Stó:lô Culture - Ideas of Prehistory and Changing Cultural Relationships to the Land and Environment . For Comparative Civilization 12, Social Studies 10, Science & Technology 11. By Brian Thom

Stó:lô Curriculum Consortium May 1996

I. Careful Definitions - Prehistory, Culture, Tradition, and Race

The study of the long-term changes in culture is one of the specific tasks of anthropologists and archaeologists. The kind of knowledge gained through this study helps us know who we are and where we have come from. It informs us about the important relation that people have to the environment and how cultures operate within it. In addition, this kind of study is also very revealing about how we know what we know.

Understanding changes in a culture's relationship to the land and environment requires a specialized vocabulary, which is utilized by anthropologists and archaeologists. For example, the ideas of "prehistory," "culture," "tradition," and "race," which are carefully defined in this curriculum unit. These words are commonly used, but in the context of a discussion on the long-term history about a particular people, they have very specific meanings. Understanding these meanings will help address stereotypes that are commonly associated with these terms.

Because Aboriginal societies from the Northwest Coast of North America did not have a system of writing, archaeological evidence and oral traditions are the main means by which knowledge regarding the long-term history of Stó:lô culture can be gained. The first written documents in this area were made by European explorers, who visited the region in the 1770's. The term "prehistory" is then used to describe the period of time prior to the writing of historical documents. Unfortunately, the word "prehistory" is often used to imply negative ideas about a time period that was "primitive," "savage," or "uncivilized," which is not its intended meaning.

The term "culture" is often thought of in contemporary Canadian society in the context of operas, ballet, and symphonies. "Popular culture" is a term that has recently been used to describe such things as Muchmusic and body piercing. "Native culture" is often thought of as the art, masks, and dances which are so visible in mainstream North American society. Anthropologists use the term culture to refer to an idea which encompasses all these things. "Culture" is the pattern of learned human behaviour, or the things that people do which they have learned through life. Language is culture, as are politics, art, religion, philosophy, and science. For archaeologists, "material culture" or artifacts (portable objects of human manufacture such as projectile points, beads, etc.), and features (non-portable objects of human manufacture such as rock paintings, fire pits, etc.), are studied to understand this learned human behaviour. Archaeologists infer from the study of artifacts and features the larger patterns of human behaviour that make up "culture."

"Tradition" is a term that also has many common definitions, but has specific implications for the study of human cultures. A tradition is a pattern of learned behaviour that is passed on through generations within a specific culture. In contemporary Canadian society, we commonly think of traditions such as having pot roast with gravy for dinner on Sundays and buying a diamond ring for a wedding engagement. Some examples of Stó:lô traditions include winter spirit dancing, indigenous art styles, and stories and legends. As in other cultures, some of these traditions are recent, while others stretch far back into the past. One of the main goals in the study of prehistory is to document the antiquity of aboriginal cultural traditions, and how these have changed over time.

Figure 2: Fishing salmon in the Fraser Canyon - an important Stó:lô tradition (BCARS).

The idea of "race" is a concept that, like the ones above, has many negative stereotypes and misconceptions associated with it. Race refers to a group of people who have common biological or genetic characteristics. In the past, such groups have commonly been divided up on the basis of skin colour, but it is a well established scientific fact that this is a completely inadequate way to view genetic history and variation. The variation observed between "races" is the result of millions of years of biological adaptation to different environments in the world. These are profoundly long periods of time, but do not reflect "superiorities" or "hierarchies" of difference. Rather, they reflect relative differences based on environmental adaptation. Variation in "race" has no direct relationship to variation in culture or behaviour. One does not determine or even influence the other. In essence, race is a useful concept to document biological or genetic changes and similarities in groups of humans over time. "Race" is not a useful concept to understand differences in culture. It exists independently from culture.

Having carefully defined how these specific terms and ideas are used within a study about long-term changes in culture, we now turn to another particular problem - one of "epistemology" or the philosophy of how we know what we know. Most scientific knowledge is gained through hypothesis testing. The process basically works as follows: An observation is made about something in the real world. Based on the way scientists understands the world, a model is created to try to explain that observation. In this model one or more specific hypothesis are given which can be tested to support or reject the model. Tests are designed which enable the scientist to independently assess the hypothesis - the more tests the better. These are conducted, usually through making more observations of the real world. The hypothesis is then either supported, revised, or rejected. Although some tests may strongly support the hypothesis (and in turn the model it is generated out of), the scientist can never discount the fact that someone, someday, may be able to design another test which rejects that hypothesis, or a different model which better explains whatever observation of the real world has been made. Thus, the knowledge the scientist gains is never absolute. It is continually being supported, revised, or rejected as our understanding of how the world works changes.

