The Glenrose Cannery/St. Mungo: Digging the Past in Delta
This historical area was inhabited into the post-colonial period by Tsawwassen, Semiahmoo, Sto: lo, Katzie and Musqueam people. Excavations were carried out at the Glenrose Cannery site during the summer of 1973 and 1974 by H.G. Matson.
The Glenrose Cannery site has seen 10,000 years of occupation by humans and is an internationally renowned wet site. The collection was featured at the Royal BC Museum with an extensive display as well as at the Museum of Anthropology at U.B.C. who are the keepers of the site.
It is known as Dg Rr-006 in the scientific community, and the collection has been showcased at a national festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and a World Exposition in Paris, France, both of which highlighted the Glenrose site as “an example of British Columbia’s native history of world calibre”.
Glenrose contains an Old Cordilleran component which offers an opportunity to examine the relationship between two sequential cultures. H.G. Matson argues that there is an evolutionary relationship between two cultures identified, the St. Mungo evolving out of Old Cordillearan period. Matson has demonstrated a marked similarity between the two chipped stone industries. Knowledge that the St. Mungo period developed out of the Old Cordilleran now clearly appears to be conventional knowledge.
The oldest of these artifacts were made 4,500 years ago, at a time when Otzi was making his journey across icy Northern Italy, and the Silk Road was becoming a vital trading route in Asia. At this time, native hands along the banks of the Fraser River were fashioning complex and highly decorative material goods, children played, men hunted, family and loved ones were cherished in burial. Archaeologists say there may have been as many as 50,000 people living along the lower Fraser River, making the region one of the most densely populated areas in what is now Canada.
Components of the Glenrose Cannery – Faunal Analysis
By at least 11,500 BP, the last glaciation period ended in southwestern British Columbia. Since populations were living just to the south and east by 10,500 BP, people had been established here by at least 10,000 years ago. However, the earliest known level at Glenrose is about 2,000 years younger than this. When first occupied, the area was a bluff extending into the Gulf, next to the outlet of the Fraser River, with a pebble beach.
By 8,000 BP, the vegetation was similar to todays, but the relative sea level was as low as 10 meters below that of todays. At the time of the first occupation of Glenrose, most recent post-glacial environmental traumas had passed and except the lowlands of the Delta, a climate not too different from today’s would have prevailed. The current Burns Bog area was probably a shallow bay, as the oldest dates for the post-marine deposits are slightly more than 5,000 year BP.
Faunal Analysis and the ageing of individuals was only attempted when the proximal and/or distal epiphyses of bones were present. The partial degradation of many of the bones or the presence of only fragmented sections made it all the more difficult for aging individuals. The criteria on which the aging was based were as follows:
- Juvenile – epiphyses unfused, present or absent;
- Young adult - epiphyses partially fused and present or broken off;
- Adult – epiphyses fully fused and present, although deterioration had occurred at the very ends of many of the bones.
Old Cordilleran Component III (8150-5700 B.P.)
The oldest traces of human activity are lying more than eight metres below the surface and signify the Old Cordilleran period, which is between 5,000 and 9,000 years old. Elk was the most significant followed at a distance by deer and seal. In accordance with the Old Cordilleran era, subsistence hunting patterns oriented around large land mammals.
The presence of stickleback and eulachon indicate the objective of Glenrose was a fishing element in late spring and summer. Juvenile elk and deer remains are present which also would infer a summer season at Glenrose.
In the Old Cordilleran component wapiti was found as the most valuable land mammal in terms of usable weight. During this time, mussels were gathered during the summer and fishing focused on salmon, and freshwater shellfish. Mammals seemed to be the most significant followed by fish with shellfish occurring rarely. There are no indicators for seasons other than summer. The two factors that made it attractive for use -probably a gentler slope of the ridge than is usual in that general area, and a little fresh water flow that eventually emptied under the Glenrose cannery buildings. Perhaps instead of being a Fraser River beach it was a strand of the small freshwater stream.
