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23 March 2008
Victoria suburb yields 850 BCE archeological site

Archeologists and Songhees Nation members have been chipping away at a 2,850-year-old aboriginal site, one of the oldest to be found on Vancouver Island (Canada), experts say. "This find is quite rare," said Shane Bond, a senior archeologist with Victoria-based I. R. Wilson Consultants, the company leading the archeological work. The researchers have been meticulously sifting through remains of a large below-ground house, clay oven and fire pit unearthed at a housing development in Colwood, a Victoria suburb. Only a handful of similar "house pits" have been uncovered on the West Coast: two at Crescent Beach near White Rock, one in Sequim, Wash., and another near Port Alberni, Mr. Bond said.
     The site was exposed in November when a trench for a water line was mistakenly dug in a space considered out of bounds for development. Earlier sample excavations indicated the area was archeologically sensitive. The 850 BCE dwelling was detected where evidence of house posts was easily seen via black dirt patterns against lighter-coloured soil. The circular fire pit, another remarkable find, was marked by an extremely well-entrenched ring of upright stones where red, oxidized earth provided proof that flame was used for cooking and perhaps for heat. "Most habitat sites are right on the waterfront, so this is unusual," archeologist Kira Kristensen said of the site under what once was a farm and orchard.
     In 850 BCE, coastal aboriginals relied on fishing so they lived in cedar houses close to the water, not in below-ground structures typically found in B.C.'s Interior. Archeologists are speculating that this inland site was used to prepare camas lily bulbs, which would have been roasted and eaten, Mr. Bond said.
     More than 600 items - including arrowheads, spear points, small blades and wedges, some made of obsidian (volcanic glass) - have been unearthed on the site. Some were shipped to a Florida lab for carbon-14 dating, which revealed the 2,850-year age. After research is complete, the site, roughly seven metres by six metres, will be 'capped' to protect it. Cloth, similar to landscape fabric, will cover the area and dirt will be placed on top. Human remains have not been found, Ms. Kristensen said. In the future, archeologists will be able to access the buried house and fire pit. "I'm happy they're not building on top of the site," Mr. Dick said. "Most places, they want us to remove everything and build on top." The Royal B.C. Museum is holding artifacts for the Songhees, who plan to display them. And anyone thinking of stealing relics is warned that 24-hour surveillance is operating. Mr. Bond said. "It's happened in the past; artifacts get sold on eBay."

Source: The Globe and Mail (22 March 2008)

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