there is no information with these jaws to say when and where the animal was caught. Whaling here in BC ended within my lifetime (including the live capture of Orcas as a form of whaling – some would say jailing) – so I can only assume this jaw was collected pre-1970s when whaling stations were still actively processing Sperm Whales.
Sperm Whales with normal straight jaws (Image A-09221 (top) and Image A-09220 (bottom) courtesy of the Royal BC Museum and Archives).
Jaw deformities are not that rare in Sperm Whales – there are several reports published and some of the deformities are shocking – some are stubby, others in a tight spiral like a conispiral snail shell (see: Murie 1865, Thomson 1867, Nasu 1958, Spaul 1964, and Nakamura 1968).
This specimen is not cataloged in the Royal BC Museum Mammalogy collection, there is no record in our database, and no mention in the museum’s annual reports. Perhaps whaling records will mention this animal – I can’t imagine this whale was processed in the ‘fishery’ and the set of jaws saved with no comment made of the deformity. Time to go CSI on this dentary record.
To dig deeper:
MURIE, J. 1865. On deformity of the lower jaw in the cachalot (Physeter macrocephalus, Linn.). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1865: 396-396.
NAKAMURA, K. 1968. Studies on the sperm whale with deformed lower jaw with special reference to its feeding. Bulletin of the Kanagawa Prefecture Museum of Natural History, 1: 13-27.
NASU, K. 1958. Deformed lower jaw of sperm whale. Scientific Reports of the Whales Research Institute, 13: 211-212.
SPAUL, E. A. 1964. Deformity in the lower jaw of the sperm whale (Physeter catodon). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 142: 391-395.
THOMSON, J. H. 1867. Letter relating to the occasional deformity of the lower jaw of the sperm whale. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1867: 246-247.
When reptiles and amphibians take shelter from the cold, they seek refuge above freezing, but not too warm – maybe 2 to 4°C. If it is too cold, tissues freeze and for most animals, this is fatal. Death comes from ice crystal growth which essentially shreds body cells at a microscopic level. Some animals like the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) are freeze–tolerant, and consequently are our northern most ‘herpetile’ along the coast of the Arctic Ocean/Beaufort Sea.
Wood Frog photographed in a ditch near Winnipeg.
If the refuge is too warm, the animal’s metabolism burns stored fat and the animal loses weight. My father had a pet Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni) when he was a child – and in winter, his parents put the tortoise in a box, surrounded it with hay, and placed it in the boiler room to hibernate. The boiler room was too warm for hibernation – the tortoise starved or died of dehydration. Consequently, my grandparents bought a new tortoise each year after burying its ‘hibernating’ predecessor. I am not shore how many tortoises they went through.
Hermann’s Tortoise image from Wikipedia.
On March 5th (2019) I received a set of photos of a frozen adult Wall Lizard found by John Hunter, a Colwood resident. It appeared that the cold, frosty nights of Late February and Early March 2019 had claimed at least one lizard life. The lizard had taken refuge in John’s gardening shoes. Its body was placed on a rock in the garden – presumably nature would deal with the remains. March 6th – the lizard awoke and ran off.
Resurrection? No. The Common Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis), like the Wood Frog, has a physiological ace up its sleeve. It can freeze up to 28% of its body water and still survive. As long as the cold snap is not too long or too severe, they usually survive without trouble. The mild winters of southern Vancouver Island were almost tailor-made for these invaders.
However, shoes obviously were not ideal shelter from the cold. Shoes keep our feet warm because our feet produce heat – the shoe only slows heat loss to the environment. Has anyone ever said to you, “Here, this blanket will warm you up.” Truth is, a blanket doesn’t provide heat, only slows heat loss – just like winter boots. With no source of heat, and with the open cuff/collar, footwear would act more like a sci-fi cryo-tube than a cozy refuge. At best the shoes shielded the lizard from scavengers.
I left my gardening boots outside last week – they were a bit too muddy to bring indoors. But since lizards are still about 60 meters north of my garden – I don’t think I will find any lost souls lining the insole.
Robert A. Cannings¹
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
Since Corbet’s thorough 1979 overview of Canadian Odonata, hundreds of regional works on taxonomy, faunistics, distribution, life history, ecology and behaviour have been written. Canada records 214 species of Odonata, an increase of 20 since the 1979 assessment. Estimates of unrecorded species are small; this reflects the well-known nature of the fauna. A major impetus for surveys and analyses of the status of species is the work of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada which provides a scientifically sound classification of wildlife species potentially at risk. As of 2017, six species have been designated “Endangered” and two “Special Concern” (only five of which are officially listed under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA)). The Order provides a good example of molecular bar-coding effort in insects, as many well-accepted morphological species in Canada have been bar-coded to some degree. However, more bar-coding of accurately identified specimens of many species is still required, especially in most of the larger families, which have less than 70% of their species bar-coded. Corbet noted that the larvae of 15 Canadian species were unknown, but almost all larvae are now well, or cursorily, described. Extensive surveys have greatly improved our understanding of species’ geographical distributions, habitat requirements and conservation status but more research is required to better define occurrence, abundance and biological details for almost all species.
barcoding, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, climate change, identification, Odonata, species at risk
Jade Savage¹, Art Borkent³, Fenja Brodo¹¹, Jeffey M. Cumming², Gregory Curler⁴, Douglas C. Currie⁵, Jeremy R. deWaard⁶, Joel F. Gibson³, Martin Hauser⁷, Louis Laplante⁸, Owen Lonsdale², Stephen A. Marshall⁹, James E. O’Hara², Bradley J. Sinclair¹⁰, Jeffey H. Skevington²
1 Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada 2 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 3 Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 4 Mississippi Entomological Museum, Mississippi State University, Starksville, Mississippi, USA 5 Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 6 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 7 California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, California, USA 8 Unaffiated, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 9 University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 10 Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 11 Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The Canadian Diptera fauna is updated. Numbers of species currently known from Canada, total Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs), and estimated numbers of undescribed or unrecorded species are provided for each family. An overview of recent changes in the systematics and Canadian faunistics of major groups is provided as well as some general information on biology and life history. A total of 116 families and 9620 described species of Canadian Diptera are reported, representing more than a 36% increase in species numbers since the last comparable assessment by JF McAlpine et al. (1979). Almost 30,000 BINs have so far been obtained from flies in Canada. Estimates of additional number of species remaining to be documented in the country range from 5200 to 20,400.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Diptera, flies, systematics
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
The Mecoptera are represented in Canada by 25 extant species in four families, an increase of three species since the prior assessment in 1979. An additional 18 or more species and one family are expected to occur in Canada based on distributional records, recent collections and DNA analyses. The Bar-code of Life Data System currently lists 24 Bar-code Index Numbers for Canadian Mecoptera. There are nine species of fossil Mecoptera known from Canada
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Mecoptera, scorpionfly
James Miskelly¹, Steven M. Paiero²
1 Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St., Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 School of Environmental Sciences, 50 Stone Rd. East, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In the last 40 years, the number of species in the orthopteroid orders has increased by ~10% from that known in 1979. The largest order, the Orthoptera, has increased from 205 to 235 species known in Canada. The number of Blattodea has increased from 14 to 18 species, while Dermaptera has increased from 5 to 6 species. The number of species of Mantodea (3) and Phasmida (1) known in Canada have remained unchanged. Most new species records reported in Canada since 1979 have resulted from new collections along the periphery of the range of more widespread species. Some species reported since 1979 are recent introductions to Canada, including species restricted to homes or other heated buildings. The taxonomy of these orders has also changed, with only the Dermaptera having maintained its order definition since the 1979 treatment. Additional orthopteroid species are likely to occur in Canada, particularly in the orders Orthoptera and Blattodea. DNA bar-codes are available for more than 60% of the species known to occur in Canada
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Blattodea, cockroaches, crickets, Dermaptera, earwigs, grasshoppers, katydids, mantids, Mantodea, Orthoptera, Phasmida, stick insects, termites
David W. Langor¹
1 Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, 5320 – 122 St. NW, Edmonton, Alberta, T6H 3S5, Canada
Based on data presented in 29 papers published in the Biota of Canada Special Issue of ZooKeys and data provided herein about Zygentoma, more than 44,100 described species of terrestrial arthropods (Arachnida, Myriapoda, Insecta, Entognatha) are now known from Canada. This represents more than a 34% increase in the number of described species reported 40 years ago (Danks 1979a). The most speciose groups are Diptera (9620 spp.), Hymenoptera (8757), and Coleoptera (8302). Less than 5% of the fauna has a natural Holarctic distribution and an additional 5.1% are non-native species. A conservatively estimated 27,000–42,600 additional species are expected to be eventually discovered in Canada, meaning that the total national species richness is ca. 71,100–86,700 and that currently 51–62% of the fauna is known. Of the most diverse groups, those that are least known, in terms of percent of the Canadian fauna that is documented, are Acari (31%), Thsanoptera (37%), Hymenoptera (46%), and Diptera (32–65%). All groups but Pauropoda have DNA barcodes based on Canadian material. More than 75,600 Barcode Index Numbers have been assigned to Canadian terrestrial arthropods, 63.5% of which are Diptera and Hymenoptera. Much work remains before the Canadian fauna is fully documented, and this will require decades to achieve. In particular, greater and more strategic investment in surveys and taxonomy (including DNA barcoding) is needed to adequately document the fauna.
Arachnida, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklists, Entognatha, Hexapoda, Insecta, Myriapoda, surveys, taxonomy, Zygentoma
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
The Neuroptera of Canada consists of 101 extant species, an increase of 26 (35%) since the previous assessment of the fauna in 1979. More than 48 additional species are believed to occur in Canada based largely on recent DNA evidence and new distribution records. The Bar-code Of Life Data System (BOLD) currently includes 141 Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs) for Canadian Neuroptera. Canadian fossils have thus far yielded 15 species in three families of Neuroptera.
antlion, aphidlion, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, lacewing, mantidfly, Neuroptera, owlfly
Robert G. Foottit¹, H. Eric L. Maw¹, Joel H. Kits¹, Geoffey G. E. Scudder²
1 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa Research and Development Centre and Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, K. W. Neatby Bldg., 960 Carling Ave., Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0C6, Canada 2 Department of Zoology and Biodiversity Research Centre, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Th Canadian Hemiptera (Sternorrhyncha, Auchenorrhyncha, and Heteroptera) fauna is reviewed, which currently comprises 4011 species, including 405 non-native species. DNA bar-codes available for Canadian specimens are represented by 3275 BINs. Th analysis was based on the most recent checklist of Hemiptera in Canada (Maw et al. 2000) and subsequent collection records, literature records and compilation of DNA bar-code data. It is estimated that almost 600 additional species remain to be discovered among Canadian Hemiptera.
Barcode Index Number (BIN), biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, DNA barcodes, Hemiptera, true bugs
David C.A. Blades¹
1 Research Associate, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC, V8W 9W2, Canada
There are eight species in two families of Raphidioptera known from Canada, an increase of one species since the prior assessment in 1979. Another four species are likely to occur in Canada based on DNA evidence and distributional records. The Bar-code of Life Data System currently lists ten Bar-code Index Numbers for Canadian Raphidioptera.
biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, Raphidioptera, snakeflies
Robb Bennett¹, Gergin Blagoev², Claudia Copley¹
1 Department of Entomology, Natural History Section, Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 9W2, Canada 2 Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, 579 Gordon Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
In 1979 nearly 1400 spider species in 32 families either had been recorded (1249) or were believed to occur (~140) in Canada. Twenty years later, although significant progress had been made in survey efforts in some regions, Canada’s spider inventory had only increased by approximately 7% to roughly 1500 species known or expected to occur. Th family count had increased to 38 but only two additions were truly novel (fie family additions and one family deletion were the result of advances in family-level systematics). The first comprehensive taxonomic checklist of Canadian spider species was published in 2010 documenting the regional distributions of 1376 species representing 42 families (three novel since 1999). From 2010 through 2017 new national records steadily accumulated resulting in the current (2018) Canadian inventory of 1477 species classified in 45 families (one novel since 2010). Although there has been close to a 20% increase in the number of spider species recorded in Canada since 1979, much greater increases have occurred in some of the regional species checklists, indicating increasing knowledge of the regional distribution of species previously recorded elsewhere in Canada. For example the regional checklists for Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island have increased by 69%, 339%, and 520%, respectively. The national and regional increases reflect significant advances in the fist two decades of the 21 st Century in spider faunistics research in previously under-sampled habitats and regions and the development of molecular techniques and consequent bar-coding of spiders. Of the 1477 species recorded in Canada, 92% have been successfully DNA bar-coded resulting in 1623 unique Bar-code Index Numbers (BINs). At least 25 of the BINs are associated with relatively easily distinguished but undescribed morpho-species. Th majority, however, appear to indicate the existence of many cryptic species within Canada’s known spider fauna. Thse data, coupled with the fact that novel Canadian or even Nearctic spider species records (including of undescribed species) continue to accumulate annually (especially in habitat-diverse regions such as British Columbia), suggest that Canada’s tally of spider species may approach or even exceed 1800.
Araneae, BINs, biodiversity assessment, Biota of Canada, checklist, classification, DNA barcoding, faunistics, spiders
I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my first book, Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur! Co-authored with my colleague Dr. David Evans (Temerty Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum) and published through the ROM Press, this book explores the discovery of a spectacular armoured dinosaur skeleton and what it’s revealing about the evolution and biology of these unusual dinosaurs.
For over a decade I’ve been interested in the palaeobiology of ankylosaurs, a fascinating group of extinct dinosaurs with a spiky, armoured appearance. I’ve studied how they used their unusual tail clubs and how those tail clubs evolved, how different species around the world are related to each other, and how those species changed over time. In 2016, when I joined David’s lab at the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto as an NSERC postdoctoral fellow, I had the incredible opportunity to study a brand new dinosaur known from a nearly complete, exceptionally well-preserved skeleton. David and I named this new dinosaur Zuul crurivastator in a May 2017 paper published in Royal Society Open Science. The genus name, Zuul, is after the Ghostbusters monster of the same name, and the species name, crurivastator, means ‘destroyer of shins’ in Latin, in reference to its sledgehammer-like tail club.
In Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur, David and I pull together our recent and ongoing research on Zuul, my experience studying the biology of armoured dinosaurs as a whole, and David’s work on the dinosaurs of southern Alberta and Montana. We share how Zuul’s skeleton was discovered and excavated in the badlands of Montana and how it made its way to Toronto. We describe how it was named and how it fits into the bigger family tree of ankylosaurs, and what this new specimen is teaching us about ankylosaur armour and weapons. We even get to share what we know about Zuul’s broader ecosystem: the remains of many different species of plants and animals were found alongside Zuul’s skeleton, allowing us to understand Zuul’s friends, foes, and food.
Throughout the book we’ve been able to feature beautiful photographs of this amazing specimen, brand new illustrations by world-renowned palaeoartists Danielle Dufault and Julius Csotonyi, and behind-the-scenes peeks at ongoing scientific research on Zuul. It’s been a blast getting to study this wonderful specimen and work with such a talented team of fossil preparators, artists, exhibit developers, scientists, and the ROM publishing team to bring this book to press. I hope you’ll get a chance to appreciate the beauty and intrigue of these dinosaurs as much as I do!
Signed copies of Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur are available in the Royal Museum Shop now!
Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur
Victoria Arbour and David Evans
ROM Press, 2018, 9” x 12”, 96 pages, hard cover
Dr. Charles Newcombe played a major role in the development of the Royal B.C. Museum ethnology and palaeontology collections (figure 1). He left behind four of his own interesting photographs that were missing the details of their context. Here, I present the story behind these images.
Newcombe was fascinated by the Northwest Coast paintings of the famous Canadian painter Paul Kane. In 1904, Newcombe traveled to the University of Toronto where he photographed some of the Kane paintings from the Sir Edmund Osler private collection that were on loan to the University. Newcombe was keenly interested in Kane’s composite oil painting – then labelled as No. 84 (now ROM912.1.84). This painting was made from several images that Kane sketched in 1847 (see Lister 2010: 292-293). Newcombe had a lantern slide made from some of Kane’s images that he used in public talks (figure 2).
On July 4, 1907, sixty years after Paul Kane’s visit to Fort Victoria, Newcombe went in search of the location of Kane’s painting of I-eh-nus. The site was located near the mouth of Ennis Creek east of Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State (figure 3). Newcombe took four photographs (RBCM PN352; PN352B; PN353; PN353B) of the location during his visit but these have remained in the ethnology photo collection without information describing their context (figures 4-6).
Newcombe also left a typed draft manuscript of his trip to Ennis Creek which did not appear among his family papers. In the 1970s, I identified this important draft in an old box piled amongst miscellaneous natural history items in what was then the Museum’s Birds and Mammals Division. Newcombe had a special interest in Indigenous fortified defensive sites (Keddie 2013). Images of these forts that still existed in the mid-19th century are rare. Kane’s visuals of the Ennis Creek fortified village are the best preserved of all. His interest in archaeology, ethnology, geology and natural history is expressed in his draft article, included here, where he refers to the village as “Inas”. I have corrected some of the spelling or typos from the draft, added annotations in brackets, a few notes (*) for the Appendix 1 and interspersed some images relevant to Newcombe’s commentary. Following this I have added the commentary that appeared in Paul Kane’s 1859 publication regarding his visit to the Ennis Creek village.
Battle. Between Cllam [Clallam] & Macaw Indians, at I-eh-nus, a Clallam Fort in the Strats [Straits] of Fuca.
Directed by the nephew of the late “King George” (*1) of New Dungeness, who unlike his relative, bound to abstinence from alcohol & tobacco by his affiliation with the sect of Shaker [the Shaker Church (*2)], the writer found the site of the old village of Inas, on a point of land about a mile & a quarter to the east of the steamboat wharves at Port Angeles.
It is a wide sandy flat full of rounded pebbles of all sizes which have been washed down from the bluff of boulder clay & glacial material which forms part of the coast line along the southern shore of the Strait of Fuca.
To the west of this village site is bounded by a small pebbly creek which cuts through the bluff at this point & afforded an unfailing supply of water to the village and, no doubt both salmon & trout at certain seasons. The Bluff itself, covered with cedar, & all the common trees of this region, protected the back of the fort which fronted on the sea, & the 4th side had no natural cover.
The site is full of signs of Indian occupation, consisting of shell mound material, burnt stones, fragments of whetstones & hammers and the lines of the house places are still marked by long rounded mounds formed by the rubbish thrown out from time to time.
This is especially noticeable in the case of a carved board, the face of which is rounded & show traces of red paint on the carved surface. The west face is flat & roughly hewn. The fragment is of cedar & covered with a bright yellow lichen. [It is surprising that Newcombe does not mention the pole that he photographed (figure 6). His photo catalogue only says “Inez pole and stream”. It is likely that the large pole remnant was a major support for the corner of the old Fort].
The parallelogram occupies the portion of the sandy flat shown by Kane as fortified. Some very old Indians seen at Port Angeles will remember the incident of the burning of the fort by the Macas [Macaws] & confirm many of the details related by Kane.
Sheltered by Ediz Hook, a spit of sandy shingle which runs in a curve for nearly three miles from shore, this village occupied an ideal situation.
Useful trees, shrubs & plants noted. Cedar, Douglas fir, balsam fir, hemlock, spiraea, dogwood, willows, crab apple, thorn, goose b., current, thimble b., straw b., claytonia, onion, cherry, salal, rushes. Woods abounded in bear, elk, deer, birds of many kinds as ducks, geese (?), grouse, eagles, woodpeckers, &c.
Lighthouse at end of hook in line with cedar hill gives location of bluff above flat on west side of creek. Spanish map of Eliza, 1791, shows houses a little to east of Inas (*3). [Newcombe includes on his draft a simple sketch of the top of the hill that notes on each sloping east-west sides a “bank of shell” and at the N.W. corner a “carved board with no paint”].
Paul Kane’s description of this Fortified site and the battle between the Makah and Klallam (see figure 8) was presented in his 1859 publication. He visited the village site of I-eh-nis from May 9 to 11, 1847. His description is as follows:
“Made a portage across the spit, and by the evening reached I-eh-nus, a Clallam village or fort. It was composed of a double row of strong pickets, the outer ones about twenty feet high, and the inner row about five feet, enclosing a space of 150 feet square. The whole of this inner space is roofed in, and divided into small compartments, or pens, for the use of each separate family. There were about 200 of the tribe in the fort at the time of my arrival. Their chief, Yates-sut-soot, received me with great cordiality. … A few months before my arrival a great battle had been fought with the Macaws, in which the Clallums had suffered very severely. It originated in the Clallums having taken possession of the body of a whale which had been killed by the Macaws, but had got away, and was drifted by the current to the village. The Macaws demanded a share of the spoils, and also the return of their spears, some fifteen or twenty in number; which were sticking in the carcase; both demands were refused, and a feeling of animosity sprang up between the tribes.” … A few months after the quarrel about the whale, the brother of Yellow-cum, the head chief of the Macaws, went to Fort Victoria to trade for ammunition and other necessities, and on his return was attached by the Clallums. He and one of his men were killed, but three others escaped, and succeeded in getting to Cape Flattery, where Yellow-cum resided. Immediately upon hearing of the death of his brother, Yellow-cum fitted out twelve of his largest canoes, with twenty warriors in each, and made a sudden descent upon I-eh-nus; – after fire was set to the grass and wood – the Clallam were forced to run out and fight – Yellow-cum took prisoners, mostly females, who were made slaves, and he had eight heads stuck on poles in the bows of the canoes on his return. These heads were carried to the village, and placed in front of the lodge of the warriors who had killed them as trophies” (Lister 2016).
During the same year as Paul Kane’s visit, the region around the Ennis Creek village was surveyed between July 22-28, by Captain Henry Kellet (Kellet 1847). He showed three “Indian village” places west of Ediz Hook. The furthest village east below the tip of Ediz Hook is the Ennis Creek village. This survey information formed a portion of the George Richards map of 1859 (Figure 9).
Charles Newcombe’s notes and his photographs in the Royal B.C. Museum collection, taken on his 1907 journey, have contributed to providing a better understanding of the physical landscape and context of Paul Kane’s unique imagery.
(1) It is likely that the person who guided Newcombe was Lah-ka-nim called “Prince of Wales”, who was still living in the 1930s. It was common for high ranking Klallam peoples to take on names of high-ranking Europeans. The “King George” mentioned was S’Hai-ak, the brother of Chits-a-mah-han or Chetzemoka [c.1808 -1888], who was also called the “Duke of York” and recognized by Europeans as a “chief”. Chetzemoka was the leader of a mixed group of about 200 Chemakum and Clallam peoples living at Port Townsend, Washington. He had two wives Chil-lil or Jenny Lind and See-hem-itza or “Queen Victoria”. The latter was the mother of Newcombe’s guide Lah-ka-nim. His uncle S’Hai-ak or King George was the older brother of Chetzemoka and was recognized as the “chief” of the Port Townsend peoples before him. Lahka-nim or the Prince of Wales, was named after his grandfather who was present at the time of Captain Vancouver’s visit in 1792 (McDonald 1972; Castile 1985). S’Hai-ak is seen in a drawing done during his 1848 visit to Victoria one year after Kane’s visit (see Keddie 2003).
(2) The Indian Shaker Church is a blend of Christian and indigenous religion that originated in lower Puget Sound in the 1820s. It was founded by John Slocum, a Puget Sound Squaxin man in his 40s who, it is claimed, died and came back to life.
(3) I agree with Newcombe here that the Elisa 1791 map, Carta que comprehende, that shows two houses to the east of Port Angeles are likely too far east to be at the location of Ennis. Erna Gunther (1927:174), mistakenly shows I’e’ nis west of Tciwi’tsen near the base of Ediz Hook. This location is too far west. Gibbs (1855:22) description is not specific and is only given as “Yennis, at Port Angeles or False Dungeness”. A map that clearly shows a village at Ennis Creek is the 1853 map of Lieutenant James Alden (Alan 1853). Henry Kellet’s information shown in figure 9 is also shown on a second 1859 map (America N.W. Coast. Strait of JUAN De FUCA. Surveyed by Captain Kellett, R.N. 1847. Haro & Rosario Straits. By Captain G.H. Richards, R.N. 1858. Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound. By the United States Exploring Expedition, 1841. Coast South of C. Flattery by the same in 1853).
Wooden and antler wedges are a common tool found in the Northwest Coast cultural area of North America. The purpose of this article is to drive a wedge into our current thinking about wedges and to stimulate further research by making some observations based on Royal B.C. Museum archaeological and ethnological artifacts. I combine this view of collections with my own background experience in working with wedges.
Wedges are commonly known to have been used for splitting fire wood, for the manufacture of posts and planks used in house construction, household items such as boxes and bowls, and for the whole process of canoe making from cutting down trees to splitting the tree trunks and carving out the canoes.
When archaeologists find antler wedges in old shellmidden sites their presence is usually interpreted as evidence of wood working activities. Wedge shaped antler artifacts, however, do have a number of other uses, the most significant is their use in the repairing of canoes and in hide working, as well as the general use of their proximal end as a hammer. This article is intended to bring about the awareness of the need for more experimentation, fine scaled observation and analysis of what we normally call antler wedges.
