Trails form a network across our landscape. We use roads and sidewalks to make our way around town and trails in the forest and grasslands to hike, bike and run with our furry friends. These paths are built with different levels of permanency — levelled, paved roads and built-up sidewalks will last centuries if we suddenly ceased to exist (which I hope we don’t), while paths through the forest or grasslands will grow over and disappear, if not used and maintained. Many such pathways criss-crossed the province in the past, ranging from major trade networks to smaller footpaths. Archaeologists find evidence of these trails, or the trails themselves, during our field surveys. As with our modern pathways, some trails are clearly present on the landscape still. There are grease trails in northwest and central B.C. (used to trade ooligan grease from the Coast to the Interior) that run like highways for hundreds of kilometres through the forest. You can easily walk these trails and see hundreds of culturally modified trees (CMTs) along the way, including arborglyphs (writing on trees) with names and dates of passage. These trails are etched into the landscape from centuries of use. Other, smaller trails are often suggested on the landscape by the presence of archaeological sites or landscape features along their routes. In B.C., one of the most common features you’ll find along trails are CMTs. Trees were used for a variety of purposes in B.C., but one of the most common type of CMTs in the Interior are cambium-stripped pine trees. Cambium, or the inner bark, is an energy-rich food source. Archaeologists often conduct large-area surveys for forestry or similar industries and, once results are mapped, it’s sometimes obvious where trails were once located. Photo 1 shows CMT sites recorded during a forestry survey. The red “blobs” mark the site locations, clearly showing a trail heading north from a lake (a modern reservoir, in this example) and coming to an intersection. No trail is present on the ground surface, but the presence of CMTs in this pattern indicate a once busy pathway. Archaeologists often find other types of archaeological sites that line up in a nice, linear patterns across the landscape. Photo 3 shows a series of recorded archaeological sites located along a creek, high up in Southern Interior mountains. These sites include scatters of lithic artifacts, such as debitage and projectile points, as well as cache pits that were used to store food. I recorded a few of the sites shown in this photo, many years ago, and upon returning to the office after fieldwork, a colleague showed me a map drawn by R.C. Mayne in 1859, which describes a well-used pack trail at this location. A trail is present, still, on the creeHistory: k bank, and the presence of dateable artifacts at these sites demonstrates it has been used continuously for at least 5,000 years. Many of the trails that covered the B.C. landscape underly our highways, city streets and backroads. We build roads over level lands, through mountain passes, and up and down river valleys. We travel the same routes that people have travelled since time immemorial through the Interior, out to the Coast and between villages. We have an ever-increasing need to travel places faster and easier, but we need to acknowledge our heavy footprint on the land and the heritage of Indigenous peoples to achieve that goal. As always, be interested in the past use of the landscape, but leave artifacts where you see them and leave a feather-light footprint.
Matt Begg is a Kamloops-based archaeologist. Interested in more? Go online to republicofarchaeology.ca. Dig It is KTW’s regularly published column on the history beneath our feet in the Kamloops region. A group of nine archaeologists working in the area contribute columns to KTW’s print edition and online at kamloopsthisweek.com.