How Inuit Gather Mussels. In the Winter. Under the Ice.

…in the coldest months, when the ice is thickest, some venture beneath the ice to gather mussels. Every two weeks the pull of the moon combines with the geography of this region to create unusually large tides. The water falls as much as 55 feet in some places, emptying the bay under the ice along the shore for an hour or more. That’s when some Inuit climb aboard their snowmobiles and head out onto the bay.

Craig S. Smith writes in the New York Times about how people in Northern Quebec venture under the ice to gather mussels. Photos by Aaron Vincent Elkaim.

Below Luminous Ice, a Bounty of Mussels

Unalaska Animal Bones May Get Dumped

Well, this could turn out badly. Hopefully the zooarchaeologist is using hyperbole to encourage Fish and Wildlife to figure out their own rules.

 

If a “huge” load of scientifically valuable prehistoric animal bones aren’t returned soon to the Museum of the Aleutians, they may end up in the trash in Canada, according to a frustrated scientist in Victoria, British Columbia, who is encountering tax problems while trying to avoid international legal difficulties.

It turns out that the $6,000 set aside for shipping three shrink-wrapped pallets of nearly a half million bones back to Unalaska is causing  financial headaches for the private research firm, Pacific Identifications, according to zoologist and treasurer Susan Crockford.

“We had to pay taxes on these funds to carry them forward to this year. We are unwilling to pay taxes on these funds for yet another year,” Crockford said in an email to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It means that if we cannot get the import permit required to ship the material by August of this year at the latest, we face having to do something unconscionable to professional archaeologists and research scientists: send all 57 boxes to the dump.”

Most likely, no federal permits are needed, according to Andrea Medeiros, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Anchorage, since the bones came from Native corporation land, and not federal property, under the terms of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. However, Fish and Wildlife Service officials were still reviewing the requirements of international treaties involving endangered species and migratory birds.

Read the rest at Alaska Dispatch News

Why Was Pottery Invented in the Northeast? Not for Agriculture.

Vinette I Vessel from Indian Point, Quebec. Source: Canadian Museum of History

Ceramics were invented independently at least twice in North America – in the Southeast about 4,500 years ago, and in the Northeast around 3000 years ago. The earliest pottery in the northeastern United States and southern Canada is called Vinette, named after an archaeological site in New York state, and dates to the Early Woodland, about 3,100-2,300 cal years BP.

Since we now know pottery vessels predate the introduction of maize, it has been posited that ceramic vessels were used in preparing wild seeds and nuts or animal fats and oils, although these food sources were used by people long before pottery was invented.  Perhaps there were other reasons that explain why ceramics were invented.

Karine Taché has been researching Vinette pottery for a while now, and in a new paper in Antiquity with Oliver E. Craig, they conduct carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis and lipid analysis of Vinette I sherds and carbonized deposits (i.e., burned food remains) from 33 sites in the U.S. and Canada.

Overall, they argue that Vinette I pottery is associated with processing of marine or freshwater resources; few sherds show evidence of being used to process terrestrial animals like deer or elk, and little to no evidence for processing plant foods. There is also no identifiable patterning through time or space.

While they recognize that contemporary and earlier hunter-gatherers would have eaten both terrestrial and aquatic animals and that subsistence varied, the authors are arguing that Vinette I represents a change in the use of fish. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there is good evidence for use of fish prior to the Early Woodland, including during the  Late Archaic at the Lamoka Lake site.

How to explain these results?

In north-eastern North America the innovation of pottery co-occurred with key social developments such as the increased regionalisation and complexity of hunter-gatherer groups (Versaggi 1999), the emergence of new elaborate mortuary practices (Farnsworth&Emerson 1986;Heckenberger et al. 1990), and the creation of long-distance interaction networks that ensured the circulation of prestige items (Taché 2011). (p. 185)

The archaeological evidence for this include:

increased evidence for surplus accumulation (e.g. storage features) and social inequalities (e.g. differential distribution of grave goods), the advent of burial precincts distinct from habitation sites, complex burial practices shared between distinct groups (e.g. cremations, intentional destruction and burning of grave goods, abundance of red ochre in burials), and by the widespread distribution of stylistically and technologically homogeneous artefacts (e.g. Onondaga chert bifaces, ground slate objects) and exotic raw materials (e.g. native copper, marine shells). The social context for such long-distance interaction typically takes place at large, episodic and multi-ethnic gathering sites. (p. 186)

If correct, these gatherings would have taken place the same time that fish were spawning and could be taken in large numbers.