Not all knowledge is generated through the use of the scientific method. This method of reasoning developed in Europe during the enlightenment. People's understanding of how the world works can often be quite different. Looking across cultures and over time, there has been an immense diversity of human thought and understanding of the world. The one western science provides has a difficult time explaining many elements of shamanism, while aboriginal oral traditions do not explain the motion of energy past very massive objects.

By opening our eyes to different ways of understanding the world - and remembering how we know what we know - a greater, more rich sense of the world can be achieved. This is the ultimate goal of anthropology.

II. Origin Stories from Stó:lô Traditions and Western Science

Everybody has ideas of how they came to be in the world. Most cultures have explanations of their origins as human beings. Stó:lô oral narratives contain many stories which talk about how the Stó:lô have lived here since time immemorial. Their oral traditions tell different stories than those constructed by western science. However, these stories are not incompatible. They do not contradict each other because they are addressing somewhat different philosophical issues. Stó:lô oral narratives explain in many cases how people became fully human, and connected to the world they inhabit today. These traditions often involve transformation, and talk about a time when people, animals, and supernatural beings had the ability to change between different forms. The world came into order when Xá:ls, "the Transformer," changed people into animals, plants and stones, which became ancestors of contemporary Stó:lô. Such transformations establish and affirm the connections the Stó:lô have with the land they live in.

The following narratives are some of the many accounts about Xá:ls which describe some of these transformations:

In the beginning, man appeared at different places, always on a river or the sea. How or why he appeared no one knows. The earth existed before him, and birds and animals. Afterwards Xá:ls came. Who he was, whence he came, and whither he went, no one knows. He changed people in many different places to rocks, why no one knows. (1)

There was a time when the world was a lot different than it is now. Many things were with power; both people and animals and other beings. Many people could create things their own way. If a man wanted a deer, he could fix it or wish it; he didn't have to hunt for it. Others could see things before they happened and others were fitted with the powers of transformation. God didn't like this so he sent Xá:ls down to make things right. Some people were too smart and abused their power so God sent Xá:ls down to destroy those who were powerful. (2)

Xá:ls made rivers here and lakes there. He changes many human beings into animals and birds and generally gave the world its present form. He taught man how to fish, how to make bows and arrows, and other useful accomplishments, besides teaching how to make masks. (3)

Stó:lô oral traditions explain that Xá:ls met the ancestors of all Stó:lô "tribes," and transformed them into certain plants or animals which generally abound near the site of the winter village. For instance, the village of Ma'le is well known for the great number of flags growing near by in the slough, mountain-goats are found not far from Pa'pk'um, and so forth. In many cases the ancestor is said to have also been transformed into a rock of remarkable shape or size, found not far from the village.

Figure 3: The transformer rock at Xá:ytem. At this site, Xá:ls threw three siya:m into a heap and transformed them into stone (Photo courtesy G. Mohs).

It is highly recommended to invite a guest speaker into the class who can present these oral traditions in their proper, spoken form. The stories by themselves have much richer meaning than what can be gained by reading them alone. There is a rich cultural tradition which surrounds these stories like the weave of a blanket. These traditions shape how people are expected to behave, interact with one another, and understand how the world works.

According to western science, different stories about the origins of human beings are told than those illustrated in Stó:lô oral traditions. It has constructed the explanation of the evolution of our species from other, earlier primates over extremely long periods of time. Small populations of various hominid (or human-like) ancestors of our species slowly adapted over approximately 4 million years to different environments in Africa. Scientists believe that human populations grew and spread throughout more diverse climates and landscapes, populating the African content by 50,000 years ago and the North American continent by 15,000 years ago. By 8,000 years ago, human beings occupied every type of climate.

The specifics of this story are continually revised and updated as new fossil finds force scientists to change their models. This story that western science has constructed is not so much about "creation" as it is about explaining the incredible diversity of human existence. It provides an explanation to understand the fantastically long periods of time that human beings and our ancestors have populated the earth.

The first part of the archaeological story presented within this curriculum unit deals with the initial human occupation of the American continents. Archaeologists have provided explanations from the evidence available to them about (1) when people initially arrived in the New World; (2) where they originated from; and (3) how they interacted with the ice-age environment to move through the American continents.