This inside of a canoe (Figure 1&2) was photographed by Charles Newcombe in 1913, at Alert Bay on northern Vancouver Island. Although no commentary was preserved with it, Newcombe obviously took the photograph to show the ten antler wedges being used to repair a major split in the side of the canoe. There are likely, at least several more wedges that cannot be seen in the image.
If this canoe was pulled up from the beach long ago and left to rot on land, a concentration of antler wedges would likely became buried in an archaeological shellmidden site. The presence of all these wedges in close proximity to each other would likely be mistakenly interpreted by archaeologists as the location of extensive woodworking activity.
The use of wooden wedges for canoe repair has been minimally known about, but photograph RBCM PN629 is important in clearly showing small antler wedges in canoe repair as late as the early 20th century.
When the canoe sides begin to split, holes are drilled into each side of the crack and twisted bark rope is strung across the crack. In order to firmly tighten or pull the boards together a small antler wedge is pounded between the ropes and the side of the canoe to pull the boards tighter together than can be done by simply pulling and tying the rope by hand.
A significant statement was provided by First Nations consultants of Waterman about wedges used in Puget Sound (Waterman 1973). He noted that: “They were made of yew, or of hemlock knots, or of elk antler, the last named being the best”.
Waterman worked with Indigenous advisors in the 1919-1921 period – their experiences would go back to the 1850s. Although he does not mention why antler is best, I would surmise that one of the benefits of antler is the fact that it does not shrink and expand as much as wood – making it better for long term canoe repair jobs. From my own experience in using antler wedges for splitting wood, antler can keep a tougher distal end than wood and not split as easily as some types of medium to hard woods.
Both antler and wooden wedges vary enormously in size. It appears that most of the antler wedge-like artifacts we find in Archaeological sites are the broken fragments and re-purposed portions of previously larger examples (figure 3). When longer antler wedges are broken or weathered down by use they usually break near the tip and become too small to use as wood splitting wedges. They then can be more appropriately used as canoe repair wedges (figure 4). Many short broken wedge tips show post breakage pounding or compression on their proximal end – which demonstrate that they were reused. Archaeological collections contain many broken wedge tips that also show evidence of being graved into smaller pieces to be used for making other objects such as antler projectile points (figure 5).
During his travels along the lower Columbia River in 1824, George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company observed: “Our Iron Works are not as yet come in to general use among them; they have no occasion for Hatchets to fell timber as their shores are covered with Driftwood which they split with wedges” (Merk 1931:103).
When reading the ethnographic literature on the use of wedges, it helps to have a bit of personal experience with the subject matter in order to judge or interpret what is being reported.
Starting when I was six years old I often used an axe to cut down trees and split wood for the stove in our cabin at Skeleton Lake Alberta. This wood splitting experience was helpful when I later had to root out 300 year old tree stumps. When I was 13, I was given a specific job of splitting 120 ten foot poles of hemlock and cedar to make 240 fence posts to enclose our new property in Surrey, British Columbia.
I started off with two steel wedges which I soon lost inside partially split logs. I was forced by necessity to make an increasing number of wooden wedges. I soon remembered the importance of the width and thickness of the wedge in relation to the splitting edge and how multiple wedges were needed to be used in concert with each other. A series of wedges that are flat in relation to the cutting edge could be used on cedar with near perfect grain structure, but thicker wedges on both the top and sides were usually required for controlling the split.
Anthropologist Franz Boas reports that seven sizes of wedges were being used to split boards among the Indigenous peoples on the north end of Vancouver Island (1909:253&324). See figure 7 for the distal end shapes shown by Boas. Anthropologist Phillip Drucker (1951:80) notes the practice of using eight to a dozen small wedges across the top of a split tree trunk to remove a large board. These are used to get the split started and then they are replaced with larger wedges
We are fortunate in having a detailed description by Boas (1909:323-324) in the making of wooden canoe wedges (figure 7). Indigenous advisors told him that one should cut four pieces of yew wood to different lengths. What is significant is that even the smallest wooden wedges described are much bigger than what appear to be complete antler wedges found in Archaeological sites. I have only seen (in a private collection) two elk antler wedges of an archaeological nature that are over the 30cm size mentioned below. These were found together just below the surface in a rocky bush area above the N.W. corner of Bay and Cook Streets in Victoria. There was no evidence of a habitation site at this location.
Boas gives the measurements in spans-distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger. I will use 9 inches or 0.2286m for the usually accepted English standard for a spam. For fingers, I will use 19mm or ¾ inch. I will record these to the nearest cm. Given these standards, Boas’s seven canoe wedges of six different sizes(the last two being the same size)would be: (1) 76cm (2) 69cm (3) 53cm (4) 46cm (5) 30cm (6) 23cm (7) 23cm. Unfortunately, a description of how the various sizes of wedges are used in the production of a canoe is not explained. Wooden wedges generally had twisted plant fibre grommets on the end to prevent splitting (See figure 8a&8b).
Sproat, from observations made in the 1860s, indicates that, in canoe making among the Nuu-chan-nulth of the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the tree trunk was split in half with wedges and the best half used for making a canoe. An “axe used formerly in falling the largest tree …was made of elkhorn [antler], and was shaped like a chisel. …This chisel-shaped axe, as well as large wooden wedges, was also used in hollowing the canoe” (Sproat 1868:86). It is uncertain here if Sproat is referring to a wedge hafted in the mid section like a modern axe head or an antler chisel-like wedge pounded with a stone hammer.
When Drucker visited the same area in the 1940s, he pointed out that none of his indigenous consultants knew of the elk antler chisels described by Sproat (Drucker 1951:78).
The most common land mammal remains found in archaeological sites in British Columbia are those of deer, with elk and other ungulates being prevalent in some areas. The preparation and wearing of animal hides by coastal peoples is downplayed in reports in favour of the wearing of woven clothing. This, in part, is due to a lack of knowledge as to what artifacts were used in the processing of hides on the coast – in some areas this information is lacking in the ethnographic literature – especially on the southern coast.
Boas reports on the use of yew wood wedges in the processing of the hides of large animals such as elk and bear. It is likely that antler wedge-like artifacts would serve the same purpose (figure 9). After elk hides have been soaked and hung up in preparation for further work: “the woman takes a scraper, consisting of a wedge of yew-wood, and scrapes it downward on the hair side. Thus all the water is squeezed out. Then the flesh side is scraped with the back of a cockle-shell which is fastened to a long handle. When all the fat and tissue have been scraped off and all the water has been pressed out, it is scraped down once more with the shell scraper (figure 10). Next the whole hair side is rubbed thoroughly with a little oil of the silver perch, and is scraped once more with the yew-wood wedge until the oil has been pressed out again. The skin is put in the sun; after this, it is scraped once more until it is quite dry” (Boas 1909:400-401).
Some antler artifacts described as “wedges” have sharply turned angles which would make it unlikely that they were used for splitting wood. Others with slight curing distal ends (figure 11) would
be suitable for the removal of wood in shaping the sides on the inside of a canoe. Some of the longer “wedges” with long tapering and flatter distal ends would function effectively as hide stretchers (figure 9).
Some shellmiddens on the south-eastern coast of B.C. contain large numbers of whole or portions of antler wedge-like artifacts. Figure 3 is an example of antler wedges from archaeological site DcRt-16 in McNeil Bay dating between about 500 and 200 years ago.
Figure 12,shows a common example of a short stubby elk antler artifact (DcRt-Y:102; Length 152mm; wide at mid-section 30mm;18mm wide at a distance of 10mm from the distal end and 37X40mm at the proximal end)that has been broken off a large wedge and re-used – judging by the evidence of pounding on the proximal end. This is a likely example of a wedge re-used as a canoe repair wedge. Figure 16 shows very different distal ends on two small antler wedges. The wedge with a pointed end (DcRt-15:4202) would have had a specialized purpose. Figure 17 shows three wooden wedges from water-logged sites. The two on the left are shaped from both sides to form the triangular point. Both are over 2000 years old. DcRu-74:88, has been burnt on the tip to harden it – as was known in historic times.
There is one example of a large wedge made of a whale rib bone (14250) in the ethnology collection like those found at the Ozette Village site (Figure 18). Based on the condition of this artifact, I suspect it is actually from an archaeological site and has recent twisted root material tied around the neck.
Boas recorded several other uses of antler wedges. The proximal or flat ends were used as hammers for breaking open Sea Urchins – often referred to as sea eggs (figure 13). Boas notes this activity among the people of northern Vancouver Island: “His wife often carries a yew-wedge to break the sea eggs” with a grommet of cedar twigs at the upper end to prevent splitting (Boas, 1921:491). He also indicates that the wedge was used as a beater in fish preparation (Boas 1921:387-394), and as a hammer in the preparation of octopi tentacles to use as bait on fishing hooks. After the pieces of octopi tentacles are dried they are placed on a board and pounded flat with a short wedge. A man in: “His left hand holds the piece of devil-fish, and with his right hand he holds the flat point of the wedge; and he pounds the devil-fish with the other end of the short wedge” Boas (1909:483).
Wedges found in museum ethnographic collections rarely have associated information on their use. Two small thin hemlock wedges, RBCM Ethnology 2063a&b (18.3cm and 16cm), were collected by Charles Newcombe in 1912 at Alert Bay. They are described as having been “used by women with a small stone hammer for splitting wood for household purposes”. The small size of these would suggest they were only used for making kindling wood.
A bark bag of an open twilled weave for holding wedges was collected with 6 yew wood wedges – four large and two small examples (RBCM2237A-g). It was collected by Charles Newcombe in 1912, from the northern Moachaht on the west coast of Vancouver Island (figure 14&15). Drucker later makes reference to a special woven bag to carry wedges (Drucker 1951:78).
Boas records that after chopping a small yew tree in pieces, the points or distal ends of these are “burned off to harden them, and are rubbed down with water on a large slab of sandstone. The burning of the wood prevents it from warping. When the point is ground down, the lower side of the wedge is given a steeper slant than the upper one; so that when driven into a horizontal log, the wedge is ground down on one side only (Fig. 51,b,c) [Examples are 47cm and 57cm long], and the sides are flattened down by chopping with an adze or by grinding. The tip of the wedge also generally tapers down from the sides. The butt-end is tapered down slightly, and is then provided with a ring made of cedar-withes. After the ring has been fastened on to the wedge, the butt-end is sometimes rubbed against a wetted grindstone until it is quite flat. Generally, however, it is battered down on a stone slab. Wedges for splitting boards are always made in sets of seven pieces, the longest of which is four spans long, while the others decrease in length to about two spans and a half or less” (Boas 1909:323).
Boas specifically mentions wedges made for hollowing out canoes: “These are made of crooked pieces of yew-wood, which are bent so as to conform to the inner curvature of the canoe. They are ground down to a point on the concave side.
Drucker (1950) lists wooden wedges as element #420 and includes element #421 as a “symmetrically tapered” wedge and element #422 as a “curved” wedge. He notes: “There are apparently two forms of curved wedges, used particularly in canoe making, but it was not possible to differentiate between them consistently” (Drucker 1950:255).
Boas indicates that small wedges are “used for work in the house, particularly for splitting fire-wood. These are only about 20cm long, and are generally ground down evenly from both sides, the point of the wedge being rounded.” The example he shows in his Figure 51a is 24cm long (Boas 1909:323).
The excavation of the famous Ozette site on the Olympic Peninsula, buried in a mud slide about 400 years ago, resulted in the recovery of 1100 wooden wedges. This site provides us with the largest comparative sample of wedges. Wedges at this site were grouped into seven sub-types on the basis of morphology, cross section size, and length. There were 42 preforms (unfinished examples) at the site. Gleeson notes that “both wedge fragments and complete wedges with evidence of repair indicate steps used to maintain the wedges” (Gleeson 1980:67).
The Ozette wedges were made primarily from compressed spruce wood (Friedman 1975:121). Compression wood is cut from the underside of a leaning branch. Because of the stress on the moving branches, this wood has very thick cell walls and round cells in cross section. It is important to have the compression parallel to the grain to take heavy pounding.
The Ozette collection has a much wider range of wedge types than is reported in the ethnographic literature. Gleeson indicates: “it is supposed that the majority of the large cross section oval wedges were used for heavy duty splitting such as removing large blocks from standing trees or fallen trees, the rectangular wedges represent somewhat different approach. Because the oval wedges have their bit in the same plane as the thickness dimension, their lifting height is therefore equal to their width and not their thickness”. He refers to thickness as “lift” (Gleeson 1980:67).
Gleeson observes that oval wedges are symmetrical; the rectangular wedges are asymmetrical on the width axis, one side being straight and the other convex. This characteristic could work to advantage when splitting wide thin pieces of cedar that would be likely to develop secondary splits or fractures.
The “rod” wood wedges do not fit into the above descriptions: “The rod wedge is a long slender wedge almost circular in cross section. The proximal ends of these wedges are not grommeted and the distal end has more of a point than the convex margin of the other wedges” (Gleeson 1980:67).
The Ozette whole wedges and fragments were subdivided into large, medium, small, and marking (extra small) wedges. The four most numerous categories were large rectangular wedges, large oval wedges, rod wedges and preforms (Gleeson 1980:68).
Drucker indicates that the short wedges “are seen to be those that may have been cycled out of use, while the medium to long wedges are probably still usable. The groups of wedges are assumed to reflect the splitting of both different shapes and sizes of wood”. Length ranges three feet to several inches (Drucker 1951:78).
The Ozette sizes are as follows: Short large Oval: L. 10.0–25.8cm. Mean 17.4 SD 3.34. Width: 2.2–5.8cm Mean 4.0 SD.52. Thickness “lift”: 1.9-5.5. mean 3.1.SD .58cm
Medium to long. Large oval wedges; L. 26.1–64.5 Mean 37.2. SD 9.68. Width 3.5-5.5. Mean 4.6. SD.52. Lift 1.9-4.6 Mean 3.5 SD.77.
Gleeson indicated that 114 of the Ozette wedges still had grommets and the other 304 have battered ends Gleeson 1980). Although wooden wedges have a variety of shapes the antler wedges of Ozette have only one morphological variety. They are low angled dense short wedges that Gleeson believes were mostly likely used for starting splits. Whale bone rib wedges include one variety of broad flat wedges possibly used to split and support wide thin boards such as would be used for boxes (Gleeson 1980:62).
Gleeson inventoried 54 antler and two bone wedges: Elk base (1) whole beam (19) split beam (17) joint as proximal end (1) tine (1); and indeterminate tip fragment (16). Antler and bone L: 6.9-26.6 Mean 16.0 W: 2.1-7.2; Th: 1.3–5.6; bit angle 12-31 mean 20 degrees (Gleeson 1980:65).
Stern describes the use of wedges in processing a cedar tree. It is felled: “by cutting all around it with a sledge and an elk horn blade. … the tree is then trimmed and when the boughs are removed, it is split into halves by means of large stone hammers: both halves are used as material for canoes. Small bone wedges start the split at one end and after the crack is begun, wooden spruce knots are inserted as gluts. As the wedges open, short timbers catch all the slack and the working wedge is placed at the smallest part of the spit until the other end is reached.” After fires have burned holes at intervals inside the canoe, the section between the holes are hewn out with an antler wedge and hammer (Stern 1934:95).
An examination of Museum collections and descriptions in the ethno-historic literature indicate there is a wide variety of artifacts often labeled as wedges that have specialized uses as wedges as well as uses for purposes other than wood working. A question for the future is to ask what are the differences in the use of wooden wedges and wedge-like antler artifacts? A more precise description of those objects we find in archaeological sites and controlled experimentation with replicas in their use is needed to gain a better understanding of the more complex behavior behind these important processing tools.
At the end of the ice age the land, in relation to the sea level, was undergoing enormous changes around Greater Victoria. Where the land surface was covered by ice or had ice sheets nearby, it was pushed down making local sea level high in relation to the land. This was occurring even when world-wide sea levels were much lower.
As ice melted the local earth’s crust quickly rebounded and relative sea level fell at least 45 meters below where it is today. The sea then slowly came back up to near its present level around 4500 years ago – creating Victoria harbour, Esquimalt harbour and the large Bays as we know them today. It is of scientific interest to determine when and what part of the landscape was available at this time for the occupation of plants and animals – including humans.
During the period of rapid local emergence of the land from the sea there were short periods of stability. At these short times of more stable environments ancient beaches with clam beds developed in the bays and inlets found at various levels over time. These periods of stability are called ocean standstills. At these now buried locations one can often pull out whole intact marine clam shells. These locations are usually exposed during digging for the installation or replacing of sewer or water mains and by modern housing developments.
There is evidence of humans spearing mastodon and butchering bison around 13,800 years ago to the south of Vancouver Island on the Olympic peninsula (Waters et. al.2011) and Orcas island (Kenady et al. 2010). We should expect to find similar evidence on southern Vancouver Island.
Much of the evidence for the history of Indigenous people in Greater Victoria is missing between about 13,000 and 4,500 years ago because the sea level was far below what it is today. The bays we are familiar with were not here. There was no Victoria or Esquimalt Harbour, they were dry land. Evidence of indigenous activity is still to be found at inland localities, but these are much more difficult to identify than the large shell middens found at the back of most current bays and inlets. Any coastal villages occupied during that time are now under water and mostly destroyed. There will, however, still be some interesting intact waterlogged evidence in silted in bays. Most stone artifacts washed out of old, now underwater, village locations and stone tools or weapons lost from canoes will still be found on the ocean floor.
A few examples of the ancient raised beaches or sea stands exist around greater Victoria. These are locations where there are buried marine beaches in now extinct inlets or bays that existed for short time intervals in the past. If these bays were stable for even a few hundred years, there may be evidence of human use or habitation at these bays that we need to be looking for.
Figure 1, shows an example of an undated marine shell layer at 34 meters above the current sea level. This old marine beach was exposed during excavations in the 4500 block of Lockside Drive on March 12, 1989. Jim Phillips, who lived nearby on Lockside Drive, took this photograph and collected Shell samples at the location. He turned these over to the author in 1993. Areas along Lockside Drive were once an ancient sea ridge.
Although some ancient beach levels have been dated for the greater Victoria area, the dates do not always fit with the expected lowering of sea level or the dates overlap considerably – making it difficult to provide specific times for each ancient beach level. When ocean inlets disappear their basins are generally filled in with small lakes or marshes. Some radio carbon dates pertain to the testing of peat or marl (composed of fresh water snails) at the base of these wet areas that often lay above the extinct ocean basin. These dates can only tell us when the sea level was no longer at that location. The dates may be several hundred years after the ocean has retreated from the area. It is therefore import to compare the actual shells from each of the beaches as well as later material.
Radio carbon dates need to be re-calibrated based on known changes in atmospheric carbon found at various times in the past. Scientists refer to this as the re-calibrated date. Although the atmospheric carbon re-calibration has been refined over the years, a second calibration is needed when dating marine shells.
This second calibration is needed because of the different amounts of carbon in different marine environments at different time periods. Marine shells can produce older dates than contemporaneous terrestrial non-marine materials. This is because marine shells can contain older carbon. To re-calculate a standard radio-carbon date on marine shells for the Victoria area, at least minus 400 years would be added to the calculation of dates more than 800 years old (Deo et al.(2004). This is called the marine reservoir correction number.
It is believed that the need for a decreasing reservoir correction number during the early Holocene is due to lower amounts of oceanic mixing of carbon when sea level fell. In recent years there have been different calculations on what marine reservoir number should be added to dates of different ages. Hutchinson and associates favoured adding 950+or-50 years to dates over 10,000 years ago (Hutchinson et al. 2004). James and associates summarized most of the previous radio carbon dates related to sea level change in the Victoria region using the above calibration figures (James et al.2009). Although they did suggest that the reservoir number was possibly too large for the Victoria area and a reduction to 850 years “would reduce the slight discrepancy between some of the transitional samples and the inferred sea-level pattern” (See Robinson and Thompson 1981; Mackie et al. 2011 and other reference sited for many of the previous publications relevant to this discussion).
In light of more recent information by Miskelly (2012)pertaining to the existence of a previously unrecognized glacial advance at around 21,000 years ago of what is now called the Saanich Glaciation, and new information on the early period of the glacial advance and retreat, there is a need for a re-examination of earlier documentation.
Clague had demonstrated that the Quadra Sands (proglacial outwash and beach sands) began being deposited in the Victoria area after 22,600+-300 years ago (Clague 1976, 1977). Miskelly (2012)showed that this glacier had reached Saanich Inlet by around 21,000 years ago, which correlates well with Anderson’s demonstration of the underwater glacial terminus deposits in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca at the same time (Anderson 1968). Our knowledge of what happened between the time of the retreat of the Saanich glacier and the advance of the Fraser glaciation is in need of much more research. In addition, the possibility that some of the ancient beach standstills may be the result of a short re-inundation of the landscape needs to be considered.
I am presenting here a new radiocarbon date, the first date on an ancient marine beach located at 14 meters above the current shore line. The actual location above sea is about 12.8 to 13.8 meters, but I am using 14 meters for discussion purposes. As there seems to be some problem with dates in the region being out of alignment with their stratigraphic position on the landscape, I will present this date from the Haultain Basin of Victoria with two different marine reservoir calibrations to demonstrate the problems involved. More dates of ancient shorelines will be needed to better clarify what reservoir correction numbers need to be used in future calculation of marine samples from various time periods.
Over the years I have made sporadic visits to examine various excavation holes being dug throughout greater Victoria. My recognition of the importance of this area resulted from finds of marine shells and bison remains by Charles Newcombe in the 1914-15 period under Haultain Street to the west of Empire Street and a later donation of bison remains found a few blocks away on Oregon Street during a water main excavation in 1946. Figure 3 shows Haultain Street, where two blocks down the road to the west Charles Newcombe found evidence of shells from a 14 meter marine standstill and bison remains from the bottom of swamp that developed later at this location. On the left of the image is the location of the recent finds discussed here.
Charles Newcombe was the first person to take a keen interest in this subject matter. In 1914, he wrote a publication entitled: Pleistocene Raised Beaches at Victoria, B.C. (Newcombe 1914). Newcombe had found marine shells and a bison cranial and horn core fragment (RBCM EH.2002.004.0001) in 1914, and a posterior portion of a bison 12th or 13th rib (EH.2007.004.0007) near the same location in 1915 (figure 4A and 4B).
Newcombe’s 1914 map, not as accurate as those of today, shows what he calls the Saanich formation marking the area up to 100 feet (30.48 meters). It was below this level where he had observed marine shells in several locations. The highest location that Newcombe did observe sea shells was at 27 meters above current sea level at Blenkinsop Lake (see figure 5).
In July of 1946, Herbert Raines, a City of Victoria pipefitter found a nearly complete bison maxilla with articulated premaxilla (EH.2007.004.0001) when sewer pipes were laid along Oregon Avenue further up the Haultain Basin between Walnut and Bay Street (see figure 6).
In 2009, I monitored the city of Victoria water main insert project in the Haultain Valley and surrounding areas. One evening, while looking in an excavation hole on Haultain Street near Wesley Place (48.4361595 N. latitude – 123.3498 longitude) I discovered an ancient beach where whole clams could be pulled out of the cut bank. The location was clearly a 14 meter high sea stand and one that was not dated. Above this marine beach layer is a layer of lacustrine marl from decomposed fresh water snails and above this a peat layer (see figures 7 and 8).
I had earlier talked to the project foreman and a number of workers, gave them my card, and told them what I was looking for in terms of stratigraphy and bison remains, and asked them to call me if they find anything. Several days later I received a phone call from Tina Anderson, who worked at the adjacent Haultain Fish and Chips shop where some of the workers came for lunch. She indicated that a larger amount of shells were turning up. Tina has been enthusiastically supportive of helping information recovery and encouraged the workers from the contractor to bring her any bones they might find.
On April 29, I collected Marine shells (Saxidomus & Mya species) from the excavation area. These included specimens that I collected myself from the back dirt piles and insitu in the wall as well as some of those turned over by workers to Tina Anderson (see figure 9 and 10).
I later photographed and collected matrix samples from both the peat layer for future seed and pollen analysis and the marl layer below. Most of the marl layer is composed of delicate and highly crushed snail shells (figure 11).
I collected a larger sample of the marl to go through and extract any complete or nearly complete identifiable fresh water snails (figure 12).
At another location at the intersection of Walnut Street and Oregon Avenue I had also photographed (figure 13-14) the stratigraphy showing the same sequence of peat overlaying a marl layer that was overlying marine deposits with marine shells. The Haultain Street and Oregon Street excavation locations were both, respectively, within 100 meters of where separate bison remains were previously recovered.
I was able to observe that the marine shell and fresh water shell sequences did not extend east up Haultain Street to Garden Street (c.150cm deep hole) and did not extend east up Walnut Street to Belmont Avenue (figure 15). The excavation extended to a depth of 250cm at the latter location. This helped determine the boundaries of the ancient shore line and that its limit was at 14 meters above sea level – as found on Haultain Street. The marl layer at both locations was around 137cm below the present surface.
A re-excavation of the same hole on Haultain Street, that I had earlier visited, had exposed new stratigraphy at the east end of the excavations. On August 7, 2009 a worker turned in a tooth to Tina Anderson who immediately phoned me. The unwashed tooth clearly showed peat embedded on one side and marl embedded on the other side. This showed that the tooth was found at the junction of these two stratigraphic layers that I had observed and sampled previously and was able to re-examine again. I identified the tooth as the 3rd upper molar of a bison (Figure 16). These remains were from the eastern portions of the same swamp where Charles Newcombe collected bison remains 95 years earlier. The tooth, marine shells and freshwater snails are now part of the Royal B.C. Museum’s Earth Sciences Collection (RBCM.EH2009.016) and await further studies.
