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The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology
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The archaeology of submerged prehistoric sites on
the North Pacific Coast of North America
Norman Alexander Easton, Charles Moore & Andrew R. Mason
To cite this article: Norman Alexander Easton, Charles Moore & Andrew R. Mason (2021) The
archaeology of submerged prehistoric sites on the North Pacific Coast of North America, The
Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, 16:1, 118-149, DOI: 10.1080/15564894.2020.1785061
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/15564894.2020.1785061
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The archaeology of submerged prehistoric sites
on the North Pacific Coast of North America
Norman Alexander Easton
, Charles Moore
, and Andrew R. Mason
School of Liberal Arts, Yukon University, Whitehorse, Canada;
Golder Associates, Ltd, Vancouver,
Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
We review the history of underwater archaeological investigations of
submerged prehistoric remains on the North Pacific Coast of North
America, divided into three phases: Phase 1 (1960s–1981) –hypothe-
ses and “wet-site archaeology”; Phase 2 (1981–1994) –operational-
ized scuba explorations of submerged anchor stone accumulations
and the Montague Harbour Underwater Archaeology Project; and
Phase 3 (1995–present) –refined modeling of regional sea beds for
areas of high archaeological potential on submerged relict shorelines
with limited testing and identification of late Pleistocene and early
Holocene archaeological deposits on near-shore intertidal and inter-
ior upland strandlines. The latter part of Phase 3 also saw the poten-
tial for submerged prehistoric cultural resources integrated into
consideration of development project assessments. Finally, the
Coastal Migration Route for early migration to the Americas shifted
from a peripheral proposition to a central complimentary paradigm.
These multiple streams of theory, modeling, and pragmatic effort are
poised to converge in a new era of practical underwater archaeo-
logical research on the North Pacific Coast.
Received 10 February 2020
Accepted 16 June 2020
archaeology; North America
Northwest Coast; post-
Pleistocene sea levels;
history; coastal migrations
The focus of this paper is the search for and discovery of prehistoric remains found
within submerged environments of the North Pacific coast of North America from
Southeast Alaska to the Columbia River (NWC, Figure 1). The coastal geography of this
region is highly convoluted; the British Columbia coast alone encompasses nearly
26,000 km of coastline along its 960 km longitudinal extent (Thomson 1981). The NWC
is bordered by a variety of uplifted terrains constituting the Pacific Cordillera to the
east and several tectonic subduction zones in the ocean to the west. Much of the coast-
line drops precipitously into the ocean to meet the continental shelves averaging 200 m
below current sea level. At the mouths of riverine drainages, fluvial sediments have
accumulated to form delta environments while several notable archipelagos, (e.g., Prince
of Wales in southeast Alaska, Haida Gwaii, the Broughton group of northern
Vancouver Island, and the Gulf and San Juan Islands of the southern Strait of Georgia)
CONTACT Norman Alexander Easton Canada firstname.lastname@example.org School of Liberal Arts, Yukon University,
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada
Supplemental data for this article is available online at https://doi.org/10.1080/15564894.2020.1785061.
ß2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY
2021, VOL. 16, NO. 1, 118–149
Figure 1. Map of study area with principal archaeological sites discussed in the text. (1) Shakan Bay;
(2) Juan Perez Sound; (3) Kilgii Gwaay and Collingwood Bay; (4) Calvert Island; (5) Triquet Island; (6)
Broughton Island; (7) Quadra Island; (8) Little Qualicum; (9) Biederbost-Thompson; (10) Columbia
River; (11) Coos Bay; (12) Locarno Beach; (13) Musqueum East; (14) Glenrose Cannery; (15) Cannery
Point; (16) Winter Cove; (17) Bedwell Harbour; (18) Montague Harbour; (19) Shingle Point; (20) Sydney
Hook Spit; (21) Lummi Island; (22) Becher Bay; (23) Hoko River; (24) Ozette (M. Guthrie).
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 119
have extensive intertidal zones, some the result of Indigenous terra-forming (Blukas
Onat 1985; Mathews and Turner 2017).
Prior to widespread colonial settlement in the twentieth century, the region was
home to Indigenous American cultures comprising speakers of 12 language families and
some 40 distinct languages (Thomson and Kinkade 1990). They shared well-developed
mariculture economies which displayed differences in material culture, such as water-
craft and housing, and social organization, notably the degree of status differentiation,
ranging from highly stratified slave holding groups in the north to egalitarian social for-
mations in the south (see contributors to Suttles 1990).
Like elsewhere in North America, the prehistoric archaeology of the region can be
roughly divided between an early period of delineation of principal culture historical
sequences from ca. 1890 to 1980 (Carlson 1990), and the subsequent application of pro-
cessual and post-processual archaeology (Angelbeck and Grier 2012; Martindale and
Letham 2011), including post-colonial Indigenous (Reimer 2012) and feminist foci
(Fulkerson 2017) in the twenty-first century.
The importance of underwater prehistoric archaeology on the NWC arises from the
changes of Relative Sea Level (RSL) along the coast during and after the Last Glacial
Maximum (LGM), with LGM RSL at minus 100 m along much of the coast (Barrie and
Conway 2002; Clague 1983; Luternauer et al. 1989). However, RSL “is complex and het-
erogeneous owing to regional differences in crustal deformation (neotectonics), changes
in global ocean volumes (eustasy) and the depression and rebound of the earth’s crust
in response to ice sheets on land (isostasy)”(Shugar et al. 2014, 1), leading to regionally
differentiated RSL during the late Pleistocene (e.g., ca. 112 m in southeast Alaska, ca.
þ200 m in the lower Fraser Valley, and ca. ±2 m on the continental central coast of
Hecate Strait). Regional Holocene RSL is similarly diverse. For example, along southern
Vancouver Island and the Gulf and San Juan Islands, data “shows RSL at þ75 ± 2.1 m at
14.5 ka before rapidly falling to 2.1 ± 1.3 m at 13.6 thousand years ago. In the early
to mid-Holocene (12.0 to 6.5 ka), RSL was between 42.5 and 1.4 m, and during
the mid to late Holocene (6.0 to 3.3 ka), RSL was between 3.2 and 0 m”(Engelhart
et al. 2015, 86).
These fluctuations in RSL along the NWC have important implications to our under-
standing of both early and later human occupations. The Coastal Migration Theory
(CMT) proposes a primary route of entry to central North America during the late
Pleistocene post-LGM, ca. 17–14 kya along coastal plains exposed by lower RSL
(Fladmark 1975,1979). For many years dismissed by the hegemony of the prevailing
Ice-Free Corridor (IFC) route of initial migration, the CMT has gained increasing atten-
tion by archaeologists (Braje et al. 2020; Carlson 2008; Dixon 1999,2013; Easton 1992a,
Erlandson et al. 2007; Lesnek et al. 2018; Mackie et al. 2013). Corroborating evidence in
support of the CMT must necessarily consist of discovering archaeological sites along
the North Pacific coast of an age preceding widespread human occupation of the
Americas in the late Allerød (Waters 2019; Waters and Stafford 2007). Such evidence
might be found on coastal uplands, now inundated coastal landscapes or, in areas where
isostatic rebound has exceeded eustatic sea level rise, inland on relic shorelines encased
within the coastal rainforest (Letham et al. 2016; McLaren 2008; McLaren et al. 2001).
