Oct 5, 2012 / 5:00 am
The construction work that is building the nine kilometre by-pass of Highway 97 between Winfield and Oyama has turned into a historical site after a significant discovery of native artifacts near the south end of the project.
The artifacts date back 6,000 years.
"That's the estimate of some of the finds in that particular area," says Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis.
Work was halted on the section of road near Oceola Road and Highway 97 while Golder & Associates Engineering examined the finds.
Both the Okanagan and Westside Indian Bands are working with Golder and the Ministry of Transportation to oversee the project.
Louis says the finds are consistent with other discoveries which show activities of First Nations people dating back thousands of years.
"Some of those things in there give us a fairly good idea that the site was of high potential. Back in the 80s or early 90s a skull was actually found by a diver close to the gas station on Highway 97 right by Wood Lake."
A subsequent forensic investigation by the RCMP showed the skull dated back to well before settlers first appeared in the valley.
Louis added they believe the skull was disturbed by some of the original road work in the area.
"It's an area that's always been on the radar."
The oral history of the band also links their ancestors to Wood Lake over the centuries.
"We began collecting stories from our elders, through the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and it was amazing how many fishing sites opened up in the Wood Lake Area. That area has always been significant for fisheries, transportation and for gatherings."
When Louis was younger, he was a student of current Lake Country Mayor James Baker.
Baker taught archaeology at Okanagan University College for most of his teaching life, specifically in the 'Plateau Cultural Area'
"The Okanagan occupied this valley since the ice went out 10-12,000 years ago. They were a hunting and gathering and fishing society."
The artifacts point to an ancient fishing site, with Kokanee Salmon the major source of food.
"It would be their camp where they would harvest the fish and then process them there, dry them there and smoke them. The processing would allow the fishermen to preserve the fish for their village through the winter months."
Baker points out that most of the sites have now been lost as the orchardists and farmers who came later naturally gravitated to the same areas used by the original First Nations.
"Some of them (the villages) are recognized with place names today. Kickwillie Loop (near Vernon) is one. Kickwillie is Chinook jargon for winter dwelling," says Baker.
The winter dwellings, known as semi-subterranean pit houses, were simple structures built into the ground, which provided relief from the winter weather.
A series of holes have been excavated and by Thursday the archaeologists were off the site and examining their finds.
Baker says the discoveries included mid-sized stone points and flints.
"They're dart points that were used with a throwing spear, which was a technology which in this area came in about 7,000 years ago and lasted until about 3,000 years ago, when bow and arrow technology came in."
With that development, smaller points were used on the arrows, allowing scientists to determine the age of the discoveries.
Another method used to date the materials is by measuring the depth they were found at. The deeper the artifact, the older it is.
On Thursday, a Ministry of Transportation technician was performing elevation measurements, so the scientists would know exactly what depth the findings were made at.
Meanwhile, the discovery of the ancient artifacts is not expected to delay the by-pass project.
"The work on the Winfield-Oyama project continues," says Ministry Spokesperson Craig Chambers. "We're working with the two Indian bands as they do their archaeological work there."
The new stretch of highway is expected to open next May.
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