Excavation of Lil'wat people's village near Pemperton, photo by archeology instructor Bill Angelbeck

Anthropology students dig deep in the pursuit of knowledge

By Melissa Nilan, Marketing and Communications
Photos by: Bill Angelbeck, Adelaide McKenna, Kristal Maxim and Johnny Jones

A group of Douglas College Anthropology students uncovered a love for archeology last summer through a unique field trip that provided valuable evidence to support the oral history of the Lil’wat Nation.

Organized by Douglas Anthropology instructor and archeologist Bill Angelbeck, the hands-on project saw three Douglas students visit the site of an ancient village of the Lil’wat people in the Pemberton and Mount Currie region.

A traditional winter village, the site contains the remnants of at least 13 pithouses and numerous cache pits, which were smaller pits used for storing smoked and dried salmon. The pithouses were round homes built partially underground to reserve heat during the Winter. Because of this, they leave a prominent circular depression eight to 15 metres across that is noticeable to archeologists. The village is estimated to be approximately 2,000 years old, though samples from a base camp in the area indicate the territory was home to the Lil’wat Nation for much longer – more than 5,500 years.

The goal of the project is to determine a time range for when the site was in use and create a 3D topographical map of the entire village.

Old 2D map vs. new 3D map of archeological site

Old 2D map vs. new 3D map of archeological site

Bill and his students – Adelaide McKenna, Kristal Maxim and Greg Waldock – along with Douglas alum-turned-research-assistant Kristin Oliver, worked at the excavation for a week in July. They were joined by a team of Lil’wat Nation community members and other volunteer archeologists and researchers.

“This project provides a platform for an ongoing relationship between Douglas College and the Lil’wat community; it’s an opportunity to conduct research of interest with the collaboration and involvement of the Lil’wat people,” says Bill.

By involving students in the dig, Bill says he wants to give them an opportunity to put lecture into practice and gain hands-on learning experience in excavating a real archeological site.

“It’s something students can add to their resumé if they choose to pursue the discipline as a career,” he says.

Kristal, an Anthropology major, says she wasn’t even interested in archaeology before taking classes with Bill and fellow instructor Laurie Beckwith. Once she did, she realized how inseparable the two disciplines were, and wanted to experience life in the field.

“The excavation itself was physically demanding and meticulous – lots of digging, lifting and careful measurement-taking. I got to work directly with an archeologist, which was invaluable, and despite the slow nature of the process, I found it exhilarating,” she says. “Also, it was an honour to work alongside Lil’wat community members, who graciously welcomed us onto their ancestral lands. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the work Bill is doing; it was a transformative experience that left me feeling inspired and humbled. I can’t wait to do again.”

For Greg, this was his second field dig with Bill. He says that much like the first, it affirmed his career choice.

Each excavation pushes me more into the field of archeology,” he says. “This year was especially interesting as all three members of the Douglas Anthropology department joined, along with another independent archeologist. Working alongside them showed me a lot about the many dynamics of anthropology as a career. My greatest experience, though, was the privilege of working with representatives from the Lil’wat Nation.”

Adelaide was originally enrolled in Environmental Sciences, but after taking Bill’s Intro to Archaeology course as an elective, she was hooked, and changed her major to Anthropology.

The excavation was a fantastic experience in both the archeology and anthropology disciplines,” she says. “The archeological appeal lay in the unfurling of the Lil’wat people’s ancestry in 10-cm increments, stepping piece by piece into history and the science of how that is done; the anthropological aspect aided in understanding what we were seeing in each layer and ensuring we were respectful of both past and present members of the Lil’wat community. Members of the Lil’wat community cleansed and blessed the site, and sang and drummed; we got to witness the living legacy of the Lil’wat Nation. The whole excursion will have a lifelong impact on me.”

This year marks the fourth year of the project.

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