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8 July 2006
Ancient village in British Columbia threatened

Almost three millennia ago, a village at what is now Portage Park in View Royal (British Columbia, Canada) was thriving as part of a great trade network through the Pacific Northwest. Not much of that village remains, but to archeologist Grant Keddie the dirt speaks volumes to a history that has been largely ignored.
     Fire-broken rock and stratified layers of clam shells tell of a thousand cooked meals in a settlement that grew and waned. Obsidian stone links trade to the Oregon coast, jade with the Fraser Valley and shells with Vancouver Island's west coast. Thinning layers of animal remains speak of lean times and fewer people. The sudden appearance of seal and herring bones reminds that a changing climate can both give and take way. "All the little bits and pieces can tell a big picture," says Keddie, the curator of archaeology at the Royal B.C. Museum and resident expert in Songhees First Nation history.
     Keddie said the midden at Portage Park, meaning the layers of animal remains and traces of settlement activity embedded in the earth, could become one of the most important archeological sites in Greater Victoria. He said the site is probably about 2,800 years old based on radiocarbon dating of other Songhees settlements in the area and more importantly, it is one of the rare sites not under direct threat from residential development.
     But high tides and treasure seekers represent a combined attack on the midden. The area holds a burial site, and a skull and other human remains have been exposed due to severe winter storms. View Royal, as the park owner, is responsible for keeping the midden from being damaged under the provincial Heritage Conservation Act. An engineering consultant's report from April suggested covering the bank in 1,300 cubic metres of material. Planning director Alan Haldenby said the town is mulling an option to stabilize the dirt bank using a small wall and natural vegetation. When that will happen is still unclear. The B.C. Ministry of Sports, Tourism and the Arts, which oversees the archeology branch, has stepped in to offer financial assistance to View Royal, but won't say how much.
     Keddie is advocating the site be re-enforced with natural vegetation, and that portions be opened up to surveying and an archeological dig. He said historians and scientists have a limited picture of how aboriginal culture evolved and intertwined with climactic shifts. He added midden deposits can show the introduction of different bird, animal and sea life, how technologies changed, the success of agriculture, periods of war and the extent of trade networks. "We don't appreciate our own history over here. People think aboriginal culture was static," Keddie said. "Enormous changes have gone on in the past 2,800 years."
     Eric McLay, president of the Archeological Society of B.C. and staff archeologist for the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group in Ladysmith, said the ASBC will offer its expertise to View Royal to help steward public awareness to what the site means culturally and historically. He said the site hasn't been surveyed since the early 1970s, and has enormous potential as a research centre. "The site needs to be celebrated and made something of value," McLay said. "We need to change people's perspectives that the site has social benefits, not just economic costs."

Source: Esquimalt News (5 July 2006)

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