On the Northwest Coast in antiquity, people made an estimated 85 percent of objects entirely from wood and other plant materials that normally do not survive the ravages of time. Fortunately, wetlands, silt-laden rivers, high groundwater levels, and abundant rainfall have provided ideal conditions for long-term preservation of waterlogged wood. Although few intentionally search for wet sites, every Northwest Coast archaeologist may encounter waterlogged cultural remains on beaches and eroding riverbanks, at the bottom of an excavation trench, or even inland, away from the coast. Those who investigate such places can uncover artifacts, structures, and environmental remains that are missing from the usual reconstructions of past lifeways.
Clearly, wet sites matter, yet wet-site archaeology is not widely known in North America. To help bridge that gap, editor Kathryn Bernick, an internationally recognized expert on basketry technology and a research associate in archaeology at the Royal British Columbia Museum, brought together sixteen other experienced archaeologists who work on the Northwest Coast. With her guidance, they produced Waterlogged: Examples and Procedures for Northwest Coast Archaeologists, recently published by Washington State University Press. In it, Bernick and her colleagues discuss their original research in regional and global perspectives, share highlights of their findings, provide direction and guidance on how to locate wet sites, and outline procedures for recovering and caring for perishable waterlogged artifacts. They also offer practical information about logistics, equipment, and supplies, including a list of items for a wet-site field kit.
To demonstrate the significance of wet sites, Waterlogged presents previously unpublished original research spanning the past ten thousand years of human presence on the Northwest Coast. Examples include the first fish trap features in the region to be identified as longshore weirs, a complete 750-year-old basket cradle from the lower Fraser Valley, wooden self-armed fishhooks from the Salish Sea, and a paleoethnobotanical study at the 10,500-year-old Kilgii Gwaay wet site on Haida Gwaii. In addition, contributors discuss insider-vs.-outsider perceptions of wetlands in Cowichan traditional territory on Vancouver Island, a habitation site in a disappearing wetland in the Fraser Valley, a collaborative community–academic project on the Babine River in the Fraser Plateau, and Early and Middle Holocene waterlogged materials from British Columbia’s central coast.