The Question of When

A number of factors provide logical limits towards determining when people were able to have occupied this area. First, no evidence has ever been uncovered to suggest that homo sapiens (the species which all modern humans are members of) populations evolved independently in the New World. Ample evidence for evolution has only been found in Africa and over many parts of Asia. Thus, the human populations in the New World must have evolved to homo sapiens first in Africa and Asia, before spreading to other parts of the world. Secondly, current evidence suggests that homo sapiens first appeared in the Old World sometime after 100,000 years ago, with modern homo sapiens populations occurring first around 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. These factors outline the outer-most limits for the antiquity of human occupation of the New World.

The latest Ice Age or "Pleistocene" occurred between 25,000 and 13,000 years ago. During this time, almost all of North America above the 48th parallel was covered in approximately 1000 meters of solid ice. However, between 25,000 and 13,000 years ago, a large, ice-free plain commonly referred to as the "Bering Land Bridge" (which was about the size of Saskatchewan), connected eastern Siberia and western Alaska across the Bering Strait. Therefore, given these basic limitations, people could have only entered into the New World within this time frame.

To date, no secure evidence has been found in either North or South America which would date human occupation back between 25,000 and 40,000 years. The earliest occupation of North America in the Yukon and Alaska dates to approximately 11,500 years ago, and to the south of the maximum extent of the glacial ice sheets a number of sites date between 11,500 and 11,000 years ago. All of these lines of evidence suggest that the initial occupation of the New World occurred sometime towards the end of the last ice age, after 14,000 years ago.

The Question of From Where

It has long been hypothesized that Aboriginal people from North and South America have some biological links to people in east Asia. Physical anthropologists have examined the skeletal and genetic structure of populations from both east Asia and the New World, and have established clear biological links between these groups. One particularly convincing example is tooth shape, a genetically determined trait much like gender or eye colour.

Figure 4: Sinodont (northern Asian & Native American) & Sundadont (eastern Asian) teeth.

Note the shape of the two front teeth (Turner, 1986).

People who are descended from east Asian populations have either "shovel-shaped" front teeth or teeth that are curved from side-to-side in the back, on the tongue-side. In contrast, populations descended from Europe and Africa have front teeth which are either straight or curved up-and-down on the back or tongue-side. The two front teeth of Aboriginal people have the same shape as those from east Asia. This dental evidence is one of many lines which firmly connects the genetic history of Aboriginal populations to east Asia.

The Question of Movements and Life in the Ice-Age

Given that initial human occupation of the New World likely occurred sometime towards the end of the last Ice Age (approximately 14,000 years ago), and Aboriginal populations in North and South America show clear physical similarities to populations in east Asia, archaeologists have proposed that humans arrived in the New World via the "Bering Land Bridge."

Figure 5: Movement of people from Beringia into North America during the last ice-age. Note both coastal and "ice-free corridor" routes are mapped (Reader's Digest Atlas of Canada, 1995).

As the glaciers started melting around 14,000 years ago, small populations of people who lived in this vast northern plain travelled either by water-craft down the Pacific Coast of North America, or by land through a proposed "Ice-Free Corridor" which may have existed just east of the Rocky Mountains. There is little evidence to support either of these movements into continental North America, and much about the human occupation of the New World at this time remains a mystery.

These movements occurred over incredibly long periods of time - hundreds and even thousands of years. They cannot be thought of in terms of "migration" or "immigration," but rather follow the long established pattern of increasing human populations spreading into new areas so their populations can be sustained. Such expansion of human occupation over vast periods of time are very different processes than examples of colonial expansion which have occurred throughout the globe in the past several hundred years. The processes of the former are largely adaptational in nature, whereas the latter are largely political. Such distinctions should be kept clear when discussing the peopling of the New World.

Having established the antiquity of human occupation of the New World, and discussed issues of how and from where these human populations came, we can now discuss the varying adaptations of aboriginal cultures, focusing on the local adaptations of Stó:lô culture in the lower Fraser River watershed. Although Aboriginal people have clear biological connections to east Asian populations, the evidence is overwhelming for the unique development of aboriginal cultural traditions in the New World. Essentially, all linguistic and archaeological evidence illustrates that aboriginal "culture" has developed independently and uniquely in the New World, since the original inhabitation 14,000 years ago.

