Sunday, 30 June 2019


Plesiosaur vertebrae / Liam Langley Collection
These two lovely Plesiosaur vertebrae were found by Liam Langley on fossil field trips to the Yorkshire Coast on the east coast of England.

Plesiosaurus was a large, carnivorous air-breathing marine reptile with strong jaws and sharp teeth that moved through the water with four flippers. We'd originally thought that this might not be the most aerodynamic design but it was clearly effective as they used the extra set to create a wee vortex that aided in their propulsion. In terms of mechanical design, they have a little something in common with dragonflies.

We've recreated plesiosaur movements and discovered that they were able to optimize propulsion to make use of their own wake. As their front flippers paddled in big circular movements, the propelled water created little whirlpools under their bellies.

The back flippers would then paddle between these whirlpools pushing the plesiosaur forward to maximal effect. They were very successful hunters, outcompeting ichthyosaurs who thrived in the Triassic but were replaced in the Jurassic and Cretaceous by these new aquatic beasties. Our ancient seas teemed with these predatory marine reptiles with their long necks and barrel-shaped bodies. Plesiosaurs were smaller than their pliosaur cousins, weighing in at about 450 kg or 1,000 lbs and reaching about 4.5 metres or 15 feet in length. For a modern comparison, they were roughly twice as long as a standard horse or about as long as a good size hippo.

Plesiosaurs first appeared in the latest Triassic, during the Rhaetian. They thrived in the Jurassic and vanished at the end of the Cretaceous in time with the K-Pg extinction event along with a host of other species.

They are one of the marine reptiles that we associate with the infamous Mary Anning, a paleo darling of the early 19th century who found her first fossil specimen in the winter of 1823. These two vertebrae grace the home of the talented Mr. Langley. Anning's plesiosaur can be viewed in London's Natural History Museum.

Saturday, 29 June 2019


Fossil Brachiopod / Prolific Palaeozoic Shellfish
Looking down at the pebbly sand, you see just the wee top of this lovely fossil brachiopod poking out. Glee, delight and wonder follow as you roll it over in your hands and notice how it differs from clams you may be more familiar with.

Clams or bivalves are molluscs, the second-largest phylum of invertebrates with about 85,000 extant species. While brachiopods share some similarities with their molluscan friends they are in a phylum all their own.

Brachiopods are small marine shellfish that are not so common today but back in the Palaeozoic they were plentiful the world over. The two valves that make up a brachiopods shell are of different sizes and if you look closely you'll see that the hinge runs top and bottom  -- versus left and right like a clam.

Their lineage dates back to the Cambrian with over 12,000 fossil species and 350 living relatives sorted between 6,000 genera. There are two major groups of brachiopods, articulate with toothed hinges and simple open and closing muscles to manipulate their shells and inarticulate brachiopods with untoothed hinges and a more complex set of muscles used to control the brachial supports used to open and close their shells.

Friday, 28 June 2019


Neocomites (Teschenites) flucticulus
This beautiful specimen is Neocomites (Teschenites) flucticulus a fast-moving nektonic carnivorous ammonite (Thieuloy, 1977) sharing a large boulder with a delicate heteromorph straight-shelled ammonite Bochianites. These beauties were found on a fossil field trip to Hauterivian, Early Cretaceous deposits in the Baetic Cordillera earlier this year. The Baetic Cordillera is one of the main systems of mountain ranges in Spain along the southern and eastern Iberian Peninsula. There are several productive outcrops here that yield lovely Cretaceous ammonites and other marine species.

Neocomites are known from about a dozen offshore marine deep subtidal Cretaceous deposits in France, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.

This lovely specimen is the first Neocomites I've seen come out of fossil deposits in Spain. It was found and prepped by the talented Manuel Peña Nieto of Córdoba, Spain.

Thursday, 27 June 2019


Mammoths of Wrangell Island
Mammoths were were herbivore grazers native to Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. They lived out their long lives, 60-80 years, on the mammoth steppe, a periglacial landscape with lush grass vegetation. Mammoths used their well-designed teeth to graze on grasses, leaves, trees, shrubs and moss. Theirs was not a pretty end. Mammoths from this isolated population on Wrangell Island lost the genetic lottery with DNA mutations so abundant that they eventually led to their extinction.

