Why More Artifacts Don’t Necessarily Mean More History.

If you have a lot of time to sift through Google images or Wikipedia pages, entering ‘history’ into an internet search bar will provide you with more examples of the remains of humans in the past then anyone could possibly look through, even with multiple lifetimes.  It will also make me incredibly jealous of your free time and we will have to discuss how I can be more like you.

Even with considerations given to the size of relevant landmasses and the duration of human habituation given to various parts of the world there is a lot less evidence of the human past in a region like British Columbia than there is in other parts of the world.  Does this mean that there is less history or that the people in this area were less skilled or adapted to their environment?

Short answer no.

A modern made seaweed basket.  An example of one type of material commonly used in the Pacific North West region.

A modern made seaweed basket. An example of one type of material commonly used in the Pacific North West region.

Longer answer:

The ability for an artifact to survive is impacted by two main qualities of its environment:

1) The material an item is made out of.

Things which are made out of stone, ceramic, or other sturdy materials are far more likely to survive than things made of cloth, wood, or paper.

2) The climate of the region.

Dry environments are far more effective for the preservation of archaeological remains that an area with a wet or humid climate which accelerates the disintegration of materials.

A good dry environment in Egypt (Winter 2008/9).

A good dry environment in Egypt (Winter 2008/9).

A much, damper, environment on the B.C. coast (Spring 2014).

A much, damper, environment on the B.C. coast (Spring 2014).

Anyone who has been to Canada or, really, has spoken to anyone from the country, knows that we are not blessed with an arid, dry climate.  We get a lot of rain (and snow if you happen to be east of the Rockies), and we will share this information with everyone and anyone whenever the opportunity arises.  This means that we are pretty much completely out of luck for the second quality needed for good preservation.  Combine this with the fact that much of the material culture of the early human inhabitants of North America was constructed from wood, bark, and animal remains and you have one of the least ideal situations for preserving the past.

However, we are extremely fortunate in that there are still First Nations people in British Columbia (and across Canada) who can help to shed light on the practices and traditions of their people which is an advantageous look into the past that doesn’t exist for many of the cultures and civilizations connected to archaeological artifacts.

 

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