SMOKE HOUSE ISLAND (PT 1)
The team makes their way to interior BC and the remote reserve community of Fort Babine. They’re here to investigate an exciting hypothesis: Did the ancestors of the Lake Babine Nation intentionally build an island thousands of years ago? Dr. Rudy collects micromorphology samples to analyse the island’s composition, while Jacob sifts through debitage and Jen digs for evidence in the most artifact dense place they have ever been.
Follow the salmon as they swim up the Skeena River to the fish weirs of Smokehouse Island. Traditional song by Lake Babine First Nation B.C.
The Babine watershed drains into the Skeena River and receives four major species of Pacific salmon: Chinook, Pink, Coho and Sockeye. Sockeye are particularly important in this area; up to 90% of Skeena sockeye return to spawn here.
After traversing through Nilkitkwa Lake to the north, the salmon must swim past Smokehouse Island and through a narrow stretch of the Babine River, into Babine Lake. By the time they arrive at Babine Lake, the sockeye are lean and ideal for preservation through smoking and drying. Dried sockeye can be kept and consumed for one year, making it highly desired throughout the region.
“At a lot of other places you find 5-6 pieces of small shards, here there is so much of it. It’s like sand, so much debitage that it’s hard not to find it.”
– Jacob Pratt
An Unexpected Surprise
While excavating Smokehouse Island, archaeologists found a group of posts that had been pounded into the sediment, radiocarbon dated at 960 years old. This feature is clearly the remnant of a fish weir installation. Mysteriously, however, it is located over a metre beneath the surface of the island!
“If the fish weir is supposed to be out in the water, why would it be on land, on the island?”
– Jenifer Brousseau
An Anthropogenic Island?
Stratigraphic profiling indicates that the top 70 cm of the island is entirely human made, consisting of a high density of cultural material embedded in organic laden silt.
Dr. Farid Rahemtulla believes that the island was intentionally built using stone tool debris as fill to create a dry place to process the large volumes of fish. If this proves to be the case, it’s an important archaeological discovery and yet another testament to the ingenuity of the first peoples.
“You don’t see this anywhere else, you don’t see anywhere where they’ve actively built an island.”
– Jacob Pratt
Fort Babine Injustice
For thousands of years, the people of Lake Babine operated traditional salmon weirs, sustainably catching and preserving 750,000 sockeye each season. In 1906, the Canadian government outlawed the fish weirs. Elder Fred Williams teaches Rudy about the history of colonial injustice at Fort Babine including impacts of amalgamation, the Indian Act, and the loss of their local economy and way of life.