Similarly, evidence of coastal human occupation in regions of lower Holocene RSL
120 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
would be located on submerged paleo-shorelines (Duff 1963; Mitchell 1971). In both
cases, underwater archaeological investigation may bring this evidence to the surface
(Bailey and Flemming 2008; Gusick and Faught 2001).
In our view, prehistoric underwater archaeology in the region over the past 50 years
can be divided into three phases:
Phase 1) 1960s–1981, a period of theoretical conjecture and nearshore intertidal
investigations; during this time we also see the rise of underwater shipwreck archaeology
almost exclusively practiced by avocational archaeologists. In British Columbia, a group of
these people would form the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia which
would play a major role in Phase 2. This phase also saw the introduction of intertidal “wet
Phase 2) 1981–1994, during which several offshore underwater archaeological projects
designed to address questions of regional prehistory were conducted. One set focused on
underwater accumulations of reef-net anchor stones. The other involved four seasons of
excavation of underwater sediments in Montague Harbour, Galiano Island; being the first,
and to our knowledge only, controlled underwater prehistoric excavation on the NWC, we
discuss it in some detail below.
Phase 3) 1995–2019, during which the discipline focused on predictive modelling of
potential offshore sites, continued nearshore intertidal investigations, and applied remote
sensing and sampling technologies rather than diving archaeologists to investigate the
seabed for prehistoric sites. Continued intertidal investigations have documented deliberate
terraforming related to fish traps and clam gardens, the discovery of late Pleistocene
human footprints, and improved analogues to inundated site taphonomy.
Phase 1 –From shipwrecks to prehistoric intertidal wet sites
Like other places (Bass 2013), underwater archaeology in the Pacific Northwest has its
origins in popular scuba culture of the 1960s and 70s whose practitioners were often
also enthusiastically interested in the maritime history of the area they dove in, particu-
larly in the location and exploration of historic shipwrecks lost to the hazards of coastal
navigation (see Rogers 1984,2003). Some of these early explorers operated on salvage if
not piratical principles of finders keepers, removing artifacts for personal possession or
commercial sale, however many realized at an early stage that wreck preservation had
both commercial and esthetic value, providing locations for recurrent visits of interest
and profit. There was also a growing sense of the historical value of some of these ves-
sels, representing major periods and events of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
of colonization and industrialization (Turner 1984), and amateur and academic histori-
ans began informal relationships with divers to identify and interpret the increasing
number of underwater finds. In 1975 a group of divers took part in a course in an
underwater archaeology course at the University of British Columbia and soon there-
after established the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia (UASBC)
dedicated to researching, locating, identifying, surveying, and protecting the maritime
heritage of British Columbia.
Over the next decades the UASBC undertook expeditions to locate specific wrecks,
local underwater survey to inventory extent wreck, and some very extensive documenta-
tion of several wrecks to high archaeological standards (Marc 1989,1990; Stone 1993,
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 121
1994). Until the 1980s, their focus was exclusively historical sites. Prehistoric Indigenous
watercraft have yet to be discovered in the underwater environment of our study area
(Delgado 2000; Moore 1993).
Developments in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska in this early period were even
slower, exacerbated by a lack of academic engagement with the diving community as
well as the increased emphasis on personal property rights embedded in American juris-
prudence. As late as 2013, Griffin (2013, 8) noted that “few professional underwater
archaeological investigations have yet to be conducted in Oregon,”although progress,
mostly predictive modeling of prehistoric site locations, has developed over the past two
decades. A collection of prehistoric artifacts, consisting of one stone and two wooden
fish clubs, an incised stone net sinker, and adze blade, were recovered during dredging
operations in Coos Bay, Oregon in 1975 but not brought to archaeologist’s attention
until 1992. Radiocarbon dates on the wooden clubs returned dates ranging from 1450
to 1020 cal AD (Minor and Nelson 2002). Subsequent to Rozen’s and Boxberger’s sur-
veys of reef-net locations in the 1980s, discussed below, no further underwater investi-
gation of any prehistoric sites in Washington State has occurred (R. Whitlam personal
communication, 8 Aug 2019). In a recent issue of the Alaska Journal of Anthropology
devoted to maritime archaeology, Rogers (2017, 4) could flatly state that “While
researchers acknowledge the potential for submerged prehistoric sites, the focus of
underwater archaeology in Alaska is still largely on shipwrecks …. To date there has
been no underwater excavation of a prehistoric site in Alaska waters”(see also
In 1959 water-logged wooden artifacts were discovered in the muds on the shore of
the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. Excavations of the muds and contiguous
land at the Biederbost-Thompson site (45SN100) by the Washington Archaeological
Society occurred intermittently from the 1960s to 1970s. Cedar basketry fragments,
stone net weights wrapped with cherry bark lanyards, wooden fish hooks, and an
assemblage of lithic tools were recovered at the site which is dated to ca. 2000 cal BP
(Nelson 1962,1976; Nordquist 1960,1961a,1961b).
These excavations constituted the first shoreline “wet site”excavations on the NWC,
and alerted archaeologists to the potential of preserved organic prehistoric remains
encased within anaerobic muds within nearshore sediments below the water table and
within intertidal environments. Through the 1970s–1990s, wet site excavations were
undertaken throughout the central coast (e.g., Ozette, Hoko River, Little Qualicum
River, Glenrose Cannery, Musqueum East, see Bernick 1983; Croes 2015), and subse-
quently expanded all along the NWC from Oregon (Byram 1998; Byram and Witter
2000; Croes, Fagan, and Zehendner 2009; Tveskov 1995; Tveskov and Erlandson 2003)
to Alaska (Mobley and McCallum 2001; Moss, Erlandson, and Stuckenrath 1990; Smith
2011). Moss (2011) noted over 1,200 fish weir/trap wet sites along the NWC, dating
from 6000 years ago to the historic period.
Technically, these sites were nominally “underwater”, but the methods used for their
excavation were substantially terrestrial, consisting of excavation with trowel and water
hoses during lower tides. Their importance in expanding our knowledge of prehistoric
material culture beyond stone lithics cannot be overstated. They have recovered an
astonishing variety of organic material culture hitherto absent from the archaeological
122 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
record of the NWC, including intricately woven cedar basketry and garments, spruce
spindle whorls and loom uprights and roller bars for spinning dog wool, slotted imple-
ment handles, canoe paddles, cedar withe wrapped unmodified anchor stones, and carv-
ings of animals and humans (see Bernick 1998,2019; Carriere and Croes 2017; Croes
1976; Purdy 1988).
Besides these buried artifacts it was observed that on the surface of the intertidal fore-
shore of many coastal sites lay lithic artifacts. Long the object of public collection, it
was initially assumed that these artifacts were eroded and redeposited from terrestrial
middens and held little interpretive value; in many locations this was surely the case.
However, given their density and mass, we might better interpret at least some of these
distributions as eroded lag deposits, roughly in situ with their use and discard along the
lower shorelines occupied during periods of lower RSL. Apland (1977, Apland 1982)
presented just such an argument, based on field work between 1970 and 74 in the vicin-
ity of Bella Bella and Quatsino Sound, a conclusion shared by Hobler’s(1978) survey of
ten such intertidal lithic sites on Moresby Island in 1974 75, attributing their depos-
ition to ca. 8,500 years ago (see also Hester and Nelson 1978).
