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A Journey to a New Land

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Daryl Fedje

Geoarchaeologist, Parks Canada

Kilgii Gwaay

After we worked at Richardson, a couple of years later we started working at a second archaeological site that has produced quite a bit of the story for this very early maritime occupation of the area. And this is the site called Kilgii Gwaay. It's on the very south end of Moresby Island - it’s actually on Ellen Island, between Moresby and Kungit Island.

This is a site that was occupied between about 11,500 – 11,400 years ago when sea level was still rising very quickly towards its early Holocene high point. It came up to about 15 metres higher than today around 10,000 or 11,000 years ago. This site was occupied while that sea was still rising very quickly. This has been quite useful because as it rose very quickly over the site where people had been living, it drowned all of the evidence and then buried it with shell hash and marine sediments. And it has only recently become exposed as the sea level has dropped again, or land has in fact risen, and it is now available for us to look at in the intertidal zone in this particular area.

Because it rose very quickly, not only were the stone tools and charcoal that were left behind by the people living there at that early time preserved, but also we find a lot of bone from the animals that the people used and lived on, and as well a lot of wooden artifacts, organic artifacts. A whole variety of animal bones, for example, about 15 or 16 species of fish, the same number of birds, half a dozen species of mammals – clear evidence that these people were very well adapted to the maritime area at this early time.

The wooden artifacts again are very, very unusual to find at any archaeological site, let alone one dating back to around 11,500 years ago. These included not a great number of formal tools, although there were some, but a lot of debris from making tools – the shavings of wood, whittled wood, things like that. Some of the artifacts that were recovered include a very nice wooden wedge made for splitting planks. It is clearly carved, you can see the carve marks from whittling away with a stone tool and how it was sawn to make the end the right shape. We directly dated that wedge (which is a typical Northwest Coast type of artifact) to 11,400 – 11,450 years ago. So clearly they were splitting planks with these wedges at that early time, doing heavy duty woodwork.

We also found a tiny, little piece of twine, a three-strand braided cordage made of split spruce root. It’s a tiny little artifact but it tells us a great deal about the types of things that people could have been doing at that time. So with this technology, making cordage like that, they could have been producing baskets or clothing or nets - a whole variety of other organic tools that we haven’t yet found. So these are some of the wooden artifacts that we have found, as well as what appears to be the handle of a basket and some wood that has been wrapped, again with split-root cordage.