III. Stó:lô Culture - Adaptations to Land and Environment

Both scholars and Aboriginal people have asked a number of different questions about the prehistory of the inhabitants of the lower Fraser River area. Some of their major questions have been:

1) How, from where, and when did the first humans arrive in the lower Fraser River watershed?

2) How does the archaeological record reflect Stó:lô culture history?

3) What are the major trends of Stó:lô cultural continuity an cultural change?

This unit will attempt to discuss these issues largely from the perspective of the archaeological evidence of human culture, as exhibited in different archaeological sites excavated throughout traditional Stó:lô territory. As this evidence covers a vast period of time, particular historical events are not discussed. Instead, models of cultural traditions and culture change are provided. What is presented varies from the kind of story a historian or traditional Aboriginal person would tell, and is instead an anthropologist's story of culture and traditions. To use another metaphor, it is a picture of culture changing through time, painted with a very broad brush.

The following section of this curriculum unit outlines the major culture history of the Stó:lô from the earliest occupation of the Fraser River. A "culture history" is not like a regular history where historical events and people are discussed in chronological fashion. Rather, it documents the changing nature of culture and cultural traditions through time. Culture history constructs a very broad picture of cultures changing over long periods of time, in many cases discussing these changes in terms of thousands of years. The culture history of the Stó:lô can be constructed from material remains found at archaeological sites. This culture history, of course, is not the total and complete history of the Stó:lô. By using material and archaeological remains to understand the history of cultures, only broad and general patterns can be observed. Understanding these limitations and goals of "doing" culture history is important to keep in mind when reading about the long-term history of aboriginal cultures.

On the basis of cultural evidence recovered from archaeological sites, this long time-span has been divided into five "periods:" Early Period, Charles Period, Locarno Beach Period, Marpole Period, and Late Period. The names for most of these periods originated from the first archaeological site excavated which revealed material from that time. Archaeologists use these names as a convention when referring to certain particular periods of time. These periods represent times when cultural patterns were essentially similar throughout the region. There are differences within each of these periods, but the broad patterns allow for general, but meaningful interpretations of changes in culture over time.

Cultural "Period" Summary of Major Cultural Trends and Changes
Early Period

11,500 - 5,500 years ago

First human occupation of lower Fraser Region

Mobile, egalitarian lifestyle

Major land mammal hunting industry

- large leaf-shaped points

Woodworking industry

- watercraft and temporary shelter

- pebble tools and antler wedges

Utilization of salmon and shellfish

Charles Period

5,500 - 3,300 years ago

First semi-sedentary dwelling

More intensive use of fish along-side land mammals

Regional exchange networks

- obsidian

Elaborate artistic and ritual life

- red ochre

Locarno Beach Period

3,300 - 2500 years ago

Climate and sea-level stabalized in lower Fraser Region

Large semi-permanent villages

- massive shell middens (few houses found yet)

Highly effecient "ground stone knives" used in fishing

Storage technology allow for larger populations and year-round


Continuing regional exchange networks

Continuing elaborate artistic and ritual life

- including basketry, cranial deformation, & labrets

Marpole Period

2,500 - 1,000 years ago

Large semi-permanent villages

- massive shell middens & plank houses

Complex mortuary rituals indicating social status &


Continuing efficient use of fish, hunting, and gathering


Continuing regional exchange networks

Continuing elaborate artistic and ritual life

- introduction of weaving

Late Period

1,000 - 200 years ago

Large semi-permanent villages

- plank houses and pit houses

Major change in mortuary practice - change in social


Minor developments in hunting and fishing technology

- small pointed bone objects and small arrow points

Continuing regional exchange networks

Continuing elaborate artistic and ritual life

- labrets cease to be used

Stó:lô Culture History over Last 11,500 Years
as Indicated by the Archaeological Record

Culture History - The Early Period - 11,500 to 5,500 years ago

The earliest archaeological remains found in North America date to approximately 11,500 years ago. Artifacts from these sites all share a particular style of projectile point - the "Clovis" and "Folsom" points. Their shape and style is unique to North America. This evidence indicates that although there are clear biological connections to Asia, aboriginal cultures developed independently and uniquely in the New World. Clovis and Folsom projectile points, in conjunction with other artifacts found, suggest that Aboriginal people living in North America immediately after the ice-age were primarily hunters and gatherers. Their primary economy was large land mammal (such as mammoths and bison) hunting. A general lack of other kinds of archaeological evidence (such as habitation sites or burials), make it difficult to say much about cultures at this time. Unfortunately, sea levels have greatly risen since this time, and any sites from this pre-10,000 year old time period in coastal areas are now covered by the ocean. By 10,000 years ago, most of the Fraser delta west of Langley had not yet developed, and the Fraser River was much higher than it is today.

