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A Temporary Encampment Site on the Etsho Plateau Within the Liard Basin, British Columbia

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This paper discusses the excavation of a site on the Etsho Plateau in the Liard Basin which likely represents two brief encampments, the more recent dated to 813 ± 30 BP and the older of an uncertain date. Excavation revealed lithics, blood and ochre
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  A Temporary Encampment Site on the Etsho Plateau Within the Liard Basin of British 1 Columbia 2 3 Author: Jerram Ritchie, B.A., ArchNorth Solutions Ltd. 3541 Renfrew Street, Vancouver, B.C. 4 V5M 3L5.  jerramritchie@gmail.com 5 6   Abstract 7 8 This paper discusses the excavation of a site on the Etsho Plateau in the Liard Basin 9 which likely represents two brief encampments, the more recent dated to 813 ± 30 BP and the 10 older of an uncertain date. Excavation revealed lithics, blood and ochre residue, features, and 11 faunal remains, offering a glimpse into several aspects of these temporary encampments which 12  play a central role in the highly mobile settlement practices which have been typical of this 13 region. Drawing on results from a database of primarily lithic site data from the Liard Basin, 14 IiRm-29 is placed within a local context relating to chronology, raw material, lithic reduction 15  patterns, and mobility with a focus on the Etsho Plateau. This paper aims to highlight the range 16 of data that can be gained from temporary encampments, summarize difficult to access 17 information, and provide considerations for further work in the region. 18 19 Keywords: Subarctic, Lithics, Consulting, Archaeology, Liard Basin, Etsho Plateau, British 20 Columbia 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46  1. Introduction 47 48 Most of the approximately 2,000 archaeological sites in the Liard Basin within British 49 Columbia have been found in the course of impact assessments and are located in areas of 50 interest to industry rather than locations selected for reasons of research. As a further result of 51  being industry driven, findings are spread across numerous unpublished reports spanning 52 decades, and sites are frequently minimally tested  —  of the 1,472 sites that quantify lithics, 30% 53 contain a single piece of debitage, 75% less than 10, and only 3.8% more than 100  —  although 54 significant sites have been investigated at Devil’s Gorge Quarry (Eldridge 1983), Callison 55 (MacNeish 1960), Gutah (Walde 2004) and several Paleoindian sites near Pink Mountain (e.g., 56 Wilson 1989; Walde and Handly 1994). Rather than focus on those sites, this paper reports on 57 the excavation of IiRm-29 (Ritchie 2016), an example of the ubiquitous temporary encampment; 58 then, with a view to placing IiRm-29 in context, aspects of chronology, lithic raw material, and 59 mobility are explored using a database of primarily lithic data incorporating those more 60 minimally investigated sites from the Etsho Plateau and, more broadly, the Liard Basin. 61 62 63 64 65 2. IiRm-29: A Temporary Encampment Site on the Etsho Plateau  66 67  2.1 IiRm-29: context and paleoenvironment 68 69 The Etsho Plateau, northeast of Fort Nelson, is an upland formed by eastward dipping 70 sandstone which rises in an escarpment 200 m above the Fort Nelson Lowlands; it lies within the 71 Figure 1. Location of IiRm-29 and selected sites within the ecosections present in the study area (the Liard Basin, with the addition of the part of the Hay River watershed that is in B.C.). Base map: B.C. Albers Base Cache.  moist cool black and white spruce biogeoclimatic unit, and is dominated by muskeg, black 72 spruce and tamarack, and wetlands. White spruce can be found in river valleys and higher 73 ground, and pine occurs on sandy, fluvial ridges (Demarchi 2011). 74 75 By c. 11,000 BP the area was glacier free and water levels were similar to today 76 (Bednarski 2008). The early Holocene was a time of rapid change in vegetation composition 77 (MacDonald 1984; see Figure 2). The deglaciated landscape was first colonized by shrub and 78 herb grassland, but between 10,000  –  9,000 BP spruce forest arrived and quickly expanded 79 (MacDonald and McLeod 1996). By c. 6000 BP the arrival of elements like pine and the full 80 development of sphagnum  –   black spruce muskeg (MacDonald and McLeod 1996) meant 81 relatively modern conditions had arrived (MacDonald 1984). 