Glenrose at one time was situated on salt water so a stable environment for resources development might not have existed during the site’s primary occupation. The shifting channels of the Fraser would have affected the accessibility of the fish during their season’s runs. These factors would have lessened the desirability of the area for a more permanent encampment (H.R Matson, 1971).
St. Mungo Component II (3950±60 and 4590±50 B.P.)
The site's most productive layers were found between about five and six meters deep, which denotes the St. Mungo Period from between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago. Wapiti was part of the subsistence pattern in the Old Cordilleran times, but the key change in the Old Cordilleran to St. Mungo is the subsistence change from the once bountiful land mammals in the summer to the addition of mussels and shellfish in the winter and a maximum annual adaptation to the coast. This is marked by the difference in types and quantities of Faunal remains. More intensive and regular seasonal occupation is indicated, with corresponding development of technology to systematically exploit the seasonal resources available and to store them in quantity for later use.
In the St. Mungo component there is an increase in all sorts of Faunal remains, but a disproportional increase in the amounts of shellfish and fish remains. Elk persists as the most prominent mammal followed by seal and deer, but salmon may have represented the most important Faunal resource for this component.
It is evident that the bulk of the Faunal remains occurred in the middle component. This is indicated by a moderately sharp increase in the remains from the lowest component to the middle component, and then a decrease in the amount of Faunal remains, though not as sharply into the latest component.
The surviving lithic technology unimpressive and the author believes it may be because it was used to make the perishable technology that was directly used. The presence of many antler wedges at Glenrose supports this argument. Antler wedges have no particular use of their own other than to use as a harvesting or cutting tool.
The St Mungo period saw an explosion of artistic and resource harvesting items such as basketry, a carved wooden tray, a wooden wedge, lithic tools, beads, and hundreds of wooden stakes (fishing weirs). The period is dated by six radiocarbon dates to between 3950±60 and 4590±50 B.P.
Using carbon dating assays, the Old cordilleran saw 1000 years of sterile activity until the St Mungo Phase began.
Marpole Component I (2300-2000 B.P.
The Marpole component subsistence pattern of Glenrose was one of developing from the St Mungo component with a switch in seasonality. The artifacts are distinctly different from those of the St. Mungo after a one-thousand-year hiatus found in the sterile soil. The Marpole component is a winter component (although no structures were found), transitioned from the Old Cordilleran component, which was a summer site. The high abundance of salmon (without cranial bones) the presence of herring, and analysis of sectioned clams support this seasonality as does the presence of geese, which still winter in the area today.
The data for Component I shows a decrease in almost all Faunal remains, notably elk. There is a lack of seal altogether and fewer avian species as well. Marpole culture has been defined as representative of the Northwest coast cultural tradition of highly adapted maritime subsistence activities. The exploitation of different resources might not have been enough to compensate for a diminishing resource, shellfish - so that seasonal occupation was preferred over year round occupation. A migration of a group of people with a sedentary way of life and ranked society could have occurred at the end of the St. Mungo period or at the beginning of the Marpole phase as the Marpole phase is known to have inherited social ranking. This fact might suggest to the author that the full Northwest ethnographic pattern had perhaps developed over much of the Fraser Valley by this time.
Stratigraphic Units of Glenrose site
The Glenrose cannery site is a deep, multi-component midden site with deposits of up to 6 meters. The site’s stratigraphy represents three major occupations. The Marpole component is the most recent and uppermost occupation consisting mostly of a dark sandy loam with some intermixture of shell ending in a tan silty clay loam layer. The component is so named because of Marpole affinities indicated by the presence of ground slate knives, slate disc beads, and celts.
The St. Mungo component consists of shell lenses in places and apparent lenses of sterile redeposited soil. This component bears great resemblance to the oldest component from the St. Mungo cannery site DgRr 2 – downriver from Glenrose. There are similarities in the presence of decorative objects, such as bone pendants and tooth pendants.