In a paper published in PLOS in 2017, Rebekah Rogers describes that last populations of these once mighty beasts:

"The last woolly mammoths to walk the Earth were so wracked with genetic disease that they lost their sense of smell, shunned company, and had a strange shiny coat."

These genetic mutations may have given the last woolly mammoths "silky, shiny satin fur and let do a loss of olfactory receptors, responsible for the sense of smell, as well as substances in urine involved in social status and attracting a mate." In any event, their end was not a pretty one or the graceful exit one might have imagined. Excess of genomic defects in a woolly mammoth on Wrangel island; Rebekah L. Rogers , Montgomery Slatkin; Published: March 2, 2017

Wednesday, 26 June 2019


Baena arenosa / Green River Stone Company
An Eocene Cryptodiran Fossil Turtle, Baena arenosa, from fine-grained lime mud outcrops in the Green River Formation, Wyoming, USA.

This fellow, with the extra-long tail, marks the last of his lineage as the extinct family Baenidae appeared first in the Jurassic and died out at the end of the Eocene. We've found specimens of Baena, along with 14 other species of turtles in seven genera and five families in the Lower Eocene San Jose Formation, San Juan Basin of New Mexico.

This specimen is from the Green River Formation of Wyoming which was once the bottom of one of an extensive series of Eocene lakes. The Green River Formation is particularly abundant in beautifully preserved fossil fish, eleven species of reptiles including a 13.5ft crocodile, an armadillo-like mammal, Brachianodon westorum, bats, birds and other fresh-water aquatic goodies.

This specimen of a beautiful Baena was found and prepped by the Green River Stone Company. They purchased their private 12-acre quarry about 20 years ago. It's at the Eocene lake's centre, shared with Fossil Butte National Monument about 24 kilometres (15 miles) west of Kemmerer, Lincoln County, Wyoming.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019


Fossil Sand Dollars / Cassibuloid Ancestry
These lovelies are fossil sand dollars with their beautiful five-fold radial symmetry and petal-like pattern. They are echinoids, a group of lovely echinoderms with flattened, rigid, globular skeletons made of thin calcium carbonate plates. They look a bit like sea-biscuits and are sometimes referred to as such.

Their ancestors diverged from an irregular order of echinoids called cassibuloids during the Jurassic. The first true genus of sand dollar, Togocyamus, arose during the Paleocene. While millions of years old, they retain their recognizable form and look very similar to ones we might find living in our oceans and along burrowing on our beaches today.

Monday, 24 June 2019


Blue Mussels / Mytilus edulis
Blue mussels live in intertidal areas and inlets attached to rocks and other hard substrates by strong, stretchy thread-like structures called byssal threads.

They are tasty, edible marine bivalves, molluscs, in the family Mytilidae and they've done well for themselves. Mussels have a range of over 4000 km in waters around the world.

Temperature, salinity and food supply are key factors in how mussels grow and have a huge impact on their shape. Environmental stressors cause curvatures to show up in mussel populations and can help us understand environmental changes happening in our local waters.

Sunday, 23 June 2019


Calamopleurus cylindricus (Agassiz, 1841) / Collection of David Murphy
This well-preserved fossil fish skull is from Calamopleurus (Agassiz, 1841), an extinct genus of bony fishes related to the heavily armored ray-finned gars.

They are fossil relics, the sole surviving species of the order Amiiformes. Although bowfins are highly evolved, they are often referred to as primitive fishes and living fossils as they retain many of the morphologic characteristics of their ancestors.

This specimen is from Calamopleurus cylindricus of the Family Amiidae. He was found in Lower Cretaceous outcrops of the Santana Formation in the Araripe Basin UNESCO Global Geopark of northeastern Brazil.

Friday, 21 June 2019


Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is a 3,500-sq.-mile wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot.

While the park is mostly in Wyoming, it spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers. You'll maybe know it by its most famous geyser, Old Faithful. It's also home to hundreds of animal species, including Black bear, Canada lynx, Bobcats, Northwestern gray wolves, Bighorn sheep, American bison, elk and antelope.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019


Sockeye Salmon / Oncorhynchus nerka
In the southern Interior, ice built up first in the northern Selkirk Mountains, then slowly flowed down into the valleys. Once the valleys were filled, the depth of the ice increased until it began to climb to the highlands and finally covered most of the Interior of British Columbia.