Further north in Alaska, E. James Dixon undertook the first remote sensing search
for submerged paleolithic sites on the continental shelf of Beringia in 1976, based on
the first submerged site predictive model on the NWC, perhaps in North America
(Dixon 1979). Like the Danish model (Benjamin 2010), he began by using documented
subarctic forager’s land use patterns to identify preferential geographical features for
subsistence and habitation and then sought submerged areas of high potential on bathy-
metric maps along isobaths corresponding to predicted paleo-shorelines. A targeted field
locality to the west of St. George Island was abandoned due to high seas and fieldwork
was shifted to the eastern lee shore of the island where the seafloor was examined using
a combination of a sub-bottom profiler, side-scan sonar, and proton magnetometer. No
archaeological features were identified; however, Dixon would continue to be a stalwart
proponent of the CMT (Dixon 1983,1999,2001,2011,2013) and would participate in
more refined modeling in the decades ahead (Dixon and Monteleone 2014).
Phase 2 –Pioneering offshore underwater scuba projects
This phase can be divided into two areas of investigation, Reef-net Research and the
Montague Harbour Underwater Archaeology Project.
We believe that the beginning of prehistoric underwater archaeology on the NWC using
scuba occurred on October 1, 1980, when David Rozen, a graduate student from the
University of British Columbia, directed two scuba divers in a search for accumulations
of anchor stones deposited by Coast Salish reef-net fishermen offshore Cannery Point,
Washington State (Rozen 1981).
Reef-netting is a unique fishing technique practiced exclusively in the territory of the
Straits Salish of the southern Strait of Georgia. Figure 2B is a schematic representation
of a reef-net and its components. Suttles’(1951) ethnography of the Straits Salish
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 123
Figure 2. (A) Left, sketch map of 209 anchor stones within thirteen 5 m
units along a 65 m baseline
from Legos Bay, Lummi Island reef-net anchor stone survey (from Boxberger 1985, 215); (B) Top right,
a typical reef-net gear configuration with the reef-net suspended between two canoes which are
secured to two head-anchors and two breast-anchors, consisting of multiple anchor-stones (C. Moore,
after Stewart, 2008, 94); (C) Photos right, reef-net anchor stones in situ, Becher Bay, Vancouver Island
124 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
provides the most extensive description of the technology; supplementary sources can
be found in Easton (1985a,1990a) and Moore and Mason (2012). A reef-net was placed
offshore along the path of the salmon migration, often at a headland where the fish
would congregate in back-eddies during the ebb tide. If possible, the net would be set
next to a natural reef, which would force the salmon to rise closer to the surface to pass
over it and consequently into the net. Off headlands without a natural reef, the net was
designed to simulate a reef by an ascending series of lead lines; an illusion enhanced by
tying strands of eelgrass to these lines. The net itself was made of willow saplings, with
cedar block floats, cedar withe lines, and anchors made of large beach stones. New
stones were generally laid down as anchors each season. The size and weight of these
stones are reported by Suttles (1951, 167) to be "large beach rocks that each took two to
four men to lift …. It took 10 or 12 rocks for each anchor.”As a result, the seabed of
a reef-net site should display an accumulation of net anchor stones distinct from the
surrounding seabed; in addition, the number of stones should reflect the number of
years the site was used (Easton 1990a).
The divers dispatched by Rozen in 1980 observed “a series of boulders which were
much larger …than others in the area. These boulders, which must have been used as
the end anchors for the reef-nets, and others about one-half their size which might have
been used on the secondary sinker lines, were composed of a different material than
others on the ocean bottom in this area”(Rozen 1981, 10); planned further dives of the
site never occurred.
In the same year Easton developed a political economic analysis of reef-netting as a
term paper for Suttles, arguing that the age of the technology was a relatively recent
development in Salish culture (Easton 1982); Suttles suggested that he test this hypoth-
esis by conducting underwater survey of reef-net anchor stone accumulations and
attempt to estimate their age. Under supervision by Donald Mitchell, Easton undertook
underwater fieldwork from October 1983 through summer of 1985, locating and survey-
ing anchor stone accumulations at two reef-net sites (Easton 1985a). To our knowledge
this constituted the first hypothesis driven prehistoric underwater archaeological pro-
gram of research in our study area.
Concurrently, in the spring of 1984, Daniel Boxberger of Western Washington
University directed divers on a survey of reef-net anchor stone accumulations off-
shore Lummi Island, Washington State. The divers were able to complete sketch
maps of 209 anchor stones within thirteen 5 m
units along a 65-meter baseline
(Figure 2A). He was unable to reach any substantive conclusion regarding the site’s
antiquity although he opined that “far fewer stones were found on the bottom than
would be anticipated had the reef-net method [been of] considerable antiquity”
(Boxberger 1985, 216).
Easton’s reef-net fieldwork was more extensive. In summary, he examined six areas
ethno-historically identified as reef-net locations, verified three, and undertook a statis-
tically orientated survey of two sites to generate an estimate of the number of anchor
stones present as a proxy for the site’s age. One of these, a single gear site located at
Bedwell Harbour, Pender Islands, was judged to be relatively recent; the number anchor
stones present at the site were estimated to represent about 140 years of use, corre-
sponding to an initiation of site use in the latter half of the 1700s. The second site
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 125
sampled, a multi-gear location off Becher Bay, Vancouver Island, was found to be sig-
nificantly older; estimates of anchor stone deposits (Figure 2C) correspond to an age of
some 400 years, beginning at about A.D. 1500, supporting his hypothesis of the technol-
ogy’s recent origin (Easton 1985a,1985b,1990a).
Outside of this work in the 1980s, Moore and Mason (2012) applied side scan sonar
to test its utility in identifying and mapping reef-net anchor stone accumulations.
Working in the shallow waters about Becher Bay, they successfully identified and
mapped the anchor stone concentrations previously documented by Easton in less than
three hours and identified and recorded a new site near Bedford Island (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Outlines of areas identified as anchor-stone accumulations at Becher Bay identified by sub-
bottom profiler, with hypothetical reef-net gear (paired canoes, net, and anchor lines) located
between the mapped and supposed anchor locations. (F. Webb).
126 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
Their work demonstrated the utility of using side scan sonar to locate and map reef-net
anchor stone accumulations and suggested the potential of using this technology to
identify other underwater NWC cultural features made of stone accumulations such as
canoe runs, fish traps, and clam garden terraces.
The Montague Harbour Underwater Archaeology Project
Subsequent to his reef-net research, Easton was encouraged to consider continuing
underwater work specifically to locate and excavate predicted Holocene prehistoric
remains buried in the offshore underwater environment in the Gulf Islands of southern
Strait of Georgia. Nearshore wet sites had demonstrated that many coastal middens
extended into the intertidal zone, while geological research indicated RSL in the Gulf
Islands had dropped some three to five meters in the early to middle Holocene, fol-
lowed by a rise in RSL to or near present day levels by the late Holocene (Clague et al.