By 10,000 years ago, all of the glacial ice had retreated from southwestern British Columbia. Most of the forested land on the northwest coast was re-established shortly after the glaciers melted. Anadromous fish (such as salmon), returned to more northern waters, and began to spawn in the newly formed rivers and streams.

The earliest cultural remains documented in the lower Fraser River watershed date to approximately 9,000 years ago. Artifacts such as sharp flakes and leaf-shaped knives indicate that the Milliken site in the Fraser Canyon was an important salmon fishing and processing location. Charred cherry pits were also found in the excavations at this site. Given that cherries ripen in the late summer, early fall, archaeologists theorize that the site was seasonally occupied during the large salmon runs that came up the Fraser River. This early use of salmon is important in challenging stereotypes about the earliest history of Aboriginal people in North America.

Figure 6: Typical tools from the Early Period (10,000 - 5,500 BP) (UBC, Mus. of Anthro., Vancouver).

Other artifacts found at Milliken illustrate a wider variety of activities that took place at the site. For example, large sharp "pebble tools" which would have been used in the manufacturing of wooden tools (these do not preserve in the acidic soils of the northwest coast). Tools such as leaf-shaped points and sharp utilized flakes were likely used by men and women in hunting and fishing, and in the preparation of foods caught. Although the Milliken site provides some useful evidence about what life was like during the Early Period in the Fraser River watershed, very little is actually known of cultures at this time. A slightly more clear picture can be painted when evidence from the Glenrose archaeological site is taken into consideration.

The Glenrose site is located under the Alex Fraser Bridge in Surrey. Excavations at the site show clear evidence of salmon use, as well as other fish like sticklebacks, eulachon, and flatfish. Shellfish, like bay mussels, were another very important resource also found at Glenrose. Unique to the Early Period, however, is the heavy reliance and use of deer and wapiti (elk). These land mammals were heavily used at that time and likely provided a larger percentage of the diet than fish for people living in the Fraser Delta. This is particularly significant, as a major shift occurs in the following period (the Charles Period), in which fish was the dominate food resource taken. Similar stone tools were found at Glenrose and at Milliken, with the addition of bone and antler tools.

Archaeological evidence from the Early Period suggests that the life-style of Stó:lô ancestors was fairly different than that of their more recent descendants. Communities were likely groups of a few nuclear families who lived together throughout the year. People resided in different locations during the year, possibly in small, seasonally constructed structures. Their place of residence depended in large part upon the kind of resources they were obtaining. Watercraft had clearly been in use at this time for transportation and fishing. Technologies for storage of foodstuffs did not appear to have been developed, and therefore resources were taken fresh throughout the year. Social relations within such a small-scale society were mainly egalitarian, having no great difference in status between individuals or families. People who lived along the shores of the lower Fraser River at this time had developed unique cultural adaptations to the landscape - specifically the reliance of fish along-side land mammals - which made them distinct from other cultures in the New World and beyond.

Culture History - The Charles Period - 5,500 to 3,300 years ago

Approximately 5,500 years ago, the culture in the lower Fraser River watershed underwent a number of important changes. Archaeological evidence indicates that during this era a major shift occurred in the basic subsistence routine of people living on the Fraser River. Around 5,500 years ago, people began to specialize in fish procurement and processing, making fish the most important part of the diet, rather than land mammals. This set a general cultural trend that persists right through to contemporary times.

The abundance and wealth of these water-based resources would have allowed greater population densities than the previous period. This corresponds to a general increase in the number of sites in the region during the Charles Period. It suggests that populations densities had increased from small nuclear families to larger communities, but it may also be a result of the actual number of sites discovered by archaeologists. The Charles Period has also revealed evidence of regional trade and the earliest preserved examples of art.

Figure 7: Is a selection of typical artifacts from the Charles Period (5,500 - 3,300 BP) (Coupland and Matson, 1995).

