Archeologists declare B.C. Heiltsuk village among oldest in North America

Researchers at the Hakai Institute have been studying a Heiltsuk village site on B.C.’s mid-coast. Photo from Getty Images.

The Heiltsuk First Nations village on B.C.’s mid-coast is now considered to be amongst North America’s oldest human settlements. According to the Vancouver Sun newspaper, archeologists discovered the hamlet on Triquet Island is three times as old as the Great Pyramid at Giza.

The findings come after excavators with the Hakai Institute discovered rare relics in the village, such as compound fishhooks and hand drills used to start fires.

The region is believed to have been in use for approximately 14,000 years, said Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria. The discovery came after examining charcoal, which was uncovered from a hearth 2.5 metres below the surface.

“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,” Gauvreau told The Province newspaper. “The material that we have recovered from that trench has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.”

The remarkably stable sea levels in the area over the millennia helped excavators uncover clues about villagers eating habits. Research shows that for 7,000 years, the people in the region relied on hunting large mammals, such as seals, as the main source of food. That shifted about 5,700 years ago when they turned to fishing, as evidenced by fish traps and stone-walled clam gardens discovered on a nearby beach.

“It’s just one snapshot of a larger site, so it’s hard to tell what was happening,” Gauvreau said. “But that kind of dietary shift — from predominantly hunting to a reliance on fishing and shellfish — was happening coast-wide.”

The findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology this week in Vancouver.