1982). Many archaeologists of the region had noted that this would explain the paucity
of coastal sites between 9,000 and 4,000 years ago, noting that coastal settlements of this
period would not be found, nor our understanding of the prehistoric adaptations and
chronologies of human populations in the area be complete, until we discover and
investigate these sites below the current sea level (Duff 1963; Mitchell 1971;
As early as 1983 Nicholas Flemming had identified Montague Harbour, Galiano
Island as a location of high interest in his seminal review of the potential survival of
submerged lithic sites world-wide (Flemming 1983) and Easton’s own paleo-shoreline
and inundation models of the southern Strait of Georgia concurred (Easton 1988,
1989). Montague Harbour (Figure S1) is well protected from prevailing winds and
extreme tidal currents and has numerous shoreline middens, one of which (DfRu-13)
had been subject to intensive excavation by Mitchell (1971), providing a detailed arch-
aeological baseline. Mitchell had noted that the depths of the lower deposits of the basal
Locarno phase component (ca. 3500–2400 cal BP) extended below the current high tide
level. Core samples collected at DfRu-13 by Eldridge (1989, 6) recorded “undisturbed
cultural deposits under the beach on the seaward side of the eroding midden deposits.”
Funding for an exploratory survey by the BC Heritage Trust was received by the
UASBC in 1989; the results of this four-day expedition (Easton and Moore 1991) were
encouraging enough to initiate the Montague Harbour Underwater Archaeology project,
which consisted of three further years of offshore and intertidal excavations from 1990
through 1992 (Easton 1992b,1993).
Fieldwork experience in 1989 and 1990 led to some innovative refinements in excava-
tion methods in 1991–92 (Figure 4). Fifteen cm diameter airlifts fitted with diffusing
rings increased lift capacity down to five meters of water depth, while a control valve at
the flexible intake section allowed diver control of air pressure and lift flow.
Contamination by slumping walls was solved by excavating within a 2 2 m caisson,
the interior painted white to increase illumination; a slightly smaller caisson was set
within to extend the unit to basal bedrock. To improve stratigraphic control and
retrieval of level samples a set of cylinders, 25 cm in diameter and closed at the top,
were driven into the sediments at the center of each quadrant of the excavation at the
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 127
beginning of each 20 cm level. These also acted as convenient level markers in each
excavation quadrant during excavation, which proceeded until their bottom was reached
and the sampler removed, its contents collected, and then reset for the next level. These
controlled column samples proved critical to the stratigraphic analysis of the sediments.
These improvements in methodology led to the excavation of ca. 260–280 cm of sub-
merged deposits to bedrock within a two-meter unit over the course of 1991–92 with
good stratigraphic control. Designated UW-4, the unit was located ca. 90 m offshore the
high tide berm site datum, between 3.5 and 4.0 m Below Low Water. Several units were
also excavated within the intertidal zone during low water, including a 50 cm wide
trench from the High-Water berm to about 2 m above Lower Low Water (Figure S2).
Eleven “Benthic Units”(BU) through the thirteen 20 cm levels were identified in
UW-4 during excavation, based on discrete sedimentological and biological differences
noted by the divers (Figure 5). Except for the date on an antler harpoon (discussed
below), UW-4’s radiocarbon dates were stratigraphically coherent (Table 1). The seed
cones within the “Organic”Level (BU-V) were principally balsam fir (Abies amabilis)
and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziessi) (Lauriault 1989). Three radiocarbon dates on
wood, charcoal, and a Douglas-fir seed cone were statistically indistinguishable in age,
with a pooled mean of 5840 14 yr BP (ca. 6600 cal BP). Toward the bottom of Level 12
(ca. 230 below benthic surface) was a sharp unconformity between sandy-silt sediments
containing upper littoral species (BU-III) and a consolidated clay level (ca. 5–10 cm
above bedrock –BU-II) which extended into Level 13 onto a bedrock surface (BU-I)
Figure 4. Schematic of underwater excavation unit (UW-4) at Montague Harbour, showing caisson
with inset, rigid airlift with flexible intake hose and compressed air line, and benthic sediment sample
collectors (C. Moore).
128 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
which sloped sharply to the south, the surface of which bore parallel striations trending
SE-NW scoured into the surface that are glacial in origin. A date on a sample of check-
ered periwinkle Littorina scutulata returned a median date of 6840 cal BP. This species
is restricted to the littoral high tide zone (Ricketts et al. 1985); thus, the date approxi-
mates the initial post-glacial inundation of this surface.
Level samples were examined to identify faunal content (Wigen 1992, 1993). The
upper intertidal units displayed greater diversity consistent with midden deposits;
lower in the intertidal zone sediments and fauna became more homogenous and rep-
resentative of an active intertidal beach. In UW-4, several important trends in faunal
composition through the strata were documented that statistically confirmed the
Benthic Units. Benthic species and littoral species showed an inverse distribution
through the levels (Figure S3A), confirming Easton’shypothesisofanexpected
reverse littoral sequence
representing sea level rise, consistent with the foram
Analysis of foraminiferal fauna from the level samples of UW-4 identified 14 species
and phenotypes, seven present in statistically significant numbers (Rheinhardt,
Patterson, and Easton 2007). All were typical of a shallow west coast subtidal
Figure 5. UW Unit 4 benthic stratigraphic units distributed through the thirteen 20 cm arbitrary exca-
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 129
Table 1. Radiocarbon dates from Montague Harbour UW-4.
Number Unit Level
at 2 r
Beta 47488 MH91-UW4L4 UW 4 4 60 –80 70 420 VII Charcoal 2560 70 2782 –2422 2620 0.9788
Beta 47388 MH91-UW4L8b UW 4 8 140 –160 150 500 V Douglas fir
5750 80 6738 –6396 6550 0.9914
Beta 47489 MH91-UW4L8a UW 4 8 140 –160 150 500 V Wood 5880 70 6860 –6526 6701 0.9729
TO 4304 MH92-UW Antler UW 4 8 165 165 515 V Antler 3220 70 3611 –3326 3448 0.9631
Beta 47490 MH92-UW4L10 UW 4 10 180 –200 190 540 V Charcoal 5870 70 6808 –6497 6688 0.9463
Beta 47491 MH92-UW4L11 UW 4 11 200 –220 210 560 IV Macoma shell 6550 100 0.6 6550 100 390 25 6846 –6359 6595 1.0000
Beta 47492 MH92-UW4L11 UW 4 11 200 –220 210 560 IV Charcoal 5930 60 6914 –6636 6759 0.9942
Beta 217277 MH92-UW4L12 UW 4 12 220 –240 230 580 III Littorina shell 6760 40 0.1 6760 40 390 25 6968 –6712 6840 1.0000
1. Levels. UW 4 Levels are 20 cm. UW Levels were measured from surface of the benthos.
2. Tidal Datum. UW 4 is 3.5 m Below Tidal Datum.
3. Benthic Units. These were defined in the course of excavation and consist of distinct sedimentary strata. Units grade upwards from bedrock (BU I). See Figure 5 for description of
4. Calibration. Dates were calibrated using CALIB Rev. 7.0.4 (2014), based on IntCal13 for terrestrial samples. Marine samples were adjusted for marine reservoir effect using Marine13
and a local DR of 390 ± 25. Levels of significance calculated by CALIB to four decimals.