The site of Xá:ytem near Mission, provides one of the best examples of the culture from this period. At least two houses were uncovered at this site, which date to approximately 5,000 years old. One was excavated by archaeologists in 1991. It measured 8 meters wide by at least 10 meters long. The foundation was dug into a hill-slope, so the back of the house was approximately 1.5 meters deep. This tapered down to the front of the house which was level to the surrounding ground surface. Poles were placed into the ground along the sides of the house, creating frames for the walls onto which planks would have been fastened. It is impossible to tell what the roof may have been like, as none of it was preserved. This type of dwelling may have housed between one and two families - up to approximately 12 people. It is unknown how many houses made up a community, but there were at least two. The amount of time spent living in these dwellings is also unclear.

Figure 8: The floor plan of the house excavated at Xá:ytem - dating to the Charles Period (Gordon Mohs, 1991).

Along-side the changes in food resources during the Charles Period, were changes in tool types. Flake and pebble tools continue to be important, but leaf-shaped, lanceolate, and shouldered bifaces, as well as some ground slate tool technology developed. In general, these changes show an increasing sophistication and specialization in the types of activities people were involved in. Much of this technology is centred around woodworking. There was greater variety within the "tool kits" at this time, which also suggests that sites were occupied for different purposes. Residential sites were common on the Fraser River and resource procurement sites, seasonally used, were found in other locations such as the Fraser Canyon and the coast.

The Charles Period also exhibits the first evidence of inter-regional trade. Archaeologists have recovered tools manufactured from obsidian - a natural glass formed by quickly cooling lava. Each volcano produces obsidian that has unique physical and visual qualities that can be traced back to the original source. Obsidian found in the Fraser River region comes primarily from southeastern Oregon. These wide regional trade networks continued in various forms throughout the following 5,000 years.

The ritual life of Stó:lô ancestors becomes apparent in the archaeological record during this period. For example, various artifacts such as a beaver-tooth knife haft, may have been associated with some kind of ritual use. Ochre, which continues to be used in the ceremonial life of the Stó:lô today, became common in archaeological sites during the Charles Period. This is also the first time human burials, the result of mortuary ceremonies, are observed. The deceased were interred below ground in a shallow pit, their body flexed into the fetal position. Infants were sometimes buried in special areas distinct from older family members. Occasionally, special objects were buried with individuals, such as a particular tool or ornament which may have marked their social status in life.

This period of Stó:lô culture history is an important one, as it marks the transition from a post-glacial hunting-gathering-fishing life-style to one of fishing-gathering-hunting. The next major innovation - food storage - permitted populations to expand further, and allowed for several new cultural patterns to emerge.

Inter-regional obsidian trade during the Charles Period (map by Roy Carlson, 1976).

Culture History - The Locarno Beach Period - 3,500 to 2,500 years ago

Approximately 3,500 years ago, sea-levels stabilized at their current level (they had continually risen and fallen over the previous 10,500 years in response to the melted glacier ice), and temperatures were very much like those of today. By the beginning of the Locarno Beach Period - about 3,500 years ago - aboriginal populations had increased to the point where new technologies had to be developed to further sustain their growing communities. During this time, highly efficient fish processing and storage technologies likely developed.

The Crescent Beach site, near the mouth of the Nicomekl River in White Rock, provides interesting evidence for what life may have been like in the Locarno Beach Period. It is a large "shell midden," a refuse area formed by years of continual discarding of household garbage at the village site. This garbage consisted mainly of clam shells, fish bones, and stones used in cooking, although broken tools and human burials are also often found. The site deposits indicate continual occupation dating back at least 4,000 years, which made the deposits extremely deep. Many of the artifacts recovered date between 3,500 to 2,500 years old, and indicate the importance of fishing and fish processing at that time. Vast quantities of clam and mussel shell dominate the site and also reveal how important these foods were.

Several important technological developments also occurred during these years. A greater percentage of tool kits consisted of ground slate fish knives. They are far more efficient for mass processing of fish than a chipped stone blade, largely because it is flat and therefore more effectively sharpened and re-used. Although this technology had existed for several hundred years prior, it only became commonly used during the Locarno Beach Period.

Along with the more intensive use of ground slate fish knives, came the use of food preservation and storage technology. There is some evidence which indicates that food storage had been used earlier (around 6,000 years ago) in the upper Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon, but it was not until the Locarno Beach Period that storage technology became widely and intensively used. Identifying evidence of storage technology in the archaeological record is challenging. For example, archaeologists have counted the number of different kinds of fish bones in order to determine the presence of salmon storage. At the Crescent Beach site, during Locarno Beach times, salmon vertebrae are found in great numbers, while salmon head bones are virtually absent. In earlier deposits, both head and back bones are found together. Given that today, the Stó:lô processing fish cut the heads off before they smoke or dry them, it is reasonable to assume that they may have done this in the past. This may have been the case at Crescent Beach 3,500 years ago, when headbones are virtually absent from the archaeological deposits.