The Old cordilleran component in most cases is totally void of shell and is characterized, particularly in the bottom half, by the presence of well-rounded cobbles and boulders. This component is characteristically similar to what is outlined as the Old Cordilleran culture with the presence of leaf-shaped bifaces and a host of crude pebble tools.
1. Finely stratified deposit
A thick finely stratified accumulation of conventional shell midden type with deeply concentrated shell dump areas and transitional areas of dark humus and finely crushed shell indicative of a succession of living areas. The living floor layers are marked by irregular extensive ash deposits and small hearth areas sometimes found in clusters. One level of particular interest was rectangular and two meters by 2.1 meters and covered with a thin layer of red ochre. There was a hearth in one corner and a dozen artifacts scattered on the surface. Smaller divisions are indeed possible within the main deposit, but as there is no evidence of sterile layers or major breaks, a gradual accumulation of cultural debitage is indicated.
2. Large irregularly shaped pit
The second stratigraphic unit consists of a large irregularly shaped pit excavated into the main deposit and the fill in the pit. The fill consists of orange sandy soil with traces of shell. The pit itself is something of an enigma, being somewhat irregular in shape and scope. The overall profile is dish-shaped with fairly deep sides. The soil is particularly sandy, ranging in coloration from black to orange is obviously fill brought in from elsewhere. In some areas the pit is lined with a layer of powdery, dark soil with traces of shell. It covers an area roughly 5 meters by 4.5 meters and reaches a maximum depth of one meter. Nearly all the slate disc beads and numerous flakes come from this pit.
3. Fire cracked hearth evidence
The upper layer of ash is composed primarily of multi coloured ash spreads, numerous scattered fire-cracked rocks and a number of small, irregularly shaped hearths in a matrix of dark brown soil with finely crushed shell. Two large post Moulds and a number of smaller stake or post Moulds are associated with these hearth areas. In some sections this layer is moderately disturbed. Immediately below the sod the surface layer contains both early historic and particularly recent material.
Some 1700 artifacts of bone, antler, stone and shell have been catalogued.
Artifact yield at the midden is high - being approximately one artifact per cubic 10cm, as the pits cut through both dump and living areas. The overall picture presented by the objects is one of continuous development from an early cultural base of the Marpole phase which dominated the Delta from about 400 to 450 BP. The surface layers of the site seem to be the result of a short occupation by a later culture. There is a definite break in the artifact continuity at this point, which is indicated by a sterile soil horizon. Just below the sod are a few indications of the historic occupation dating to the turn of the century. Below are a few categories;
Bone and Antler Artifacts
Bone Awls – Awls are plentiful and found at all levels of the site. The most common types are the splinter awl; awls of split mammal long bone, ground all over and longitudinally split cannon bone awls. Ulna awls are limited.
Needles – Only one complete needle was found at the top of the main deposit. It is small, flat and pointed at both ends with a slotted proximal eye. Length is 10 cm. What may be the highly polished tip fragments of several other needles were also recovered from earlier levels.
Bone “daggers” – Two complete bone dagger-like tools were found in the upper levels of the main deposit. They are long and slender with polished, sharp but flattened tips. They are possibly fibre working tools. tools. Making temporary shelters from the rain may have been a regular activity for these groups. the amount of antler wedges in this component at Glenrose the commonly suggested use of these various sized antlers was woodworking
Daggers like tools were found in the upper layers of the main deposit; They are possibly fibre-working tools.
Bone “fleshers” – A number of chisel shaped bone tools with highly polished tips but no evidence of battering at the poll, and point fragments of such tools were found in the middle levels of the main deposit.
Worked ribs – A series of sharp, bluntly pointed and spatulate tools made from mammal rib are representative of the lower levels of the main deposit. The rib is generally split longitudinally and ground smooth. Less frequently they are left whole with one side modified. These artifacts seem to be unique to the site.
Simple bone pendants – forms of decoration and ornamentation are rare at the site, but small, decidedly plain bone pendants were in vogue throughout most of the main deposit occurring long ago in the Old Cordilleran level.