A portion of a valve of Saxidomus gigantea or butter clam (Accessioned as RBCM.EH2009.016.0020) was sent for radio-carbon dating thanks to the generosity of long time museum volunteer and patron Sharon Smith.
The conventional radio carbon age date was 12,910+-40 BP (Beta-488449). Adjusted for the local marine reservoir correction of minus 400+-20 the date is 12,510+-45. The corrected date range to a 95.4% probability is 14,131-13,848 cal BP. or to a 68.2% probability is 14,069-13,920 cal BP. If the marine reservoir correction was minus 950+-50, the calibrated age on a date of 11,960+-40 BP would be 13,886 +- 166 BP or a range of 13,720-14,050 BP. Using either of the marine calibrations the results are not much different for the probable date range of the sample. If we combined the maximum and minimum extent of the two ranges we can provide a probable conservative date for the Haultain 14 meter standstill between 13,720 and 14,131 years before present.
James et al. (2009) indicated that in the Victoria region: “Sea level fell rapidly from its high stand of about +75 m elevation just before 14,000 cal BP (12,000 radiocarbon years BP) to below the present shoreline by 13,200 cal BP. (11,400 radiocarbon years BP).”
I will only refer here to three locations with dated marine standstills in close proximity to the Haultain valley that I see as most pertinent in the discussion. The calibrated ages given for the other raised beaches are reported after James et al. (2009).
There are difficulties with coordinating radio carbon dating with elevation in this region. As mentioned there has been changing opinion as to how much time needs to be taken off to account for the varying amounts of carbon found in shellfish remains at different time periods. As James et al. suggest “It is possible that the marine reservoir correction of 950+-50 years is too large for the Victoria area”, but they chose to retain the 950+-50 years marine reservoir correction proposed by Hutchinson et a. (2004)for samples older than 10,000 BP.
Only a few kilometers to the south of the undated 34 meter ocean standstill on Lockside Drive is a 27 meter ocean standstill located at Blenkinsop Lake. A standard radio-carbon date of 12,110 B.P. (GSC-246a) was received on the shell (Mya truncata) from these deposits (Dyck et. al. 1965). The standard calibrated date for Blenkinsop Lake was 13,060+or-80 years. This result was then given a date range of 13,844-14052 years before present (James et. al 2009).
Because the standard correction was not applied to this early Geological Survey of Canada date, a correction factor of plus 400 was added by James et al (2009) giving a date of 13,060-+80. The latter resulting conventional date was adjusted for a local reservoir correction of minus 950+-50 years resulting in a date of 12,110+-94, and from this, a calibrated age range of 13,844-14,052 BP(original sampling Dyck et al 1965). [If the marine correction for 13,060+-80 was only minus 400 the resulting date would be 12,660+-80, giving a calibration range of 14713-15347 BP].
Shells (Hiatella arctica) located at 26m above current sea level received a radiocarbon age of 13,120-+80 (GSC-763) (Lowden and Blade, 1970). Adjusted for the local reservoir correction of 950+-50 it is 12,170-+94 and a calibrated age range of 13,904-14,133 BP (James 2009).
If the reservoir correction was calculated at only minus 400 years, the resulting date would be 15,131-+289 BP with a 68% calibration range of 14842 – 15420 BP, and therefore substantially different. Sea shells were exposed in a day-lighted creek running through the Saanich Municipal yard (See figure 17).
At about the same level as the Haultain site, there is a 15 meter marine shell layer at Rithets Bog. However, this shell layer was not dated. A date on a basal Gyttja layer which lay above the marine shell deposits was given a conventional date of 11,400+-95 (GSC-945; Lowden and Blade, 1970). A correction of 625+-60 years to the Gyttja provided a date of 10775+-112 BP and a calibrated date of 12708-12876 BP. (James et al. 2009). This date indicates when the ocean had gone below this level and does not date the ancient beach.
A marine shell (Saxidomus giganteus)in deposits c. 1 meter above current sea level was dated to 12,100+-160 (GSC-1114; Fulton 1971). Adjusted for the local reservoir correction of 950+-50 it is 11,550+-94 BP with a Calibrated age of 13440-+ 130 BP and a 68% range of 13,309-13,570 BP.(James 2009). If the marine correction for 12,100+-80 was only minus 400 years the resulting date would be 11,700+-80, giving a calibration range of 13,435-13,731 BP. These marine shell deposits include the Cook Street village area and extended east into Fairfield (See figures 18-19).
There are three other radio carbon dates from the Cook Street area that are from above the marine shell layer and are therefore later than the shell date. These include:
(1) Fresh water shells had a radiocarbon age of 11,200 +_170 (GSC1130;Fulton 1971). A corrected and radiocarbon age is given in Table 1 of James et. al (2009) as 11,620+-85 yr BP with range of 13366-13580 BP.
(2) Plant material (peat) was given a conventional date of 11,500+-160 (GSC1131; Fulton 1971). It is recorded as 11500+-80 in Gowen (2005) and as 11500+-85 with a corrected date of 13269-13413 BP in James (2009).
(3)Gyttja material provided a date of 11200+-190 BP (GSC1142; Fulton 1971). It is given a radiocarbon and corrected age in James as 11200+-95 and a corrected range of 13020-13193 BP).
If we accept the marine reservoir correction of minus 950+-50, the Haultain Street high sea stand was in existence about 13,886 years ago. The possible time range of the ancient beach is between 13,720-14,052 BP. Even if the marine reservoir correction was taken at minus 400, the date range would be similar.
The Blenkinsop Lake ocean standstill at 27 meters above current sea level and the McKenzie Street standstill at 26 meters both have similar time ranges using a marine correction of minus 950+-50(13,844-14,052 B.P.) and (13,904-14,133 BP). However, in this case, and unlike the Haultain date, using a marine correction of minus 400(14,713-15,347) and (14,842-15,420 BP) would involve a potentially large difference of 1287 years at the older part of the time range and 869 at the younger end of the range. The expected closeness of dating on these two sites does fit better with the marine reservoir correction of minus 950+-50 years.
The calibrated dates before present for the McKenzie Street, Rithet’s Bog and Haultain Basin are in reverse order of what we would expect – the oldest dates being above the younger dates. The Haultain Street date range is 13,720 BP to 14,052 BP with a marine reservoir of minis 950+-50 and a range of 13,848 BP-14,131 BP. When we compare the blended Blenkinsop and McKenzie Street ranges of 13,844-14,133 years ago, they overlap considerably with the Haultain Basin time range. The difference of the date ranges being only 81 years at the older end and 124 years at the younger end of the time range.
It is difficult with current dating to determine the specific age of ocean standstills or how fast the sea level in the Victoria region was falling to each of these locations. It appears that the sea level fell from around 27 meters to near the present shore in a period of only about 400 to 600 years. This might suggest the land was rising in relation to the sea about a meter every 20 years, but the ocean standstills indicate there were intervals of reduced movement which allowed for the development of shellfish beaches. Until further detailed radio-carbon dating is undertaken we can assume that the ocean standstill at the 14 meter mark in the Haultain Basin is about 13,886 years old and the likely time range is between 13,720-14,052 years ago.
Lettuce is shipped to Canada regularly. Plastic-wrapped-produce crosses our border every day – it is inspected and then it goes to grocery stores across the province. The lettuce then gets purchased, bagged and taken home – sometimes for sandwiches, salads, or maybe for juicing.
Green goodness at a local grocery store.
This November 27th, a bag of leafy goodness was opened after crossing the international border with a stowaway – a small frog in lettuce from California. It emerged – and was taken to the local SPCA. From there it was sent to me at the Royal BC Museum for identification.
The stowaway was sent to me in a container filled with damp moss.
On first glance this refugee looks like our Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla) which ranges south of BC to California. The taxonomy of the Pacific Chorus Frog is quite contentious though. Historically only one species was defined – P. regilla. In recent years, mitochondrial DNA suggested three species exist in California in what was once a wide-ranging Pacific Chorus Frog. Based on mtDNA, our Pacific Chorus Frog was thought to only range into extreme northwestern California. To the south, the Sierran Chorus Frog (P. sierrae) ranged across central California, and Baja California Chorus Frogs (P. hypochondriaca) were scattered across southern third of that state. If that wasn’t enough to upset a frog’s personal identity, work in 2016 placed the Pacific Chorus Frogs in a new genus Hyliola. Then in 2017, after referring back to a 2014 analysis of nuclear DNA, the three species were once again lumped into Pseudacris regilla. Or is it Hyliola? I bet the frog is confused too.
The range of the three chorus frog species based on mtDNA, from: http://www.californiaherps.com/frogs/maps/pregillamap3species3.jpg
Call me lazy, but if they are all lumped into one species – P. regilla – that makes my life easier. If the Pacific Chorus Frog was split into three species, then either I’d need to take a tissue sample to get an identification (and the frog would not enjoy that), or I’d need to know exactly where the lettuce came from. Odds are grocery records are pretty tight in this era of E. coli-tainted tracheophytes, but I have some doubt we’d ever know exactly where a given bag of lettuce originated.
A Pacific Chorus Frog from just north of the Nighthawk border crossing in the Okanagan.
Let’s just assume we are lumping all the Pacific coast Pseudacris into one species – then this refugee regilla is the same species as our Chorus frogs in BC. If this is the same species, can I just let it go? No way. It is genetically distinct since it comes from so far away, and there always is the risk of disease transmissions posed by exotic frogs. At least this Californian frog didn’t come from a pet shop where it could encounter a range of other exotic frogs and their diseases.
To be honest, I am really impressed that the frog was contained in the first place – people have a habit of releasing stowaways rather than turning them in for examination. Years ago a couple returned home from Mexico and found a red and black snake in their luggage. The snake didn’t seem well, but they released it somewhere in Metchosin. Presumably that snake died, but if it had been a gravid female, it could have deposited 7-10 (or more) eggs, and we’d have an instant population. What species had infiltrated their luggage? I have no idea – it could well have been venomous. When I was an undergrad student, a red and black snake appeared in the pet trade in Winnipeg – it was labeled Honduran Milk Snake and looked like this. I assumed it was harmless based on the old rhyme:
Red-on-Black, Safe for Jack.
Red-on-Yellow, Kill a fellow.
I was wrong – the snake in the pet shop was rear-fanged and bit me. It was my first (and currently only) venomous snake bite. Bottom line is: Better to be safe than sorry. And as a member of IMISWG (Inter-Ministry Invasive Species Working Group) we always say that it is better to not release something, than try to clear out exotic species later. Turn in stowaways to your local SPCA or Natural Resource Officers. It is safer for the environment. Frogs obviously are harmless, but if you think you have something dangerous in your groceries – an Eyelash Viper in a bunch of bananas or a Brown Widow Spider in your Californian cauliflower – call your local Natural Resource office and arrange for a professional to remove the offending animal.
Above all else, don’t let it loose.
Much of the attention in the literature has focused on the large spindle whorls used by speakers of languages in the Salish linguistic family on the south-eastern coast of British Columbia. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, small spindle whorls were found among peoples belonging to several of the larger linguistic families. The lack of iconography on most of these smaller spindles likely contributed to their being of less concern to researchers than the study of the larger whorls – many of which have geometric, anthropomorphic or zoomorphic design patterns.
The resurgence of indigenous weaving with the use of large spindle whorls in recent times has focused primarily on the use of animal wool. It earlier times the small whorls were primarily used for producing finer and longer threat made from stinging nettle. Stinging nettle thread would have been mass produced for the making of fish and bird nets as well as for a general tying string. Given that small whorls were introduced before the larger whorls, suggests that the earliest introduction of whorls into this region of North America was primarily related to the procurement of fish and birds. Although other plant fibres, such as fireweed, were likely used in earlier times, the use of animal hair and sinew along with plant fibres and bird down for clothing was probably a feature that developed later in time among some populations.
Most spindle whorls fall into two distinct sizes with a limited size range that we can refer to simply as large and small. The 20 smaller whorls in the RBCM ethnology collection range in diameter from 48mm–94.4mm. However, the upper range is biased by the three wooden whorls that range from 67-94mm. The diameter of the 17 sea mammal bone whorls ranged from 48mm-79mm. Wooden whorls are lighter than bone whorls and need to be larger to be of equivalent weight. The size of the hole in the whorl is related to the size of the whorl. Although the diameter of the central hole of the whorls ranges from 8mm-13mm, the smaller 48-65mm whorls have holes with a smaller range of 8-9mm.
The weight of the whorls in the RBCM collection can only be measured on ten whorls that are removed from their spindles or do not have associated spindles. The weight range of the 10 whorls is 16.6 – 45.9 grams. Where whorls were attached to the spindle, weights were taken of the combined elements of whorl and spindle. The range of the latter was 43.9-64 grams. The length and weights of the spindles used with small whorls was much less than those used with the larger whorls.
Regional samples are not large enough for any definitive comparisons, but comparing the more common sea mammal bone whorls, the three from the northern coastal regions are the larger in diameter range from 69.5-89mm. The five Heiltsuk examples range from 59-77mm, the three Nuxalk examples from 49-68mm, and the Kwakwala speakers six examples have a range of 48-69mm.
As a comparison, the seven bone whorls from Kwakwala speakers in the American Museum of Natural History have a similar diameter range as those in the RBCM of 40mm–80mm in diameter. Of the eight examples of Nuxalk small whorls in the Canadian Museum of History, three bone ones range from 50-64mm and five cedar ones range from 71-90mm. The five cedar Gitksan examples range from 59-95mm and two Tsimshian ones from 62-67mm. The one bone Nisga’a example conforms to the smaller size at 53mm. Two “central coast Salish” bone whorls in the Burke Museum range from 63-72mm, with a single stone Cowichan example being 50mm.
Sometimes the ethnographic literature is unclear about whether the smaller or large whorls are being referred to. Museum records may also have incorrect information added long after the whorls were collected – confusing the uses of small and larger whorls. Some small whorls were occasionally placed in ethnographic collections when, in fact, they were found in shell middens. In museum settings one needs to be aware that wool may have been added to museum spindle whorls for display purposes that were not part of the original purchase.
The size of spindle whorls differs according to the size and weight of the required thread. Most spindle whorls cluster into a standard small size and another grouping of larger varieties. The use of a small spindle whorl imparts a higher degree of twist and produces a finer and stronger thread than can be made with the larger spindle. It is for the latter reason that small whorls were primarily use for producing the finer threat made from stinging nettle. Stinging nettle thread was mass produced for the making of fish and bird nets.
The important considerations in the functioning of a spindle whorl are its weight or mass and its radius. The shape of the whorl and how its mass is distributed is also important. A spindle whorl with a lenticular cross section is thinner at the edges and will therefore have less inertia in its spin. A whorl must move at a constant speed in order to produce the best uniformity in the material being spun. The radius of the whorl and size of the spindle shaft will determine the size and weight of the fibre ball that accumulates on the whorl. For a technical functional analysis of spindle whorls see Barber (1991) and Loughran-Delahunt (1996).
In using the small spindle whorl, the yarn was fastened to the longer end of the spindle. A person sitting on the ground drew out the yarn with one hand as it was twisted and with their other hand rolled the spindle shaft below the whorl rapidly down the thigh or shin.
Ethnographic collections of small spindle whorls are found among the Nisga’a, Haida, Haisla, Heiltsuk (Bella Bella), some Tsimshian speakers, Nuxalk (Bella Coola), Kwakwala speaking peoples and Nuu-chan-nulth peoples. There are no examples of small whorls in the RBCM ethnology collection from First Nations
that belong to the Coast Salish linguistic family. Larger spindles from the latter region will be dealt with in Part 3 of this series. The RBCM collection does have archaeological examples of small spindle whorls from the latter area (see Part 1).
The ethnologist Franz Boas documented information on spinning and spindle whorls in the 1886 to 1897 period. He focused his attention on the Kwakwala speaking peoples of North-Eastern Vancouver Island and the Nuu-chan-nulth peoples of the West Coast of Vancouver Island, who he saw as being less affected by European culture at the time.
Boas’s First Nation consultants described four different sizes of spun thread that were used for different purposes. The method of free-dangling of the whorl was not practiced in British Columbia in the historic period.
Small spindle whorls are mostly made of sea mammal bone. Boas describes most spindle whorls from the west coast of Vancouver Island as being made of whale bone, with a few of wood and stone. Small spindle whorls in the Berlin Museum from the west coast of Vancouver Island have geometric and realistic designs. Among the “Kwakuitl”, Boas did not observe any with designs (Boas 1909:373-374).
Boas (1909:372-373), describes in detail the making of twisted stinging nettle string which is coiled up in a basket and then spun. His figure 67 shows a 34cm long, quarter section maple wood spindle shank with a small whorl attached near the thicker middle. He notes:
“The spindle-whorl is made of bone of whale, the anterior part of the skull-bone being preferred. It is ground down on a gritstone. Then it is polished, and finally rubbed with deer-tallow. The size of the spindle-whorl differs somewhat, according to the size of the thread to be made. The sizes of those in the Museum [Berlin] collection range from 7cm to 8cm. in diameter. They are not decorated. Many of the spindle-whorls from the west coast of Vancouver Island (Fig. 68) are decorated with geometrical and realistic designs. Most of these are also made of bone of whale, while a few are made of wood and of stone.”
Boas notes that his figure 68a “corresponds in style to other decorated tools of the Nootka”. He states that: “it is remarkable that the spindle-whorls from this whole region are all small, while spindles used by the tribes of the Fraser River region are very large”.
Carved figures of humans and animals are rare on small spindle whorls. Boas’s figure 68, is reproduced here as Figure 2. His figure 68a shows a squatting human with the central hole for the spindle through the centre of the figures chest. The figure is cut out within a solid ring forming the outer portion of the whorl. This figure is reminiscent of some of the later larger whorls from south-eastern Vancouver Island with human figures around a central hole. Three of the top row images and one of the bottom images show the designs that Boas refers to, while the plain ones on the bottom row are typical of the Kwakwala speakers of North-eastern Vancouver Island. These same whorls are incorrectly referred to as being from the “Lower Fraser River” in a later Boas publication (1955:371; fig. 296, p.283).
In reference to the southern coast, James Swan notes that the women “spin the thread and twine for making nets. This operation is performed in a very simple and primitive manner by twisting the strands between the palm of the hand and the bare leg …these cords, when spun, are tied up in hanks of thirty or forty fathoms each, and carefully stowed away for future use. The men make the nets” (Swan 1969:163-164).
The nets “are made of a twine spun by themselves from the fibres of spruce roots prepared for the purpose, or from a species of grass brought from the north by the Indians. It is very strong, and answers the purpose admirably. …The nets vary in size from a hundred feet long to a hundred fathoms, or six hundred feet, and from seven to sixteen feet deep” (Swan 1969:104).
Newcombe notes: “String is made by joining strands of nettle fibre by rubbing them on the thigh and then twinning them together by means of a small spindle-whorl. Sometimes these are carved with a crest of the owner” (Newcombe 1909:37). Unfortunately, Newcombe does not give any specific examples of whorls with iconography that represents an owner’s crest.
Ethnologist Wayne Suttles noted, from information collected in the 1950s, that among the Central Coast Salish speakers:
“Weavers also made a fabric of yarn produced by mixing waterfowl down with nettle fibers, and they made pack straps by twinning on suspended warps, incorporating some of the design elements seen in the blankets” (Suttles 1990:462). There is no mention here of the size of the spindle.
Suttle’s First Nations consultant Julius Charles (born about 1865. Father Semiahmoo and mother Lummi) noted that during winter hunting men wore a buckskin jacket over a bird down and nettle fibre undershirt (Suttles 1974:262-265).
During his field research in Washington State in 1925-27, Olson interviewed five Quinault First Nation consultants that were all over 60 years old, with one, Bob Pope, being over 90. Olson was informed that there were four sizes of nettle thread. Netting was made from two of these threads spun together. The same method was used for the Mt. goat and yellow cedar (Olson 1936).
“The familiar rabbit skin blanket of western North America was also made. The skins were cut into strips and these twisted hair side out, a spindle being sometimes employed. The strips were either woven as a simple cross weave or, probably more usually, used only as the warp, the weft consisting of elk sinew threads twined in at intervals. The skins of ducks were sometimes cut into strips, which were twisted and woven in the same fashion as the strips of rabbit fur” (Olson 1936:82). No mention is made if different sizes of whorls were used for the production of different materials.
Olson refers to the sheared dog hair being placed into “a cleft stick to keep the hairs aligned”. Here he clearly describes the use of the larger whorls:
“Twisting of this hair into yarn was done simply with the fingers (Pope) or by means of a spindle which was rolled down the thigh. The spindle was eight inches or so in diameter (210-220mm). A third informant stated that a spindle (without whorl) which had a hook at its tip was used to pick up the tufts of hair out of the split stick, the spindle being merely twisted by the fingers of the right hand. The yarn was then rolled into balls. Few (or none?) blankets were woven with both the warp and weft of this yarn, twisted elk sinew being woven or twined in as the other element” (Olson 1936:82).
It is unclear whether small spindles were being used among some Nuu-Chan-nuth peoples in 1792. Don Francisco Mosino observed the women at Yuquot “are mainly engaged in the sedentary occupations of spinning and weaving”. But he then suggests that they do not have spindles in his reference to “distaffs”. He points out that: “They have no distaffs except their teeth and fingers, with which they bind together cypress [cedar] fibre and otter hair in order to form a thick plait. This they then make thinner and longer, until they have a skein about a foot long. They use the most simple looms, making a warp out of a cane set horizontally at a height of four and a half feet from the ground; they move their fingers along it rapidly in different directions and with extraordinary skill, making up in this way for the lack of tools which would in any other case be necessary and indispensable for this work.” (Jane 1971:107).
Drucker, working among the Nuu-Chan-nulth (1951:94), notes that after beating cedar: “A part of the strands were woven into thin cord to be used in weaving the robes, rain capes, and women’s aprons. Spinning of this, and all other cordage, was done by hand, on the bare thigh. Spindles have not been used within the reach of modern folk-memory. Several informants recalled having seen Nitinat women spinning with large wooden spindle whorls, apparently like those of the Coast Salish. Presumably the practice of spinning with small bone and stone spindle whorls went out of use very early.”
The observations of Nitinat women using large spindle whorls is interesting in light of the suggestion that the Nitinat, or at least some of them, once spoke a Salish language (Drucker 1951:94). In 1861, a settlement of “Cowichan” were recorded as living “near San Juan harbor”. The British Colonist reported that: “Some years ago this tribe was a very numerous one, but through wars and disease it has been reduced to only twenty men and women” (The British Colonist, March 9, 1861:3). Chief Charlie Jones told the story of how people from Cape Flattery “took over Nitinat Lake for a period” before the coming of Europeans (Arima 1983:105).
There are few small spindle whorls in ethnographic collections with designs of any kind. Unique examples include one collected in 1893, by Adrian Jacobsen at Bella Bella (old RBCM #454). It has a frog on one side and what is described as a “mountain spirit” on other side. The “mountain spirit” has a human-like face with round eyes, heavy eye brows and raised cheeks. A Nuu-chan-nulth example (figure 2) collected by Boas in 1886-1897 shows a squatting whole human figure, but no interpretation of the image is given. Like some later images on large whorls of speakers of Salish languages of Vancouver Island, the hole for the insertion of the latter spindle is centered in the body of the human figure. A unique design can be found on a whale bone specimen (on a short spindle) from a private collection pictured in Miles (1963:102 & 186). It is a more stylized modernistic image (figure 3) that may represent a bird head with the hole representing an eye, or it is a combination of symbols. Miles describes this “Northwest Coast nettle fibre spindle” as having a “design Haida in character”.
It is interesting that geometric designs exist on small pre-contact stone and bone whorls from locations on the south coast and into the southern Interior but are not found as ethnographic examples.
RBCM 1692 A,B – (with spindle A); (old #480). Nisga’a. Gitkateen. Lakalsap. Whorl: Wood. Flat. Diameter: 79-81mm; th. 9-9.3mm; hole dia, 12mm. Weight: 16.6 grams. Flat edge irregularly cut. There are two small nails in the edge on opposite sides of the whorl used for the purpose of strengthening the crack across the centre of the whorl. Purchased by Charles Newcombe in 1912. Newcombe notes: “Spinning wheel Lagiauks, spindle turned by right hand on right leg. Rest stick Watuqs”. Spindle: L: 377mm; Thickness: 10mm near center; Weight: 14.5 grams. Whorl is removed from spindle but originally near center.
RBCM 1693. Nisga’a. Stone. Large hole. Four carved oval eyes on one side. Weight: (not available). On artifact “1088”; “26 (?) 13”. Lakal? “Mark Tait, Skimmer for (BD?) GR Equals Hadaq 2.00, whirl of stone equals Hagia KS 2.00 NTBK 29A. Purchased by Charles Newcombe in 1913 from Mark Tait. Lakalzap. Greenville, Naas River”. Transfer to Nisga’a First Nation (No image).
