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Rewriting Marpole: The Path to Cultural Complexity in the Gulf of Georgia Region

By Terence N. Clark

Review By Jesse Morin

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 182 Summer 2014  | p. 218-223


Rewriting Marpole is the published version of Clark’s PhD dissertation (Clark, 2010) and an outgrowth of his MA thesis (Clark, 2000). The goal of his research “is to determine the spatial and temporal extent of Marpole” (1), with the secondary goal of examining the processes under which social complexity, as is equated with Marpole, arose in the Salish Sea region (3). Clark utilizes an innovative array of multivariate statistical techniques to identify spatial and temporal relationships between culture-historical units, and perhaps most importantly, to equate language groups with such units. In doing so, Clark greatly refines the culture-historical sequence and provides considerable new insight into our understanding of the spatiotemporal extent of such culture-historical units in the Salish Sea. (For reasons that are unclear, Clark adheres to the old name Strait of Georgia for this body of water).

Unlike his successful cultural historical enterprise, Clark’s application of these methods to explaining the origins of social complexity in Rewriting Marpole, in my opinion, misses the mark. I am unconvinced that his method as laid out is actually able to identify or describe “social complexity” in any way other than automatically associating it with Marpole Phase sites/assemblages. A much more detailed review of variable indicators and measures of cultural complexity within Marpole versus non-Marpole Phase sites would have been a very strong addition to this book. I think Clark missed an opportunity to comment on another cultural phase that involved the origins of social complexity — the “Classic Lillooet” Phase — that was coeval and practically adjacent to Marpole.

            Clark’s multivariate statistical methods, termed Integrative Distance Analysis (IDA), represent an outgrowth in both the complexity of techniques and in the number of site assemblages considered in a long trajectory of multivariate comparison of artifact assemblages in the Salish Sea region (Burley, 1980; Clark, 2000; Matson, 1974, 2010; Matson, Ludowicz, and Boyd, 1980; Thom, 1992; Thompson, 1978). Such analyses have identified sub-phases within regional cultures, such as the Garrison, Beach Grove, and Old Musqueam sub-phases of Marpole (Matson et. al, 1980; Matson and Coupland, 1995:213). Clark’s (2000) earlier research realigned the earliest sub-phase of Marpole (Old Musqueam) with the Locarno Beach Phase, and found that Marpole did not appear to exist on southern Vancouver Island (i.e., Clark identified a regional bifurcation of contemporaneous Marpole and Locarno Beach phases). Building on this, Clark’s current IDA analysis combines multivariate methods, as applied by previous scholars to artifact assemblages, and adds faunal assemblages, ethnographic language, and geographic location to the multivariate mix (97). Clark’s discussion of IDA in Chapter 5 is not for the faint of heart, but it does provide food for thought for readers with a foundation in multivariate statistics.

            In Chapter 6, Clark applies IDA to 149 archaeological sites from the Salish Sea (97-101). However, only sixty-four of these sites have artifact data, and nineteen of them faunal data, thereby greatly reducing the true size of Clark’s dataset. The artifacts were divided into a fifty-one-class typology and analyzed using IDA alongside fauna, language, and geographic location (97, 103). Surprisingly, Clark found geography to be a poor predictor of assemblage composition (127) and language to be highly correlated with assemblage composition (136). I find these conclusions very confusing, as language distribution in the Salish Sea is strongly structured by geography; I suspect that the simplistic use of UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates to represent geography is the culprit here. Fauna and artifact assemblages do not show significant correlation (136).

Figures 6.4 (149) and 6.13 (180) are undoubtedly the most important in this book. These two figures (multidimensional scaling plots) purport to display both temporal (dimension 1) and spatial (dimension 2) variation between the sites under consideration. The strongest separation occurs between assemblages from the San Juan Islands and all others (180). (I would hope that anyone who has read Close’s (2006) analysis of the English Camp lithics and has some experience with Salish Sea lithics would come to an identical conclusion). It would have been interesting to remove the San Juan Islands sites as outliers and rerun the remaining data set to explore it further for variation, because removal of such outliers and reanalysis might reveal new patterns amongst the remaining dataset. San Juan Islands sites aside, Clark finds that while Halkomelem-speaking regions have sites that belong to both Marpole and Locarno phases, Straits Salish-speaking regions lack Marpole assemblages (171, 180). Clark presents a revised spatiotemporal culture historical framework for the Salish Sea region.

