Where Did Our Belongings Come From? Identifying Long-Distance Transport of Obsidian in the Ancient Pacific Northwest

  • Rhy McMillan and Dominique Weis, Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, UBC; Aviva Rathbone, Jason Woolman, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band)
    Online presentation via Zoom (Click here to join)

    Friday, January 15, 3-4:30 pm
    in the series
    Working Tools Seminar Series: Community-Facing Data Management Platforms for Indigenous-University Partnerships
  • Indigenous oral history and archaeological evidence both support extensive long-distance trade and exchange networks in ancient North America. However, many Indigenous communities oppose the excavation, decontextualization and analysis of their belongings (artifacts) and ancestral remains to document such activities for Rights and Title applications. In partnership with xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), an Indigenous community in modern-day Vancouver, BC, we are identifying ways by which previously-excavated materials can be analysed to support community-led research initiatives. In this study, we investigate the geographic origins of 14 small (<1cm in length) fragments of lithic material (‘micro-belongings’) exhumed from c̓əsnaʔəm (Marpole), a key xʷməθkʷəy̓əm village site. A comparison of their characteristics with those of potential geologic sources indicates that four of the fragments most likely originated at Browns Bench, an obsidian source in southern Idaho, ~1000 km southeast of c̓əsnaʔəm, and all but one of the remainder from Glass Buttes (OR), a large obsidian source ~670 km south-southeast of c̓əsnaʔəm. A last lithic fragment composed of fine-grained volcanic material is likely also from a volcanic centre within the High Cascades or Garibaldi Belt. Such long-distance transport of obsidian in antiquity supports the oral history and continuity of complex xʷməθkʷəy̓əm social and material networks, which still exist today, and provides key additional evidence for how and from where ancient people procured resources in North America.

    Rhy McMillan (BA, Anthropology/Earth Science; PhD, Geological Sciences) blends geochemistry and archaeology in his quest to create equitable partnerships with Indigenous communities and produce additional lines of archaeological evidence in collaboration with oral history and Indigenous science. He adapts and enhances traditional archaeological approaches by integrating sophisticated geochemical and spectroscopic techniques, providing robust and detailed information that can be used to interpret the source, identity, and movement of ancient humans and their belongings through space and time.

    Dominique Weis is a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in the Geochemistry of the Earth’s mantle, one of the founding members of the UBC Indigenous/Science Research Excellence Cluster, and the Director of the PCIGR at UBC. Her research investigates the distribution of chemical elements and their isotopes in Earth systems. Her innovative use of trace element and isotope geochemistry spans a wide range of applications in the Earth and environmental sciences. These techniques can be used to quantify and source trace metals in the environment and in biological samples, as recently exemplified by the Vancouver honey and Pacific fish studies.

    Rhy and Dominique work as a team using high-resolution geochemical (e.g., laser ablation – inductively coupled plasma – mass spectrometry; LA-ICP-MS) and spectroscopic (e.g., X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy) techniques to identify and investigate the primary sedimentary, geographic, and geologic context and original condition of archaeological materials in support of Indigenous-led research initiatives. One of their primary goals is to further develop the application of these techniques for acquiring information not obtainable via traditional archaeometric and osteometric analyses in culturally-appropriate ways.

    Aviva Rathbone is the Senior Archaeologist for xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. Aviva’s work and research is focused on the de-colonization of heritage research and management in BC. She is a research partner in UBC’s Indigenous/Science Research Cluster and in her role she works under the guidance and mentorship of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm̓ community and leadership to ensure the respectful management of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm̓ cultural heritage resources and to advocate for First Nations sovereignty over those resources. As a non-Indigenous person practicing heritage management, she is committed to critically examining the discipline of archaeology and the roles played by those who practice archaeology and who perpetuate the longstanding and continued history of colonial control of First Nations cultural heritage resources.

    Jason Woolman is the Archives and Research Manager for xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, where he has worked since 2008. In 2009 Jason received his Master of Archival Studies degree with a concentration in First Nations Studies from the University of British Columbia's School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies. Jason works closely with the community-at-large as well as with individual community members to digitize records, provide resources for research and legal cases, and to provide important context for protecting Musqueam’s Title and Rights. His research interests include orality and material culture as traditional forms of record keeping, the role of cultural sensitivity in archives, and language preservation.

    Jason and Aviva work as a team along with xʷməθkʷəy̓əm administration staff, leadership, and the community to ensure the respectful management of heritage resources (which include archaeological and archival materials) within xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territory. They also collaborate with like-minded researchers to investigate research questions and initiatives identified by xʷməθkʷəy̓əm community and leadership as well as to explore new and revolutionary scientific techniques that have application in the assertion of Musqueam’s Title and Rights.

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January 15th, 2021 from  3:00 PM to  4:30 PM
Online Lecture via Zoom
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Speaker Series Working Tools Seminar Series: Community-Facing Data Management Platforms for Indigenous-University Partnerships
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Speaker (new) Rhy McMillan, Dominique Weis, Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research, UBC-V; Aviva Rathbone, Jason Woolman, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band)
Short Speaker Rhy McMillan, Dominique Weis, Aviva Rathbone, Jason Woolman
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