RBCM 15908 B – (with spindle A), Nisga’a. Lakalsap. Gitkateen. Sea Mammal bone. Flat edge. Whorl: dia. 69.5-71mm; th. 9.5-13.5mm (thicker toward middle); hole dia. 11mm; Whorl Weight: 32.3 grams. Whorl positioned 21cm from one end. Spindle L: 478mm; Weight: 29.5 grams. Purchased in 1977 from Queensway Trading in Terrace, B.C., who purchased it earlier from Mr. Sam Green of Greenville.
RBCM 9963a&b. (with spindle) (old #963). Bone. Near flat disc. Slightly concave on both sides. Weight: 45.9 grams. Diameter: 83 by 84mm; hole diameter 13mm. Thickness: 4mm on outer rim to 7mm near inner hole. Spindle, wood. Length: 430mm. Thickness: maximum 13mm. Collected by Charles Newcombe in Masset, Oct. 1, 1913. (Newcombe Family papers. Add. Mss. 1077. Vol. 40, Folder 7. Subject Files, Series B: Collections. Photo by Newcombe, Nov. 1917, EC575 glass plate). Collected in 1913. From estate of William Newcombe 1961.
RBCM 2066a,b. (with spindle); “Kitimat”. Wooden whorl. Maple? Diameter: 88.2X94.4mm; pencil line circle inside 73X77mm; th. 11.8X16.5mm (thicker near middle), whorl centered toward one end on spindle; hole dia. 11mm (slight burned area in hole). Edges flat and roughly carved. Spindle of Cedar. Length: 530mm; Thickness: 112.5mm. Weight: 64 grams. Whorl located 18cm from one end and fixed on spindle. Weight of spindle and whorl: 64 grams. Collected by Charles F. Newcombe in 1911 from Mrs Robinson of Kitamaat.
RBCM 2067a,b. (fixed on spindle) (KW) “Kitamaat”. Sea mamal bone. dia. 59.5mmX65mm; th. 80-89mm; hole dia. 12mm. Spindle of cedar: L: 523mm. Thickness: 13.5mm. Whorl 230mm from one end, near center. Combined weight of whorl and spindle: 57.8 grams. Charles F. Newcombe 1911.
Heiltsuk (Bella Bella)
RBCM 449a & b – (with spindle) Bella Bella. Sea mammal bone. (1893, F. Jacobsen) diameter 62.7X65mm across hole. Broken. Whorl position off centre. th. 8mm; hole dia. 9mm. Whorl fixed on cedar spindle, combined weight 49.8 grams. Spindle L: 32.4 (small portion of end broken); Width: 8.6mm. Preliminary Catalogue 1898: “Wooden spindle, with bone whorl and native wool”.
RBCM 450a & b – (with spindle) Bella Bella. (1893, F. Jacobsen); Sea mammal bone. Flat body and edge. dia 71-77mm; th. 8.3-8.8mm; hole dia. 11mm; Spindle L: 550mm; Th: 10.3mm. Whorl fixed on spindle. Combined weight: 62.3 grams. [Recorded in 1898 catalogue, p. 164].
RBCM 451 (with spindle). Bella Bella. (1893, F. Jacobsen); sea mammal bone. Flat whorl; Edges flat with rounded corners; dia. 60X63mm; th. 5.9 – 6.4mm; hole dia. 11mm. Spindle: L 545mm; Th: 11.2. Whorl centered at 280mm. Combined weight of whorl and spindle: 51.8 grams.
RBCM 452a & b. – (fixed on spindle). Bella Bella. Sea mammal bone; dia. 58.8X59mm; th. 95mm; hole 11mm. Cedar Spindle: L: 410mm; Th: 10mm. Whorl 160mm from one end. Combined weight of whorl and Spindle: 48.9 grams. Whorl fixed on spindle. Collected in1893 by F. Jacobsen.
RBCM 454 – Listed in Old Catalogue as “Kwakuitl”. “Carved bone whorl. “Frog on one side, mountain spirit on other”. “A. Jacobsen 1893, Bella Bella.” Acquired April 1909. The 1909, Guide to Anthropology Collection in the Provincial Museum repeats this information on page 37: “No. 454 has a frog on one side and a mountain spirit on the other”. The label of Newcombe’s Lantern Slide, EC374, has “Bella Bella Spindle whorl” on it. This artifact was stolen when on loan for an exhibit in Vancouver in 1936. A poor quality caste is located in the archaeology collection as Y-806 (75-7). The connection with this and #454 had been lost until now. The cast is nearly flat: Diameter: 67-68mm. Thick: 7.0mm at center and 6.5mm at the edges. Hole diameter: 10mm. Black and white photograph #22603. The “mountain spirit” has a human-like face with round eyes, heavy eye brows and raised cheeks. Newcombe EC374 “glass plate”, 1909 – copied as PN 1337 – shows the same image. Photograph 721 shows the frog design from Newcombe’s 374-IX/69, 1909, and a different version of the same frog image in photograph 721-A – listed as EC 374 – IX/69, 1909.
Nuxalk (Bella Coola)
RBCM 2978 – (fixed to spindle) Bella Coola. Wooden whorl. Dia. 76X82mm; Th. 12-19mm (thickens toward middle); hole 10mm; Hardwood Spindle. L: 440mm; Th: 10mm. Whorl near middle of spindle. Combined weight of spindle & whorl: 59.5 grams. (purchased from Capt. Schooner, 1917); (in image PN11455).
RBCM 9986 – (moveable on spindle); Bella Coola; sea mammal bone, flat. Dia. 66X68mm; th. 12-14.5mm; hole 10mmm; Flat edge with 3mm inset low area; Weight: 26.5 grams. [1914, ex Gibson coll. “Bought at Van. Canadian Handicraft Guild 6/8/14”, then into Newcombe collection; old # 986]. Spindle: L. c400mm; Whorl positioned mid-way, c, 200-210. Spindle weight: 16.2 grams. Old #986. Pencilled at center of spindle: “Spindle Ex… Gibson. 1914”.
RBCM 10112 – (fixed on spindle) Nuxalk; Flat sea mammal bone. Dia. 49-51mm (squarish); th. 11.0-12mm; hole dia. 9mm. “Bella Coola” in ink on one side. Old # 1112. Cedar spindle. L: 515mm; Th: 9mm. Positioned between 260mm and 270mm on spindle. Combined weight of spindle and whorl: 43.0 grams. Newcombe, June 1917. Newcombe photo EC575. Nov. 1917.
RBCM 10113 – (no spindle) Bella Coola; Flat sea mammal bone. Flat edge with rounded corners. Weight: 33.8 grams; dia. 65-65.9mm; th. 6.5; hole dia. 12mm; Slightly burnt. Newcombe collection, old # 1113, glass plate photo, Nov. 1917, EC575.
RBCM 2068 – (no spindle); Alert Bay. Sea mammal bone. Weight: 71 grams; dia. 67.1X69mm; th. 14.1-14.4mm; hole dia. 13mm. (old C.F. Newcombe #359. Collected in 1912).
RBCM 2069 (no spindle); (KW); Sea mammal bone. Weight: 25.4 grams. dia 55mm; th. 6.6-7mm; hole dia. 11mm; (19-21mm radius shift from edge of hole). Flat with flat edges. (old C.F. Newcombe #360 collected in 1912).
RBCM 2070 – (no spindle); Alert Bay; Sea mammal bone. Weight: 19.7 grams. Diameter: 47X48mm; th. 6.1-6.3mm; hole dia. 9mm; Flat with flat edges. (old C.F. Newcombe #361, collected in 1912).
RBCM 6530 – (with spindle) (KW); Sea mammal bone. Diameter: 58X62mm; th. 8X8.2mm; hole dia. 8mm. Combined whorl and spindle: 48 grams. Fixed Whorl, located 15cm from one end of spindle. Spindle: L. 406mm; Th: 8.2mm. Acquired 1947. “Spindle with whale bone whorl for nettle fibre plain”. “Canon A. J. Beanlands Coll. Per Mrs. Alyson N. Beanlands. Collected about 1884-1909”.
RBCM 10090a, b. (with spindle) (KW); Sea mammal bone. Diameter: 63.4X65.2mm; th. 6.1- 6.6mm. Hole dia.: 11mm, Whorl weight: 8.9 grams. Slightly burnt by design. Cedar spindle. Whorl centered on Spindle. Spindle: L. 343mm; Th: 11mm. Kingcome Inlet. Old # 1090 written on center spindle under hole and on flat of whorl.
RBCM 10448 – (no spindle) “Fort Rupert, Tsaxis”. Sea mammal bone. Diameter: 59mmX61mm; th. 6-6.5mm; hole dia. 11mm. Weight: 22.9 grams. [old #1448].
RBCM 12691 – (no spindle); Quatsino. Grey Slate. dia. 72mmX73.8mm: th. 6.9-7mm; hole dia. 10mm. Painted red, green and black. Made with steel file. Two incised circle grooves on painted side. Whorl off center. Weight: 59.7 grams. No design on one side. Modern non-traditional whorl. It was likely made as a model for sale.
There are many references to spinning that can refer to spinning by twisting fibre by hand on the knee or references that do not specify the size of the spindle whorl. In a prospecting tour of the north coast James McKenzie notes that going up the Nass River he passed five villages during which he observed the spinning of “goat hair garments for women” without mentioning the use of a whorl (McKenzie 1864:3).
Morice observed in 1892-93 that: “rabbit skin blankets were originally the only genuine textile fabric manufactured among “the Carriers, the Tsekehne or the Tsilkohtin”. Strips of rabbit skin were tied together and twisted on the thigh, and used as both warp & weft stands on a frame, but he notes that the Carrier did not use a spindle and whorl. He does illustrate a spindle with a whorl used by the Chilcotin, but does not indicate if it is small or large one (Morice1892:156).
Further south along the Columbia River-Upper Arrow Lakes region on May 7, 1814, Gabriel Franchere observed: “Natives camped on the bank of the river” – “The women at this camp were busy spinning the coarse wool of the mountain sheep, They had blankets or mantles woven or platted of the same material, with a heavy fringe all round…”. Near Rocky Mt. House Franchere notes in reference to “Mt. Sheep wool”, that: “The Indians who dwell near the mountains make blankets of it, similar to ours, which they exchange with the Indians of the Columbia for fish and other commodities” (1968:231-32; 216). No mention is made of the use of a whorl.
One of the more extensive commentaries on spinning, weaving and their similarity between the Fraser Canyon and the Lower Fraser River was made in a 1908, letter from James Teit of Spencer’s Bridge where he refers to blankets from Spuzzum that the daughters of Joseph McKay (of the HBC) were trying to sell to the Provincial Museum. It appears that the commentary here refers to the larger whorls being used in the Fraser Canyon area:
“I intended writing you before, but was waiting another chance of interviewing the Spuzzum woman. I saw her again a few days ago. She says she never saw a loom exactly like the one in Nootsack, and are different from the ordinary large blanket loom, the horizontals being different and not made to turn, and the head band is made in a simple piece stretched up and down, and not over the horizontals. (The only way to get a proper idea of this kind of loom will be to have one made). As I am going to Vancouver …on my way back I will try to stop off at Spuzzum and get one of these small looms. She said she never heard of any combs being used. The weaving being done with the fingers. Re: the breed of dogs she says the pure breed was totally extinct around spuzzum before she can remember, but she has heard from the old people they were a medium sized animal with long and very fine thick hair. They were mostly white but some it is claimed were black. They were a distinct species according to tradition introduced from the Lower Fraser, and were to be found nearly as far East as Lytton. The Indians tried to keep them from inter-breeding with the real Interior dog, and around Spuzzum favored the keeping of them rather than the former. Their hair was used in blanket weaving at Spuzzum, generally mixed with the wool of the goat. People who did not have any of these dogs used only goat’s wool. The using of dog’s hair it is said made the blankets of a softer texture & furthermore they supplied a source of wool right at hand, whereas the goats had to be hunted and their wool thus cost considerable labor.
These dogs were of altogether a different species from the common dog of the Thompson further east and were called by the special name of xlitselken. The other dog called skaxaoe (viz real dog) somewhat resembled the husky and also bore some resemblance to the Coyote and to the wolf with both of which they occasionally inter-breed. They were used mostly for hunting purposes. Re: the dyes used with blankets etc. The common colors were yellow, red & black. Yellow was obtained from Wolf moss (evernia vulpina I think is the botanical name) red from alder bark, and black bear’s hair for black. The hair of black dogs was also used when obtainable viz black specimens of xletselken. She has however heard of the following dyes also being used viz red ochre (giving a reddish tint) roots of oregon grape (yellowish) berries of the cedar (greenish), Possibly other dyes like those used amongst the Upper Thompson may also have been used, but she does not know. The ring you speak of as being used to keep up tension when the Weaver was spinning the loose wool on the spindle I have seen in use on the Lower Fraser. They were made of both wood and stone. I saw a lot of stone ones at Musquiam village, and at several points on the Lower Fraser Indians told me these stone rings were used for this purpose of course the wooden rings were much more common. As to judge from your description of Mrs. McKay’s blankets it is very unlikely the material is dog’s hair, and the dyes native. I think this is all I can tell you about these blankets at present – the weaving, and the preparing and spinning of the wool was just the same at Spuzzum as on the Lower Fraser & southern coast. I would like to keep the prints you sent me if you do not require them. …I sent a specimen of the earth (in prepared state) used for cleaning or taking the oil out of the wool to the Amer. Museum. …” (Teit 1908).
It is important to discuss the differences between small and large spindle whorls, as they often have different uses and different regional histories. Where spindle whorls came from is still a question waiting to be answered. Bone spindle whorls have been found in archaeological sites stretching from the American gulf Islands to the central coast of B.C., but their dating is unknown or their placement is within broad time periods. For example, King notes a spindle whorl in the Maritime phase of San Juan Island with a broad time frame of 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. and suggests that: “The occurrence of a spindle whorl in the Maritime strata in conjunction with the needles and the remains of small dogs, mountain sheep, and mountain goat makes it highly probable that the Maritime phase may mark the beginning of the weaving of wool and hair in the southern Northwest Coast area” (King 1950:81). As in other cases, the spindle whorl could date to the last centuries of the time sequence given.
There are no solid examples of small spindle whorls dating before about 600 years ago. Carlson (1971) indicates that the three whalebone whorls from the Kwatna Inlet site FaSu-2 are of the late period from A.D. 1400-1800. Small stone whorls of a pre-contact age with geometric designs appear in the Fraser Canyon, but historic period references pertain to the larger whorls common on the southern coast in the historic period.
In Mesoamerica we see the establishment of ceramic and stone spindle whorls by the late Preclassic period 400-250 B.C. and early Early Classic period 250-600 A.D. and their considerable expansion by the Late Classic period 600-900 A.D. In Mexican spindle whorls (particularly the larger whorls for spinning maguey fiber) were decorated with incised and mold-made designs, but the production of decorated whorls stopped during the 16th century (Brumfiel 1997). The influence of spindle whorls appears to have spread from Northern Mexico to the American Southwest where small spindle whorls appear in the Pecos culture of New Mexico around 1100 A.D. and spread throughout the American Southwest. The latter were made of bone and ceramic with the bone examples mostly in the 5-10cm diameter range (Kidder 1932). More precise dating of spindle whorls in British Columbia is needed to tell the story of when and where they came from and the economic and social context of how they diffused over the landscape under various cultural trajectories.
Arima, E.Y. 1983. The West Coast (Nootka) People. British Columbia Provincial Museum Special Publication No.6.
British Colonist. 1861. The Squaw Murder. The British Colonist, March 9, p.3, Vol. 5. No. 69.
Brumfiel, Elizabeth M. 1997. Tribute Cloth Production and Compliance in Aztec and Colonial Mexico. Museum Anthropology. Journal of the Council for Museum Anthropology, 21(2)55-71.
Carlson, Roy L. 1971. Excavations at Kwatna. Anutcix (FaSu-1) and Kwatna Phase sites. FaSu-1 and 2. Late prehistoric A.D. 1400-1800. Salvage ’71. Reports on Salvage Archaeology Undertaken in British Columbia in 1971. Edited by Roy L. Carlson. Department of Archaeology, Publication No. 1. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby British Columbia.
Drucker, Philip. 1951. The Northern and Central Nootkan Tribes. Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Bulletin 144. United State Printing Office, Washington,
Franchere, Gabriel. 1968. (Ed. Milo Milton Quaife). A Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America. Citadel Press, New York. pp. 231-32; 216.
Jane, Cecil (Editor). 1971. A Spanish Voyage to Vancouver and the North-West Coast of America. N. Israel/Amsterdam. Da Capo Press. New York.
Kidder Alfred Vincent. 1932. The Artifacts of Pecos. New Haven. Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology. Yale University. Pp1-314.
King, Arden. 1950. Cattle Point A stratified Site in the Southern Northwest Coast Region. Memoirs of the Society for American Archaeology. Number 7. Published Jointly by the Society for American Archaeology and the Tulane University of Louisana. Menasha, Wisconsin, USA. Supplement to American Antiquity, Vol. 15(4), part 2, April 1950.
McKenzie, James. 1864. Prospecting Tour of the North West. Victoria Evening Express, September 9, 1864:3).
Miles, Charles. 1969. Indian and Eskimo Artifacts of North America. Bonanza Books, New York.
Morice, 1892-93. Notes on the Western Dene. Transactions of the Canadian Institute. Vol. IV.
Olson, Ronald. 1936. The Quinault Indians. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology. Volumne VI, Number 1. University of Washington Press. Seattle and London.
Suttles, Wayne P. 1990. Central Coast Salish. Handbook of North American Indians – Volume 7: Northwest Coast, William C. Sturtevant General Editor, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, pp. 453-475.
Suttles, Wayne P. 1974. Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians 1. The Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. Garland Publishing Inc. New York.
Swan, James G. 1969 (1857). The Northwest Coast. Or, Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory. University of Washington Press. Seattle and London.
James Teit. 1908. Letter of January 3, 1908 to Charles Newcombe. Newcombe Family Files, RBCM Archives.
This year’s fieldwork was our 17th in the alpine of the northern B.C. We made collections from six mountains. The area is so vast and remote and access is difficult, thus few if any biological inventories have been undertaken in many large areas. Many peaks and lakes have no names; in fact there are no names on entire mountain massifs. I feel like we are to some degree just ‘scratching the surface’ of what is out there.
We again worked together with the insect and spider experts at the museum. And we followed our typical approach of setting up camp for 2-3 days and collecting specimens of every species we encounter, being intentional to reach as many different habitats as possible.
At one mountain, Mt. Whitford, we were joined by two staff and a contract photographer of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative https://y2y.net/about-us and their guest freelance journalist who produces pieces for both CBC and NPR. At a second mountain, south of Tumbler Ridge, we were joined by two staff members of the Tumbler Ridge Geopark, http://tumblerridgegeopark.ca/. What is a Geopark? According to their website “A UNESCO Global Geopark is an area recognized as having internationally significant geological heritage.” These groups are all interested in knowing as much as possible about the biota of these areas and we will share everything we learn with them.
As we have in the past, we contacted the local indigenous groups and informed them of our work and will provide them species lists when the identifications are complete.
We are often asked if we notice any of the effects of climate change during our fieldwork. Treeline is controlled by temperature, not elevation and is highest at the equator – where temperatures are warmer at higher elevations – and becomes lower and lower further north and south. One likely consequence of a warming planet is that forests will advance into the alpine, reducing the available habitat for tundra plants that generally require open, i.e. non-shaded habitats.
For a number of years I’ve noticed small trees in the alpine and of course wonder if their appearance is related to climate change as a consequence of global warming. I’ve also noticed the absence of dead trees. The absence of dead trees may mean that tree populations in the alpine are relatively young, compared to lower elevation forests where trees have been growing and dying for thousands of years.
But a further question is this: have the young trees in the alpine arrived relatively suddenly and recently because of recent rapid increase in global temperatures, or are they gradually moving upwards due to a long term warming trend that has been taking place ever since the end of the Pleistocene, ca. 13,000 years ago? Dating trees by their growth rings could provide the answer by measuring the ages of trees along an elevation gradient from well below tree-line into the alpine. I suspect this kind of research is underway.
Every year we seem to encounter botanical surprises, either range extensions or species that we haven’t seen before. I like these kinds of discoveries because distribution patterns tell us something about the history of the landscape and when those distribution patterns are found to be different from what was previously known, the background story might change.
One notable collection this year was Dodecatheon frigidum (northern shootingstar) that we collected in northern Graham Laurier Provincial Park, about 200 km south of where it has been collected previously near the Alaska Highway. We’ve visited 8 mountains in the intervening area and have not encountered this species. What does this occurrence mean? Have we merely overlooked it in other areas or is it in fact not present for this 200 km distance?
Another interesting find was Claytonia lanceolata (western spring beauty) which I saw in the alpine for the first time. Previously I had encountered it at lower elevations in Botanie Valley north of Lytton. Indigenous people in the southern interior of BC eat the tubers either fresh or cooked. Perhaps indigenous people in the Tumbler Ridge area also eat the tubers. I haven’t had a chance to ask local people or to investigate the literature.
When it was never published in the first place.
The Royal BC Museum fish collection contains a specimen which had been locked securely in one of our type cabinets since the 1980s. It was designated as the holotype for a new species – Sebastes tsuyukii – there was even a manuscript noted on the specimen label (Westreim and Seeb 1989). It sounded legit – and no one checked until recently.
Jody Riley – my ever diligent volunteer – flagged this record when she was re-organising the fish collection. She checked what is in our old paper catalog, checked the electronic database, then looked to see if the actual specimen exists. When Jody hit Sebastes tsuyukii, and found no record of the species online, yet here in her hands was the jar with a big yellow tape label saying Holotype for Sebastes tsuyukii, she knew something was fishy.
In the end, we can take this large jar out of the cabinet designated for type specimens, Sebastes tsuyukii now is a nomen nudum (a naked name), and I can delete the species from the taxonomy in our museum database. Some database problems are easy to solve.
But this reminds me to get my fingers in gear and type the type descriptions for species I have yet to publish.
The Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM), Canada, houses a collection of almost 7 million artifacts, archival records, and natural history specimens. Three comprehensive collection risk assessments over the past decade have resulted in improvements to the physical environments of the collections as well as new policies and procedures to reduce risk. However, there remain ongoing risks that can only be mitigated through major facility renewal. The last collection risk assessment, completed in 2016, was revisited to review the data and build a defensible case for funding to replace the RBCM’s on-site collection storage facilities. Changes to overall collections risk is a complex function of collection development and use trends, evolving risk factors both internal and external to the museum, a growing understanding of the relationship between risks and preservation, in addition to reduction due to risk mitigation projects and building systems aging and wearing out. A defensible method for illustrating the facilities-related risks over time involves estimating the expected loss of individual collection items or loss in value of a group of items that may occur if a major facility upgrade or redevelopment is not realized in the near future. Risk assessment data for representative collection units were reviewed to differentiate risk due to permanent facility characteristics versus more active controls, operations budget controlled risk versus capital budget controlled risk, and collection management-controlled risk versus facility management-controlled risk. This enabled the risk model to isolate risks that could only be mitigated through major facility upgrades. Change in collection value was expressed as Object Equivalents Lost (OEL) and its compliment Object Equivalents Remaining (OER). Projections into the future indicating the effect of varying facility renewal dates could then be clearly shown. Losses, when presented as numbers of items expected to be lost from the collection, become emotionally salient to persons in senior management and governance roles.
Yesterday I posted a video from my time up in the mountains in the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark. Today I give you a video, near that same spot, but from our new Ricoh Theta V 360 camera. Amidst all the botanizing and mushroom-hunting, I was also testing out this new tool for our online learning programs.
If you’ve never watched a 360 video before, use the circular symbol in the top left corner by using your mouse or finger (depending on the device you’re using). If you’ve got Google Cardboard or other VR goggles you can watch the video through that for an enhanced experience. Look up at the sky, look at the ground or at me swiping at bugs and using the camera controls through the app on my phone (not very exciting). Watch for my wave near the end!
My attempt to video a sublime mountain stream without a tripod and while fending off bugs, near Bone Mountain, south of Tumbler Ridge, BC. July 24, 2018
I did not know mushrooms grew at such high elevations, but they do! While up there wandering around at about 6000 feet one of my tasks was to look for mushrooms. Mushrooms in the alpine have not been studied much at all in BC, but mycologist, Dr. Shannon Berch, Research Soil Scientist at the BC Ministry of Environment is on it. For every mushroom I found and photographed, Dr. Ken Marr took a sample, and bottled it to be sent to Dr. Berch for study.
When I’ve been in the alpine in the past, it’s mostly been on long day hikes, where I had to get up and down a mountain during daylight hours. This does not leave much time or energy for wandering around alpine meadows. But on this trip, that is all we did. We walked and walked, looking for plants for the collection. It was easy to lose sight of the others, so I had to keep reminding myself to not wander too far. Thick fogs can come in quickly in the mountains and create a difficult and dangerous situation and although we’d seen no signs of bears, we were also in Grizzly territory.
It was so beautiful up there I just wanted to keep going. Over every rise there was a new vista. There was birdsong, and far in the distance, running water coming from a stream or a waterfall, (I could not tell which but I had to get closer). That’s when (unbidden I swear) dialogue from The Sound of Music, (the part where Maria is being reprimanded by the Mother Superior for being late) came into my head. Clearly, I heard Maria exclaiming how she could never be lost up there, that these were her mountains and besides the birds were singing and the brooks were babbling and she felt like she was being called higher and higher up into the mountains. That was me that day. At one with Maria.