Beads and rings – bone rings narrow often poorly finished mammal long bone rings are found in the lower part of the main deposit. Three complete tubular bird bone beads come from the upper layers of the main deposit.
Antler and bone wedges – Bone wedges were less abundant than antler wedges, but all were found in all levels of the site. They range from a tiny wedge less than 7 cm to a whopping one made from a bevelled section of wapiti long bones measuring 30 cm. Wapiti antler wedges are found in a variety of shapes and sizes, but there are no patterns of increase in size or consequential distribution of width, curve or bit type.
Anthropomorphic figure “Mungo Man” - one of the most intriguing objects found is The human form dating between 3500 and 5000 years old. It might be the oldest known representation of a human being in British Columbia. A close examination will reveal eyebrows, a beard and hair pulled into a bun. A portrait of an individual.
Decorated “Net Needle” – One of the most fascinating objects found is a broad flat, needle like object from the early levels. The tip is broken. The proximal end is squared off and decorated with a perforated scalloped edge. A cross-shaped slot cuts through the decorated end. It would have been more than 15 cm long.Thlow are a few categories;o the site.lly and ground smooth. Less frequently they are left whole with one end modified. These a
Chipped stone artefacts
The surviving lithic technology is not impressive and the author believes it may be because it was possibly used to create a perishable storm shelter and was used directly. The presence of many antler wedges at Glenrose supports this argument.
Pebble tools – large unfacially flaked pebble tools have been recovered from all levels. They are common in the main deposit, but only one from each from the sandy pit and the ashy layer.
Large cores – a number of particularly large cores of fine grain igneous rock come from the main deposit. Flakes have been removed from all faces. The largest measures 30 cm in length.
Scrapers made on thick flakes – chipped stone scrapers were essential to this site. The outline form is not consistent, but often squarish. They are based on a fairly thick flakes with a fine retouch along the thin edge. More often than not, more than one side has secondary retouch. Basalt is the main material used but others included quartzite and fine grained igneous rocks. The scrapers appear in the main deposit and the sandy pit while the heavier ones occur at all levels.
Ground stone artifacts
Ground slate artifacts used for fish cutting knives are not abundant at the St. Mungo site. It is not present in the earliest level. Later a few fragments of poorly ground slate occur, until the upper layers of component I ground slate artifacts become both thinner and more common. Two of the earlier fragments are incised with a simple feather design.
Scrapers made on Thick Flakes – this is a fairly miscellaneous group of chipped stone scrapers that form an important part of the assemblage from the site. The outline shape is not consistent, but often squarish. They are based on fairly thick flakes with a fine retouch along the thin edge or edges. More often than not, more than one edge has secondary retouch. Basalt is the main material used, but others occur, including quartzite and other fine-grained igneous rocks.
Scrapers made on Thin Flakes – These artifacts fall into a narrower category and are unique for a Fraser Delta site. They are made exclusively of basalt, usually smooth, high-grade basalt and are based on long, irregular and very thin flakes. They are usually longer than their width, with a retouch along one or more edges. The fact that some are retouched around almost the entire circumference leads to a suggestion that some at least may be hand tools. These scrapers occur in the main deposit and the sandy pit while the heavier ones occur at all levels.
Leaf-shaped points – Two crudely made leaf-shaped points with straight bases occur in the ashy layers.
Mammals and Avifauna
Mammals appear among the three components equally; avian remains appear more common in the St. Mungo and Marpole component. This is also true to seals, the only sea mammal found in any frequency. In opposition to dominant stability in the number of mammals, we find that avifauna are generally more common in St. Mungo and Marpole than in the Old Cordilleran components and are most frequent in the Marpole component. This may be due to changes in hunting technology or it may also be correlated with the ecological build-up of the Fraser Delta. The presence of large mammals could be indicative of a certain level of technological sophistication or cultural development. Group hunting could be inferred; several hunters could more efficiently trap the larger game. Ethnographically, it is known that deer and elk were hunted by parties driving them into nets, with elk requiring more hunters because of its greater size.
