Excavations on Triquet Island, about 500 kilometres northwest of Victoria, Canada, have yield extremely rare artifacts, like an atlatl, compound fish hooks and a hand drill used for lighting fires, that are dated to be 13,613 to 14,086 years old. Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria, as I understand, lead the excavations of this Heiltsuk village site, and presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology last Thursday in Vancouver.
The site is roughly as old as the groundbreaking Manis Mastodon spear tip found in ’77 on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a find that pushed estimates of the earliest human occupation on the West Coast back by 800 years to about 13,800 years before the present day. But what is unique about Triquet Island is the sea levels, which have been extraordinarily stable over the millennia. The natural rise and fall of sea levels and of the Earth’s tectonic plates left other ancient villages on other parts of the West Coast submerged.
This unique ecology has helped to preserve evidence of the site’s continuous use, and has shown us dramatic changes in the occupants’ hunting and eating habits. For about 7,000 years, the Heiltsuk people hunted and ate large mammals, especially seals and sea lions with tools like the atlatl. Then around 5,700 years ago, their diets shifted to fin fish, as seen with the hooks. Evidence of shellfish processing is found throughout the village’s history, right up to very recent times. What is particularly fascinating is that the discovery of this dietary changes matches the oral history of the Heiltsuk Nation, a First Nations government in British Columbia.