I mentioned my mental imagery to nearby Royal BC Museum botanists Heidi Guest. Heidi in the mountains with (I kid you not) braids in her hair. Being a good sport, Heidi, spontaneously swung her plant collecting gear around her not unlike Maria while singing I have Confidence. I’m telling you it was a moment.
What I was surrounded by up above the treeline:
What I spent most of my time looking at:
Dr. Ken Marr is Curator of Botany at the Royal BC Museum. I ambled with Ken (botanists amble) last month while he was out collecting plants in the mountains south of Tumbler Ridge.
Mountain Excursion – Post #2
Okay, I don’t even know what to tell you about these photos. I only know that there are fossils in every one of them. There are fossils everywhere in the geopark. They were incredibly distracting! I was to be taking 360 video, botanizing and mushroom hunting (more on that in a future post), but kept happening upon these rocky wonders and wanted to just sit down in front of them to look. So I snapped pictures when I could.
Also, we had no paleontologists with us or identification guides. Have a look at the pictures and wonder with me, or if you are in the know, please comment!
Last week I went where few British Columbians go: the high alpine in our spectacular Northern Rockies. When at the last minute one of the Royal BC Museum scientists could not make the trip, I had the good fortune to take her place in the helicopter and spend two days in the field with a small team of museum researchers. My purpose was to bring back photographs and videos for our online learning programs, (especially with our new 360 camera) and to use my naturalist skills to help the botanists collect plants.
On July 23rd, the helicopter dropped us off about 40 kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge in the Global GeoPark. It was glorious. I took so many photographs I’ve decided to blast you with a series of short photo-posts over the month of August! (It’s like being stuck at a friend’s home movie night, except this is optional and hopefully you won’t feel stuck, but awed by BC’s beautiful and biodiverse northern alpine).
Nitinat (T12A) was a well known Orca along the BC coast. Born in 1982, he was a fixture along the BC coast and an active participant in the 2002 attack on a Minke Whale in Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island. This animal – with its characteristically wavy dorsal was found dead off Cape Beale near Bamfield, September 15th, 2016. Funds weren’t available to prepare the entire skeleton, so I had to settle for the skull and jaws.
As you can imagine, the head of an orca would pop the frame of any domestic chest freezer, and it blocked the aisle of the walk-in freezer at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. It was also no small feat to fork-lift the head into the museum’s van, and then get it back out of the van and wheel it to the museum’s walk-in freezer. It also was a surreal experience driving around with an orca head in the truck. The head is heavy – and slippery – and difficult to tie down – so I drove smoothly to avoid having the head roll around behind me. Imagine explaining to an insurance company how an orca head caused you to lose control of your vehicle?
Nitinat’s head was prepared by Mike DeRoos and Michi Main – their internationally acclaimed business, Cetacea, focuses on cleaning and articulating whale skeletons. While preparing this skull for burial, they noticed that Nitinat had broken teeth. Given that I broke a molar on a frozen Reese’s Piece in a Dairy Queen Blizzard, I could imagine how Biggs Orcas could break a tooth when biting down on a sea lion or elephant seal. Large pinnipeds have dense bones.
Once the skull was cleaned, Mike and Michi found that not only were teeth broken, there also is a nickle-sized hole in the palate and many teeth were abscessed. The hole in the palate is particularly interesting. It has smooth sides and so certainly had healed before Nitinat’s death. Was it a puncture and the source of the infection that caused the distortion of the teeth? Or was it a channel for the abscess to weep into Nitinat’s mouth (not a pleasant thought regardless).
Normal teeth (left) have a long root and recurved crown, with natural wear for their ecotype – but the abscessed teeth were stunning with their broken crown and expanded root. They almost remind me of some squash varieties that are available.
One of the teeth is so swollen that it couldn’t be removed from its distorted socket.
Red lines beside the skull indicate expanded tooth sockets – perhaps age and infection combined to create this effect. The sockets for the abscessed teeth were eroded and far larger than normal sockets (in this non-mammalogist’s opinion). Erik Lambertson made a great scale bar.
Nitinat’s teeth are enough to make anyone who has had a toothache cringe, and a dentist’s eyes pop with fascination. I am just waiting for the day someone requests to see Nitinat as the focus of a pathology research paper. For now, he is a permanent addition to the Royal BC Museum collection and will soon get his official catalog number.
I don’t know if the title of this article is an accurate way to say fork-tailed lizard in German, but the Gabelschwanz-Teufel – the P-38 Lightning (the fork-tailed devil) could take a lot of punishment and still get home at the end of a sortie. A fork-tailed lizard has a parallel story – it has taken a beating and survived.
It is common to find lizards with regenerated tails or tails that are recently dropped – with their tell-tail stump. Sometimes the tip is lost, others about 90% of the tail is lost. The regrown tail segment is never as nice as the original and has different scale patterns and colouration.
This male Wall Lizard photographed by Deb Thiessen, lost its tail near the base and the regenerated tail is obvious. Its meal had a perfect tail.
I have seen fork-tailed, even trident tailed lizards in photos – I remember images like this in the books I poured over earlier in my ontogeny. Had I ever seen one in person? Not until now. During my PhD thesis work, the only fork-tails I thought about were thelodont fishes known from Early Devonian rocks of the Northwest Territories.
This July, Robert Williams, a colleague from University of Leeds in England was here working on Wall Lizards. He was trying to determine if our native Northern Alligator Lizards react in any way to the scent of the European Wall Lizard.
Live animals are not allowed at the Royal BC Museum, so Rob had to perform scent trials in my dining room. The lizards were held in containers in my kitchen – and I thank my wife for her patience.
The work helps give a frame of reference to reactions between the native Sand Lizard in the UK and introduced Wall Lizards, but you’ll have to wait to hear the results. While hunting Wall Lizards on Moss Rocks here in Victoria, Rob caught a fork-tailed specimen.
Since this was such a neat specimen I requested it be saved intact for the Royal BC Museum’s collection. Here is a photo of a fork-tailed Wall Lizard from England, but Rob had to come all the way to the Pacific coast of Canada to catch one.
In museum collections, space is critical. We can’t waste space. Every millimeter of shelving is critical. If you can arrange cabinets more efficiently, do it. Can you pack more jars in a given area? Do it. If you can make space. Do it.
I have been on a binge of deaccessioning lately. What is deaccessioning? It is the museum practice of removing accessioned/cataloged specimens from the collection. Once deaccessioned, we either send specimens to other museums where they are relevant, or give them to teaching collections or perhaps to nature centers. Only rotten specimens are destroyed. We try everything we can to re-purpose specimens before we resort to destruction.
This surfperch, Embitoca lateralis, is a rare candidate for destruction. It has been deaccessioned – someone had cranked the clamp too tight years ago and the glass at the apex of lid popped. Alcohol evaporated and by the time it was noticed, it was too late. If the fish in the jar could speak, they’d say, “There’s a fungus among us.”
Deaccessioning allows me to make space in the collection for new material. Since I am trying to keep the Royal BC Museum’s vertebrate collection focused on British Columbia, the eastern North Pacific Ocean and any adjacent territory, specimens with no relevance to this region obviously have my attention. Specimens with incomplete information (or no information), also flare my obsessive nature and are on my deaccession hit list. Space is created on a jar-by-jar basis.
Putting ‘incomplete information’ in everyday terms – if we are going to meet somewhere, you generally expect some level of detail. If I say I want to meet in Tofino in June, what would you say? Imagine now that I didn’t even give you my name – but still wanted to meet in Tofino in June. I am betting you’d put on your best Monty Python-esque King Arthur and say, “You’re a Loony.” Incomplete or missing data is a real issue.
My long suffering volunteer Jody found a jar of flatfish this weekend which had never been cataloged, but was in the collection. It was only a 125 ml jar – so not a huge waste of space. On closer inspection the fishes were identified (Parophrys vetulus, English Sole), there was a location (Tofino), and a date (June 1985).
Where was I in June 1985 – oh yea – just about to graduate from grade 12. Oh the 80s – I am listening to Duran Duran while typing this – RIO – the obvious choice with its maritime theme.
Yep, that was me in 1985.
Parophrys vetulus is a common fish here in BC, so it is likely you can catch them all around Tofino in June – but it would be nice to know which beach relinquished its sole. And when did it happen? Was it at night? Was it a full moon? On the 1st of the month, or mid month? Were they in ankle-deep water or at 10 meters depth? Open beach or a tidepool? Caught by hand or with a net? Inquiring minds may want to know. And with no collector noted in the hand-written label – I can’t even badger someone by email to jog their memory or review old field notes.
These are the lost soles Jody found. Is one of them yours?
To a museum, data is everything. If you collect and preserve a specimen, record as much as you can about the event. If you are giving me your sole, then tell me its secrets.
I have said before that European Wall Lizards (Podarcis muralis) will eat smaller conspecifics – there are a few photos online from elsewhere on Earth – but until now I didn’t have solid evidence of lacertophagy (lizard eating) here on Vancouver Island.
However, this last week, Deb Thiessen took a few videos of a Wall Lizard eating a yearling Wall Lizard on her property just north of Victoria. These are really good videos and clearly show that Wall Lizards can stuff down a huge meal.
Posted by Deb Thiessen on Friday, June 1, 2018
In this first video the smaller Wall Lizard is already dead, and I suspect that the larger lizard killed it. Looks like another lizard had thoughts of stealing the meal. Sure looks like breathing is an issue while stuffing down so large a meal. Snakes solve the problem of eating and breathing by pushing their trachaea (windpipe) out of the mouth so that food does not block air flow.
Posted by Deb Thiessen on Friday, June 1, 2018
The victor looks like a male, and in the second video you can see how quickly it disposes of the tail rather than having that part of the meal hanging out of its mouth for a few days.
Almost all of the victor’s own tail had been lost some time ago. You can always see where its original tail ended and the re-growth takes over – the new tail is never as neatly patterned.
Be glad Wall Lizards aren’t the same size as Varanus prisca, otherwise we’d be on the menu.
Or if you are an astronomer, then your science is Sirius. If you are a geologist, then your science is pretty gneiss. Don’t take science for granite.
I have been tracking Wall Lizards now for a while – and I am sure my wife will say lizard tracking has become an obsession – a serious obsession. I look at rock walls as we drive around town. I look for lizards on our weekend hikes. I watch for lacertids when I walk our daughter too and from school. Science is serious.
I have been watching the range expansion of two nicely segregated populations of lizards in Victoria – one population is about 0.63 km SSW from our house west of Hillside Mall, and the other is about 0.24 km north of us near Doncaster School – not that I have measured.
Each year I walk the perimeter of these populations to get an idea how fast lizards disperse in urban environments – again – this is serious science. Stop laughing. I can hear you laughing. Rolling your eyes does not help.
Wall Lizards seem to spread 40 to 100 meters – and it is the young ones that do the dispersing. Why? They race off to new habitat to avoid the cannibalistic tendencies of their parents. Parents with a 40 year old trekkie in the basement may want to consider this option as an incentive to get kids to move out.
Young lizards head for the relative safety of boring lawns – garden areas with lots of structure are occupied by hungry adults. Homeowners sometimes claim their lawn is crawling with young lizards in August – when all the summer’s eggs have hatched. In contrast, adults are relatively sedentary – once they find good sunny, rocky (complex) territory, they tend to move very little from year to year.
Now imagine my surprise when I walked up my driveway last night (May 23rd, 2018) and heard the characteristic rustling sound of a lizard in our food forest (yes, the lawn is gone and we have a food forest – the entire front garden is devoted to plants we can eat, and plants that attract bees to pollinate the plants with edible bits – but I digress). The lizard I found is at least 0.24 km from the nearest known population of lizards in my neighbourhood, and is an adult – with a perfect tail too – must have lived a charmed life free of bird and domestic cat attacks. Did this adult go walkabout? I doubt it.
The new colonist in the food forest at UF1510 (yes, as sci-fi nuts we gave our place a code name Urban Farm1510)…
Furthermore, the lizards nearest to my house are not brightly coloured – in fact they are kind of drab as far as Wall Lizards go. But our new lizard is gorgeous – more like ones from Triangle Mountain or farther north on the Saanich Peninsula.
This male is from Durrance Road – far more colourful than the ones near Doncaster School or Hillside Mall.
Is this a case of seriously good science prank? Was this a drive-by lizarding? Did a neighbour just buy some new garden supplies and a stow-away lizard emerged to find utopia in our food forest? I may never know.
My daughter has named the lizard Zoom. I guess he is there to stay.
Here’s a link to a new paper by: Luke R Halpin, Jeffrey A Seminoff, and myself.
Source: Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1):73-75.
Published By: Society for Northwestern Vertebrate Biology
This new paper provides the first photographs of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) from west of Vancouver Island. The species has been spotted in the region before and as far north as Alaska, but until now, there were no photographs or specimens as solid evidence.
While the photos in this paper are black and white – the original photographs by Luke Halpin are color and van be viewed upon request. PDFs also are available – just send me an email.
British Columbia is now within the range of 4 species of marine turtle. This Loggerhead survived into February of 2015 because of the unusually warm water in the eastern North Pacific Ocean (the Warm Water Blob), whereas Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) wash up dead (or near dead) in early winter. Unfortunately, the fate of the Loggerhead from 2015 is unknown.
Years ago after coming off parental leave, I found a series of photographs of Wall Lizards and a Google Earth image of a road intersection marked to show locations for a lizard colony. Quick search in Google Earth showed that this colony was in Nanaimo. I fired off a fast blog article to generate interest and get people looking for Wall Lizards.
It worked. Reports came in.
Jump forward a few years and now that street (Flagstone – site 1) is crawling with lizards according to eyewitnesses. But we now also have another site (2) along the Nanaimo Parkway near Douglas Avenue and Tenth Street. Oh wait, there’s also a third site (3) in the Chase River Estuary Park, and as of this weekend, there’s another (4) – way north of the rest along Arrowsmith Road. The report of the lizards in the Arrowsmith Road area was accompanied by video – there was no doubt as to the identification of those lizards – and that was a big jump from previous known occurrences.
There you go Nanaimo, the invasion has picked up pace. Keep your eyes peeled for lizards with a green tint to their scales, minute scales on their back, and generally more delicate proportions than the native Alligator Lizard.
Look at this post to help identify any lizards in your neighborhood.
If you find suspected Wall Lizards – email me at: email@example.com
If you find a lizard that is not a Western Skink, Northern Alligator Lizard, or European Wall Lizard – I definitely want to know about it.
Please record the date and street address (or prominent landmark) to pin down exactly where the lizard was seen. A photo would be really helpful to confirm the lizard’s identification. Happy hunting.
Heidi N. Gartner, Cathryn Clarke Murray, Melissa A. Frey, Jocelyn C. Nelson, Kristen J. Larson, Gregory M. Ruiz and Thomas W. Therriault
Marine fouling communities on artificial structures are invasion hotspots for non-indigenous species (NIS). Yet, little is known about NIS infouling communities of British Columbia (BC), Canada. To determine NIS identity and richness in BC fouling communities, we deployed settlement plates at 108 sites along the coast of BC between 2006 and 2012. Of the 295 invertebrate taxa identified to species, 20 were NIS while an additional 14 were cryptogenic, including several global invaders. This study documents the range expansion of tunicates Botrylloides violaceus Oka, 1927 and Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766), including the first known records on Haida Gwaii. NIS were detected within each of the six distinct geographic regions with the southern, more populated regions of BC (Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca) having the highest NIS richness and frequency of occurrence compared to the less populated northern regions. This study provides a contemporary baseline of invertebrate NIS identity and richness in fouling communities that will allow comparisons through time and a means to focus research and prioritize management efforts.
Key words: non-native species, introduced species, invasion, Northeast Pacific, West Coast, North America, biofouling
The Special Issue of Aquatic Invasions on “Transoceanic Dispersal of Marine Life from Japan to North America and the Hawaiian Islands as a Result of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011” has been published as Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 1-186 (totalling more than 220 pages with supplementary files).
The Special Issue includes the 14 papers (all Open Access) by 39 researchers, including Dr. Henry Choong, Curator, Invertebrate Zoology.
Funding support was provided by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) of the Government of Japan, through the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES), which made this Special Issue possible.
The Introduction to the Special Issue provides vignette summaries of examples of notable Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris objects, and also details contributions to the knowledge of Japanese and North Pacific marine biota as a result of JTMD research. These contributions include new species, new species records for Japan, and a rediscovered species (last documented in 1929). A final summary table in the Introduction provides examples of molecular genetic contributions to our understanding of JTMD biodiversity.
The JTMD project, which commenced in 2012, and which is now entering its 6th year of research, as we continue to monitor for the potential arrival of living species, 7 years after the tragic disaster of March 11, 2011.
Calder, D.R., Choong, H.H.C., Carlton, J.T., Chapman, J.W., Miller, J.A., and Geller, J. 2014.
Fourteen species of hydroids, including two anthoathecates and 12 leptothecates, are reported from the west coast of North America on debris from the tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March 2011. Six species were found on a dock that stranded at Agate Beach, Newport, Oregon, five from a boat at Gleneden Beach, Oregon, four from a dock in Olympic National Park, Washington, and two from a boat in Grays Harbor, Washington. Obelia griffini Calkins, 1899, the most frequently encountered species, was collected on three of the four derelict substrates. Eight of the species are known to be amphi-Pacific in distribution. Of the rest, at least five (S tylactaria s p . ; Eutima japonica Uchida, 1925; Orthopyxis platycarpa Bale, 1914; Sertularella sp.; Plumularia sp.) are not previously known from the west coast of North America. Hydroids of E. japonica occurred as commensals in the mantle cavity of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis Lamarck, 1819. Obelia griffini, O. gracilis Calkins, 1899 (not its secondary homonym Laomedea gracilis Dana, 1846) and O. surcularis Calkins, 1899 are taken to be conspecific. Of the three simultaneous synonyms, precedence is assigned to the name O. griffini under the Principle of the First Reviser in zoological nomenclature. The species is sometimes regarded as identical with O. dichotoma (Linnaeus, 1758).
Henry H. C. Choong* and Dale R. Calder
Invertebrate Zoology Section, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum,100 Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 2C6
The leptothecate hydroid Sertularella mutsuensis Stechow, 1931 is reported on debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami that came ashore on 5 June 2012 at Agate Beach north of Newport, Oregon. Its discovery on a barnacle (Semibalanus cariosus) from a derelict floating dock originating at Misawa, Honshu, confirms the capability of successful transoceanic dispersal for this species. We compare our specimens to Stechow’s syntype material of S. mutsuensis in collections at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München, and designate a lectotype and paralectotype of the species.
Key words: Leptothecata; hydroid; lectotype; transoceanic dispersal; anthropogenic debris; Oregon coast
It is always satisfying to update taxonomy in the museum’s database or find and correct mistakes. This week I spent some time sorting out details on Royal BC Museum specimens of California Yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis) and Great Amberjack (Seriola lalandi). Turns out that since these fishes were collected, Seriola dorsalis has been sunk, and all our fishes are Seriola lalandi (as noted by Gillespie 1993). This carangid fish is known to move into our waters in warmer years.
While reviewing what we knew about the first BC specimen (979-11312) it became obvious that the Royal BC Museum’s database was missing some information for that fish. Fortunately, this information was easily updated – the original report was published in the Royal BC Museum’s extinct periodical Syesis (see Nagtegaal and Farlinger 1980).
Drawing of Seriola dorsalis – oops lalandi (979-11312) by K. Uldall-Ekman.
In fixing that record, I noticed that some online sources had given incorrect coordinates for this fish. Contrast the capture location of 54°35’N, 131°00’W in Caamaño Passage as reported by Nagtegaal and Farlinger (1980), with online sources which state the fish was caught at 54°35’N, 31°00’W. That missing 1 in the reported longitude determines which ocean is linked this fish.
The takeaway message? Always check the original paper rather than relying on internet sources. Precise data is everything – and in the words of a well known scoundrel: “Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that’d end your trip real quick, wouldn’t it.” Or in this case, you’d be landing southwest of Iceland to look for Great Amberjack.
Gillespie, G.F. 1993. An Updated List of the Fishes of British Columbia, and Those of Interest in Adjacent Waters, with Numeric Code Designation.Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 1918. 116 p.
Nagtegaal, D.A. and S.P. Farlinger. 1981. First record of two fishes, Seriola dorsalis and Medialuna californiensis, from waters off British Columbia. Syesis 13:206 –207.
I’ve received a steady series of emails this year detailing European Wall Lizard locations here on Vancouver Island, and it’s now April and wall lizards certainly are active. However, an email arrived April 11th which gave me a WTH (What The Herp) moment. The email contained a beautifully focused photo of a new turtle for BC. Then it occurred to me that I’d lost count of how many turtle species have been dumped here – unwanted pets that outlived the interest of their owners.
I really like when people send me photos of things they think are unusual – and this week’s email was no exception. We know that Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), Yellowbelly Sliders (Trachemys scripta2), and a Map Turtle (Graptemys sp.) have been dumped in Goodacre Lake, and Red-eared Sliders into Fountain Pond, but this new turtle photographed by Deb Thiessen (see below) certainly was not just an odd coloured slider, nor was it another map turtle. As an aside, I haven’t had a chance to catch the Map Turtle in Beacon Hill Park to get a good look at it, but I have seen it at a distance, and ID’ed it based on photos from Darren Copley and James Miskelly. It looks like a False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica). I think that’ll be a summer goal, to get good photos of that turtle to be sure which species it represents.
A Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis) from Fountain Lake, Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, BC. Photograph by Deb Thiessen, retired CRD Parks naturalist.
As you can see from Deb Thiessen’s photograph, this new turtle has a large shell for the size of the head, and the stripes on the neck are crisp, and bold yellow offset by black. The bold markings to me suggested Peninsula Cooter (Pseudemys peninsularis). The short claws on its forelimb indicate it is female. Males would have claws double the length of those in the photo. This animal is way outside its normal range – Peninsula Cooters are from Florida.
This animal brings our list of pet turtles to 10 species abandoned in BC ponds and lakes – that we know of. Here is the list I have of turtles that have been found in BC – way out of their native range – and (shockingly) it parallels species available in the pet trade here in BC.
Trachemys scripta (Pond Slider – both T. s. elegans and T. s. scripta)
Pseudemys peninsularis (Peninsula Cooter)
Pseudemys concinna (River Cooter)
Chrysemys picta marginata (Midland Painted Turtle, possibly also Southern Painted Turtles, C. p. dorsalis)
Graptemys pseudogeographica (False Map Turtle)
Emys orbicularis (European Pond Terrapin – always did like the word Terrapin – a bit of nostalgia from my British roots)
Chinemys reevsi (Reeve’s Turtle)
Malaclemys terrapin (Diamondback Terrapin)
Apalone spinifera (Spiny Softshell Turtle)
Chelydra serpentina (Common Snapping Turtle)
Fortunately most turtles are dumped one at a time and do not reproduce. Sadly though, I can’t say the same for the Red-eared Sliders – they now can reproduce successfully here in British Columbia (I have two pets from the first successful clutch found on the south coast of BC, ca. January 11, 2015). Red-eared Sliders now are common in artificial and natural ponds and in lakes here in southwestern British Columbia – and until recently, we were sure that each adult represented an abandoned pet (or maybe the occasional escapee). Now males are finding females. Females are finding decent nesting locations. And eggs are surviving to hatch.
Knowing that sliders can breed here, I stopped to check whether sliders and cooters can hybridize, and it has been suggested to be possible – but no solid proof. And since it is better to be safe than sorry… Does anyone know how to neuter a Cooter?
This time of year, my garden is one big mudslide. Sunny days with a blue horizon are not that common here on Vancouver Island in winter – but when they occur, we certainly enjoy them. So do our slim little European Wall Lizards.
This January and February I collected lizards which were active when the air temperatures were between 5° to 7°C. As a survivor of the Canadian prairies, collecting lizards in winter seems about as strange as an empty room in a museum collection.
I found lizards along Derby Road in my neighborhood, on Moss Rocks, at Gardenworks Nursery in the Blenkinsop Valley – winter lizard activity is nothing new here on Vancouver Island.
Lizards were found in south-facing locations with full sun exposure and when caught, were very warm to the touch. It is obvious that they are effective solar collectors and can elevate their body temperatures well above that of the chilly air – even when it is a bit windy. It is not uncommon to see lizards only exposing their head for a while, then the rest of the body. Perhaps this is a low-risk way to warm blood via blood vessels in the throat before they venture out and deal with intruding conspecifics. I haven’t seen any wall lizards feeding in winter – but that doesn’t mean they don’t. I’ll have to examine museum specimens to see what’s in the stomachs of winter-caught lizards.
An adult European Wall Lizard caught on Derby Road in Victoria, February 26th, 2018.
As of this February, the Royal BC Museum collection has 30 lots of European Wall Lizard specimens representing surface activity for each month of the year. Some people collect trading cards to get a complete set, I collect lizards to get one per month. Wall Lizards are active in winter as far north as Denman Island, and given that range, probably could extend further north of Campbell River in areas with a warm microclimate.
The collection of lizards for each season put a song from 1971 into my head – so I reworded the chorus a bit…
Winter, spring, summer or fall,
All they have to do is crawl,
And I’ll be there, yes I will,
Their spread has to end.
