Katzie First Nation have found a new historic site in Pitt Meadows.

Katzie First Nation explore millennia-old sea gardens in Pitt Meadows

Study explores First Nations sea gardens from 1,800 BC

An ancient wetland-gardening site unearthed during a road-building project in British Columbia is as culturally important as any other wonder of the world, says a member of the indigenous group who directed the excavation project.

A study published Wednesday found that as early as 1,800 BC, ancestors of the Katzie First Nation in B.C.’s Lower Mainland were engineering the wetland environment to increase the yield of a valuable, semi-aquatic plant known as a wapato. The report describes the finding as the first direct archeological evidence of the cultivation of wild plants in the Pacific Northwest.

“This is as important to us as the Egyptian pyramids, or the temples in Thailand, or Machu Picchu,” said Debbie Miller, who works with an archeological consulting firm owned by the Katzie Nation.

Road building crews uncovered a rock platform measuring about 12-square metres made up of flat stones that would have rested several feet underwater four millenniums ago. The distribution of the stones into a pattern of single and double layers, as well as their closely packed arrangement, suggests they were placed deliberately, the study published online in ScienceAdvances found.

The stone “pavement” would have prevented the wapato from penetrating deep into the sludgy, wetland sediment, making it easier for gatherers to use long, sharpened digging tools to locate the buried plant and cut it free.

Wapato, which is a tuber, is a semi-aquatic species that was prized as a valuable trading commodity and served as an important source of starch over the winter months.

The site is in Pitt Meadows, about 40 kilometres east of Vancouver.

Besides the more than 3,700 pieces of plant material recovered from the site, excavators found more than 150 fire-hardened tips of what are believed to have been digging tools.

The region’s inhabitants are believed to have abandoned the plot about 3,200 years ago, after which researchers discovered the site soon acidified and dried up, Miller said. This, along with sedimentary analysis, suggests First Nations gardening techniques contributed to the overall health of the wetland ecosystem, she added.

Connecting with their heritage

Miller said most of the 90-person crew who worked on the archeological project were members of Katzie First Nation and that many were young people who were able to use the project to better connect with their heritage.

“Culturally we talked about what it meant to be in the earth with our ancestors and touching their lives,” she said.

“We’ve just walked in the house of the ancestors. It was for many, many of our people an absolute connection to their history, something that they couldn’t have gained in any other way.”

Miller explained that First Nation legend has the character Swaneset going to the other world and returning with a wife, who brought with her the wapato, which became one of the most prevalent resources in the territory.

But the discovery of the wetland garden was also a bittersweet one for the Katzie people, Miller said. Once the excavation was complete, the site was paved over with a public road.

“We brought our ancestors home in our hearts and in our minds and in our conversations with our people,” she said, her voice cracking.

Other examples of First Nations managing non-domesticated plants include constructing clam gardens along the Pacific Northwest, maintaining fruit and nut trees in the eastern woodlands, and building fish and eel traps in Australia.

By Geordon Omand in Vancouver. Follow @gwomand on Twitter.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Flu shots now available in pharmacies and clinics

15 locations in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

E-mountain bikes now will be riding to the rescue

Maple Ridge squad can get to lost people, faster

VIDEO: First all-female spacewalk team makes history

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir did work on International Space Station’s power grid

B.C. public safety minister says cannabis edibles not in stores til January

Mike Farnworth says he wants regional issues considered when it comes to licensing

Greta Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta, but doesn’t talk oilsands

Swedish teen was met with some oil and gas industry supporters who came in a truck convoy

Scheer denies spreading ‘misinformation’ in predicting unannounced Liberal taxes

Conservative leader had claimed that a potential NDP-Liberal coalition could lead to a hike in GST

Council asks to limit cruise ship visits to Victoria harbour

Mayor says motion is not meant to curtail current visits or limit local cruise industry expansion

Chilliwack man pleads guilty in crash that killed pregnant woman

Frank Tessman charged under Motor Vehicle Act for accident that killed Kelowna school teacher

Kawhi Leonard, former Toronto Raptor, welcomed back to Vancouver at pre-season game

Fans go wild at pre-season game between L.A. Clippers and Dallas Mavericks at Rogers Arena

Greens and NDP go head to head on West Coast; Scheer takes fight to Bernier

Trudeau turns focus to key ridings outside Toronto after two days in Quebec

Canucks beat Stanley Cup champs 4-3 in a shootout

Leivo nets winner, Vancouver dumps St. Louis for fourth straight win

Most Read