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Minding The Midden: A Field Day with The Xwe-etay/Lasqueti Archaeology Project

Looking out to Tucker Bay, a midden rests alongside a shallow cove. This is a cherished spot where our land group has gathered for decades. At first glance the midden isn’t obvious. Largely overgrown with a carpet of grasses and wildflowers, scattered shell fragments can be seen here and there. It is only from the foreshore that the compacted remains of clams and oysters are fully exposed, revealing centuries of accumulation a metre deep.


Understanding of how this precious piece of land was historically used is a generous mix of legend and guesswork. It is common knowledge that middens are significant for Indigenous Peoples, but as we strive to be good stewards here, many questions remain as we seek to fully understand what lies under the ground beneath our feet.


In the summer of 2022, we were fortunate to have members of the Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archeology Project pay us a visit and carry out a midden survey along our beach. The fieldwork began with an acknowledgement of our Coast Salish hosts. It was agreed the land would be worked lightly, and that found belongings were to be left in state. Like detectives sifting through the faintest of clues, the expertise of Dana and her team lay in seeing the unseen.


Within hours many discoveries were made. As Dana and Faren plotted a grid where percussion core samples were taken, Vlad surveyed the perimeter and mapped features of interest. We learned that the calcium-laden shells at the midden base disintegrate as the surrounding acid-rich soils are neutralized. As a result, more recent deposits of shells, bone, and fire ash break down more slowly, leaving more stable and “legible” layers of matter. Dana was able to read the sediment as you would a poem – “sterile sand/ charcoal hearth/ clams steamed and roasted/ shells burnt to smithereens.”


The value of this single day of fieldwork was immeasurable. It was later shared that carbon-dating revealed evidence of continuous occupation going back 1400 years – relatively young compared to neighbouring middens and clam gardens studied nearby. As these findings have helped us enrich our connection to the land, we trust this work contributes to a much broader understanding of the island’s cultural memory. We are grateful to share in this unfolding story. 

- Rob Brownie

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