Between ice advances, there were times when the Kamloops area was ice free and the climate warm and hospitable. Glacial ice was believed to have initiated its most recent retreat from the South Thompson area around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, but salmon remains from 18,000 years ago suggest that it may have actually began its northwest decline much earlier and indicating a much warmer climate in the Interior than archaeologists or geologists had originally estimated.

Eighteen thousand year-old salmon also challenge the archaeological notion that aboriginal people of the Interior have had access to salmon as a significant protein source for only a few thousand years. In the popular view, people living in the Okanagan and Thompson Valleys were felt to have moved to settlements that were semi-permanent about 4,500 years ago.

By that time they would have had a seasonally regulated diet composed primarily of salmon and supplemented by local game - deer, elk, small mammals – and available shellfish, birds and plant foods. If salmon were present much earlier, it is possible that this pattern of food utilization may have arisen earlier than thought.

Monday, 17 June 2019


Seafood Bounty / Haida Gwaii, British Columbia
“When the tide is out, the table is set.” This wisdom from those who call Haida Gwaii home is still true today. The enormous difference between high and low tide in Haida Gwaii – up to twenty-three vertical feet – means that twice a day, vast swathes of shellfish are unveiled, free for the taking.

Archaeological evidence tells us that roughly five thousand years ago, gathering shellfish replaced hunting and fishing as a primary food source on the islands. The shellfish meat was skewered on sticks, smoked and stored for use in winter or for travel.

The islands of Haida Gwaii are at the western edge of the continental shelf and form part of Wrangellia, an exotic terrane of former island arcs, which also includes Vancouver Island, parts of western mainland British Columbia and southern Alaska.

While we’ll see that there are two competing schools of thought on Wrangellia’s more recent history, both sides agree that many of the rocks, and the fossils they contain, were laid down somewhere near the equator. They had a long, arduous journey, first being pushed by advancing plates, then being uplifted, intruded, folded, and finally thrust up again. It’s reminiscent of how pastry is balled up, kneaded over and over, finally rolled out, then the process is repeated again.

This violent life story applies to most of the rock that makes up the Insular Belt, the outermost edge of the Cordillera. Once in their present location, the rocks that make up the mountains and valleys of this island group were glaciated and eroded to their present form.

Despite this tumultuous past, the islands have arguably the best-preserved and most fossil-rich rocks in the Canadian Cordillera, dating from very recent to more than 200 million years old. On these details, there is a pretty broad consensus. On much else, including exactly where the Wrangellia terrane was born and how fast it moved to its present position, there is lively debate. But we all agree on their bounty and beauty.

Sunday, 16 June 2019


Red-Tailed Raptor / Buteo jamaicensis
The majestic Buteo jamaicensis are easily identified by the red upper surface of their broad tails. They are powerful raptors with strong hunting skills.

Most red-tailed hawks have rich brown upper parts with a streaked belly and a dark bar on the underside of the wing, easily viewed when seen from below. The fine detail in their plumage is breathtaking, like little-feathered works of art.

Saturday, 15 June 2019


Salmon have permeated First Nations mythology and have been prized as an important food source for thousands of years. 

For the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, people of the confluence, of the Interior of British Columbia, near Kamloops, salmon was the most important of the local fishing stock and the salmon fishing season was a significant social event that warranted the nomination of a Salmon Chief who directed the construction of the hooks, weirs and traps and the distribution of the catch.

In the Interior of the province, archaeological evidence dates the use of salmon as a food source back 3,500 years. Sheri Burton and Catherine Carlson were able to isolate and amplify mitochondrial DNA from salmon remains from archaeological sites near Kamloops and identified the species as Oncorhynchus nerka, or Sockeye salmon. No older salmon remains had been found in the Kamloops area until the 1970s, when fossil salmon concretions were collected on the south shore of Kamloops Lake.

These concretions were originally dated as Miocene (24 – 5.5 million years old) by the Geological Survey of Canada, based on analysis of pollen grains found in the concretions. However, many local experts, including UBC geology professor W.R. Danner and the late geologists W.H. Mathews and Richard Hughes, suspected the remains were from the much more recent, Late Pleistocene epoch.

It was not until the early 1990s that Catherine Carlson and Ken Klein found definitive proof of this.

By good luck, the fish remains in the Kamloops Lake concretions had not been completely replaced by minerals – enough of the original organic bone collagen remained for radiocarbon dating. The corrected date is approximately 18,000 years. It is likely that erosion during the time of deposition had carried pollen down from Miocene layers in surrounding hills, to be deposited around the dead fish, causing the initial over-estimation of the age of the concretions.