130 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
environment. However, their distribution varied inversely through the levels and
allowed the identification of two distinct Bio-Facies (Figure S3B), an upper BF-1 includ-
ing Levels 1 through 5 dominated by high salinity adapted Bucella tenerrima and a
lower BF-2 comprising Levels 6 through 12 dominated by low salinity adapted
Cribroelphium excavatum, roughly bisected by the compacted clays of BU-VI. The lower
BF-2 may represent the period when Gray Peninsula and Parker Island were connected
and the harbor was enclosed—possibly with lower water levels allowing for the seaward
presence of Douglas and balsam fir dominated forestlands—while the upper BF-2
formed with the opening of the northern passage and increased seawater flow and RSL
rise through the harbor, the early stages of which created the cobble/pebble beach sedi-
ments of Bu-VII and -VIII.
Like landward excavations, most of the artifacts from the underwater excavations
were flake debitage and in upper levels have a distinct water rolled character. Table
2provide counts of recovered artifacts sorted by Tool/Debitage and Tool Types by
Levels; Tool/Debitage distribution by Levels are graphically displayed in Figure S4.A
total of 159 artifacts were recovered through the thirteen 20 cm arbitrary levels.
Their distribution between the levels is bi-modal; 34% of the artifacts were recovered
from Levels 4–6 and 31% were recovered from Levels 11–12. Levels 4–6alsocontain
over half of the Tools recovered (23/41, 56%), most of which do not display water
erosion, including a complete bifacial point, chipped slate and pebble tools,
retouched and utilized flakes, hammer stones, and a single ground stone bead.
(Figure 6). The formed tools are analogous to Mitchell’s(1971)MontagueHarbour-I
Locarno component (ca. 3500–2400 BP); an associated UW-4 Level 4 date on char-
coal (Beta 47488) of 2560 ± 70 14 C yr BP (2782–2422 Cal BP 2d,median¼2620 cal
BP), supports the assignment of these levels to Locarno and may represent relatively
intact midden deposits created during the early inundation of the area after the
breach of the northern passage.
A Unilaterally Barbed Harpoon Point with a unilateral shouldered line attachment
made of antler was recovered from UW-4 Level 8 at 165 cm bs in Benthic Unit V and
dated (TO-4304) 3220 ± 70 14 C yr BP (3326–3611 cal BP 2d, median ¼3448 cal BP).
Table 2. Count of tool debitage by level DfRu-13 UW4.
Lithic Type Level 2 3 4 5 6789101112Total
Bone –harpoon 1 1
Biface –contracting stem 1 1
Chipped slate –knife 1 1
Pebble tool –chopper 2 4 1 1 1 9
Retouched flake 2 1 1 4
Retouched pebble 11
Utilized flake 1 1
Flake core 2 1 1 1 2 1 8
Debitage 13 6 9 13 4629 51624107
Hammerstone 1 3 3 1221 1 14
Scraper plane 1 1
Abrasive stone 1 2 2 1 1 7
Fish weight 1 1
Ground stone bead 1 1
Ground slate 11
Ground stone 1 1
Totals 14 7 21 26 7 11 7 11 6 22 27 159
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 131
However, this level within BU-V has a mean date of 6747–6529 cal BP 2don three
organic samples (see Table 1, Figure 8), suggesting the Organic Layer consists of an
eroded lag deposit. While out of context, the harpoon’s age overlaps with Mitchell’s ear-
liest date for MH-I–Locarno component of 3556–3216 cal BP 1d(as reported by Grier
et al. 2009), and it’s unilateral barb and line attachment agree with Rorabaugh’s(2009,
206) study of bone points of the region, which found a "a general transition from bilat-
eral barb application and bilateral line attachments to unilateral barb application and
unilateral line attachments at the start of the Locarno Beach period."
The Montague Harbour project demonstrated that prehistoric cultural deposits are
present through the intertidal and offshore sediments, that their controlled excavation
can be undertaken, and the use of multiple analytical perspectives can lead to a consili-
ence of interpretation.
Phase 3 –Regional models, remote sensing exploration, and intertidal
Subsequent to this work in the 1980s and 1990s archaeological excavation of underwater
deposits was limited, however, cultural resource management (CRM) companies have
entered the field with an approach that necessarily employs excavating methods suitable
Figure 6. Formed artifacts from UW-4, Level 4 (75–100 cm bs); note lack of water erosion. (A)
DfRu13:5571, contracting stem point (note lanyard incision around stem), UW-4 L4 NE (1991) (see
Mitchell 1971, Fig. 31 [p. 93], Fig. 33 [p. 95]); (B) DfRu13:5621, chipped slate knife, UW-4 L 4 (see
Mitchell 1971 Fig. 38 [p. 101], Fig. 39 [p. 102]); (C) DfRu13:5574, slate fragment with distal edge use,
UW-4 L4 SE. D) DfRu13:5631, punctated battered hammerstones, UW-4 L4. Scale: 1 square ¼1 cm.
(N. A. Easton).
132 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
to the relatively rapid testing of larger areas of the seabed. Important work on detailed
regional sea level history and paleo-shoreline reconstruction and development of under-
water and high strand site location models have been undertaken and significant inter-
tidal excavations have continued.
In 1994–1995, Northern Land Use Research excavated an intertidal midden accumu-
lation at the North Point site near the head of Port Houghton, a coastal inlet about
60 km north of Petersburg, southeast Alaska (Bowers et al. 1996). Contained within the
intertidal zone of a small cove, the excavation of nineteen 50 cm
and seven 1 m
pits identified five stratigraphic levels. Unit 2, a 20 cm sandy silt deposit about 20 cm
below the Unit 1 coarse sand surface level, enclosed a shell midden with abundant arti-
facts (n ¼785) and a large vertebrate faunal assemblage. Artifact types included bone
barbed projectile and harpoon points, ground slate points, knives, and scrapers, micro-
cores and -blades, wood wedges, and cordage. Of the 3,096 identified faunal specimens,
96% were fish of 11 taxa (principally pacific cod, NISP ¼2,089); 76 specimens were
mammals of nine taxa and 23 specimens were bird of seven taxa (Bowers and Moss
2001). A series of radiocarbon dates led to an estimate of occupation between 2505 and
2760 cal BP during a Neoglacial cooling. The investigators interpret the cultural deposits
to be an intertidal midden accumulated during repeated occupations over a short 250-
year period. Bowers also drew attention to the artifact assemblage’s similarity to
Locarno Beach and Marpole assemblages of the Strait of Georgia, 900 km to the south
Another early CRM initiated paleoshoreline modeling exercise occurred within a
wider survey of Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island in 1996–1998. Although in this
instance the project was focused on modeling higher RSL strand lines of the early to
middle Holocene to predict site locations of the period, it represents one of the first
applications of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software and Digital Elevation
Models (DEM), a considerable advance on simpler extrapolations of previous decades to
the question of ‘where was the shoreline’(Golder Associates and Shoreline
Archaeological Services 1999).