Figure 9: A selection of typical artifacts from the Locarno Beach Period (3,200-2,400 BP) (Drawing by Don Mitchell, 1990).

Figure 10: Map of the Scowlitz site, DhRl 16. Burial mounds are numbered at the back of the site, and rectangular houses are numbered at the front. Note that the houses were occupied approximately 1,000 years before the mounds were built (Map by M. Blake, 1993).

Figure 11: Profile sketch of mound #1 burial from the Scowlitz site. Very elaborate burials such as this contained only one person, and indicated the high status of that person in the society (M. Blake, 1995, modified by B. Thom).

Culture History - Marpole Period - 2,500 to 1,000 BP

The Marpole Period represents the first period of time when virtually all the elements of historically known Stó:lô culture are visible in the archaeological record. The major cultural changes in Marpole times are mainly social ones, rather than technological. Large,

multi-family houses formed winter villages. Very elaborate art in stone, wood, and bone are abundant. Mortuary ritual, the remains of which can be observed through various burial practices, was in many cases elaborate and represent status differences between individuals. These things all illuminate the nature of ancient Stó:lô society and culture.

Figure 12: Beautiful and elaborate stone bowl carvings and other artistic expressions flourished during the Marpole Period (Burden, in Carlson 1976).

Figure 13: Two possible reconstructions of the houses excavated at Scowlitz (side view). Archaeological evidence for ancient architecture is difficult to interpret, leaving many possibilities open. Note the "units" along the bottom are 1 meter wide. (Matson, 1995).

The Scowlitz site, which overlooks the confluence of the Harrison and Fraser rivers, provides an excellent example of the complex and rich culture of the Marpole Period. At this site, a row of house depressions flank the edge of a terrace, while a series of burial mounds and cairns were constructed along the back. A number of large pit-houses, burial mounds, and archaeological remains are found both up and down river from the Scowlitz site, indicating an intense occupation of the area over a long time period.

Figure 14: A selection of typical artifacts from the Marpole Period (2,500 - 1,000 BP) (Drawing by Don Mitchell, 1990).

The house-depressions measure approximately 10m x 13m, and in some ways are similar to the houses at Xá:ytem, for they are both sunk into the ground at the back of the sloping terrace and level with the ground at the front. The houses at Scowlitz, which have been dated to approximately 2500 years old (half the age of those at Xá:ytem), are clearly lined up in a row, forming a large village. The Marpole Period is the first time when evidence for large, multi-family, permanent villages can be seen in the archaeological record.

The burial mounds and cairns at the Scowlitz site are considerably younger than the houses - over 1200 years more recent - and suggest the elevated status of people who lived in the community at this time. Investigations on three of these burial mounds revealed a burial tradition which treated certain individuals with an enormous amount of wealth and respect. The largest burial mound, which measured 12 meters square at the base, and approximately 3 meters high, contained one adult male buried in a shallow pit at the centre of the mound. The mound's architecture was complex. It included a series of concentric stone "rings" at the base, a thin prepared clay floor, and a "cairn" or pile of massive boulders positioned over the body at the centre of the mound. The individual was buried with over 7,000 dentalium shell beads, four copper disks, a copper ring, 4 abalone shell pendants, and was likely wrapped in a blanket. This elaborate burial clearly indicates the high level of status and respect the individual held when he was alive. Not all the Stó:lô received the same elaborate burials, others being in less elaborate mounds and cairns, or in unelaborate burial pits. Such differential treatment in death reflects differential status in life.

The art found from this period exhibits a continuity of tradition with present-day styles. A variety of bone figures are found in the Charles, Locarno Beach, Marpole, and Late periods, and exhibit a high degree of similarity in form, style, and elaborateness. These pieces have been interpreted as exhibiting some connections with the spirit world. Many of the bone figures are found on objects that would be publicly visible, particularly during rituals, and likely indicated the special status of the owner. However, it is difficult to interpret direct meaning from this art, as the artists and those people who originally used them are no longer alive. Contemporary Stó:lô still value the power and status associated with this art, and continue these artistic productions today.