Intriguingly however, the relatively small size and low abundance of vessels at these sites precludes a major economic role for pottery. Instead, pottery may have been used to prepare fish as part of small-scale celebratory feasts. The act of cooking and consuming fish with novel ceramic containers would have been largely symbolic, serving to cement social relations during these important periods of aggregation. Therefore, we would expect the bulk of aquatic resources harvested during these gatherings to be processed and consumed using other means. (p. 186)

Based on ethnographic data, pottery could also have been used in preparing fish oil in bulk for storage. In this case,

as large quantities of fish yield limited amounts of oil, only a few ceramic containers would have been required. The production of fish oil either for exchange with more distant communities, or as a highly valued prestige food for conspicuous consumption, would also reinforce social relations during periodic aggregation of scattered hunter-gatherer groups, in keeping with the ‘cooperative harvesting’ hypothesis. (p. 186)

Reference:

Karine Taché & Oliver E. Craig

2015  Cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and the beginning of pottery production in north-eastern North America. Antiquity 89:177-190.

Smuggled Turtles Identified by Paleontologist

Shells and body parts of endangered turtles were identified by paleontologist Don Brinkman, leading to the conviction of the smuggler.

this case — which involved combing through a container with 945 turtle plastrons (bottom part of the shell), 2,454 turtle shells, and 52 bags of turtle fragments within 815 cartons, followed by a second container with 224 bags of fragments in 842 cartons — was the biggest Brinkman has ever worked on.

Full Story at the Calgary Herald.

Contraband turtle bones and parts. Source: Environment Canada/Calgary Herald

Northernmost Passenger Pigeon Fossils Found Near Site of Controversial Dam Project

A controversial dam and reservoir planned for British Columbia, Canada, is expected to flood over 12,000 acres (5000 hectares) of land in the Peace River valley. The Peace River Valley is home to Charlie Lake Cave (also known as Tse’K’wa), where archaeologist Jonathan Driver identified what may be the northernmost passenger pigeon fossils ever found. Charlie Lake Cave is just north of 56° latitude on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. Passenger pigeon bones were found in a level dated between 9,000-8,100 years ago, as well as in younger deposits.

While this site is not directly threatened by the Site C dam, hundreds of other archaeological and paleontological sites will be flooded by the BC Hydro project. Local First Nation tribes and other residents are also opposed to the project.

For more information, see The Globe and Mail story.

For more on Charlie Lake Cave, including video interviews with Jon Driver, check out A Journey to a New Land, created by the Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Reference:
Driver, Jonathan C., and Keith A. Hobson
1992 A 10 500-year sequence of bird remains from the Southern Boreal Forest region of western Canada. Arctic 45(2):105-110.

Archeologist Jonathan Driver at the Tse’K’wa cave. Photo by Barbara Winter, from theglobeandmail.com

Gold Miners Find Trove of Pleistocene Animal Bones

Animal bones from the last Ice Age are continually being exposed by gold mining in the Yukon. The provincial government hires two paleontologists to collect the bones, and occasionally bits of flesh or fur, from the many mining operations; they already have 25,000 specimens.

Source: nationalpost.com and Government of Yukon

“Typically, you know you’ve found it because you smell it before you see, it,” said Duane Froese, a University of Alberta scientist who has been coming to the Klondike for 20 years. “Imagine putting something in your freezer for 40,000 years and then thawing it out.”

In fact, most placer mines are permeated by a noticeably foul smell. As Klondike silt is blasted away, it unleashes the distinctive stench of millennia-old rotting plants and animals.

“It’s like rotting ancient barnyard, and you know when you have that smell that you’re going to find a lot of ancient material,” said Mr. Zazula.

The Klondike region, along with parts of Alaska, was one of the only parts of North America not to be covered by ice sheets during the last ice age.

As a result, while soil in the rest of Canada was repeatedly smashed and churned by glaciation, the frozen Klondike ground remained as undisturbed as a graveyard. In some remote area of the northern Yukon, prospectors even talk of finding mammoth prints.

Fossils in them there hills: Yukon gold miners uncover bounty in ancient animal remains each year

Stupendous! The ROM is bringing its Passenger Pigeons out of Storage

New research question: Is it possible to write an article about passenger pigeons without using the adjective “stupendous”? This article in The Star uses it, while talking about the Royal Ontario Museum’s plan to put some of their 153 stuffed Ectopistes back on display, as well as how the DNA from one of their birds is being used in an ambitious plan to recreate the passenger pigeon.

ROM curator Mark Peck with specimens from the museum’s collection of extinct passenger pigeons. Source: Keith Beaty / Toronto Star.