Cultural Pride through Artifacts

by Nola Markey, Archaeologist and Brian Finlay, Skwlax Aboriginal Interest Department

Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band would like to express their appreciation to the Boyd Family who recently submitted an artifact collection to the community. The Boyd’s have lived along Little Shuswap Lake for just over 50 years and during this time found numerous stone tool artifacts near their property. Some of the tools included arrowheads and spear points, scrapers, utilized flakes, fishnet sinkers, and gaming pieces, made from a variety of materials such as chert, chalcedony and basalt.  To Indigenous groups, such artifacts are a significant part of their cultural identity and connection to their ancestors. These types of artifacts, uncovered at an archaeology site, are also important to archaeologists as they provide clues in explaining how people lived in the ancient and recent past.

Many artifacts are found accidentally. Furthermore, construction crews find artifacts when they are building roadways or digging up an area to lay foundations. Farmers find sites when they plow their fields or homeowners clearing a field to build a vegetable garden. Archaeologists will get telephone calls from people who stumble across an artifact or site while they were out hiking.  Of course, there is a darker history of purposely looting a site and selling artifacts, which is not permitted as artifacts are protected under provincial heritage legislation. Preserving artifacts and protecting sites is paramount to archaeologists and Indigenous communities.

Today, many Indigenous communities work closely with archaeologists to develop comprehensive heritage management processes. Some of these processes include developing their own cultural heritage policies, building their own artifact and research repositories, museums and cultural centres, including repatriating artifacts lost to museums from other countries. To Indigenous communities, these artifacts are not merely “things”, they provide a sense of pride and are a testament of the knowledge and achievements of their ancestors. There are stories linked to the places where artifacts are found, offering a sense of place called home or re-affirming their spiritual practices from the past to present.

Once again, Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, a member of the Secwepemc Nation, would like to thank the Boyd family for taking good care of the artifacts over the years and are pleased that they will remain in their homelands. The artifact assemblage will be documented as the “Ann Boyd Collection” and they will be catalogued and safely stored. We recognize that the preservation and study of artifacts are important for the survival of our cultural identity, and we will use the artifacts for research, training and other educational purposes. We encourage others who have private collections to contact us. Little Shuswap is currently working on registering a repository with the province with a long-term goal of building a museum and cultural centre. The cultural centre will showcase our culture, skills, crafts, art, songs, dance, spirituality and more. It will also bring back the “spirit of hope and pride, and awaken the strength of our community.”

Historical Landscapes and the Buried Past

by Matt Begg

As archeologists, we study prehistoric peoples and cultures by analyzing the things they left behind.

Around here, that means taking a particular perspective of the landscape around us to figure out where we might find archeological sites.

Or, more simply put, to find where people have done stuff that would create things for us to find. We spend as much time thinking about the landscape around us as we do studying anything you might see in a museum.

Archeological sites might be defined places on our landscape where archeologists have found stuff, but each site represents a much wider use of the lands around them.

When we start to connect the dots between all of these archeological sites, we can take another perspective.

From this perspective, we see a continuous cultural landscape that has evolved over many thousands of years with the Secwepemc peoples, who have lived here since time immemorial, through the historic era in Kamloops with fur traders, gold prospectors, railroads and ranchers, and into modern times as our city continues to grow and evolve.

You don’t need to be an archeologist to see our landscape from this perspective. Have you ever looked around a landscape and just felt the history around you? We have some great places to do just that.

For example, I like to walk my dog in Kenna Cartwright Park in the evenings. There’s a viewpoint at the top of a hill I like to stop at, where I can see the city spread out below. From there, I can see the confluence of the Thompson rivers, where fur traders pulled up their canoes.

If I squint toward downtown, I can make out the old train station that is nearly a century old and the tracks that have carried people to and from this city since the late 1800s.

Across the river, I can see the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, which includes a 2,000-year-old winter village. I also know where many of the other recorded prehistoric archeological sites are located and I can see dozens from this same viewpoint, including villages, campsites and hunting and fishing places.

Even if you don’t know these exact locations, you can be sure that, in the past, people occupied all the same places we use now.


Keep this cultural landscape perspective in mind when you replant your garden, level part of your yard for a new shed or even when you hike on the local trails. You may see evidence of this ancient cultural landscape.

It happens all the time, such as when I found a small scraping tool among the stones used to line my driveway, when I recognized the culturally modified tree that grew in my yard in Smithers and when I spotted a stone tool on a Kamloops hiking trail just last weekend.

