Archeology students discover ancient clam gardens on Russell Island

Social Sciences

- Anne MacLaurin

A dozen university students spent part of their summer exploring ancient First Nation villages in the Southern Gulf Islands and discovering 1,000 year old clam gardens on Russell Island — and earned course credit doing it. The UVic “Archaelogy of the Salish Sea” field school provided an opportunity to learn scientific methods and techniques and learn from and listen to Coast Salish Elders.

“Archaelogy is a very “hands-on” type of social science,” said instructor Eric McLay (PhD candidate), “students learn critical thinking and practical skills by “doing” even if it means getting a bit dirty.”

The Archaelogy Field School included university students from UVic, SFU and University of Ottawa, instructor Eric McLay and teaching assistant David Fargo (MA graduate student). Also this year, two Coast Salish interns were employed by Parks Canada — Philip Joe Sr from Cowichan Tribes and Brandon Wilson from Tsartlip First Nation. Both men are also hereditary grave workers in their communities and have previous experience in archaeological field research. They played an important role in advising the field school in Coast Salish cultural protocols when dealing with archaeological matters.

“For me, the main highlight of this field school included working with First Nations peoples,” said archaeology student Anglea Dyck. “Learning how to be culturally sensitive while doing hands on work was invaluab#8804; we did everything from surveying to excavation to mapping.”

Excavation of the ancient clam gardens on Russell Island presented students with an opportunity to gain practical training in identifying, recording and mapping archaeological sites. Students were also challenged to interpret archaeological data to understand the ancient past to figure out how and when the clam gardens were built. The island was once home to an aboriginal community and the clams may have been used for trade.

Eric McLay hopes to publish the findings on Russell Island in a joint research paper on dating the antiquity of these intertidal features in the Salish Sea region. The results of the Archaeological Field School will be made in presentations to First Nation committees with Parks Canada this fall.

The popular Archaeology Field School program is a continuation of the research partnership between UVic Department of Anthropology and Parks Canada in the Gulf Island National Park Reserve.


In this story

Keywords: anthropology, field schools, Indigenous, Parks Canada

People: Eric McLay, David Fargo

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