Rewriting Marpole provides an especially useful critical review of the usefulness of so-called “temporally diagnostic artifacts” and finds most of them to be much less diagnostic than previous generations of researchers led us to believe (193-203). This is an additional contribution to the field, and speaks to the need for archaeologists to submit more radiocarbon dates from their excavations to place them within a chronological framework.

That said, I found the relatively few radiocarbon dates (about 100) available for the whole sample of sites analyzed here rather disconcerting. Stein et al. (2003) present eight-two radiocarbon dates for the San Juan Islands alone for interpreting shell midden development there. And, just north and east of Clark’s study area, in the mid-Fraser Canyon, Brian Hayden and Anna-Marie Prentiss have obtained over 100 dates from just two Interior Salish villages — Keatley Creek and Bridge River — and they can’t agree on the timing of: 1) aggregated occupation, 2) origins of social complexity, or 3) abandonment of the very large Classic Lillooet villages there (Hayden, 2005; Hayden and Mathewes, 2009; Kuijt and Prentiss, 2004; Prentiss, Foor, Cross, Harris, and Wanzenried, 2012; Prentiss, Foor, Hogan, Markle, and Clarke., 2008). Based on my experience in the mid-Fraser region (Morin, 2010; Morin, Dickie, Sakaguchi, and Hoskins, 2008/9), I find the 100 dates from 149 sites in the Salish Sea pretty thin ice on which to place any chronological foundation.

I must interject here that Chapter 6 alone has at least twenty-five pages of tables that should have been placed in an appendix; I found their inclusion in the text very frustrating. Additionally, the section on art and mortuary architecture (178-189), while providing a great respite from the extremely formal discussion that preceded it, was also brief and out of date and lacked, for example, a recent Master’s thesis (Hannah, 1996) on seated human figure bowls. Rattlesnake iconography on bowls from Victoria (Duff, 1975:54-55), made from steatite from the Fraser Canyon, screams out for a non-local explanation here. Recall that the mid-Fraser Canyon is between four and eight days’ travel from the Salish Sea, where socially complex hunter-gather villages were also developing in the “Classic Lillooet Phase” (Hayden, 2000a; Hayden, Bakewell, and Gargett, 1996; Hayden and Ryder, 1991, 2003; Hayden, 2005; Morin et al., 2008/9; Prentiss, Lenert, Foor, and Goodale et al., 2005; Prentiss et al., 2008). Some acknowledgement of this coeval and practically adjacent phenomenon also involving the development of social complexity is lacking in this book on Marpole.

As someone who spends a lot of time studying lithic artifacts, and who is also interested in regional interaction, I can’t help but wonder that, rather than tracking the percentage of “types” through time, perhaps it might be more profitable to track the changing use of raw materials through time (e.g., Carlson, 1994; Choquette, 1980/81; Hayden et al., 1996; Morin, 2012; Reimer, 2011). Reimer (2011:168) identified the introduction of considerable quantities of new lithic materials, e.g. Garibaldi obsidian, into the Fraser Delta region during Marpole. My research (Morin, 2012) identified a “pulse” (an increase in quantity) of ground stone celts made beyond or at the extreme periphery of the Coast Salish world during the Marpole Phase, especially at the Fraser Delta. Clark did not have access to this data during the completion of his dissertation, but perhaps raw material use is an additional variable that could be integrated into IDA?

Rewriting Marpole provides useful insight into the cultural historical sequence of the Salish Sea region. I am certain it will be cited for this for decades to come. However, for the reasons expressed above, I do not feel that it makes much of a contribution to the study of social complexity in the region; while as a regional synthesis, this book will provide direction for future regional-level investigations into the political economies and the nature of social inequalities of the Marpole period.



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Rewriting Marpole: The Path to Cultural Complexity in the Gulf of Georgia Region
By Terence N. Clark 
Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2013. 200 pp. $55.00 paper