The subsequent decline of fauna and usable meat from component II to I was perhaps due to the build-up of the delta, increasing the distance to the shellfish, making the site undesirable for year round occupation, but a seasonal encampment to take advantage of availability and accessibility of the vast land game and fish runs during the spawning seasons.
The fish found at Glenrose did not differ significantly from those found in the lower Fraser Valley today. In a whole unit screening it was found that distinct bone elements of major fish types included salmon and sturgeon which dominated the diet from the Old cordilleran through Marpole times.(Matson, 1981) The stickleback are not ethnographically known to have been used in the Gulf of Georgia area, however evidence of a small clear freshwater stream that once flowed near the Glenrose site may have been a source of these fish remains. Stickleback evidence was not found until later during the Marpole component. The author contends that the stream bed may have dried up as the stickleback were a variety of winter subsistence, which the community then turned to herring during the cold months during the Marpole component.
Shellfish are essentially absent in the Old cordilleran component, but are particularly frequent in the more recent components. Bay mussel was noteworthy as an important animal in the aboriginal diet. Using shell analysis, it is suggested that an increasing number of silt tolerant shellfish species appeared as the delta built up.(Imamoto, 1971)
Ethnography of Glenrose Cannery
DgRr 6 lies on the south bank of the south arm of the Fraser River opposite Annacis Island. Ethnographically, the Glenrose site lies within the territory of the Kwantlen group of the Halkomelem speaking Coast Salish Indians. The Coast Salish culture is characterized by complex maritime and riverine adaptation with reliance on hunting and gathering as well and equally complex subsistence patterns and technology for harvesting and preparing the variety of resources available to them. A pattern of annual travels to seasonally available resources characterized many of the Coast Salish tribes with a few exceptions of sedentary settlements. There is no place name from the Salish for the Glenrose site, and while there has been extensive ethnographic work done for the Coast Salish, the site itself has no references in the literature.
Seasonality of Occupation
From the Faunal remains examined, season of occupation were determinable only for the major components in general. Because of the complex stratigraphy it was not possible to specify a season or seasons of occupation by each layer encountered. A lack of any positive indicators for winter or spring occupation does not preclude the possibility of such occupation in any or all of the three components, nor does it preclude the possibility of year round or single season occupation at any time during the occupational history of the site.
Ethnographically it is known that most abundant game hunting was done in the summer and fall because of the quality and quantity of meat on the animals, but that hunting was also done when necessary.
These findings suggest how early humans developed from an egalitarian hunter gatherer with a nomadic lifestyle and little or no difference in family or community status to a ranked society that learned advanced tool making, storage and preservation of foods, and community minded living in more permanent villages.
First nations activity along the Fraser River has been so widespread and extensive over the millennia that the banks of the Fraser River create one vast progressing archaeological site in much of the Lower Mainland. Half a dozen sites in the path of the new South Fraser Perimeter Road have been identified as having significant scientific merit. St. Mungo will sustain the most damage due to construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road , according to ministry documents. It is likely one of British Columbia’s oldest heritage sites, and it is also well known internationally in archaeological circles, but as powerful and priceless as it is, that has still has not stopped the B.C. government from building the $1.2-billion South Fraser Perimeter Road over it.
The road, which runs 40 kilometers from the Deltaport interchange in Delta to the 176th Street interchange at the Trans-Canada Highway, is a centrepiece of the provincial government's massive Gateway highway expansion project. The Gateway project has employed an "accidental discovery protocol" if unexpected artifacts or human remains are found during construction.
I am pleased that the Ministry of Transportation is working with the Musqueam on the development of a conceptual plan for the St. Mungo interpretive site. Positioned as the waterfront terminus of an extensive trail system that extends north from Burns bog, the site will have a recreational benefit for surrounding neighbourhoods like mine, while helping inform and engage visitors about British Columbia’s earliest history and culture.
Glenrose has told us so much of the past here in Delta, I am hopeful that it will tell us much more in the future.