Tristan A. McKnight & Robert A. Cannings
Abstract: Stackelberginia cerberus sp. nov. (Diptera: Asilidae) is described from the Amargosa desert (USA: Nevada) and compared to related taxa. This is the first record of the genus in the Western Hemisphere; other species live in the deserts of central Asia. Stackelberginia Lehr is proposed as the sister taxon to Lasiopogon Loew in the subfamily Stichopogoninae based on morphological characters and a Bayesian species tree estimated from one mitochondrial (COI) and three nuclear protein-coding loci (AATS, PEPCK, wingless). Stackelberginia has the medially divided epandrium and rotated hypopygium of Lasiopogon, but the facial gibbosity is flat, macrosetae of thorax, head, and legs are unusually long, and phenology peaks in late autumn.
Key words: Stichopogoninae, robber fly, assassin fly, species tree, molecular, Palearctic
Joel. F. Gibson
Abstract: The thick-headed flies (Diptera: Conopidae) are rarely observed parasitoids. Confirmed hosts include many species of bees and wasps. Often collected from flowers, conopids may serve as either pollinators or pollinator predators. The last detailed checklist of the Conopidae of British Columbia was published in 1959. An updated checklist for British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska is presented based on over 1,000 specimens and specimen records. Geographical distribution, using an ecoprovince approach, is documented for each of 26 species in the region. Host, plant association, and hilltopping behavioural records based on past literature and new observations are also included. An identification key to all species recorded is included.
Key words: parasitoid, biogeography, plant associations, host associations, Nearctic
Colin J. Curry, Joel F. Gibson, Shadi Shokralla, Mehrdad Hajibabaei, and Donald J. Baird
Abstract: We reviewed the availability of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) sequences for 2534 North American freshwater invertebrate genera in public databases (GenBank and Barcode of Life Data Systems) and assessed representation of genera commonly encountered in the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) database. COI sequence records were available for 61.2% of North American genera and 72.4% of Insecta genera in public databases. Mollusca (73.9%) and Nematoda (15.4%) were the best and worst represented groups, respectively. In CABIN, 85.4% of genera had COI sequence records, and 95.2% of genera occurring in >1% of samples were represented. Genera absent from CABIN tended to be uncommon or members of groups not routinely used for biomonitoring purposes. On average, 94.1% of genera in well-identified samples had associated sequence data. To leverage the full potential of genomics approaches, we must expand DNA-barcode reference libraries for poorly described components of freshwater food webs. Some genera appear to be well represented (e.g., Eukiefferiella), but deposited sequences represent few sampling localities or few species and lead to underestimation of sequence diversity at the genus level and reduced confidence in identifications. Public COI libraries are sufficiently populated to permit routine application of genomics tools in biomonitoring, and ongoing quality assurance/quality control should include re-evaluation as new COI reference sequences are added or taxonomic hierarchies change. Next, we must understand whether and how established biomonitoring approaches can capitalize on high-throughput sequencing tools. Biomonitoring approaches that use genomics data to facilitate structural and functional assessments are fertile ground for future investigation and will benefit from continued improvement of publicly available sequence libraries.
Key words: COI, invertebrates, biomonitoring, high-throughput sequencing, DNA metabarcoding, identification,
genus, Biomonitoring 2.0
Robert A. Cannings & Russell V. Pym
Archilestes californicus McLachlan (California Spreadwing) is a large damselfly native to western North America, ranging from Washington and Idaho south to New Mexico, Arizona and California and, in Mexico, to Sonora and Baja California Sur (Paulson 2011; Westfall and May 2006). This note records the species for the first time in Canada—from three sites in the southern Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (BC; Figure 1).
Russell Pym saw several males and females at a small, shallow, artificial pond at the end of an artificial stream near the entrance to the Liquidity Winery at 4720 Allendale Road, Okanagan Falls, BC (49.32553°N, 119.54993°W). He observed them from 13:00 to 14:00 PDT on 26 September 2016; one male was photographed (Figure 2). From 16:30 to 17:00 PDT the same day, he recorded a female in knee-high grass, three to four metres from the shore of a dugout pond across the road from Walnut Beach Resort, 4200 Lakeshore Drive, Osoyoos, BC (49.01825°N, 119.43580°W). Cattail (Typha latifolia) and willows (Salix spp.) lined the pond margins.
I would like you to consider for a moment a poem.
One of the losses in the story of Canadian literature was the murder, at the hands of her husband, of the brilliant, Vancouver-born poet Pat Lowther. She herself is a loss—and I will take up the issue of cultural loss in a moment. But she also has a sharp eye for describing loss: for describing the long movement of history and what may so easily, if we are not careful to preserve it, disappear.
In her “Elegy for the South Valley”, Pat Lowther writes that in Canada “we have no centuries / here a few generations / do for antiquity.”
In the poem—as the rains “keep on and on” and the South Valley silts up—we see
the dam that served
a mine that serviced empire
crumbling slowly deep
deep in the bush
for its time
for this country
it’s a pyramid
it’s Tenochtitlan going back
to the bush and the rain.
This is, I think, quite astonishing, for here is the recognition that the culture that surrounds us, however plain, however modest, however workmanlike, is a monument. A concrete dam in British Columbia is an Egyptian pyramid. It is the capital of Aztec Mexico. And like them, though in only “a few generations”, it too can disappear into the wilderness.
 Pat Lowther, “Elegy for the South Valley” in Time Capsule: New and Selected Poems (Victoria, BC: Polestar Book Publishers, 1996), pp.205–7.
The remains of an ancient village, in the form of a shell midden, are located around the intersection of Store and Chatham Street off Victoria’s upper harbour. The site, listed as DcRu-116, was on a rocky bluff on the east side of the Harbour between the Johnson Street and Point Ellis (Bay Street) Bridges. This specific location on a rocky bluff with a good view up the Harbour would suggest the site was chosen for defensive purposes.
In 1976, buried shell midden was discovered during the removal of massive amounts of overburden for building a new facility next to the Capital Iron building at 1900 Store Street. On an emergency basis, volunteers from the (then) Provincial Museum and the Archaeology Branch spent the weekend of April 10-11 recovering information from this site. After removing over a meter and a half of disturbed overburden we encountered partially intact and then intact cultural material. We excavated to the base of the midden, which extended to a depth of 110cm, before we encounter non-cultural material below. Two excavation Units were each approximately 2 meters square and measured from the N.E. corner of the main building adjacent to the pits. Pit 1 was located North 8m – 9.8m and East 18m – 20m from the main datum. Pit 2 was located North 10.2m – 12m and East 18m – 20m. A 40cm bulk was left between the excavation pits (See figures 2-4).
The midden extended north from the Capital Iron building for 24 meters, but was visible under Store Street for 40 m north of the main building. The upper levels of the excavation units were disturbed with a mixture of non-indigenous artifacts and older shell midden – especially in the first two levels. Excavation started in level one at 10-20cm. This level contained mixed historic materials – coal, glass, slag, window and bottle glass (one square green whiskey bottle with applied top), round headed copper nails, five square-headed cut iron nails and round thick headed nails and spikes. Level 2, at 20-30cm, contained smaller amounts of square nails, bottle glass and ceramics from the late 19th century. Level 3 at 30-40cm contained only one iron spike, a few square headed nails and portions of a few dark glass pantile based bottles.
What was noticeable in level 5 (50-60cm) in Unit 1 and level 6 (60-70cm) in unit 2 was the large quantities of herring bones and scales. An occasional piece of burnt wood and a few square headed nails protruded into portions of level 5, but levels below to the base of the cultural deposits (80cm in Unit 2 and 120cm in Unit 1) were in tack. The predominant mollusks observed were native oyster with much smaller amounts of native little neck, butter, cockle and horse clams as well as bay mussel, whelks and barnacles.
A water source was available for people living at this site from a creek that ran down the Haultain valley into Rock Bay to the North (see figure 6 & 7). This can be seen in a portion of Joseph Pemberton’s 1852 detailed map of the west side of Victoria Harbour (figure 6). Many historic activities have altered the landscape in this area (see Appendix I).
The charcoal sample I extracted from the lower intact deposits of this site was radio-carbon dated to an uncorrected date of 1690-+70 (Beta 59892). The Calendric Age is calBP: 1608+or-82. 68% range calBP: 1526-1690. Calendric Age cal:342+/-82. This would place the bottom deposits of the site in the calendar date range of around 260 to 424 A.D.
There are few sites in the Victoria region that have dates in this time range. This period is missing in the large DcRu-12 shell midden on the Songhees Reserve in Esquimalt Harbor. There is, however, a partial overlap of the date range from the bottom of DcRu-116 with the bottom of the shell midden, DcRt-9, in Cadboro Bay which has a time range of 138 to 388 A.D. (Keddie- RIDDL571). There is also a partial overlap with the bottom of the main shell midden deposits at the large defensive site on Ash Point in Pedder Bay with a bottom range of 373-581 A.D.
Because of disturbed upper deposits I could not determine if this site was occupied in late pre-contact times. The small map, drawn by John Woolsey in 1859, (See Keddie page 46) shows houses as being “Songhees”. These could be construed as being in the area of shell midden, DcRu116, but the Woolsey map is not detailed enough to place the houses at this location with any certainty. There is no recorded tradition of a village at this location.
There are 133 artifacts from this site. This assemblage includes artifacts recovered from an emergency excavation undertaken on the weekend of April 10 and 11th 1976, by staff from the Royal B.C. Museum and the Archaeology Branch. Nine of the artifacts were from disturbed surface midden deposits at the site and 30 artifacts were found in a large amount of shell midden mixed with other materials from this site that was dumped on April 9th at a location off Kimta Road in Victoria West. Tom Bown and I visited the latter location on a number of occasions to recover artifacts in the washed out material. I examined the excavation level bags, with their recorded site provenience, in November of 1992 and identified artifacts #59-132.
There were two excavation units established with a 40cm wide bulk in between. Unit 1 or Pit 1 was located at North 8m-9.8m, East 18m-20m. Unit 2 or Pit 2 was located at North 10.2m-12m, East 18m-20m. Both were dug down to the bottom of the cultural material. The main datum and unit or sub-datums were the same at this site. The main datum was a point on the then existing building wall, with the two excavation units marked out in meters north from the wall. I intentionally made the main datum to be level with the N.W. corner of each excavation unit in order to make the depth of each of the units easily comparable.
The artifacts are described here under classes and sub-classes that reflect different kinds of human behavior. The class Wealth, Status, Ceremonial is represented by only one artifact here. The class Subsistence is related to the procurement and processing of food. Tool Making refers to fabrication equipment that includes implements primarily used in the alteration or assembling of raw materials for use in the various stages of manufacture of other implements or equipment, and the waste material from these activities. This latter class includes the majority of the artifacts from this site.
DcRu-116:67. Shaped, deer phalange. Use unknown. This is a one-of-a-kind bone object. A deer phalange is heavily ground and tappers to the distal end. The proximal end of the bone is ground flat and the bone hollowed out. The open distal end is 0.5cm in diameter and ground around the edges. There is an intentionally made 0.3cm hole 0.5cm from the proximal base that has fractured into a larger hole. This could be part of some larger composite artifact or possibly a whistle if used with a reed. The fact that it is hollowed out would suggest that it was not intended to be used as a pendant, in which case it would likely have a notch around or a hole through the thin end. Provenience: N10-12 E18-20. DBD 40-50cm.
DcRu-116:36. Dog canine tooth. This is not an artifact, as initially recorded. The nob-like structure on the proximal end is a natural root feature. Kimta Road midden. 4.2×1.1×0.7cm.
Class: Subsistence Artifacts
Sub-Class: Subsistence. Hunting General.
DcRu-116:44. Projectile Point. Arrow Point. Mottled chert. Corner indented notches. Provenience: Kimta Road dumped midden.(4.6)x2.1×0.6cm.
DcRu-116:52. Triangular biface. Point for arrow or small harpoon. Basalt. Small straight sided point with incurvate base and basal thinning. Provenience: Disturbed surface at Capital Iron. 2.90×1.96×0.49cm.
DcRu-116:58. Projectile point. Point for a spear or harpoon. Basalt. Wide corner indented notches. Tip of tapering base broken off. Provenience: Kimta Road midden. 2.7×3.4×0.7cm. .
DcRu-116:40. Biface. Point for arrow or small harpoon. Basalt. Strait base and slightly excurvate sides. Provenience: Kimta Road midden. 4.35×2.5×0.7cm.
DcRu-116:21. Unfinished biface. This is a basalt biface that appears to have been broken and discarded in the process of manufacture. Minimal bifacial flaking occurs on two sides. Straight sides. Provenience: N10.2-12/E18-20 (NE Quadrant) DBU 60-70cm. (3.1)x2.85×0.5cm.
DcRu-116:1. Projectile Point. Spear or small harpoon point. Basalt. Corner indented notches. Tip of tapering base broken off. Provenience: N10.2-12/E18.11m. DBD 19cm. (4.4)x3.45×0.8cm.
DcRu-116:6. Ground slate Point. Distal portion missing and small part of proximal end. Beveled edges. N11.65 E19.3m DBU 46cm.
DcRu-116:29. Ground Slate Point. Flat proximal end. Portion of distal end missing. Beveled edges. Kimta Road Midden. (7.95)x2.3×0.5cm.
DcRu-116:14. Ground Slate Point section. A longitudinal flat piece from the side of a slate point of a much larger size.
A portion of the original ground edge is on one side. The original worked surface has 11 short cut marks and 4 ground short groves on its surface. Most of these are connected to the edge, but five short grooves are further in from the edge. N11.60 E19.92m DBD 60cm.
DcRu-116:57. Bone shank for composite trolling hook. Three small tying notched on proximal end. Groove on one side for tying bone hook on distal end. Kimta Road midden. 6.25×0.55×0.39cm.
DcRu-116:18. (DcRu-116:19 is now part of this). Bone point. Small piece of proximal tip missing. N8.86 E19.6m. In ash lens. DBU 55cm. #19 portion found in screen and recorded at 60cm DBD.
DcRu-116:37. Pointed bone object. Most likely a fish hook barb. This is the broken end of a deer ulna bone tool that has been re-worked. Fractured on proximal end. Kimta Road midden. (6.4)x0.7×0.3cm.
DcRu-116:7. Fragment of ground pointed bone artifact. Most likely a portion of a fish hook barb. N9.0 E19.90m Level III. (3.4)x1.1×0.4cm.
DcRu-116:8. Fragment of ground pointed bone. Most likely a portion of a fish hook barb. N8.0-9.8 E18-20m. DBD 40cm.
DcRu-116:15. Fragment of ground pointed bone artifact. Most likely a portion of a fish hook barb. N9.48 E19.84m DBU 51cm. (2.7)x.0.8×0.7cm.’
Sub-class: Fabrication Tools. Adze Blades
DcRu-116:13. Adze blade. Tapered cutting edge mostly on one side. Nephrite. N8.82 E 20.31 DBD 50cm. 6.5×4.85×1.1cm.
DcRu-116:17. Adze blade. Portions of ends missing. Chlorite-like material. N8-9.8 E 18-20m. S.E. quadrant. DBD 51cm. (7.25)x4.1×1.15cm.
DcRu-116:28. Adze blade fragment. Chlorite-like material. N10-12 E 18.21m. (4.7)x(2.25)x(1.3)cm.
DcRu-116:12. Adze blade fragment. Chlorite-like material. Disturbed surface at Capital Iron. (4.4(x(1.6)x(0.8)cm.
DcRu-116:10. Antler tool. An antler wedge that has been sectioned and re-worked into a tapering point on the distal end. Could be used as a finer wedge or a fibre fabricating tool. Disturbed surface at Capital Iron. 12.1×2.3×1.7cm.
DcRu-116:26. Possible worked bone object. Mammal leg bone splinter. Water worn. May have extra use wear on one end. N 9.74 E18.33m DBD 84cm. 7.9×1.85×0.4cm.
DcRu-116:51. Spatula-like bone tool fragment. Use unknown. Heavily ground mammal rib with one end nearly complete, but split longitudinally along one side. Likely the proximal end of the unknown object. Kimta Road midden. (4.37)x(1.35)x(0.27)cm.
DcRu-116:35. Distal end of deer Ulna tool. Ground to pointed rounded tip. Kimta Road midden. (8.0)x1.4×0.3cm.
DcRu-116:9. Mid-section of the distal end of a deer ulna tool. N8.32 E20.35. DBD 40cm. (4.1)x1.9×0.7cm.
DcRu-116:101. Broken portion of a ground bone tool that has been graved to remove a section for other uses. N8-18m E18-20. DBD 0.50-0.60m. 3.8×1.5x.07cm.
DcRu-116:39. Large abrading stone. Provenience: Kimta road dumped material. 19.3×16.0x4.6cm
DcRu-116:3. Abrading stone. Shale-like material. Portion of one end missing. Rectangular. Ground on both surfaces and sides, but very fine surface on one side with two shallow grooved areas. N8.408.55 E18.0-18.12. DBD 16cm. (14.3)x7.6×1.35cm.
DcRu-116:24. Abrading stone. Sandstone. Portion of one end missing. In tan-brown ash. Rectangular. Ground smooth on both flat surfaces and sides. N9.65 E19.48. DBD 77cm. (10.7)x5.1×1.4cm.
DcRu-116:27. Abrading stone fragment. Sandstone. Ground on both surfaces. N10-12 E19.15. DBD 80cm. (6.35)x(4.65)x2.7cm.
DcRu-116:22. Abrading stone fragment. Sandstone. Ground on both surfaces. N11.64 E19.55. DBD 64cm. (6.2)x(5.5)x1.5cm.
DcRu-116:133. Shaped abrader fragment. Ground on both surfaces and side. Kimta Road dumped material. (5.2)x(4.3)x1.6)cm.
DcRu-116:25. Ground portion of beach pebble. This was originally a naturally flattened and round edged cobble that was fractured into a few pieces. It may have been a larger complete ground cobble artifact that was broken. However, wear patterns extend over the two fractured edges showing that the stone was used after the original stone was fractured into portions. There is heavy grinding, mostly on one larger surface, of the portion of the original cobble that remains. The long side and to a lesser extent, the shorter end have been ground. There are numerous very fine scratches in all directions on the two smoothed and polished surfaces of this cobble. Its function is unknown, but it could be a rubbing stone for rubbing substances into and compressing wood, such as various practices in treating canoes. Provenience: N9.08 E.18.40. DBD79cm. (6.8)x(4.6)x(2.3).
DcRu-116:23. Hammer stone. Elongate coarse sandstone cobble, pecking on one end. Provenience: N8-9.0 E18-20m. DBD 65-70cm. In ash, crushed shell and dark brown soil. 9.4×5.1×3.8cm.
DcRu-116:20. Retouched stone Flake. One long side and the distal end of this flake are intentionally retouched to create a special use edge. This could have been used for shaving hard wood. N9-9.8 E19-20. DBD 60-68cm. 3.8×2.15×0.65cm.
DcRu-116:16. Use retouched flake. Fine grained grey chert. Tiny flaking on two edges suggest this may have been used as a scrapping tool. Given that it was found on the surface the damage on the fine edges could be a result of recent crushing. Provenience: Surface at the Capital Iron site. 3.9×2.8×1.15cm.
DcRu-116:41. Use retouched flake. A few areas of tiny flaking suggest this fine dacite flake may have been used as a scrapping tool. Provenience: Kimta Road midden.4.2×3.4×1.1cm.
DcRu-116:5. Flake with bifacial flaking on one side. Basalt. This is likely a flake fractured off a larger piece in an attempt to make a projectile point. N10.23 E19.20. DBD 38cm. 3.5×2.5×1.1cm.
DcRu-116:32. Antler. The base portion of an elk antler that has been chopped off and subsequently chewed by rodents. Disturbed surface deposits at Capital Iron. 10.4×7.7×4.1cm.
In urban areas, fine grained rocks crushed by machinery can be found scattered about, especially when used on pathways and fill around houses and in cement structures. It is not uncommon in this environment to find what falsely appear to be ancient flakes or cores discarded in tool manufacture. Since many of the items described here are from disturbed deposits – that is midden mixed with other material of unknown origin – we need to be cautious that some may be of more recent non-First Nations activity. Many of the flakes do have an old surface patina demonstrating that they are ancient. I have included two that I have determined are of a recent nature – numbers 11 and 30. Artifact no. 11 was found in the 0-30cm level of unit 2 – indicating some historic disturbance in this upper level.
From my own experience of collecting and flaking many thousands of stones from many sources in the greater Victoria Region, I am able to observe there are what I would call field cobbles and beach cobbles. Where the original outside cortex of the flaked basalt is present, field cobbles have a duller and mottled heavy patina on the outer surface as opposed to beach or stream cobbles which have smoothed surfaces and less evident outside patina. DcRu-16:49 and DcRu-116:46 are examples of the latter types. X-ray analysis is needed to see if these types have any compositional differences. One item, DcRu-116:128, is not flaked, but is a fire-exploded cubicle piece of fine basalt or dacite that may have been intentionally heat treated and intended as a core of raw material.
DcRu-116:46. Basalt Core segment. Original cortex on two sides. Field basalt based on surface texture. Kimta road dumped midden. 5.66×4.40×3.6cm.
DcRu-116:49. Basalt Flake with cortex on one side. Beach cobble based on surface texture. Kimta road dumped midden. 7.6×3.8×1.9cm.
DcRu-116:54. Flake with original cortical surface on one edge. Kimta Road midden. 3.4×2.7×1.3.
DcRu-116:45. This is a section of a cobble that has been formed by bi-polar percussion – that is, smashing one end of the cobble while the other end rests on a stone anvil. It is a very hard chert-like material. Kimta Road midden.
DcRu-116:47. Flake with most of the original cortical surface on one side. 5.16×3.36×1.35cm. Kimta Road midden.
DcRu-116:43. Large flake of basalt. Some original cortical surface. 7.4×4.1×1.1cm. 6.11×4.00×1.61. Kimta Road midden.
DcRu-116:50. Core segment with remnants of the original cortical surface remaining on one end. Provenience: Kimta Road midden.
DcRu-116:55. Large flake of basalt. Some original cortical surface remaining on one end and in small amounts of two thin edges. 4.6×4.1×1.8. Kimta Road midden.
DcRu-116:2. Basalt core segment. N 8.52m E18.19m. Upper level. 4.85×4.0x1.5cm.
DcRu-116:42. Basalt flake. Some recent edge crushing. 3.9cmx2.8cmx0.5cm.
DcRu-116:48. Basalt flake. Some recent edge crushing.
DcRu-116:53. Basalt flake. Some recent edge crushing.
DcRu-116:4. Small percussion flake that likely came off a core with the removal of larger flakes. Although it has a similar size as some micro-blades, it is not a pressure flaked micro-blade. Surface at Capital Iron site. 1.25×0.8×0.25cm.
In 1992, I extracted the following artifacts from the 1976 excavation level bags that were labelled as to provenience in the excavation units. Exceptions are numbers 129-132 from the Kimta Road midden that were originally lumped together as #49.
Measurements are not given, as anyone undertaking lithic analysis would want to measure the artifacts in a prescribed way and develop more specific descriptions of flake morphology. The majority of these are basalt, andesite and other volcanic rocks.
DcRu-116:64-65(Pit 1,Level 1, 10-20cm); DcRu-116:60(Pit 1, Lev. 3, 30-40cm); DcRu-116:66-67 (Pit 1, Lev. 4, 40-50cm); DcRu-116:101-107 (Pit 1, Lev. 5, 50-60cm); DcRu-116:59&76-88 (Pit 1, Lev. 6, 60-70cm); DcRu-116:121-127 (Pit 1, Lev. 7, 70-80cm); DcRu-116:117-120 (Pit 1, Lev. 8, 80-90cm); DcRu-116:89-90 (Pit 1, Lev. 10, 100-110cm). DcRu-116:100&128 (Pit 2, Lev. 2, 20-30cm); DcRu-116:61-63 (Pit 2, Lev. 3, 30-40cm); DcRu-116:68-75&133 (Pit 2, Lev. 4, 40-50cm); DcRu-116:91-99 (Pit 2, Lev. 6, 60-70cm); DcRu-116:108-116 (Pit 2, Lev. 7, 70-80cm).
DcRu-116:38. Basalt core or raw material. Large five sided core of coarse grained basalt. Flakes are fractured from two faces resulting from single impact point on the corner of one side. This could be a raw material sample that was tested by removing a flake or a piece of unworked raw material brought to the site in ancient times and subsequently struck once by modern machinery while being dug up. Kimta road dumped midden. 9.3×9.2×6.8cm.
Two stone artifacts are of a recent nature. DcRu-116:11 is a section of a quartzite cobble that has been formed by heavy bi-polar percussion. It was found in a disturbed level with historic materials. Modern commercial cement is still adhering to the rock. This appears to be a mechanically crushed rock that was inside a cement structure. N10-12 E18-20.DBD 0-30cm. 5.9×4.5×1.8cm. DcRu-116:30 is a small spall off of a large cobble that was removed with enormous force. Although spall tool artifacts are occasionally found in ancient sites, this one exhibits a large secondary outside spall and a crushed point of impact which is typical of recent machine crushed rock.
Provenience: Kimta Road midden. 5.6×4.75×1.5cm.
