British Columbia

Construction site near Kamloops uncovers proof of 'pre-contact Indigenous habitation'

Tools, including a rudimentary fish knife, indicate an Aboriginal group had a fishing camp on Kamloops Lake several hundred years ago.

Tools, rudimentary fish knife indicate an Aboriginal group had a fishing camp there several hundred years ago

Archaeologists at a site near Kamloops Lake working to find more artifacts from a First Nations camp hundreds of years old. (Doug Herbert/CBC Kamloops)

An archaeological dig at a construction site on Kamloops Lake has led to a find that local Indigenous oral stories had long pointed to — a pre-contact settlement dating back hundreds of years that was likely used for fishing and other activities.

Archaeologists currently working at the site where a road is being moved and a new bridge is being built near the small community of Savona west of Kamloops have found a number of bones and stone tools including a fish knife.

"The Skeetchestn oral histories pointed to this place — before we found the site — as a place where people were camping and fishing up until 1870, when the mill and ranching really got going in this area," said Joanne Hammond, an archaeologist with Skeetchestn Natural Resources.

A rudimentary fish knife, made from volcanic rock, was also found at the site. Hammond said they can tell it was used for cutting fish because of the crescent shape. (Doug Herbert/CBC Kamloops)

"What we found is the remains of a pre-contact Indigenous habitation, probably a fish camp. But the kinds of remains that we're finding suggest that a lot of different kinds of activities were going on here," she said.

Rudimentary fish knife found

Hammond said the spot on the lake would have been "a favoured location" and is several hundred years old.

"We know the earliest part of the occupation was probably around 1,200 years [ago], and then going forward to about 1870. Most likely, it was also used beyond that."

Hammond said they have uncovered debris from when the tools were made, and tools such as a fish knife made from dacite, a type of volcanic rock, which the archaeologists believe came from a source near Cache Creek.

The artifacts will be categorized and eventually stored at the Secwepemc Museum in Kamloops. (Doug Herbert/CBC Kamloops)

"We know that it's a fish knife from the shape of it — the crescent shape and how the back is built, so we can use it to slice down the belly of the fish."

Hammond said the calcareous deposits on the knife, which take "many hundreds of years to develop," indicate how old the settlement may be.

'It's pretty exciting'

The Ministry of Transportation is funding the dig, and the artifacts will be categorized and eventually stored at the Secwepemc Museum in Kamloops

Hammond said the dig has been an opportunity to "corroborate" the oral histories of the local First Nation community.

"The Skeetchestn people were pushed out of here unceremoniously, so after being separated from it for quite a long period of time, it's nice to be back here and be managing the cultural resources here that the people knew were here, but couldn't do anything about," she said.

Any future projects in the area — which Hammond said are likely because of the potential of the lake's waterfront — will also require archaeological assessments.

"Each time we get to do that, we get to learn a little bit more … and given that there's no archaeological sites recorded in this area, it's pretty exciting for us."

With files from CBC's Daybreak Kamloops

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