Crew standing in front of screening equipment

Archaeological Investigations at Wa’s (Woss)

Text by Duncan McLaren, Hakai Institute

Photos by Joanne McSporran, Hakai Institute

Over the last three years, archaeological investigations have been ongoing at the Bottleneck Site (EbSp-9) situated on terraces of the Woss River in ‘Namgis Territory.  Traditionally this region was lived in and used by the Ninalk’inuxw, a sub-group of the ‘Namgis.  The primary village of the ‘Ninalk’inuxw, known as ʼNiʼnalgas, was situated at the confluence of the Woss and Nimpkish Rivers.  The Bottleneck Site is located further up the Woss River and this place is known historically to have been a good fishing ground, due to the shallow depth of the river and the historical abundance of salmon that passed along its corridor (Stafford 2010). As our archaeological investigations are demonstrating, these factors attracted people to this area for thousands of years. 

Our investigations at the Bottleneck Site are being undertaken by the ‘Namgis Archaeology Crew and a team of archaeologists supported by the Hakai Institute.  The project is being led by Dr. Duncan McLaren (Hakai Institute) and Jim Stafford (Coast Interior Archaeology).  ‘Namgis Archaeology Crew members who have worked at the site include Leroy Wadhams, Kenneth Robertson, Harry Alfred and Spruce Rufus. In 2019, the field crew was joined by children and teachers from the T’lisalagi’lakw School.

Paleo-ecological information from the region reveals that salmon were in the Woss River system beginning at least 14,000 years ago, soon after the end of last ice age (Hebda 2019).  Drawing upon this information, archaeological work is being targeted in an attempt to find evidence of human land use and occupation dating back to this time. 

So far, excavations at the site have found hundreds of chipped stone tools.  Many of these are stone flake knives, presumably used to butcher salmon at the site.  Other artifacts, made of wood, hide, antler and bone were at one time likely present as well, but these have decayed over the centuries. 

Radiocarbon dates associated with the stone tools range from 12,750 to 7,000 years ago.  We have found hints of an even earlier occupation and excavations this year were geared towards following up with this (results are forthcoming).  More recent archaeological materials are also known from the Woss River area spanning 7,000 years to modern times, including house remains. 

Overall, the scientific results to date reveal a 13,000 years old record of repeated land use and occupation on the terraces of the Woss River.  This is a testament to the industry and resource management practiced by the ancestors.