In March of 1991, I observed shell midden at the west end of the parking lot located at the S.W. corner of Store and Chatham Streets. It had been exposed by large truck ruts. I observed a nephrite adze blade found by a private citizen at this location. The 9.5cm long adze blade had a cutting edge that was beveled mostly on one side with a slight bevel on the other. It measured 6cm across the cutting end and 3.4cm across the poll end. It was thickest, 1.4cm, near the cutting end and 1.2cm thick at the poll end.
Midden deposits were found underneath a small building on Store Street when it was being torn down in 2014. This location was to the north of the 1976 excavation area. On November 20, 2014 I visited the site to examine and photograph the exposed shell midden. The upper portions of the midden were disturbed by historic non-First Nations activity, but the southern lower portions were intact.
Figure 32, shows a close-up of the shell midden which is composed mostly of native oyster shell. In a close examination of the exposed midden, I observed many small weathered beach pebbles (1-3cm) mixed in with the shell fish remains. There are no local inner harbour beaches that could be the source of these small pebbles. They are similar to the small pebbles that one often observes entangled in the roots of the Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), that has been pulled up either by storms or by people. I would suggest that these pebbles came to this site when First Nations brought large canoe loads of kelp that they processed on the site for making a variety of items. The long stalks of Bull kelp were dried and cured, and spliced or plaited together to make ropes, nets, and fishing, harpoon and anchor lines. Kelp bulbs were also used for liquid storage and for steam bending wooden fish hooks.
In 2014, Stantec undertook archaeological work on the site under alteration Permit 2014-0300. This work resulted in the removal of the last of the shell midden from the west side of Store Street.
The Capital Iron site, DcRu-116, is one of only three pre-contact archaeological sites in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. The other two are located on rocky bluff peninsulas at Raymur Point and Lime Point across from each other near the entrance to the inner harbour. The Lime Point site dating between 600 and 1200 years old is a known defensive site – having once had a trench embankment dug around the back end of the peninsula. The Capital Iron site was first occupied earlier around 260A.D. to 424 A.D. It is likely that the location of the Capital Iron site was chosen for both economic reasons and its defensive features – being high above the beach with a good view of the harbour. Modern development has now destroyed all of the Lime Point site and most of the Raymur Point site.
DcRu-116 has been heavily impacted by historic activities. The recovery of information has been piecemeal but has begun to build a story of the human activities that occurred here in the past. The recovery of more information from any intact midden will help to build a more complete picture.
The shell midden is now mostly or all gone from the west side of Store Street on the property around the Capital Iron Buildings. The low areas near the water are landfill on a previous embayment that will not contain any intact midden.
Portions of site DcRu-116 are known to exist under Store Street east of the Capital Iron buildings and extending, at least, onto the parking lot at the S.E. corner of Chatham and Store Streets. If some of this midden is still in-tact, it will be important to recover an adequate faunal sample that was not recovered in the 1976 excavations due to the rushed emergency nature of that project and also to get more radio carbon dates to provide a better time frame as to when the site was occupied. This site has the potential to be a valuable source of information on the history of Lekwungen peoples and their use of Victoria Harbour.
Historic Disturbance of the Archaeological Site Location
Lot 114 adjacent to the south of the excavation area was owned by a J. Crow in 1861 (Victoria Archive tax assessment records). Extensive activities, modifying the landscape began in this area with the building of the two story stone warehouse of Dickson and Campbell & Co. on lot 114, with a wharf and other buildings adjacent (they later bought lot 113). The three foot thick walls were “built of granite, blasted from the adjoining primeval rock” (Colonist October 31, 1862 & September 8, 1863).
In 1885, the location had become the Mount Royal Milling and Manufacturing Co. on lot 113 (two floors added) and Joseph D. Pemberton’s Royal Milling and Manufacturing Co. on lot 114. These properties later became part of the Capital Iron and Metal Company property at 1900 Store Street (an earlier address was 1832 Store Street).
It is likely that some intact midden still exists beneath Store Street and extending onto the properties east of Store Street on both sides of Chatham Street. Less disturbance of the landscape has occurred in the past on the south side of Chatham. I observed shell midden at this parking lot location in the 1970s when some shallow bulldozing activity was undertaken. A private citizen found a stone nephrite adze blade for a work working tool in exposed shell midden at this location.
On the north side of Chatham Street extensive disturbance occurred beginning in 1862, with development of the Albion Iron Works facilities. This included Foundry buildings, machine shops and a sequence of other buildings (see 1885 Fire Map for later changes).
After the Iron works closed the railway was extended into this area (see 1957 Fire Map). Large amounts of land fill were dumped in the area, especially toward Government Street where bottle diggers, during the 1960’s and early 1970s, uncovered large amounts of refuge that came from the Brewery site on the other side of Government Street.
Plants make molecules that chemists could never imagine. Chemical poisons that deter herbivores are advantageous for organisms that can’t move. For humans, depending on the dosage, these molecules can be either poisonous or medicinal. The small shrub circled here is Pacific Yew. In 1962 it was discovered that its tissues, especially the bark, contain ‘taxol’ effective in treating cancer. It took many kg of bark (in 1993 34,000 kg were harvested in BC) for a single dose – and killing the tree. Now the drug is synthesized in a lab using precursors from the needles. The seed is surrounded by red, fleshy tissue called an ‘aril’, sometimes incorrectly called a ‘berry’.
In an earlier post I mentioned that Luke Halpin was out surveying marine mammals and birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish was estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
But until the paper announcing his find was accepted by a scientific journal, I didn’t want to spill the beans and say what he had found. His research paper (Halpin et al. 2018) will be published in the spring issue of the Northwestern Naturalist.
Photo by Luke Halpin, September 5th, 2017
This picture says it all – there is no debating what this fish is – only one species that fits the bill. Swordfish are known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species right along our coast.
A Google Earth image showing where the Swordfishes from 2017 and 1983 were found relative to Vancouver Island.
A previous record from 1983 (see Sloan 1984, and Peden and Jamieson 1988) was from just inside of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and barely qualified as a BC fish. The 1983 specimen was caught as by-catch at 47°36’N, 131°03’W, during an experimental fishery survey by the M/V Tomi Maru. The rostrum and tail were preserved in the Royal BC Museum’s fish collection (RBCM 983-1730-001). I am guessing the edible bits in between were cut into steaks, and ended up on someone’s dinner table. At least Luke’s Swordfish was left alone and for all we know, is happily cruising south to slightly warmer water.
Halpin, L.R., M. Galbraith, and K.H. Morgan. 2018. The First Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) Recorded in Coastal British Columbia. Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1): XX-XX. (pages not set)
Peden, A.E., and G.S. Jamieson. 1988. New distributional records of marine fishes off Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 102(3), 491-494.
Sloan, N.A. 1984. Canadian-Japanese Experiental Fishery for Oceanic Squid off British Columbia, Summer 1983. Canadian Industry Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences No. 152: pp. 42.
Keep your eyes peeled for deep-sea fishes while strolling along our shores. In the last month, three King-of-the-Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis) have washed up in the Salish Sea. Two were found in September (21st and 26th) in the Oak Bay area, Victoria. One of these was still swimming when found. A third was found October 3rd in Hood Canal, in Puget Sound. The first Oak Bay specimen will be preserved for the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney, the second was not recovered, and the third will be preserved in the Burke Museum’s collection. The Royal BC museum has 18 Trachipterus specimens, with several of these from the Salish Sea area.
The King-of-the-Salmon from Hood Channel, photographed by Randi Jones.
Is this species new to the region? No. The species ranges from Alaska to Chile, and knowledge of this species pre-dates European arrival on this coast. Is this trio of King-of-the-Salmon a case of post-spawn mortality? A sign of change in our oceans? We don’t know. Actually, when you look at the diversity of marine fishes off our coast, there is a lot of basic biology that we don’t know. We also get Longnose Lancetfishes (Alepisaurus ferox) washing up from time to time, although it has been a few years since I have heard report of a Lancetfish in the Victoria region.
King-of-the-Salmon swim by passing a sine wave down their dorsal fin – they can get a fair bit of speed just by doing that. They can also reverse using the same fin flutter. They slowly turn by putting a curve in the body. However, in the first few seconds of the linked video you can see that they also swim in a more typical fishy way (using eel-like body oscillation) when they need a burst of speed or a really quick turn. If you’d like to see this form of locomotion in person – you can see it in a pet shop. Knife fishes use the same basic locomotion method – except they use their anal fin rather than the dorsal.
Close up of the head of the King-of-the-Salmon showing the premaxillary (red) and maxillary (green) bones extended, photographed by Randi Jones.
Note also in the video that the fish has a very short face compared to the Hood Channel specimen photographed onshore. As with many fishes, the jaws of the King-of-the-Salmon are protrusible – the premaxillary and maxillary bones swing out to create a tube – the gill chamber dilates, and water rushes into the mouth along with the prey. The same sort of suction pump mechanism is used by a wide variety of fishes – from tiny seahorses to giant groupers. Once the prey item is inside the fish’s mouth, the mouth closes, water is released through the gills and the prey is swallowed. The entire sequence is lightning fast – even in pipefishes and seahorses – blink and you miss it. In some fishes, the process is even audible – you can hear a snapping sound when seahorses slurp up crustaceans (and fishes). You can’t hear the same snapping sound when larger fishes engulf their prey, but it is no less dramatic an effect.
In 2014, a Louvar and a Finescale Triggerfish were found in BC – a double-header of interesting southern fishes in our waters. But wait… it looks like 2017 is also a double-header for cool coastal fish.
This summer of 2017 (and in 2016), Basking Sharks were sighted here in BC. I think every Basking Shark is newsworthy given that they were nearly eliminated here in an ill-conceived plot to protect BC fisheries (see Wallace and Gisborne 2006 for that sad story). This year’s Basking Sharks were found in Caamano Sound in July, and near the Delwood Seamounts in August. Was it one roving shark? Or two? Are there others?
This September however, Luke Halpin was out surveying marine birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish is estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
We are really fortunate that it was sunny and seas were so calm – because his picture leaves no doubt as to the fish’s identification. The best part about the story is that the fish is still out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to have the fish as a specimen for the museum’s collection – but then again, it would require a custom vat – three to four meter fishes don’t fit in jars.
This species is known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species as a new addition to our coastal fish fauna. Which species did he find? You’ll have to wait until he publishes his observations in a scientific research paper. Consider this a trailer – a teaser – there’s a big fish out there – it is cool… and I am jealous. I would love to see this fish alive.
The Doncaster population of the European Wall Lizard probably is 6 years old based on conversations I have had with home owners. In the Google Earth image – the white dots are known locations – the green dots are new locations for 2017.
How do I know these are new? Homeowners specifically said they had no lizards in 2016 – but they certainly do now. That’s the power of local knowledge and citizen science. The green dots along Oak Crest Drive were newly reported in the spring of 2017, with at least three adult lizards now known on the property. The two green dots along Cedar Avenue to the northeast are based on sightings of at least three young lizards – probably lizards that hatched this year and got well-clear of their parent’s territory. Cannibalism is a good emigration motivation.
Based on where lizards were known in 2016, these 2017 records represent range extensions from 20 to 100 meters. Compared to their body size, that’s pretty decent dispersal given that adult lizards only grow to 21 cm (those fortunate enough to have a perfect tail), and in many cases, the dispersing lizards are young-of-the-year at 8 or so centimeters in total length.
If younglings continue to bolt at this rate and make a bee-line south, I will have lizards in my garden in 2 years. More realistically, it will be another 3 years before we see them along our raised beds or in our greenhouse – not that I’m counting.
We now have 21 orca specimens at the Royal BC Museum—the latest to arrive was T-171, a 6.07 meter female Biggs Orca which was found near Prince Rupert, October 19th, 2013. She had pinniped skulls, vibrissae (whiskers) and partially digested bones in her gut but was emaciated. Why was she emaciated?
During the necropsy, researchers discovered that T-171 had mid-cervical to lumbar vertebrae with severe overgrowth of the neural arches and lateral processes (noted as spondylosis in the necropsy) – the overgrowth looks roughly like popcorn or cauliflower – and had the effect of interlocking some vertebrae. This likely explains her emaciated state. Was she able to hunt? Was she supported by her relatives?
The skull of T-171 (ventral (palatal) view [left], right side [center], and dorsal view [right]) awaiting its catalog number and final place in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Comparison of T-171’s vertebra (left) with overgrowth of bone vs. the normal vertebra of another Biggs Orca (12844) (right). The two vertebrae are not from the exact same position along the spine, but the difference between the two is still shocking.
Many of T-171’s vertebral centra are eroded and porous – not like those of a healthy animal (12844).
The overgrowth of the neural arches pinched the spinal chord of T-171; compare to a neural arch of 12844 (right). The vertebral malformation must have limited this animal’s mobility. It is hard not to anthropomorphize and imagine the discomfort due to this deformation.
T-171 originally was prepared for exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, but they wanted a clean articulated skeleton for exhibit. In contrast, we were interested in T-171 because of its skeletal malformation. To make a short story long, we came to an agreement with the ROM to transfer T-171 to the Royal BC Museum, and since, the ROM has acquired L95 (Nigel), a 20 year old southern resident who was found near Esperanza Inlet, March 30th, 2016.
Which Orca is next? In most cases we have no clue – it is not like we hunt orca just to add them to the collection. And we don’t usually have a production line of specimens in preparation. New specimens are acquired when a body washes up, and we make a snap-decision to cover the cost of specimen recovery and preparation. However, September 15, 2016, T-12A (Nitinat) was found off Cape Beale and towed to Banfield. I was contacted September 16th to see if the Royal BC Museum was interested (obviously that was a YES), and now his massive skull is being prepared. Once degreased, Nitinat’s skull will be added to the Royal BC Museum collection – sometime in 2018 – and made available for scientific research.
As a kid I collected many things – from reptiles and amphibians to model airplanes to Star Wars cards – and now look where I am. I dress in black and white as a Stormtrooper with the 501st legion and collect black and white delphinids – Killer Whales – for the Royal BC Museum. Life sure takes you to unexpected destinations.
In the 1970s, I was aware of an old lantern slide in the Royal BC Museum ethnology collection that I later identified as a Songhees First Nation. I based my information on the original field portrait catalogue of Paul Kane – created when he was at Fort Victoria in 1847 (Harper 1971:315-317). I did not know at the time the original sketch was missing, and this seemed to be the only image of it.
Figure 1, is No. 46 in Paul Kane’s portrait log: “Ska-tel-san – a Samas Tillicum with a (grass) hat that is much worn here south of de Fuca”, and in his Exhibition of 1848 he is listed as: “124 Sca-tel-son – a Songhes Indian, Vancouver’s Island” (Harper 1971:316 & 319).
A painting in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM912.1.870) was made from this original sketch. Harper was led into miss-labelling the latter as “A Babine chief” (1971:265). There was a mix-up of information during exhibits of Kane’s work, where various writings and collection lists, rather than his original accurate field logs, were used as source information. Incorrect identifications in publications of Kane’s friend Daniel Wilson also contributed to the confusion in names.
Lister in his Paul Kane/the Artist/: Wilderness to Studio (fig.58; 2010:301) and again in his editing of Wonderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America (Plate 60; 2017: 242-243) labels this later painting (ROM912.1.87) as “A Babbine Chief. Tsimshian. Skeena River region, northwest British Columbia.” He records that the description is based on “A list of Pictures sent to Mr. G.W. Allan, March 6, 1856”. Harper’s speculation on this painting in his Catalogue Raisonne IV-587, is correct: “This canvas is probably based on an unlocated sketch. When lithographed for the frontispiece in the Wilson book, Prehistoric Man, the title was changed to “Chimseyan Chief” (Harper 1971:308).
Figure 2, shows a lithograph of a painting by historian and artist Sir Daniel Wilson copied from the missing Paul Kane original. This did appear in volume I of Wilson’s 1862 publication.
In the third edition (1876) of Volume 1, of Wilson’s Prehistoric Man, this person is noted as “Kaskatachyuh, a Chimpseyan” Chief”, where it is noted that Wilson drew it “from sketches by Paul Kane”. Wilson, in discussions about what are obviously Haida argillite pipes, refers to them as those of the “Babeen Indians”, and mentions, mistakenly (in the second part), that they are: “from a drawing made by Mr. Kane, during his residence among the Babeen Indians” (Wilson 1857:42). Paul Kane never went to the northern coast of British Columbia, and First Nation visitors from that region did not come to the Victoria area until after Paul Kane’s visit. A few First Nations from the central and northern coast of British Columbia did work at the Hudson’s Bay posts, but there is no indication that these were the source of Kane’s sketches.
In the mid-19th century, accurate writing about the First Nations of British Columbia was lacking. Kane’s historian friend, Daniel Wilson, kept current with the ethnographic literature of the times, such as the writings of geographer and ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft, but often lumped unrelated groups together or got their geographic locations wrong. Wilson was likely a strong influence on the use of First Nation names in the Paul Kane writings and exhibits.
This Songhees person in Wilson’s (1862, Vol. 1) frontispiece, is also the same person, but from the original Kane sketch in reverse image in my book (Keddie 2003:3). I have since realized that lantern slide RBCM PNH104 was mistakenly photographed in reverse. I have identified the person as Sketlesun, a Songhees from the old Cadboro Bay village. He is the 6th person on the Che-ko-nein treaty list of 1850. Because Sketlesun is wearing a Chilkat blanket and northern style hat, this image has been mistakenly labelled as a “Tsimshian chief” (Keddie, 2003:30). This style of Chilkat blanket was a valuable and high status trade item in the mid-19th century. Kane had purchased his own Chilkat blankets (see Lister 2010), but used designs from at least two different ones in his portraits.
In 1906, Charles Newcombe took, at least twelve, photographs of Kane paintings. In regard to three of these (not figure 1) that he published, he notes they are: “reproduced by kind permission of E.B. Osler, Esq, M.P., of Toronto, who owns the originals” (Newcombe, 1909:53). He also acquired copies of paintings that were used in Daniel Wilson’s, two volumes – Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilisation in the Old and the New World (Wilson 1862). Wilson made copies of several of Kane’s sketches for use in these and other publications.
I have now found the original negative from which Newcombe’s lantern slide was made (RBCM PN17161). Newcombe seemed to accept the naming of this image as Tsimshian because of the cape – not having access to Kane’s field catalogues at this time. It is clear that the photograph taken by Newcombe of Kane’s No. 46 portrait is a photograph of what Harper referred to as Kane’s “unlocated sketch”. I do not know where the original is, but this photograph might lead to its re-discovery.
Edmund Osler had much of his collection on loan to the University of Toronto from 1904, until it became part of the Royal Ontario Museum collection in 1912 (Harper 1971:35). We know that in 1906 Charles Newcombe was in Montreal visiting “Dr. Lowe” to see his collection on June 2, and the next day visited the Red Path Museum. On June 10, he was in New York and around that time visited the Field Museum of Chicago. Somewhere after Newcombe took photographs of the collection(s), the sketch of the Songhees man named Sketlesun, referred to in Kane’s portrait log, disappeared or lies unidentified in some collection.
There is an ancient archaeological shell midden – the refuse from what was once, at least, a seasonal camp on Raymur Point at the intersection of St. Laurence Street and Kingston Avenue. Raymur Point is a raised bedrock peninsula on the south side of Victoria’s inner harbour located to the west of Laurel Point and at the east end of Fisherman’s Wharf. The site was not occupied by First Nations in historic times and appears to have had a limited occupation in the distant past.
The midden location, known as Archaeological site DcRu-33, includes the extreme northern extension of the point and the shoreline along the wider section of the point extending along the west shore to the area around lots 1291 and 1292 on the west side of St. Lawrence Street.
The site is now mostly destroyed by the building and clearance of the large Texaco Oil storage tanks that were here until the 1980s (see figure 10), and the more recent building of apartment units. Midden may still be intact on some parts of the adjoining lots 1291 and 1292. The latter locations were not included in the last Archaeological work undertaken on the site in 1998 (Hewer 1998).
The original configuration of the peninsula can be seen in Figure 2. The large home just to the right of the centre of this photograph is still on lot 1291 near the corner of St. Lawrence and Kingston Street’s.
An 1890s, close up of the northern tip of the Point can be seen in Figure 3. This shows the area of the (then) probably undisturbed midden. The midden eroding over the bank can be seen in Figure 4. I took photographs in March 1990, during the digging out of the foundations left over from the removed of oil tanks.
The house on lot 1291 can be seen in figure 5. This photograph shows the west side of the site where only disturbed midden and extensive rock fill existed in the foreground in 1990. Figure 6, shows the north end of the site where midden can be seen slumping down the bank into a tiny embayment in the bed rock. It is below this area where I collected some of the artifacts.
The east side of the site is seen in Figure 7. This area was previously destroyed and now being dug up again. The northern tip of Raymur Point is on the other side of the bulldozer in the photo. The now destroyed Lime Bay First Nations defensive site, DcRu-123, can be seen across the harbour in the form of the knoll just to the right of the backhoe.
On May 8, 1986, I observed that the shell midden was composed of mostly native little neck and butter clams, and some cockle clams and barnacles. This is not the unusual kind of mollusks found in other ancient sites in Victoria’s inner harbour and those further up the Gorge Waterway. The latter contain mostly native oyster shells.
The site contained many fire-altered rocks, scattered throughout the midden. These were traditionally used for steaming or boiling food. Most artifacts found in the site were stone waste materials, such as cores and flakes, resulting from the making of stone tools. These, the other limited artifact contents of the site, and the shallowness of the cultural deposits indicate that the location was occupied for a limited time, at least on a seasonal basis, around 2000 years ago.
A single human burial was recovered from the site in 1956, when constructing a cement wall. These remains were subsequently re-buried in the cemetery on the Songhees reserve. I located and talked to the bulldozer operator who worked on the site in 1956. He told me that the burial was in a flexed or fetal position. He observed that most of the midden was concentrated toward the east of Raymurs Point, where midden can still be seen eroding down the bank today.
On May 7, 1991, I examined the excavation trench for a waterline installation around the north side of the centre line on Kingston and St. Lawrence. There was no midden under St. Lawrence Street in front of 1293, 1292 and 1291 lots or under the Kingston Street and St. Lawrence intersection.
Artifacts were sporadically collected from the surface of this site from 1956 until 1998, when the first formal site evaluation was undertaken that involved the excavation of test pits. Museum employee Micheal Kew recovered bone artifacts DcRu-33:1-2 in 1956. #1 is a portion of a ground bone that is broken at both ends. It was likely a fish hook barb; #2 is a mid-section of a deer femur with ends that were sectioned through but have extensively weathered, making it difficult to see if it might have been cut with an iron hacksaw. Butcher shops in 19th century Victoria often sold deer and elk meat. The way this bone is cut is similar to others found in historic garbage dumps, and not like those found in ancient aboriginal sites (Figure 12).
Don Abbott and John Sendey of the (then) Provincial Museum, surface collected artifacts DcRu-33:3-17. These included #3, a sawn section of a deer femur bone; #4 is a unique side indented projectile point, likely for use as a point on a spear as it is too large for an arrow point. It is a flaked basalt point that is heavily ground on both sides from the notched area near the bottom to near the top or distal end (Figure 11). #5 is a fragment of a burnt sandstone abrader; #6 is a naturally fractured basalt cobble, but is of stone tool making quality and may have been brought to the site location; #7 is a small section of a mammal bone with grinding of one edge.
#8 and #18 are very small siltstone beads. These types of beads are only found in sites pre-dating 1800 years in this area; #9 is a portion of a split cannon or lower leg bone of a deer which is ground on one end; #10 is a broken portion of what was once a large thick hexagonal slate point. This type of point, like the stone beads, is not found in sites dating in the last 1700 years in this area; #11 is an extremely fine flat bar shaped abrading stone ground on both surfaces; #12 is a thicker rectangular sandstone abrader ground on two sides.
#13 and #17 are large fractured beach cobbles from the disturbed surface of the midden. It is possible that they are both rocks smashed by heavy machinery working at the site during the time that the large Texico oil tanks were installed on the property. This is a common pattern I have observed in urban areas around construction sites. The edge damage does not suggest that they were used as cobble choppers and the flake patterns are inconsistent with intentional human flaking patterns for this type of raw material. The type of stone is not the same as that found in the flakes at the site, which suggests they are not cores from which intentional flakes were removed (Figure 16).
#14 is a stone flake with the original cortex on one side; #15 is the mid-section of a very fine abrader with similar dimensions to # 11; # 16 is a very large block sandstone abrader that has been heavily abraded on both sides. This is an artifact that may have been used to grind items such as shell, slate or wood. Barnacle attachments indicate it was found on the beach (Figure 13);
On December 4, 1986, I found artifact #s 19 to 21 in disturbed midden on the surface at the north end of the site. #19 is an unworked deer cannon bone; #20 is a fragment of a mammal bone tool. It is a broken flat piece of bone with a bi-conically drilled hole near its intact end. This is possibly a netting needle fragment; #21 is a portion of a bifacial tool that was started, but broken during manufacture and not finished.
On May 8, 1986, I found 103 stone flakes eroding out of the midden and fallen on the beach at the edge at the north end of the site. #22 includes a group of 35 stone flakes with no original outer cortex – indicating they are secondary flakes struck after the outer cortex of the original stone was removed; # 23 includes 68 stone flakes with remnants of the original outer cortex of the rock. Another eight flakes I collected from disturbed surface midden on February 15, 1991, included 6 with portions of the cortex and two without. This assemblage indicates a practice that likely involved collecting local cobbles and flaking them in the process of tool making on the site.
