Here’s to the power of oral tradition: Canada’s indigenous Heiltsuk people have long told the story of how their ancestors sheltered on a strip of coastline that remained free of glaciers during the Ice Age — 14,000 years ago. Now science confirms the story.
Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient settlement on Triquet Island, off the central coast of British Columbia. At a time when glaciers covered much of North America, the Heiltsuk gathered on this unfrozen island to wait out a few thousand years of winter. Carved wooden and stone tools, a cooking hearth, and other artifacts from the site have been carbon dated to the Ice Age, proving that the amazing story the Heiltsuk people told around the fire for many millennia is based in fact.
“This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” said William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation.
The artifacts were preserved under deep layers of soil and peat, and represent one of the oldest verified sites of human occupation in North America. The settlement is older than the Roman Empire, and expands our understanding of human activities and history in Canada. Non-local stone tools and other evidence at the site suggested that humans originally traveled to the region by boat.
“It is apparent that they were rather adept sea mammal hunters,” said archaeologist Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student from the University of Victoria and a scholar with the Hakai Institute. “The material that we have recovered from that trench has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site. It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit, what we are calling a bean-shaped hearth.”
Evidence at the site suggests that the Heiltsuk diet centered on sea mammals, especially sea lions and seals. However, 5,700 years ago, their diet shifted to fin fish. A major tsunami