Obsidian has been a part of the Indigenous cultural pattern in the Pacific northwest for at least 9500 years with evidence of both inter and intra-group exchange on the coast and in the interior. Extremely rare on the coast, obsidian was a valuable trade item. The Grease Trail, named for the eulachon fish oil that was transported along the trail, runs from the Southern Dakelh territory (Williams Lake) to the coast nations of Bella Coola, and was an important trade route for the exchange of interior goods such as obsidian. A southern Northwest Coast network of exchange and trade included lands bordering the Salish Sea and extending south to the lower Columbia River. These vast trade networks, which used the Fraser and Columbia river systems, allowed for the trade of obsidian and other goods into the coastal zones from southern coastal British Columbia to Oregon.
Obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass, is unique for its fine flaking quality and extremely sharp cutting edge. Because it is so sharp, many ancient hunters and fishers made it into tiny knives called ‘microblades’. These razor sharp tools were most commonly used for cutting fish. They could also be hafted between pieces of split cedar and lashed in place along either one or two edges creating a formidable weapon or projectile.
For archaeologists trying to understand the systems of trade, obsidian can also be traced to its geological source using techniques such as x-ray fluorescence, which is non-destructive and inexpensive. This testing gives archaeologists a geo-chemical fingerprint, and testing has shown that a significant proportion of obsidian artifacts from sites in southern British Columbia have been traced to sources in Oregon.
This point (arrowhead) is 4.5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide at the tail end. It was found at the Grief Point farm by Mr. Victor Irvin Courte (1912-1996) who owned the farm at the time. He found it when harrowing the land. The 20 acre property was bound by the ocean, Texada Street and Malaspina Avenue. Harry Nichol was the first colonial settler on the land and homesteaded 640 acres including this 20 acre parcel on the beach. Nichol farmed the land until his death in 1934 when the property was deeded to Laura Courte, who sold it to her son Victor in 1945. The Courte's settled on the land in 1947 and sold it to a consortium in 1965.
Long before this colonial homesteading, the Tla'amin Nation lived and occupied the lands of Grief Point. Traditionally the Tla'amin Nation called these lands xakʷum which translates to cow parsnip or indian rhubarb. xakʷum was considered a good area for harvesting this plant as it grew naturally there. Members of the Nation also used the area for gardening as it had good soil for cultivation.
Grief Point is part of a large archaeological area that stretches from Willingdon Beach to past Grief Point. It is one of the largest archaeological sites on the entire coast with evidence that the area was utilized by thousands of people.
Lang Bay and the Lasqueti site are two additional sites where obsidian artifacts have been located during the joint archaeological study by the Tla'amin Nation and Simon Fraser University. The five pieces of obsidian from these two sites come from Oregon and Mt. Garibaldi (Squamish). A mix of Oregon and Garibaldi obsidian is typical of obsidian found in Central Coast Salish sites. Additional information on these pieces, what they can tell us, and additional information about the archaeological studies can be found here.
The Tla’amin Nation, the qathet Regional District, and the Powell River Historical Museum & Archives encourage the donation of any artifacts that may be held in personal collections so that we may learn from them and the public can enjoy their significance.
Removal of any object from archaeological sites in BC is illegal and subject to severe penalties under the Heritage Conservation Act. Individuals can report any contraventions of the Heritage Conservation Act, by calling 1 877-952-7277, (Option 2) toll-free or #7277 on a cellphone. If you think you have found an artifact, please take only a picture, leave it in place and immediately call the Tla’amin Nation (604) 483-9646 and/or the Powell River Historic Museum & Archives (604) 485-2222.