This week’s column casts light on a venture referred to as the Slocan Narrows Archaeological Project, which operates as an academic research undertaking and field school primarily intended for students, although the public is also welcome to visit this historical location.
I first heard of the project a few years ago after learning of it via the Nakusp and District Museum. This was followed by an invitation to participate in a field tour of the Slocan Narrows Pithouse Village site, an important historical resource which operates under the regulations of the British Columbia Heritage Conservation Act, with consultation and advising from First Nations in the region.
The Arrow Lakes Indians (historically and contemporarily known as the Sinixt) lived throughout the Slocan Valley during the period when ethnologists were actively recording the rapidly fading indigenous way of life at that time.
The Lakes People spoke a Salish language dialect and were known to be hunters, gatherers and fishers who inhabited much of the Upper Columbia River drainage system stretching from Kettle Falls in northeastern Washington to the headwaters of Columbia. They lived in winter villages in the north and seasonally migrated throughout their territory on an annual basis.
At the current point in time, the Slocan Narrows Archaeological Project is focused on exploring how space was utilized within pithouses which were mostly dated by radiocarbon assay. This provided a detailed picture of how the village was occupied throughout time. In 2013 excavations were conducted, revealing a central fire hearth with a large number of bones located adjacent. In addition to a peripheral fire hearth there were discovered remnants of stone tools, several post holes and other cultural features. The special layout of the house was then interpreted as being used according to activity rather than by different family lineages.
The Slocan Pithouse Village pithouse site which consists of a large number of dwellings, suggests that the Slocan Valley supported a large density of aboriginal people in the past. Radiocarbon tests of these archaeological findings with age beginning around 3,100 years ago, extended to approximately the late 18th century (European) contact.
During 2015 the university student participants furthered their efforts by examining the interior space of two small pithouses in addition to testing for a possible midden (shell heap) area for the village. The project has received wide recognition and is funded through Hamilton College in central New York with support of Columbia Basin Trust, and the Slocan Valley Rail Trail Society.
Last year, field school students and instructors represented Selkirk College, University of Victoria, University of Montana, Cambridge University and Hamilton College.
A self-directed tour of this archaeological area serves as another group, individual or family outing destination point welcoming visitors free of charge. Additional information including a descriptive pamphlet and map of the project site, as well as background details, is available at the Nakusp and District Museum upon request, call 250-265-0015.