Skip to page content

A Journey to a New Land

Yesterday's Camels
Multimedia Library

Dr. Dana Lepofsky

Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University

McCallum Site

Archaeologists have known about the McCallum site since about 1950. Of course, the people of this area have known about the site much longer than that. In 1950, a woman named Marion Smith came here from Columbia University - we assume the locals told her that there was a site here – a village of traditional importance. The village name that was told to Marion was Tsitsqem, which means either slivers from the husks of the hazel or the bark of the Douglas fir. If you look around, there are lots of Douglas fir and hazelnut trees.

At that time, Marion made a map of the features that they saw on the surface. We can only guess form how clear the map is that they were pretty distinct. What we see on the map are round houses, square houses and oval houses. So it was clear enough then in 1950, for the map to have those kinds of details, so we are thinking that these houses aren’t very old.

Marion Smith excavated part of one house, actually it is the house that we are now working on today and we hope to re-find her trench. What her notes say is that she found very well-preserved posts and beams from the house, partially charred. We know, since they are only partially charred and there is still wood remaining, that it couldn’t be that old since of course in this climate, wood would start to degrade after a couple of hundred years. So we are thinking that she was working in a house that was probably a couple of hundred years old. And was probably directly connected to the village of Tsitsqem.

If you look on the field you can see a lot of the changes in shadows and the depressions that Marion Smith and her crew would have seen in 1950. This field has since been ploughed and the depressions have been filled in, but still you can see the darker spots in the plough zones that are the remains of the houses they saw, and that we see on this 1950 map.

The reason that we have ploughed here is that we know from Marion Smith’s map that Mr. McCallum (who was the owner of the property at the time) also ploughed here. One of the problems archaeologists have is that if we want to know what was happening in the village it’s very hard, given the detailed kind of work that we do digging in a one by one metre area, to actually figure out what was happening in the whole village. So we used the fact that it was ploughed to our advantage. We found out exactly how deep it was ploughed by digging small test units, and found out it was ploughed to about 10 cm in 1950. Then we got someone today to plough this area in two big swaths. We hoped that we could just turn over the soil that was turned over 50 years earlier. The idea being then if there are artifacts or charcoal that are emerging, you can begin to see patterning at the village level that we would never be able to see otherwise.

So that’s one really neat thing about this site, that we have these depressions on the surface that correspond to this very detailed map of a site that is a couple of hundred years old and tied to an oral tradition.

The other thing is that we think this site is much more ancient than that and that the tradition of people living here goes back thousands of years, maybe even as much as 10,000 years. We know that because recently the road that gives access to the site was expanded, and as luck would have it, it took enough of a slice off the side of the terrace that it exposed a series of large depressions that we think are semi-subterranean houses.

We assumed when we got here and saw those depressions that they were the same ones that were mapped in 1950, but now that we have compared our maps with the old maps and got some radiocarbon dates, we see that what they saw in the 1950’s was something more recent. What we are seeing in our profile based on our radiocarbon dates is at least 4,000 years old and possibly as old as 10,000 years. Which is very neat.

So we are looking at a very long tradition of people living here. It’s a perfect place for people to live. It was one of the first places to get high and dry after the glaciers receded 10,500 years ago. People could have moved in - it was a safe place to be. When the river was possibly flowing this way, it was a good place to get food. Then it turned into a slough - another good place. It has a good view, you could see your enemies and your friends come, so you could greet them. It was probably all around just a good stable place to have your village, so it is a place where we would expect to see a long occupation.