Hope Remains Ancient Archaeological Site Can Be Saved

December 3, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
A tent covers an excavation unit at the Somenos Creek archaeological site on Vancouver Island in 2007.
A tent covers an excavation unit at the Somenos Creek archaeological site on Vancouver Island in 2007.

VICTORIA—A burial ground and archaeological site dating back millennia are at the heart of a long-running saga between a developer and a First Nations community in British Columbia.

Archeological excavations at the Somenos Creek site near Duncan on Vancouver Island have uncovered material as old as 4,600 years. The burial ground, which was in use for 600 years, is about 1,800 years old.

An excavation undertaken by the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1994 revealed a shell midden, graves, and artifacts that include a collection of chipped slate microblades, ground stone knives, bone awls, and toggling harpoon valves.

Of 33 additional excavations in 2007, 30 were of archaeological value. One of the more remarkable finds was a 2,000-year-old large architectural feature that could be a house foundation or a hearth, says archaeologist Eric McLay.

“We've only uncovered a small part of it at this point so we're not quite clear on what exactly that feature is. It's interesting in that it hadn't been known before, and it adds another aspect to the site that sort of increases its significance. We don't have very good evidence of house structures in that time period.”

Another discovery was the remains of a young child wearing a 400-bead, six-string necklace, meaning the child had some hereditary status says McLay, a former president of the Archaeological Society of British Columbia who participated in the 1994 UBC excavations.

But the fate of the site has been hanging in the balance since human bones were first discovered there in 1992. The Cowichan Tribes want it preserved as a heritage site but can’t afford to buy it from developer George Schmidt.

Schmidt’s company Timbercrest Estates Ltd, which has been developing the property since 1972, put construction in the area around the site on hold while archaeological excavations were being carried out.

“My relationship with the Cowichan people is pretty good, but we just haven’t come to any resolution,” Schmidt told the Times Colonist last week. “The provincial government either has to buy it or let us develop it—they can’t let it carry on like this.”