A similar approach was used by Parks Canada archaeologist Daryl Fedje and Heiner
Josenhans of the Canadian Geological Survey in exploring the sea level history around
Haida Gwaii at about the same time (Josenhans et al. 1995; Fedje and Christensen
1999). Using high resolution digital terrain imaging and marine cores they identified
relic paleoshoreline features such as river channels, terraces, and deltas at depths corre-
sponding to the late glacial and early post-glacial sea level (Josenhans et al. 1997). They
subsequently sampled benthic sediments along some of these features using a clam
bucket. One target area in Juan Perez Sound recovered a variety of plant macrofossils
(e.g., willow, pine cones, cow parsnip) dating to 12,200
C yr BP, demonstrating a rich
terrestrial ecology on the exposed continental shelf at that time. Another grab sample in
Werner Bay at a depth of 53 m below sea level recovered a single stone tool; the area
was last subaerially exposed ca. 10,200
C yr BP (Fedje and Josenhans 2000).
Archaeologists with Parks Canada conducted underwater test excavations in Gwaii
Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site under
Fedje’s direction in 1995 and 2005–2007; to our knowledge these surveys remain
unpublished. In 1995, Jim Ringer, Charles Moore, and Kevin Robinson (the latter two
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 133
Montague alumni) used the same mini-caissons employed during the Montague
Harbour excavations to test at depths of 8 and 15 m below sea level downslope of mid-
den deposits on Moresby Island and recovered several artifacts within unstratified ben-
thic sediments interpreted as eroded deposits. A third test placed on a ridge of
sediments interpreted as a former isthmus lying between two protected bays in Anna
Inlet at 15 m RSL exposed stratified deposits to a depth of 50 cm but recovered
Between 2005 and 2007 Parks Canada divers employed grab sampling, diver operated
hand coring, induction dredge sampling, side scan sonar, sub-bottom profiling, and a
remotely operated vehicle to investigate benthic deposits in Section Cove at depths of
over 30 m at a number of locations identified by Fedje’s paleolandscape models. No cul-
tural materials were recovered. It was concluded that better excavations methods were
needed to penetrate the compacted seabed and excavation to the targeted depths of
40 m would require either remote excavation technology or an on-site hyperbaric
Further investigations of intertidal sites on the NWC have led to new insights on the
effects of sea level rise on coastal prehistoric sites. The remarkable Kilgii Gwaay and
related Collingwood Bay sites illustrates the dynamic nature of RSL and provides an
important analogue for underwater site preservation on the northwest coast. Discovered
as an intertidal surface scatter of lithic artifacts on Ellen Island, southern Haida Gwaii
in 1990, Kilgii Gwaay was further investigated in 2000–2001 and 2010–2012 by Parks
Canada, the Council of Haida Nation, and the University of Victoria; the 50 to 100 year
buried occupation is securely dated to 10,700 10,600 cal BP (Fedje et al. 2001; Fedje et
al. 2005; Mackie et al. 2013).
Over 1,600 lithic artifacts were collected from the surface at Kilgii Gwaay, while
intertidal excavations recovered a further 5,400 lithics. The artifacts lack evidence of
water rolling and almost exclusively represent a large core and unifacially worked
flake industry; only a single biface fragment has been identified and microblade tech-
nology is entirely absent. The buried intertidal cultural deposits extend from two to
three centimeters to as much as a meter below the surface, within which are abun-
dant faunal and floral remains. An identified vertebrate fauna NISP of 4,200 is pre-
dominantly marine in origin, including rockfish, dogfish, lingcod and halibut
(indicating deep sea line fishing), harbor seal, sea otter, fur seal, sea lion, and cet-
acean (Cohen 2014). Black bear remains (explored in detail in McLaren et al. 2005),
river otter, and albatross have also been identified. A small number of bone artifacts,
including awls and billets, were recovered. About 150 wooden artifacts are present in
the collection, including wedges of western hemlock, sticks wrapped with split Sitka
spruce root, and multiple wood chips. Nearly 12,000 seeds, representing 22 identified
taxa were recovered in two activity areas (a paleo-pond area and a hearth feature),
the majority of which were salmonberry (55%) and elderberry (42%) (Cohen 2014;
Mathewes et al. 2020).
The Kilgii Gwaay site was occupied as an early summer camp for only a few genera-
tions, ca. 10,700 years ago, a period of rapid RSL rise in the area, which reached ca. 15
m higher than present a thousand years later and slowly returned to the present RSL
over the past 5,000 years (Fedje and Christensen 1999). Thus, the site was fully
134 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
submerged for some 5,000 years and demonstrates that transgressions and regressions
by changing RSL over paleolithic occupations do not necessarily wipe out the archaeo-
logical record (Mackie et al. 2011,2013).
Mackie and Sumpter (2005) identify an additional 110 similar intertidal lithic sites
throughout the Gwaii Haanas archipelago, a distribution that leads to an interesting
extrapolation by Mackie and his colleagues. They begin by conceptualizing these sites as
“a synchronous snapshot of the 10,700 cal yr BP paleocoastal perimeter –a strip of
ancient coastline that is visible in the vegetation-free intertidal zone of the modern
coastline”(Mackie et al. 2013, 140). This 5 m vertical paleoshoreline segment is contigu-
ous to additional similar segments of potential human occupation extending seaward
and representing a paleoshoreline and intertidal zone to the lower post-glacial sea level.
At ca. 13,000 years ago
“sea levels were approximately 100 m lower than modern, meaning about 20 segments
would have been sequentially occupied by humans between then and the point of
transgressing modern. The best-known segment, the modern intertidal zone, contains
about 140 sites, of which two (1.4%) have known in situ deposits. If each of the 20
segments down to 100 m below modern sea level also has 140 sites, then there may be
about 2800 underwater sites around Gwaii Haanas. Of these, 1.4%, or about 40 sites, could
have rich deposits similar to Kilgii and Collision Bay. It is therefore almost certainly a
target-rich underwater environment”(Mackie et al. 2013, 141).
Additional regional studies on the relationship between post glacial sea levels and
archaeological site distribution within the Strait of Georgia were undertaken through
the 2000s. From 2006 to 2009, Fedje identified intact intertidal buried cultural strata
at 24 locations within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, ranging in age from
ca. 500 to 3,800 years ago. Plotting these dates and the depths of the cultural depos-
its suggest RSL 1.5 m below present ca. 4,000 years ago and 0.5 m below present ca.
1,000 years ago (Fedje, Sumpter, and Southon 2009), a view shared by Grier and col-
leagues based on foreshore excavations at Shingle Point on Valdes Island and
Montague Harbour. The latter conclude that “the intertidal and subtidal zones must
be considered part of the archaeological landscape of the southern Gulf Islands and
their significance must be acknowledged, recognized, and evaluated through any
management plan or mitigation efforts.”(Grier et al. 2009, 275). At Sidney Hook
Spit on Sydney Island, the 3,100 year old cultural strata were buried within shell free
sands “evident only as lithic concentrations, paleosols, and hearth features”up to
1.6 m below high tide (Fedje, Sumpter, and Southon 2009, 246), demonstrating site
preservation outside of a shell midden context and within an active beach zone,
while paleoshoreline modeling of the study area identified Sidney Lagoon and
Winter Cove, Saturna Island worthy of examination for submerged terres-
In 2008, McLaren proposed the presence of a “sea level hinge”on the central coast of
British Columbia in the Hakai Passage and eastern Hecate Strait, where the various
forces of RSL transgression and regression largely canceled each other out, resulting in
relatively stable RSL (þ2m to 4 m) throughout the past 14,000 years (McLaren 2008;
McLaren et al. 2014). Intertidal testing on Triquet Island recovered 414 lithic artifacts,
including three projectile points. The beach strata represent old beach sediments within
a secondary depositional context dating to between 10,600 8000 cal BP (Angela Dyck,
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 135
personal communication, 6 Aug. 2019). More significantly, intertidal excavations on
nearby northern Calvert Island revealed a set of 29 human footprints of three different
sizes impressed into a buried paleosol estimated to be late Allerød in age, ca. 13,300 cal
BP (McLaren et al. 2018).
