13,800-year-old Haida site found underwater off British Columbia

13,800-year-old Haida site found underwater off British Columbia

Finding believed to be the oldest evidence of human habitation in Canada

A new archaeological study has discovered a Haida site dating back 13,800 years off British Columbia’s Juan Perez Sound. Led by archaeologist Quentin Mackie of the University of Victoria, the team discovered the site near the Haida Gwaii Archipelago and is believed to feature a fishing weir, a man-made channel used to corral fish.

Although Mackie is not certain, he is hopeful the obtained images show at least one stone weir. The scan suggests a wall of large stones was placed in a line at a right angle to the stream, a fishing technique used by cultures residing along B.C coast. The weir is situated at a depth of 122 metres, an area above sea level 14,000 years ago.

Mackie says the findings fit in with tribal oral histories. A Haida story from the book American Indian Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz tells of a great flood that force people to move. Gwaii Hanaas park superintendent Ernie Gladstone said that people lived in the area for many thousands of years, but much of that ancient territory is now beneath the waters of the Hecate Strait. Stories like the one recounted in American Indian Myths and Legends and other collections may be actual history told in semi-metaphor.

Haida waters and lands were so profuse with fish and game that the people possessed a social structure similar to advanced agricultural societies, with property ownership, ranked social classes and a rich art history. Governments and missionaries made strenuous efforts to assimilate Haida people on the islands and mainland, but the Haida resisted, preserving much of their culture and homelands.

Archaeologists utilized an unmanned, robotic vehicle to investigate the sea floor surrounding the islands. The area has been underwater since the end of last Ice Age about 11,000 years ago. Archaeologists observed other formations they believe to be camps from around the same time.

The oldest previously discovered artifact, dated from 12,700 years ago, came from a location near the same weir site in Gwaii Hanaas National Park. This latest finding constitutes the oldest evidence of human habitation in Canada.


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