The discovery of an ancient First Nation village that's older than the pyramids confirms the long-held oral histories of the Heiltsuk Nation.
The archaeology team at the excavation site on Triquet Island [Photo by Grant Callegari/Hakai Institute]
Oral histories—or most other kinds of histories, for that matter—aren't always accurate. Some details may have been changed, exaggerated, added, removed, or transformed after multiple retellings. Still, the stories have a grain of truth in them remaining. There are times, however, when some stories have more than just a grain of truth.
This, apparently was the case for the Heiltsuk Nation. According to Heiltsuk oral histories, their ancestors once took refuge in a piece of land that didn't freeze over in the last ice age. A team of archaeologists found evidence on Triquet Island in British Columbia's Central Coast that this piece of oral history may actually be true. At about 14,000 years of age, the site is one of the oldest human settlements in North America.
Triquet Island [Photo by Keith Holmes/Hakai Institute]
The archaeologists excavated the site, which was well within Heiltsuk territory, in late 2016. They dug through a several meters of earth and came upon a thin layer of soil called paleosol. This layer of soil contained what appeared to be the remnants of an ancient village. There were carved wooden tools as well as flakes of charcoal, which the team sent off for carbon dating.
Obviously, the artifacts were old. Exactly how old, the team didn't know. When the carbon dating results came in, the archaeologists were surprised to find that the artifacts date back to 13,613 to 14,086 years ago. This makes the village older than the pyramids by some 10,000 years.
"I remember when we got the dates back, and we just sat back and said 'Holy moly, this is old,'" one of the archaeologists, Alisha Gavreau, told CTV News.
The excavation further revealed artifacts such as spears for hunting marine mammals, fish hooks, and hand drills for lighting fires. These artifacts counted among the oldest artifacts in North America. Though these findings are a significant addition to the known history of human settlement in the Americas, the discovery actually goes beyond that.
Josh Vickers, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, holds up a wooden artifact that's about 6,500 years old. [Photo by Joanne McSporran]
Above almost anything else, this discovery confirms and validates a history that's been passed down from generation to generation, but hasn't been recognized by people beyond the tribe to which it belongs. This discovery lends credence to the Heiltsuk oral history of how they survived the ice age. It's possible, therefore, that other First Nations oral histories may also hold more than just a grain of truth. Archaeological inquiry may be able to confirm which oral histories have evidence to back them up.
Other than that, the discovery of the settlement on Triquet Island will add to what archaeologists know about how the earliest civilizations in North America began. According to one theory, the first native North Americans came over to the continent from Asia by a land bridge. Another theory, which the Triquet Island findings support, says that the first native North Americans came over by boat.
The fact that the settlement is much older than the pyramids is certainly amazing. The discovery's implications on North American history, however, are especially significant.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!