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A Journey to a New Land

Berry Picking
Multimedia Library

Daryl Fedje

Geoarchaeologist, Parks Canada

Finding Ancient Shorelines

A lot of the work we have been doing in the Haida Gwaii - Hecate Strait area is focused on the ancient shorelines. The history of these shorelines is quite complex. Initially work done by people like Knut Fladmark and John Clague and Calvin Heusser in the 1960’s and 1970’s provided the inkling of evidence that sea levels were very high between 8,000 – 5,000 years ago, and much lower as you go back in time, before 9,000 or 10,000 years ago. So we are, of course, very interested in shorelines. If you are working on the northwest coast, most of the activity, most of the food, is at that interface between land and sea and certainly that’s where most of the major habitations were. So archaeologists very often try to look for sites on that shore. In our case, we know that the shore was a moving target, and we have to use environmental modeling and landscape reconstruction to find out where the ancient shores were, in order to then be able to look for the archaeological sites, and then interpret them once we do find them.

In this case, we did quite a bit of work looking at ponds and different basins, whether they were on shore or offshore, and looking at the microfossils, little plant and animal remains that are present in the sediments of lakes and ponds, and then picking up the change in elevation in time in which there is a shift from fresh water to salt water, for example, from a pond or lake. By using these points and dating them we were able to produce a very detailed history of the changes in sea level over the last 14,000 -15,000 years. And once we had that, we selected areas to do remote sensing on, that is to prepare models of the sea floor, for example, or of areas on land that would have perhaps been at the shore at a different period in time. And through those we were able to pick up river channels, terraces, lakes - a whole variety of features that are now, for example, drowned beneath 100 - 150 meters of ocean water. And with that in hand we went off working with the Geological Survey of Canada for example and the Canadian Hydrographic Service working offshore, trying to find evidence of these ancient landscapes, and were quite successful. At other times we worked on land working with archaeologists and Haida people for example looking at the raised beaches where some of these old shorelines are now back in the rainforest. So we had to look in all different parts of the landscape both on land and at sea to follow that elusive shoreline and then try to find the evidence that people came along that shoreline.