82 83 Figure 2. Vegetation history at latitude of IiRm-29. Modified from MacDonald (1984) & 84 MacDonald and McLeod (1996); sphagnum spore data is from Wild Spear Lake in northern 85 Alberta. 86 87 The site is located on one of those ubiquitous knolls, that, along with ridges and other 88 elevated terrain above the muskeg, are where most sites are found (Eldridge and Anaya-89 Hernandez 2005), and are, as Ives (1993:23) described them,  productive “’islands’ in a ‘sea’ of 90 rather barren muskeg, ” which also serve as useful corridors, waystations and lookouts. IiRm-29 91 has the additional circumstance of being next to a small drainage which separates the site from a 92 long east/west ridge and flows north from an unnamed lake to South Tsea Lake. 93 94  2.2 IiRm-29: site details 95 96   97 Figure 3. IiRm-29. Debitage recorded to excavation sub-units and plotted using QGIS 'random 98  points' tool. Inset, bottom right: hypothesized lithic activity areas. 99 100 The site has been divided into zones 1 and 2 (figure 3), which I have interpreted as 101 separate occupations for reasons which will be given following their descriptions. 102 103 Although the entirety of zone 2 was not excavated, there seem to be three main lithic 104 activity areas, arranged in a crescent (Figure 3, bottom right inset). The primary visible activity 105  being carried out was extensive late stage, primarily bifacial, lithic reduction (see Figure 4 for 106 loci of several different materials). Several flakes contained blood residue, two of which were 107 submitted for analysis and both of which reacted positively to rabbit antiserum (Ritchie 2016). 108 Small amounts of ochre residue were also visible on two flakes (confirmed using X-Ray 109 Fluorescence which detected elevated levels of iron). The base of a projectile point (Figure 110 5 Error! Reference source not found. ), polished from use and apparently broken elsewhere, 111 was brought to the camp still hafted and then discarded. It is the base of a lanceolate point which 112 was probably at least 8 cm in length and lacks basal edge grinding. While the flaking visible on 113 the base may indicate a parallel-oblique style, the point is not complete enough to extrapolate 114 with confidence. 115 116   117 Figure 4. Distribution of four lithic materials in zone 2. Debitage recorded to excavation sub-118 units and plotted using QGIS 'random points' tool. 119 120 121 Figure 5. Projectile point base from zone 2. 122 123 While zone 2 had over 800 lithics, zone 1 contained only 15, mostly small flakes 124 suggesting minor tool retouch, though one was a large siltstone flake which may have been 125  produced on site for expedient use. Four distinct lithic materials (both from each other and from 126 those of zone 2) were present in two clusters on either side of a hearth which contained hundreds 127 of highly fragmented faunal remains (Figure 3). These remains could not be identified beyond 128 size class; those which could be classed mostly fell into the ‘large mammal’  category, which 129 could include caribou, black bear, wolf, or possibly thicker pieces of beaver. A small number of 130 fragments could have come from a larger mammal (moose or bison), and a few were quite small 131 and probably came from a small mammal (rabbit sized), but possibly a bird (Ritchie 2016). 132 Around the hearth were several apparent stake holes which may relate to a small brush shelter or 133  possibly a cooking structure. This zone has been dated to 813 ± 30 BP (D-AMS 012870; 134 calcined bone; δ13C = -37.6%). 135 136 The two zones could be interpreted either as contemporaneous activity areas or separate 137 occupations. Vertical patterning was not conclusive given the shallow sedimentary context. Both 138 zones contained several lithic materials, none of which extended into the other zone; while this 139 could simply represent two contemporaneous activity areas, the fact that the black chert is 140  present throughout zone 2 (and predominates in all three loci) but not at all in zone 1 could be 141
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