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Mapping an 'intertidal Stonehenge' tells the story of an ancient Heiltsuk fishery

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Elroy White, whose Heiltsuk name is Xanius, was a graduate student in the SFU Department of Archaeology who undertook research on ancient stone fish traps in Heiltsuk terrority on the Central Coast.
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You may have stumbled upon them at low tide along the shore: rows of stone mysteriously arranged in patterns that look too geometric to be natural, but whose human purpose seems unclear. An intertidal Stonehenge? Not quite.

The stones are probably remnants of ancient fish traps, which once measured at least four feet in height, that were constructed by First Nations thousands of years ago. The stones were arranged into walls in areas where salmon were known to mingle or migrate. At low tide, the fish would be trapped and then selectively harvested by local people.

Elroy White, whose Heiltsuk name is Xanius, was a graduate student in the SFU Department of Archaeology and used innovative methods to gather and analyze data on the fish traps on the Central Coast. Some 250 stone traps have been identified in Heiltsuk territory. White alone found 10 new sites during his research. His interest in the traps was sparked by the idea that they are the “products of my ancestors’ labour.”

“My main collaborators were 12 Heiltsuk elders who shared detailed information about stone fish traps that helped me to either expand, elaborate or refute previous interpretations about their function,” says White. With the help of Ecotrust Canada, White was also able to efficiently and professionally plot nine traps using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), producing detailed overview and site maps.

“Stone fish traps are not well researched,” White says, “and very few archaeologists are trained to use GIS. The technology helped me to manage the data for viewing, cataloguing and presentations in my thesis.”