Ask an archaeologist:

🕔Apr 07, 2011

Amanda Marshall owns and operates Kleanza Consulting, an independent archaeological firm in Terrace, BC. She took time to answer a few questions about all things archaeological.

How did you get into archaeology, and why?

After attending UNBC in the anthropology program, I was invited to participate in a field school with the University of Toronto at the McNichol Creek site in the Prince Rupert Harbour area. I’ll never forget the moment I walked onto the site and heard the sounds of trowels being sharpened and shovels working…I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I quickly learned that I loved the adventure part of the job, I loved getting dirty and smelly, and I didn’t mind what Mother Nature had to offer in terms of bugs, weather, and dangerous plants and animals. I grew up in the north, a rural part of Dawson Creek, so maybe that’s why I was suited for the job.

What is unique about archaeology in the Northwest?

The area is situated in a coastal rainforest environment, lending to very challenging terrain. Areas we work in are typically wet: cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce forest environments with steep-sided valleys and fast-flowing creeks. The area is home to the Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Haida, Haisla, Tahltan, and Gitxsan, to name a few; all of these groups have fascinating cultural traditions closely linked to both the spirit world and the natural environment. There’s so much archaeology in this region yet to be done—so much more to learn and explore.

What types of projects do northwest archaeologists work on?

Mostly small- to medium-sized development projects such as forestry cut-blocks, roads, mining exploration, micro-hydro, and wind farms. Whenever a project is proposed, a consulting archaeologist is hired to assess the area for archaeological sites. Our job includes proposals and marketing to get the work and, once the work is secured, fieldwork followed by analysis of results and report-writing. The entire process is completed under a permitting system through the Archaeology Branch in Victoria and we are required, under the Heritage Conservation Act, to fulfil all conditions of the permit in order to continue receiving permits for future work. Our jobs are complicated and intricate, yet very fulfilling and exciting.

What are some of the issues that impact or influence archaeology in the region?

It depends on what exactly you mean. I guess development projects impact archaeological sites and it is our jobs to protect our cultural heritage as much as possible. Whether sites are impacted or to what degree they are impacted depends largely on the rules set by the province at that particular time, as well as recommendations made by the archaeologist and decisions made by the developers. First Nations have an influence on what happens as well, but are sometimes powerless in certain circumstances. In the past, many archaeological sites have been completely destroyed by looters or pothunters who stole artifacts to sell on the black market. Sites are also often destroyed on private property without landowners even knowing what they’ve done.

What do you think the average person living in the Northwest should know about archaeology?

The average person needs to know that archaeology does not involve dinosaurs. That’s palaeontology! They also need to know that First Nations people have lived in the Northwest for thousands of years. We have archaeological sites in the area dating as far back as eight or nine thousand years. The average person learning about archaeology needs to know that most organic things don’t preserve well in the archaeological record. Try to imagine what current household items will preserve in the archaeological record, let’s say 5,000 years from now. Plastic will likely preserve, depending on the type of plastic and its ability to break down. But most of the items in our houses that aren’t made of stone, glass, brick, or plastic will break down over time. What information will be left behind for future archaeologists to study? What will they make of our garbage dumps? What will they think of our cars? Will information preserved digitally or on CD be readable in the future? Not likely. Will they know that we had electricity, Internet, satellite technology, Facebook and Twitter? How about music?