Another prehistoric intertidal site type that has received increasing attention over
the past two decades is the “clam garden”; cobble walls built up near the zero-tide
line to create a landward terrace in order to expand intertidal bivalve habitat and
productivity (Deur, et al. 2015). Formal survey for these features was initiated by
John Harper and colleagues in the mid-1990s, identifying 365 such features on the
coasts of the Broughton Islands (Harper, Haggerty, and Morris 1995). Similar sites
have since been identified from Baranof Island, Alaska to southern Vancouver Island
British Columbia (Caldwell et al. 2012; Lepofsky et al. 2015). Most recent attempts to
date clam gardens on Quadra Island suggest that they have been constructed and
maintained there from the recent past to at least 3500 years ago (Smith et al. 2019).
Clam gardens are notably absent within Washington State, possibly a function of
their inundation by local RSL rise in Puget Sound during the Holocene. Wyatt
(2015, 45) explicitly suggests that “evidence of further clam gardens may be present
along the well flushed tidal areas of paleo coastlines.”
Access to and dating of clam garden remains on Quadra Island were facilitated by the
fact that, unlike to the south, post-glacial RSL in the Discovery Islands between Georgia
and Johnstone Straits was transgressive, such that coastal prehistoric sites, even intertidal
ones, are now located on raised shorelines (Fedje et al. 2018), emphasizing once again the
importance of developing regional RSL curves to archaeological site prediction, field investi-
gation, and interpretation of data. Crowell’s(2017) recent detailed RSL history for Kanish
and Waiatt Bays on northern Quadra Island using multiple data points shows local vari-
ation from this regionally specific RSL, demonstrating that this is an ordinal scale issue.
Lausanne et al. (2019) provide an example of combining such data with LIDAR and GIS
modeling on Quadra Island RSL high strandlines. Similar modeling has been developed
and applied by Carlson and Baichtal (2015) for southeast Alaska.
Woodward, White, and Cummings (1990) presented the first examination of offshore
site potential for the northern Oregon coast using coarse grain sea level data. A detailed
paleo-shoreline and predictive site model for the lower and continental shelf course of
the Columbia River has been recently developed by Labrie-Cleary (2018). Loren Davis
has identified the importance of earthquake induced coastal subsidence as a mechanism
for the inundation of early coastal sites in his mapping of paleo-shorelines and river
courses on the extensive continental shelf south of the Columbia River (Davis 2009,
Davis et al. 2009; ICF International et al. 2013; see also Minor and Grant 1996). Punke
and Davis (2006) present three case studies of the cumulative effects upon the Oregon
coast during post-glacial marine transgression including subduction earthquakes, plate
deformation, and sediment in-filling of coastal river basins and estuaries, each of which
produced markedly different prognoses for locating early post-glacial sites.
Phase 3 also saw regulatory agencies and CRM archaeologists pursue methodologies
to identify areas of the seabed with archaeological potential and underwater technologies
that can approximate terrestrial test pit sampling. While borehole sampling can reach
artifact-bearing layers and preserve stratigraphic integrity within the core sample, the
136 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
diameter (typically 10 cm) and volume is insufficient for archaeological evaluation. Clam
shell buckets provide greater volume but do not provide sufficient depth and lack strati-
Eldridge reports on the use of clam shell bucket with a capacity for 1m
to test the
seabed within the 65 km
of a proposed windfarm in Hecate Strait. The area, now under
6 to 15 m of water, would have been subaerially exposed 10,000 years ago, but is now a
flat, sandy seabed. A grab sampling program that focused on low relief gravel exposures
taken to represent lag deposits did not recover any artifacts and limited environmental
data (Eldridge et al. 2009).
Two large programs of underwater archaeological survey prior to seabed remediation
have been conducted in Esquimalt Harbour, British Columbia, by Golder for Public
Services and Procurement Canada and the Department of National Defence (Golder
Numerous archaeological sites circle the sheltered shores of Esquimalt Harbour.
Remediation areas downslope from identified shoreline sites were tested along transects
through the intertidal and shallow subtidal sediments using an induction dredge manip-
ulated by a wading archaeologist working in water 20 to 50 cm in depth; the excavated
sediments were discharged onto floating screens enclosed within a silt curtain for exam-
ination (Figure S5). This is a superior testing method to shovel testing in locations
where water ingress occurs, and provides tests of nearly 1 m depth into the seabed
throughout the tidal range.
For deeper waters the Esquimalt program used a system previously developed for
CRM work on the U.S. Atlantic coast in which a 20 cm wide steel pipe weighing 225 kg
serves as a penetrating caisson (Figure S6). The caisson was maneuvered onto test loca-
tions from a crane equipped barge and divers using surface supplied air in communica-
tion with the barge by a live audio and video feed. High pressure water or air is
delivered through the caisson manifold driving the pipe into the seabed, reaching depths
of 2 to 4 m. The encased column of intact sediments is then excavated by airlift in a
series of arbitrary levels collected in surface baskets for wet-screening on the barge. The
20 cm test diameter volume is equivalent to an archaeological shovel test.
The system was first deployed in 2014 offshore from an eroding archaeological site
(DcRu-12) which recovered organic artifacts of withe and worked cedar bark as deep as
180 cm into the substrate at 10 m of water (Golder 2014). Testing at four more modeled
high potential locations around Equimalt Harbour showed little stratigraphic coherence
and failed to recover any artifacts (Golder 2015a, 2016, 2017b,2018).
However, in areas of the harbor where there has been historical naval activity, con-
cerns about the potential presence of underwater unexploded ordnance (UXO) has
meant that thousands of cubic meters of dredgeate has been screened for UXOs, and
the collection of many artifacts caught in the screens has been a by-product (Golder
2019; Kleanza 2018; Millennia Research Ltd. 2017). The artifacts were recovered from
areas considered of low archaeological potential (including areas known to have been
historically dredged) and not tested or where testing had been conducted with negative
results, suggesting that artifacts may be dispersed over a much larger area underwater
than supposed and, because the artifact density is correspondingly decreased, under-
water testing is less likely to detect these disturbed deposits. In an active modern harbor
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 137
like Esquimalt, there is no doubt that some of the mobility of archaeological material is
due to vessel wake and propeller scour. These anthropogenic effects are not readily
understood in their effects on archaeological sites. However, in Esquimalt Harbour,
both the subsurface archaeological potential assessment and subsurface testing failed to
accurately represent the extent of archaeological material present over the seabed.