If you spot these sorts of things when you’re out and about, consider yourself lucky and take a picture (but not the artifact).

Leave the site as you found it and call one of the local archeologists with your questions.

Water's Destructive Power

By Kim Christensen

Published 18 May 2017 in Kamloops This Week

The destructive power of water is a hot topic right now as we see municipalities throughout the province declaring states of emergency, including here in Kamloops, where unstable slopes are threatening many homes.

In my own neighbourhood, residents are mourning damage to their yards and gardens (and lamenting the loss of easy access to our local store) as raging creek waters have forged new paths with little regard for structures or roadways.

These flooding events also have the power to damage what remains of some of the area’s earliest First Nations village sites. 

Many of these early villages, which have become archeological sites, were built on the very banks of the waterways that are flooding today.

And they can be damaged in the same way that houses built on creek and river banks are impacted.

An example of this can be seen at an archeological site north of Kamloops, on the bank of the North Thompson River just downstream from the outlet of a large creek.

This particular site is made up of nearly 20 circular depressions of varying sizes; these depressions represent what remain of the village’s original pit-house structures, as well as cache (storage)   and roasting pits.

What is interesting about this site in particular is that it is located across the river from an oxbow channel.

When visiting, I wondered how the oxbow had formed and if that process had affected the archeological site.

A review of historic air photos revealed the river was still in its original channel in the mid-1940s and what is now the oxbow was the main channel at the time.

Air photos from the 1960s, however, revealed that within
the intervening 20 years, the river had pushed through the narrow strip of land and created a new river channel.

Digging deeper, I learned that in the late 1940s, during a year of especially heavy rain and flooding (sound familiar?), a small local dam had given way and an enormous flood of water came rushing down the creek bed, slamming into the river just upstream from this archeological site.

This, coupled with the otherwise unusually high flood year, was the force that pushed through the skinny strip of land and created the new river channel and oxbow we see today.

This event also swept away a portion of the archeological site, which appears to have stretched across the river.

Adding to this, the new river channel continues to erode into the bank and the remaining cultural depressions are being lost to the annual rise and fall of water levels.

When an archeological site is damaged, even by natural processes, the unfortunate reality is the loss of cultural heritage and scientific information.

So, as we continue to face ongoing episodes of heavy rain, I am concerned not only for our current villages and homes, but also
for the damage done to the region’s original village sites and the history and knowledge that will be lost with the archeological sites swept away in the floods.

Introducing Dig It: Learning about the ancient history beneath our feet

By Joanne Hammond

Published 5 May, 2017 in Kamloops This Week

If you stood on the beach at Riverside Park, on a spring day 2000 years ago, you’d probably see a lot that’s familiar: houses and boats, gardens and public spaces. You might look upstream and see, on the sandy shore on both sides, neat rows of beached canoes draped with reed mats to protect from sun damage. Behind them on the banks you'd see racks holding fishing gear, in various states of drying and repair, waiting for the next trip. And among it all, you'd see dogs and kids and moms and dads, families stretching in the sun after a long, cold winter.

Today, not a hint of that past is visible, but it's there still, underfoot. And under road, and park, and parking lot, and field. It’s our buried heritage. It’s the incredible archaeology of our region, and it is as much a part of Kamloops as the soil itself. In some places, it is the soil. 10,000 years of continuous occupation will do that to a place. How do we know? That’s what archaeology does! And we’re doing that right here in Kamloops.

Local archaeologists have worked for decades to understand the Kamloops that was built long before Canada began to form. Through the material culture, the stuff of peoples’ lives, archaeologist can piece together ancient stories written on the land. We look at Tk’emlups, and see Secwepemc families, and the neighbouring First Nations that came to visit and trade, that were the heart of this region for millennia. We see where Kamloops came from, and want to share that with you.

Now imagine that spring day again, but just 200 years ago: little would be different, but change was already here: over your shoulder were the first rough log buildings of Thompson's River Fort. You'd see a beach crowded with canoes piled with fur and fish and meat for sale. The fur trade here was just a few years old, already thriving on the centuries-old commercial trade routes that met at this hub of rivers and overland trails.

Let us take you back there, in this regular archaeology column where we’ll bring you stories of this region’s past. Every month in this space, we’ll exploring ideas of the past through the artifacts and sites that dot our region, and the people that today work to protect them. Stay tuned!