Beyond the water's edge: Towards a social archaeology of landscape on the Northwest Coast

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Recent research into the environmental history of the Northwest Coast has revealed the significant cultural impact that pre-contact and contact period Indigenous communities had on the surrounding landscape. Ethnobotanical, paleoenvironmental, ethnographic, and archaeological approaches have documented the degrees to which people managed ecosystems or otherwise
altered the physical landscape in places once considered “wilderness” by newcomers. Less attention has been paid to the ways in which landscapes were socially constructed and how living and working in such places gave meaning to social life at a variety of scales. Drawing from ethnographic, environmental
and archaeological evidence, and taking into account how changes in the land would have become entangled within the routines of working the landscape, this article examines and interprets some of the social distinctions that people might have constructed through these places in the past. Two case studies from
the central Coast Salish region are examined: first, the social practices and landscape features associated with cedar bark-stripping; and second, gardening traditions in sub-alpine areas of the Coast and Cascade Mountains.
The results of this study suggest that we cannot separate economic (or cultural) patterns from the social qualities that are implicated within the practice of landscape modification, and that working and living through such places
was socially consequential and bound up with concepts of history, memory, and identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalCanadian Journal of Archaeology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • North America
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • Forest modification
  • Social Identities
  • Northwest Coast


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