The results from subtidal and intertidal excavations at Montague Harbour and
Kilgii Gwaay demonstrate that intact deposits can survive transgression where a pro-
tective geomorphology is present. The Esquimalt Harbour results show that archaeo-
logical potential modeling and underwater test excavations are not enough to
determine the presence or absence of archaeological materials when they have been
disturbed and redeposited from shoreline sites in moderate to high energy marine
environments. It appears likely that, absent signs of rapid transgression (e.g., a relict
beach terrace), any archaeological site located on an acute sedimentary slope will not
survive marine transgression. The probability for the survival of intact archaeological
deposits at locations within an area should be considered based on cultural and nat-
ural environmental factors, including the estimated effects of vessel wake and propel-
ler scour, and the exposure of shorelines during periods of lower RSL to prevailing
winds and wave fetch. Similar modeling has been considered for raised beach sites
(Fedje et al. 2018), and probability modeling for intact site preservation would also
critically include acoustic remote sensing data from sidescan sonar, multibeam
bathymetry, and sub-bottom profilers, to determine the locations of any protective
basins apparent on the surface of the seabed or in the substrate, where sediments
including archaeological deposits may have been isolated and protected within the
basin from transgressive erosion. This extra modeling step to better target underwater
archaeological tests moves away from the terrestrial model of simply testing to deter-
mine the horizontal limit of an existing site, including disturbed material, and pro-
vides an approach that will help justify the time and expense of underwater test
excavations in CRM through the identification of locations with a greater likelihood
of artifact-bearing deposits.
Farther north in Alaska, such a major predictive modeling effort has been pursued by
Monteleone and Dixon focused on the Alexander Archipelago of southeast Alaska in an
area of potential offshore oil development (Dixon and Monteleone 2014). Their efforts
involved a number of staged iterations, beginning with GIS mapping of existing near
coastal archaeological sites on high resolution DEMs, development of raster datasets of
site distribution identifying site variables such as aspect, slope, and coastal sinuosity,
extrapolation of these features to submerged topography to identify high potential areas,
testing and refinement of the model through a variety of statistical means, and field
testing of the refined high potential areas by geophysical survey using side-scan and
multi-beam sonar, sub-bottom profiling, remote operated vehicle video examination,
and sediment sampling. Monteleone (2013) discusses these methods in detail. Field
work in 2010–2012 identified a number of circular and rectangular depressions and
semi-circular stone alignments in Shakan Bay, northwest Prince of Wales Island, none
of which could be confirmed as cultural; however the project has proven to be of con-
siderable value in identifying high resolution off-shore site potential and the utility and
suggested improvements of deep underwater remote sensing technology and exploration
138 N. A. EASTON ET AL.
(Monteleone 2019). A similar stepwise methodology, along with a set of case studies
along the Northwest coast (most reviewed in this paper) has most recently been put
forth by McLaren et al. (2020).
The history of prehistoric underwater archaeology on the North Pacific coast of North
America is one dominated by hypothesized potential and theoretical site prediction
models, punctuated by relatively few actual underwater field investigations. Twenty-five
years ago, Easton (1992a) suggested that besides the high economic costs of underwater
research relative to landward archaeology, the acknowledged difficulty of locating a pre-
served, stratigraphically coherent site within such a massive study area, and the chal-
lenges of developing practical methods for excavating such a site to professional
standards, that the principal barrier to prehistoric underwater archaeology on the NWC
was cognitive—that terrestrial archaeologists suffered from a form of “mal de mer”over
the “terra incognita”of oceanic lands, based on our “epistemological orientation to terra
firma, the earth we walk on, combined with an accompanying entrenchment of the Ice-
Free Corridor”(Easton 1992a, 35). And while the rumors of the death of the IFC are
greatly exaggerated (see Potter et al. 2018), this review has shown that increasing num-
bers of archaeologists are involved in the search for potential offshore sites that will fill
in notable gaps in the Holocene archaeological record and may identify early post-gla-
cial occupation on drowned paleo-shorelines. We concur with Mackie, Fedje, and
McLaren (2018, 85) that there is real reason for “optimism that the early coastal arch-
aeological record, once thought to be almost impossible to access, is well within
In these days of increasing global temperatures and accompanying rising RSL due to
human induced climate change the pursuit by underwater archaeology to resolve these
questions may seem trivial. However, as Easton (1990b) argued 30 years ago, our discip-
line can contribute to adapting to the coastal effects of climate change. Since higher
RSL is inevitable over the coming decades, we have the opportunity to observe and
begin to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the site formation processes
of inundated sites, as the effects of contemporary sea level rise transform current coastal
sites. A program of regular survey of a sample of sites which represent different coastal
morphologies—bays, points, estuaries, and islands exposed to a variety of levels of tidal
currents, prevailing winds, wave amplitudes and length, and sedimentation—would
establish a formal baseline for a longitudinal measurement of their reaction to inunda-
tion. Such a program would not only contribute to our interpretation of older inun-
dated sites but would be directly relevant to the monitoring of contemporary sea level
rise and understanding of its environmental impact.
Easton (1990b, 12) also suggested,
only somewhat tongue in cheek, that underwater archaeology was the wave of the future
since climate change would soon inundate our own coastal occupation sites of
Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco, “so the discipline might as well begin to develop
the appropriate methodologies in earnest.”
But we know this is no laughing matter, particularly for those of us whose profession
has regularly documented the transformation and sometimes collapse of past societies
THE JOURNAL OF ISLAND AND COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY 139
due to environmental mismanagement and thus ought to be more sensitive to the
urgency of the developments of the present. This awareness in our own lived experience
should also inform our perceptions of the past. Mackie et al. (2013, 137-138) notes that
on Haida Gwaii between 14 and 10.5 kya RSL rise was 5 to 10 cm a year which meant
“that over the lifetime of an adult living to 70 years, most of the inter-tidal zone would
move into the forest. By the end of that life, a birthplace is transformed into a clam bed
and a grandmother’s camp into a fishing station …. not only did people move through
the environment, the environment also moved through the people.”And while we can
take some solace that humanity has faced the loss of its immediate foreshore environ-
ments before, we cannot continue to ignore the devastation that is incrementally creep-
ing up on our coasts in the immediate future.
Easton was principal investigator of the Montague Harbour Project, wrote the pri-
mary text, and undertook the final edit of the manuscript. Moore and Mason contrib-
uted to the CRM related text and provided editorial comment. Mason undertook
primary analysis of the Montague Harbour artifact assemblage.
1. Banned by Canada (Claxton and Elliot 1994) and restricted in US waters in favor of
commercial fish traps, reef-netting salmon using modern gear was resurrected by Straits
Salish groups in Washington State in the 1930s (Boxberger 1986,1989). In Canada, Nick
Claxton, an anthropologist and member of the WS
C (Saanich) nation, who had written
his master’s and doctoral theses on Salish fisheries (Claxton 2003,2015) set the first reef-net
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3. A proposal, we are happy to see being taken up on the NWC (e.g., Berg 2019) and world-
wide (e.g., Dawson et al. 2017).
We would like to thank John O’Shea for inviting us to contribute this paper and the two
anonymous reviewers for suggestions that improved this paper. Funding for Easton’s reef-net and
Montague Harbour fieldwork was provided by the B.C. Heritage Trust. Support for the
Montague Habour Project was also provided by the Underwater Archaeological and
Archaeological Societies of British Columbia, the membership of which also provided consider-
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