I. R. Wilson Consultants Ltd., working under permit in 1998, recovered 23 stone flakes in excavation test pits and in disturbed midden areas. #24a included 8 stone flakes and #24b to # 38, another 25 stone flakes.
None of the flakes from this site show any signs of intentional secondary flaking or unintentional use wear. Some slight breakage on a few very thin edges is not a produce of tool use but of tool manufacture.
Hewer, Tony. 1998. Archaeological Inventory and Site Evaluation 129 Kingston Street, DcRu-33, Victoria British Columbia. Heritage Conservation Act Permit 1998-050.I.R. Wilson Consultants Ltd. Prepared by Tony Hewer.
Right now at the Royal BC Museum, Family: Bonds and Belonging is running concurrently with Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada. The two exhibitions stand side by side. This is personally fitting to me because I have long associated my grandfather with Terry Fox, and there is a photograph of me with my grandfather in the Family: Bonds and Belonging exhibition.
Here’s how I have linked them in my mind: Terry Fox started his run on April 12, 1980 in Newfoundland. One year before on April 12, 1979, ‘Gramps’, a Newfoundlander, died of cancer. So when Terry dipped his leg in the Atlantic off the east coast of Newfoundland, it seemed extra meaningful to my adolescent mind.
Terry’s story unfolded when I was an impressionable teenager and like millions of Canadians at the time, I was riveted by his story. Plus, he was from Port Coquitlam, just across the Fraser River from where I lived in Langley. We were practically neighbours. Like most of BC’s Lower Mainland, we felt like Terry was ours.
I remember imagining what it would be like if Terry made it over the mountains and down into the Fraser Valley. But as we all know, that day didn’t happen. In BC, we never saw the van up close. But now we can.
If you remember Terry Fox, like I do, it’s compelling and moving to peer inside the van that is parked just inside the Royal BC Museum lobby. It’s not so hard to imagine him there: A sweaty, young athlete with an astounding will.
When I watched Terry’s van being pushed into the Royal BC Museum before the exhibit opened, even though I knew it had been rebuilt and fixed up and a punk band lived in it for years, it still felt real. It still felt like a return. A homecoming. It felt important.
Like a lot of Canadians, I remember the terrible day that Terry’s run ended. I remember watching his heartbroken mom and dad at his side on TV as he was loaded into an airplane to fly home. I remember well the day Terry died. And after all these years, I can still not get over that he ran a marathon a day, for months, on one leg.
There’s nothing like an indisputable hero in your midst to make you feel inadequate. That sounds cynical. I’m not trying to be cynical. I think Douglas Coupland said something like ‘It’s impossible to be cynical about Terry Fox’. I think this is true. Terry’s accomplishments are so exemplary, so astonishing, so inspiring, that I am humbled by what he accomplished and what he has done since he died. I don’t feel less around his legacy, I feel in awe, inspired, hopeful.
Where I feel inadequate is in my everyday habits at the Royal BC Museum while the Terry Fox exhibit is here. There’s nothing like our every day routines to put us on autopilot. Every morning since the exhibit opened in April, I’ve walked past Terry Fox’s van on the way to my desk. Terry Fox’s van. At first I couldn’t look at the van without a lump in my throat, and now I often rush past it like it’s nothing.
Which it’s not.
Terry’s incredible story lives with all of us who remember him and it is here now at my museum in his van, in his running shoes, in the thousands of letters children wrote to him and it lives in that jug of Atlantic Ocean he scooped up that first morning in April 1980. The jug of water right now sitting not far from a photograph of me with my Newfoundlander grandfather. The Atlantic Ocean on exhibit and in my veins. Terry Fox and Gramps, their proximity here on the Pacific coast, making this big country feel small and close.
At museums we often talk about objects telling stories. For me this summer, the objects in these exhibitions tell me to slow down and remember that there is sacred in the every day. Until the Fox exhibition closes in October, I’ll try not to rush past the van on the way to my desk.
A little while back I was musing over a spot on my Wall Lizard map that shows a large expanse east of Highway 17 between Cordova Bay Road to Mt Newton Cross Road that appears to be Wall-Lizard-free turf. Wall Lizards are crawling everywhere just the other side of the highway on Tanner Ridge. Either no one has reported lizards from this area – and it seems unlikely given how many reports I receive each year, or lizards have not been able to cross HWY 17.
Cedar Hill Road in the Southeast Cedar Hill area also seems to be a decent barrier even though it is not a particularly busy road. Lizards have been in that area for about 6 years(as of 2016) and have crossed Derby Road without a problem – but not Cedar Hill Road. Cedar Hill may be just busy enough to limit the survival of adventurous lizards.
It seems interesting that a lizard as fast as the Wall Lizard could not cross – but then again – why would they? Young ones disperse to avoid cannibalism, but perhaps the noise, vibration and sight of passing vehicles is enough to dissuade all but the most suicidal of lizards.
I recently tripped across an article detailing road crossing behaviour in snakes (Andrews and Gibbons 2005). In their study, smaller snakes seemed to avoid crossing roads, whereas larger snakes have no problem with the concept. I wonder if the same is true for Wall Lizards? Interestingly, all snake species they studied crossed perpendicular to the road’s length – an adaptive behaviour minimizing distance and time on the tarmac. Some species froze in place when a car passed – that is maladaptive – and significantly increased an animal’s exposure to vulcanized rubber.
I have not seen Wall Lizards crossing a street – but would be interesting to see if they too cross perpendicular to the curb, and whether they blast across or dart and pause – unintentionally increasing their risk of catastrophic z-axis reduction.
Andrews, K.M., and Gibbons, J.W. 2005. How to Highways Influence Snake Movement? Behavioural Responses to Roads and Vehicles. Copeia 2005(4): 772-782.
Another lizard arrived in BC last week. We can add Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) to our list of accidental imports – but this certainly is not the first one to have arrived by accident in BC. Many lizards travel the globe as stow-aways. This one travelled here in its egg along with a Snake Plant (also known as the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue). Sansevieria are popular houseplants – Snake Plants are easy to keep and look neat. My wife bought one for our living room – no lizards in our plant though.
Where was the plant from? Who knows. This plant could have come from anywhere. Brown Anole’s have invaded Florida, and southern parts of Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. They also have invaded Hawai’i, southern Texas and southern California along with their relative the Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis). The Green Anole is native to the south-eastern United States, and in their native range, Green Anoles may be forced out of their usual habitat by their exotic relatives. Brown Anoles are native to Cuba and the Bahamas.Even if it got loose, this anole would not survive our winter. It was no real threat to our environment or fauna, but does show that the transport of exotic species is ridiculously easy – an egg in the soil in a plant pot. This time we are fortunate. Only one egg was present. Anoles are light-weight arboreal lizards which lay one egg at a time, and they are not parthenogenetic. Anole eggs develop in alternate ovaries at about a two week interval – if I remember correctly. This ensures the female lizard is not excessively encumbered, and for us it meant that only one egg likely was present in the pot (or any other pot at the home hardware store).
Brown Anole eggs are a bit bigger than a Tic-Tac candy, so no wonder they are overlooked – they also are buried a centimeter or so in the soil – so they’d be out of sight. As long as the soil was not disturbed, was warm and moist – but not too wet, and the egg was not rolled, the developing embryo would survive transport.
I wonder where this lizard’s brothers and sisters ended up? They could be anywhere. Since the lizard travelled here in an egg, I vote we name it Mork. Na-Nu Na-Nu.
Just tripped across this fish while sorting out odd records in the RBCM fish database.
999-00114-001 – unidentified fish – Family Triglidae (Searobins, Gurnards)
Well, it turns out to be Prionotus stephanophrys – a Lumptail Searobin – and a new family, genus and species for BC. Three other triglid species (two of them are Prionotus species) are known to stray into Atlantic Canada.
This one was caught in 1998 on La Perouse Bank, it was added to the RBCM collection in 1999, and sat there ever since. No one had taken a second look at this specimen – until today. It was completely new to our system and as such, I had to add the genus and species to our database’s taxonomic tree.
Until now, its northern record was off the mouth of the Columbia River – this new(ly rediscovered) record extends this family north about 260 km in the eastern North Pacific Ocean.
I took these photos of Royal BC Museum lizard specimens with my iPhone 4 through the eyepiece of the old dissecting microscope in my lab. Then sent the photos via two emails to office thanks to WiFi – and to think – this is the “low-tech” way of doing things these days. Low-tech – sending files through the air from a hand held device… I have to laugh how technology has changed since I was a kid with my first pet lizards. The nerd in me can’t help but hear James Earl Jones’ voice – “Several transmissions were beamed to your inbox. I want to know what happened to the scans they sent you.”
In earlier blogs I have mentioned scale differences between BC lizards – so I thought I may as well take close-up shots to clearly show the differences. Under a dissecting microscope (diss-secting, not die-secting), you can easily see the shape of the bead-like back scales of the European Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis). It’s like a microscopic cobblestone pavement. Each scale is about the diameter of a standard sewing pin.
European Wall Lizard (2112)
The larger back scales of the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulescens) are painfully obvious, and each scale has its own raised keel. The keel gives each scale an angular appearance.
Northern Alligator Lizard (1358)
The Pygmy Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii) has a really complex squamation with tiny granular scales interspersed between clusters of larger keeled scales. The larger scales are raised into spires above the general scale-scape (the lizard equivalent of landscape).
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (323)
Western Skinks (Plestiodon skiltonianus) by contrast are painfully even and smooth – yawn. It’s a good thing they have speed-stripes and a bright blue tail to make them stand out in a crowd.
Western Skink (1964)
Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) have scales each with a trailing spine – characteristic of all Sceloporus species. Some, like the Crevice Spiny Lizard in the United States have really robust spines on their scales, others like the Sagebrush Lizard have tiny spines. Cordylids in Africa take spiny scales to a whole new level.
Western Fence Lizard (705)
Sorry, I forgot a scale bar in the photos, but the images were fairly close to the same magnification.
While working with archival documents it is always of interest to look at the other side of the page.
In today’s example, A person needed to publish several legal notices in the local paper.
Luckily, the entire newspaper page was submitted.
The following article appeared on the back of the page (The Province [Vancouver], Friday, 10 November, 1972.)
It describes how Pacific Western Airlines was able to ship live beef to Europe, because its cargo plane could return with a cargo of grapes which were now available throughout BC and Alberta.
The article also explains how the plane was cleaned, presumably before the grapes were loaded on to the plane.
The Wikipedia page for PWA mentions the following:
Boeing 707 equipment was added to the fleet in 1967… The addition of a cargo model Boeing 707 meant that livestock and perishables could now be carried all over the world, and the name Pacific Western became synonymous with “World Air Cargo”. The company aircraft visited more than 90 countries during this period of time.
Pacific Western operated a worldwide Boeing 707 cargo and passenger charter program until the last aircraft was sold in 1979.
This is in the era where container shipping was beginning its world wide adoption.
Air cargo was expanding during this time as well, when “Boeing launched the four engine 747, the first wide-body aircraft” in 1968.
As the newspaper report explains, transportation of people and goods only makes sense if the airplane is loaded to maximum capacity at all times.
This was the thinking behind the Triangular trading system of the 19th century.
Even today with airplanes that can travel half way around the world, the take off and landing locations are the national hub airports.
Air cargo has undergone the same thinking.
In the 1972 news report, it only made sense to Pacific Western Airlines to undertake this one-off trip once the entire route was fully booked.
The article goes on to describe how the airline was looking for other opportunities. They recognized the potential, but the tipping point (the development of an airport hub for cargo) had not yet arrived.
UPS has a similar hub in Louisville. Here is an example of one airplane in the UPS fleet that revisits the hub city regularly. This particular plane left Louisville on 28 May 2017 and travelled around the world via Honolulu, Hong Kong, Dubai, Cologne, and Philadelphia, before returning to Louisville three days later.
When you read this article, there will probably be more recent examples of round the world trips or forays to Asia or Europe before returning to it’s home base.
Mr. W. Allan Eadie produce manager for Woodward’s, and PWA cargo specialist Ken Bjorge would be impressed!
As Mister Eadie says in the report, he hoped that this operation would expand because of “this cattle thing.”
He and Mister Bjorge may have failed to realize that the problem was not to solve the “cattle thing.” They needed to solve the “hub thing.”
PWA purchased CP Air to form Canadian Airlines International in 1987.
It merged with Air Canada in 2001.
Abstract: Phragmites australis (common reed) is a widespread perennial grass of wetland habitats, with cryptic native and introduced subspecies in North America. We determined the relative abundance of the subspecies and the distributions of plastid DNA haplotypes throughout British Columbia, Canada, at the northwestern distribution limit of common reed in North America. Of 203 specimens assigned to subspecies using molecular markers, we identified only 9 plants as the introduced ssp. australis; all remaining samples were the native ssp. americanus. The two subspecies co-occurred at only one locality. We identified four native haplotypes (one widespread in British Columbia and three others more localized) and two introduced haplotypes. Using plants of known haplotype, we assessed the utility of different morphological traits and trait combinations for distinguishing native and introduced subspecies in this geographic region. No single morphological trait was diagnostic, but principal components analysis and identification indices based on combinations of traits consistently separated the native and introduced subspecies in our sample. Two- or three-trait combinations of ligule length, lemma length and stem anthocyanic coloration gave the best separation. These indices could reduce the need for confirmation of the introduced subspecies using molecular tools, facilitating efforts to monitor and control this invasive plant.
You’d think that sharks and rays would be pretty well known along our coast. Did you know that two Hammerhead Sharks have been found off Vancouver Island? Even a Tiger Shark has strayed north to Alaska. Did it swim along the BC coast, or did it take a more direct route from Hawai’i? We’ll never know. However, in 2016 a new shark was added to our fish fauna – the Pacific Angel Shark (Squatina californica) – based on a clear photograph by Mark Cantwell and his detailed description of the dive location.
We have known since 1931 that Angel Sharks ranged north to Seattle, and there is a single record from Alaska. The specimen label for this 35 cm Alaskan female had been lost (Evermann and Goldsborough 1907) and we cannot pin down its collection location with certainty. Until now, we had no Angel Shark records for British Columbia – but it was only a matter of time.
On the 30th of April, 2016, a single adult Angel Shark was sighted by a diver off Clover Point right here in Victoria. The shark’s gender cannot be determined from the photograph since claspers, if present, are not visible. The Angel Shark was found in about 12 meters of water, about 30 meters off the point. The diver estimated the shark’s length at about 1.1 to 1.2 meters in length. The specimen was not collected, but it would have made a fantastic museum specimen.
King and Surry (2016) published the discovery of this shark in BC in a recent issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist. While this now is not breaking news – in fact it is a year late – people may still want the primary reference to our latest elasmobranch.
PDFs are available here [as a new paper, King and Surry (2016) is available by subscription to The Canadian Field-Naturalist or by contacting the primary author]:
Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) usually take fishes – why else would they be called kingfishers. They sometimes take crustaceans and frogs, and I’d be shocked if they turn their beaks up at big juicy insects. However, mammal predation is quite a dietary shift. Apparently no one explained the meaning of “fisher” to a kingfisher in the southwestern Yukon.
A paper came out in a recent issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist (see Jung 2016) detailing the capture of a Western Water Shrew (Sorex navigator) by a Belted Kingfisher. That would make a decent meal and a real energetic boost for the Kingfisher. Jung (2016) mentioned that Belted Kingfishers have been known to take Eastern Water Shrews (Sorex albibarbis), and he (Jung 2013) also reported on a kingfisher trying to subdue a Spotted Bat (Euderma maculatum).
Imagine if kingfishers changed tactics to regularly prey on other small animals? Their ecology could converge on that of butcher birds (shrikes). What’s next? Lizards and snakes?(Yes, shrikes impale their prey on thorns (or barbed wire) to age a bit).
Keep your eyes on the sky. And as for that specific Water Shrew, all you can say is: “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”
PDFs are available here:
Was this an odd title? Actually I think the song went,
“On top of spaghetti… all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meat ball… When somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table… and onto the floor.
And then my poor meat ball… rolled out of the door.
Wow that was a dredged from deep cephalic crevices…
Anyway, I got a tip from Purnima Govindarajulu, my herpetological counterpart in the Ministry of Environment that she’d seen a European Wall Lizard on Mount Tolmie here in southern Saanich. Given how fast and far Wall Lizards are spreading, it was only a matter of time before they colonized this rock. This pocket of lizards will form another expanding sub-population – pretty-much midway between the single lizard I saw at the University of Victoria and the lizards near Doncaster School.
This morning (April 27th) was nice and sunny, and I hiked up to the summit after dropping my daughter at daycare. What did I find first? A Northern Alligator Lizard. That made me very happy – I don’t see those everyday and this lizard was more than patient with the iphone-wielding twit who wanted its picture.
Then less than 2 meters away were the Wall Lizards – five of them. A meter or so along the road, another Wall Lizard. Up along the southeast corner of the reservoir – another large male Wall Lizard.
Yep, looks like they have found a solid toe-hold in this region. Cedar Hill X Road may make a decent barrier to northward dispersal (not that Wall Lizards aren’t north of there anyway) – but they will easily spread southeast and southwest into gardens adjacent to the park. Note the small scales and green colour on this Wall Lizard’s back, compared with the larger coppery scales on the Alligator Lizard (above).
Keep your eyes on rock gardens, rock walls, woody debris, and any bedrock with decent cracks for shelter. The photo below shows just how slender the Wall Lizards are – this one with an intact tail is the largest lizard I have caught to date (21.2 cm total length). After checking the RBCM’s herps database, I see that the only months where I haven’t caught Wall Lizards are January and February – too bad that this spring was consistently cold and wet. I have missed my chance to get a full year’s worth of lizards in 2017.
Expo 86 opened its doors to the world on 02 May, 1986.
Leading up to the World Fair, several large infrastructure projects were proposed and planned for, so that they would be open and useable by the public by the time the fair opened.
These projects included
These projects were discussed on the Webster Show.
Of course politics was involved, as the mayor defended his vision of what Vancouver would look like, as it celebrated the hundredth anniversary of its founding.
Redevelopment of False Creek was a major issue – BC Architect Arthur Erickson and the director of planning for BC Place, David Padmore discuss the Expo 86 site plans.
Here is the interview of a member of the BC Place planning committee.
Sky train was a region wide issue.
This episode shows the proposed route of the LRT as Steve Wyatt drives the streets of Vancouver, trying to get as close to the proposed route as possible.
Bear in mind that the route used existing railway rights of way for the majority (if not all) of the line.
There are several versions of this. The final one was slowed down somewhat so you can see the surrounding city a little more easily.
For the unedited show see this Link.
Canada Place – the cruise ship terminal. Webster goes on a fly about/ walk about
BCTV was a major sponsor and broadcast daily from the Expo grounds.
Here is part of the hype, when some of the pieces get lost.
Counting Down to opening day
And after the exhibition
And distributing the wealth
Yesterday I worked with Chris O’Connor from our Learning Department – we took some children on a tidepool tour. The main point was to chat about museum collections and things we record or measure when we are out sampling. We didn’t go crazy catching fishes, only taking 3 Tidepool Sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus) in the end. But we talked about our role as museum researchers, and why we take more than 1 specimen (if possible) to get an account of variation within and between species.
You can see slight differences between these fishes – even an injury – just like the subtle, or not so subtle differences we see in each other.
The three fishes will be added to the Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection, but before that, they are fixed in 10% Formaldehyde. Researchers used to drop fishes directly into Formaldehyde – many fishes died horrible deaths. When I accidentally get Formaldehyde in a cut – it stings intensely – I couldn’t imagine being dunked directly into that chemical.
Today we are more humane, and give fishes an overdose of anaesthetic before immersion in Formaldehyde. They are dead before they are fixed, and are preserved with a relaxed posture. The primary anaesthetic I use is 2-Phenoxy-Ethanol, but it is hard to get without ordering from a chemical supply company, and the chemical is a suspected carcinogen. I still have about 500 ml of the stuff – so I will use up what I have. Do I really want to buy more? Maybe not.
Do we have safer options? Yes, Clove Oil is a good anaesthetic if mixed as an emulsion in a small volume of 99% Ethanol. But you have to carry a jug of 99% Ethanol everywhere you go – that may not go over well at a Police check-stop. The up-side to this chemical mix is that you smell spicy at the end of the day if you accidentally spill some on yourself.
People have tried Alka-Seltzer tablets. They fizz and release CO2, which knocks-out fishes – but the process is slow and some fishes (those like catfish that gulp air to survive in low oxygen conditions) are resistant and survive way too long in a stressful condition.
A few months ago I tried using Oragel (20% Benzocaine) on European Wall Lizards – colleagues had found it worked well on amphibians. They put Oragel along the spine of an amphibian and it soaks into the skin; I give lizards an oral dose. It renders bullfrogs and wall lizards unresponsive in 20 seconds to a minute. Oragel seems to be a convenient anaesthetic for these invasive herpetiles.
Yesterday, I told the tidepool group that we’d be performing an experiment – I tried Oragel for the first time on the 3 sculpins we caught. As I hoped – less than 20 seconds and the fishes were out cold. 2-Phenoxy-Ethanol takes about the same time on similar sized fishes.
The beauty of Oragel is that it is readily available, and if you run out, you can stop by the nearest pharmacy. It also is safe – we use it on sore teeth or gums. Perfect – it works fast on specimens and is safe for the researcher.
Perhaps someone needs to do a larger scientific study to see how effective over-the-counter Oragel is on larger fishes. Maybe this is an effective over-the-counter tool for preserving new museum specimens.
A specimen with no data is not worth keeping. A specimen with vague data is not worth keeping either. The Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection contains a vertebral centrum with cartilaginous remnants of its respective haemal arch and neural arch from a shark that washed up November 5th, 1975 (only a few months after Jaws was released in cinemas). It was cataloged as 976-00052-001 in the fish collection (with a variant of the catalog number listed as a previous number ~ B.C.P.M. #97652). Our electronic database only had a collection date for this centrum (no location, no collector).
Flip to our original paper catalog, and we find that there is indeed a collection location: Ahousaht Village, Flores Island – but this never got translated to our electronic database. The paper catalog states that the shark washed up on a beach – but there was no latitude and longitude provided for the record beyond 49°N, 125°W. If you plot the western-most limit of 125°W, it is nowhere near Flores Island – so the location is questionable. Ahousaht Village’s nearest beach is at about 49°16’N, 126°03’W.
Worse yet, the vertebral centrum indicates that this was a big shark – we don’t have a lot of big sharks here…
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) reaches 6 meters
Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosus pacificus) reaches 5-6 meters
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) reaches at least 9 meters
The shark centrum in the Royal BC Museum collection is about 7.3 cm in diameter – it spans most of the palm of my hand. This must have come from a decent-sized shark. Was it a small Basking Shark? A large Great White? A large Sleeper Shark? It’s not ‘reptilian’ so we can rule out Cadborosaurus (whew). Hang on, Cadborosaurus’ so-called “type specimen” was a photograph of a digested basking shark – Hmmm…
It is a shame no one bothered to take a skin sample – the scales may have been diagnostic. What about teeth? A sample of teeth – even one tooth – would have been enough to identify this fish. Sadly though, nothing remains other than this centrum and a bit of cartilage. It was fixed in formaldehyde and stored in isopropanol – so I think we can forget sending a chunk to Guelph for DNA barcoding. DNA barcoding wasn’t a thing back in 1975, so tissue samples were not preserved for future analysis.
If no one in Ahousaht has a photo of this shark on the beach, or some teeth stashed away, all I have to say is , “Sorry Charlie, the Royal BC Museum wants specimens with good data.”
This winter has been cold here in Victoria – relatively speaking. We have had lots of rain, several rounds of snow – and I even had to shovel my driveway and sidewalk. Actually I have had to shovel several times this winter. The rest of the country is not all that sympathetic to the wintery-woes of its Pacific Islanders.
One odd feature of Victoria is that Anna’s Hummingbirds are present year-round – because people feed them. Without artificial feeding stations, they likely would migrate south in autumn with the Rufus Hummingbird and return each spring. It still strikes me as strange to see a hummingbird in winter – given that I moved here from Winnipeg.
In my neighbour’s yard there is Holly bush that is a regular nesting site for our resident male Anna’s Hummingbird – the spot must be coveted because the prickly leaves are a great deterrent to would-be nest thieves.
This nest from 2005 was near the junction of Government Street and Niagra Street in James Bay – also in a Holly bush.
Our hummingbird – yes we are possessive even though we don’t feed hummingbirds in winter – is a regular visitor to our veggie garden and flowers in summer. It stayed this winter even though it was snowy and cold. Someone nearby must have a hummingbird feeder.
Not all Anna’s Hummingbirds were so lucky this year. Today I received a nest containing two feathered nestlings which were snuggled together in their soft little lichen-cup nest. This is certainly an early nesting attempt – they are known to nest from February to August, but nesting this early in the spring is a big risk.
The fate of the female is a mystery (males don’t raise their young). Did she hit a window? Run short of food and die? Did a free-range domestic cat get her? These two nestlings were in a sheltered spot alongside a house here in Victoria, but without a parent, they didn’t last long. Natural selection can be as cold as this winter.