A number of distinctive artifacts from this time have been identified, including ground slate knives and points, celts, labrets, hand mauls, perforated stones, large needles, unilaterally barbed antler harpoons, fixed unilaterally barbed antler points, and stone and antler sculpture. This technology indicates fewer changes in food procurement and production techniques than earlier periods. The heavy use of salmon and other fish as the staple of the diet continues through this period into modern times. The technologies are increasingly efficient and such devices as fish weirs and traps, which are preserved in "wet sites" (water-logged areas that preserve delicate wooden artifacts), illustrate that the economy of the time required organized labour and clear individual leadership. These patterns also are suggestive that the idea of ownership of resources and resource locations had been well developed.

Culture History - The Late Period - 1,000 to 200 years ago

The Late Period, is the most recent era of prehistory, and the least well understood by archaeologists. Because archaeologists are often concerned with questions of "origins" and the "earliest" development of cultures, they tend to neglect more recent periods of history. Much of what archaeologists have constructed about this period come from direct inferences from the ethnographic record - or the cultural information that ethnographers (cultural anthropologists) have recorded about society before the influence of non-Aboriginal people.

Figure 15: Typical artifacts from the Late Period (1,000 - 150 BP) (Drawing by Don Mitchell, 1990).

One particularly striking cultural change that occurred during this period was the development of social class. Social classes frequently form in societies where social status differentiation becomes primarily inherited, rather than achieved. Although people have positions of ranked (or largely achieved) social status throughout the Marpole Period, the transition of this earlier period to Late is marked by the development of inter-married family groups. These groups formed social classes that had control over the access to many of the best resource procurement locations which provided wealth. Wealth was converted to social status at public gatherings like the potlatch, where wealth accumulated by individuals was given away in order to validate status claims.

This transition of social organization from a rank-based to a class-based society is difficult to reconstruct from the archaeological record. It cannot be inferred from the presence of artifacts alone. Such a model has been constructed by observing changes in culture over time through a variety of evidence including, presence and quantity of exchange goods, changes in burial rituals, subtle changes in residence patterns (including the construction of defensive fortifications in villages to defend against slave raids), and changes in artifact types. Production of food and wealth during this time was largely controlled by extended families, who had inter-married over a wide regional network. Such established inter-married families formed the tight-knit extended family networks that defined the social structure of Stó:lô communities today.

Fishing, collecting roots, berries and clams, and hunting for both land and sea mammals, all continued to be important in Stó:lô culture - the salmon being paramount of these. The cooler winters of the Fraser Valley were often spent in pit-houses by some families, while during other seasons families lived in large, multi-family longhouses. Artistic and ritual traditions continued to develop - including the use of woolly domesticated dogs and mountain goats in weaving. These archaeological remains indicate that ancestors of the Stó:lô who lived in the thousand year period prior to contact were culturally very similar to their decedents known in the past 200 years. However, in the last thousand years specific historical events, which are very difficult to reconstruct archaeologically, continued to shape and change individual's lives.

Figure 16: The plan of a pithouse excavated at the Esilao site (near Milliken) from the Late Period (Drawing by Don Mitchell, 1963).

Figure 17: Drawing of a pithouse from the Historic Period, similar to those found in Late Period (drawing by James Teit, 1989).

Recommended Further Readings

Franz Boaz, Indian Legends from the North Pacific Coast of America, 1895.

Charles Borden, DjRi3, an early site in the Fraser Canyon, British Columbia, in Contributions to Anthropology 1957, 1960.

Charles Borden, Prehistoric Art of the Lower Fraser Region, in Indian Art Traditions of the Northwest Coast, 1983.

David Burley, Marpole: Anthropological Reconstructions of a Prehistoric Northwest Coast Culture Type, 1980.

Roy Carlson, Cultural Antecedents, in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7, 1990.

Knut Fladmark, An Introductions to the Prehistory of British Columbia, Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 1982.

Diamond Jenness, The Faith of a Coast Salish Indian, 1955.

Andrew Mason, The Hatzic Rock Site: A Charles Culture Settlement, 1994.

R.G. Matson, The Glenrose Cannery Site, 1976.

R.G. Matson, and Gary Coupland, The Prehistory of the Northwest Coast, 1995.

Donald Mitchell, Prehistory of the Coasts of Southern British Columbia and Northern Washington, in Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7, 1990.

Gordon Mohs, Stó:lô Sacred Ground, in Sacred Sites, Sacred Places, 1994.


1. Albert Wesley in Jenness, 1934/35.

2. Agnes Kelley to Gordon Mohs, 1985.

3. Mr. and Mrs. David Latess in Jenness, 1934/35.