Researchers Find 5,500-year-old Site
On Lil’wat Traditional Territory

Photo above: Lands and Resources cultural technician Johnny Jones presents on the discovery of 5,500-year-old Lil’wat settlement.

Whistler Question | May 17, 2016
Story by Alyssa Noel

Bill Angelback painted a picture of what one of the s7ístken (or pit houses) that was recently found on Lil’wat  traditional territory might have looked like before it was abandoned 300 years ago.

“Some were almost 10 metres with the walls almost as high as this building,” Angelback, a professor from Douglas College’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology told a crowd gathered at the Úll’us Community Complex in Mount Currie on Thursday (May 12) evening.

“The walls can be quite high, but then it would’ve been even higher because the roof is built above that with four big beams. It would have quite a lot of space inside — and of course (people would) enter through the top with a ladder to get in.”

Angelback, along with the Lil’wat Nation’s Lands and Resource Office and cultural technician Johnny Jones, found a cluster of pit houses near the Birkenhead River, along with several large storage caches. They estimated it had been a village of up to 100 people. But the discovery that’s being most celebrated: carbon dating has revealed that below one of the pit houses was a seasonal camp that dates back 5,500 years. “The entire history of Pemberton since it had a road to it was 55 years ago,” Angelback said. “That makes it 55 times the entirety of Pemberton’s history over and over again. How many generations of families is that? This is just our hard evidence of a camp in this territory. Some of the spearheads (we found) indicate this is just scratching the surface.”

Johnny Jones, the other presenter at the event, has been exploring the area and gathering information since the late ‘60s, when he was still just a child — and his work has been important in documenting and dating the sites to protect them. “I’ve been keeping track of them since 1969,” he said. “I’ve been sketching them and taking photos of them every year. I’ve been going back to each site… Everything we do culturally, it takes a lot of time and many years to know about it. It was my interest when I was a child and I kept it in me.”

Formally, Jones and Angelback began working together to document pictographs, petroglyphs, culturally modified trees (trees with bark removed to make various items), hunting blinds (structures from which to hunt behind), arrowheads, canoes and camps in Lil’wat territory every summer since 2008. They highlighted some of those findings to the crowd of about 50.

“Johnny had a list compiled from various oral traditions and histories talking with others about where these villages were, where important sites were,” Angelback said. “None of these had been recorded or documented so it was well known in case there was some kind of development. (If you) have a record of these sites, you’re better able to protect them.”

So far, only three sites have been carbon dated, but the group plans to continue exploring. “We found this so readily — the 5,500 year date,” Angelback said. “In the future what kind of dates will bring us back? Very likely (it will be) to the first withdrawing of the glaciers. As soon as the glacier receded is probably when you’ll find the earliest occupations 10,000 years ago.”

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