By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: April 28, 2012
It was a routine academic mission for geoscientist Pierre Friele, but it ended with a discovery that goes back thousands of years.
Friele stumbled upon a prehistoric bowl and two cobble pestles while guiding a student researcher who was studying sediments along the Squamish River.
He found the bowl in a bank along the Squamish River, in an area opposite creek mouth flowing from Lake Lovely water.
“It’s just amazing,” said a beaming Friele.
“It’s not every day you find things that are thousands of years old.”
Although carbon dating will determine the exact age of the bowl, Friele said it’s thousands of years old, a conclusion that a well-known area archaeologist agrees with.
Friele said his estimates are based on the amount of sediment deposited on the bowl, which he found buried three metre below the surface.
“It doesn’t happen in an instant. Every time there’s a flood, there is a little bit of sediment deposited on it. There would have been a village in this location for thousands of years,” he said.
The discovery was a fluke.
As Friele’s student busied himself studying the river sediments, Friele wandered along river bank.
He stopped when he noticed something peculiar at one particular spot about three metre from the top of the bank: The colour of the earth was red, a sign of burning.
As a geotechnical engineer, finding pre-historic material isn’t new for Friele, but his earlier findings have been limited to small tools.
This was something different.
Seeing the red markings, Friele dug a little deeper and noticed the earth change to a black charcoal hue.
Once he knew it was a fire hearth, Friele kept cleaning the face of the bank until he noticed a dark spot and a fragment of a stone.
More cleaning revealed two pestles made of copper, and then a bowl lying upside down in the hearth. The bowl has decorative carvings on it.
“It’s a mortar and a pestle, and it could have been used for crushing seeds and food, or for making paints and dyes”Friele said.
When he returned home, Friele’s first call was to Rudy Reimer, a professor of First Nations history and archaeology at SFU who has a special interest in Squamish history.
Reimer said the bowl is a “highly significant” find.
“These bowls are rare, and even rarer to find in such a secure context,” he said.
The results of its context will be written up in a national archaeology journal, and the result will be used to construct an exhibit for the Squamish-Lil’wat cultural centre in Whistler or Squamish Nation Totem Hall, he added.
Reimer said the even though many archaeological materials are found every year, it is rare to find something that has been found in its proper context.
“Only two others have been found in their secure context, and they date to the past 2500-1000 years. It is likely this find will be of similar age or potentially older,” he said.
Reimer said this particular archaeological site is unknown and undocumented. He said there are several other sites in close vicinity, and they date to the past 3,000 or more years.
“If you or anyone else finds anything, do what Pierre did, contact the appropriate people so more information can be gained from such incredible discoveries,” he said.