Oncorhychus gorbuscha
The lovely fossil specimen above is Oncorhynchus nerka, a Late Pleistocene Fossil Sockeye Salmon, from the fine-grained, silty clays on the south shore of Kamloops Lake, British Columbia, Canada. 

The site was originally collected in the 1970s by the late geologist and palaeontologist Richard Hughes. I was introduced to the site much later after its rediscovery by Catherine Carlson and Kenneth Klein in the fall of 1991 with the help of local and gracious host, Bill Huxley.

They later wrote up and published a chapter in Rolf Ludvigsen's "Life in Stone: A Natural History of British Columbia's Fossils." It was Huxley who shared its location with John Leahy, a local Kamloops resident and avid fossil hunter, and him with me. 

This specimen was collected by John in the 1990s, his tenth partial salmon from this site and the sole one in my collection.

An age of 18,000 plus years sets the fossils firmly as the only salmonids of the Late Pleistocene in North America, a very significant find. The date also changed our ideas about the early climate of the Interior; the Thompson Valley could not have been covered by glacial ice for as long as originally thought. Indeed, it makes the Interior ice-free only 2,000 years after the Last Glacial Maximum and some 4,000 years before our western continental coastline and the Rocky Mountain Foothills.  

It has long been accepted that the most recent series of ice ages began approximately 1.6 million years ago, beginning as ice accumulations at higher altitudes with the gradual cooling of the climate. Four times the ice advanced and receded, most recently melting away somewhere around 10,000 years ago. Ice retreated from southwestern British Columbia and the Puget Sound area around 15,000 years ago. 

In the southern Interior, ice built up first in the northern Selkirk Mountains, then slowly flowed down into the valleys. Once the valleys were filled, the depth of the ice increased until it began to climb to the highlands and finally covered most of the Interior of British Columbia. Between ice advances, there were times when the Kamloops area was ice-free and the climate warm and hospitable. 

Glacial ice was believed to have initiated its most recent retreat from the South Thompson area around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, but salmon remains from 18,000 years ago suggest that it may have actually begun its northwest decline much earlier and indicating a much warmer climate in the Interior than archaeologists or geologists had originally estimated.

Eighteen thousand-year-old salmon also challenge the archaeological notion that aboriginal people of the Interior have had access to salmon as a significant protein source for only a few thousand years. In the popular view, people living in the Okanagan and Thompson Valleys were felt to have moved to settlements that were semi-permanent about 4500 years ago. 

By that time they would have had a seasonally regulated diet composed primarily of salmon and supplemented by local game - deer, elk, small mammals – and available shellfish, birds and plant foods including roots and berries. If salmon were present much earlier, it is possible that this pattern of food utilization may have arisen earlier than thought.

Richard Hughes had originally identified the fossilized Kamloops salmon as Oncorhynchus nerka or Sockeye salmon, the same species found in the 3,500-year-old archaeological sites. But, using the carbon-13 isotope ratio, Klein and Carlson were able to determine that these salmon did not feed on protein from a marine source and relied solely on a freshwater diet. 

In other words, they could not have spent part of their life in the ocean, as modern Sockeye salmon do. Based on the specimens’ smaller heads and stunted bodies, the longest measuring in at a pint-sized 11.5 cm, Klein and Carlson feel that the fossils are likely Kokanee, a modern landlocked variety of Sockeye.

Friday, 14 June 2019


Middle Campanian Plant Fossils / Cranberry Arms
Back in 1996, Vancouver Island local, Jim Bell was moving rocks with his excavator near the Cranberry Arms Pub as part of the Duke Point Highway construction. During one of those loads, he saw a massive fossil palm frond on the side of a rock -- a real showstopper. This wasn't just any frond, he'd scooped up the biggest Geonomites Imperialis ever found.

The fossil caused a stir amongst his construction colleagues but it was nothing compared to the whoops and squeals from local paleo enthusiasts. And rightly so. What do you think of when you envision palm trees? You see warm, tropical beaches, hammocks swaying in the wind, am I right? Most of the fossils found in the Nanaimo Group of Vancouver Island are marine, so a tropical terrestrial site was hot news!

I learned about the site from a very excited paleo colleague calling late one night. He excitedly shared that they'd found a new Late Cretaceous plant site up near Cedar on Vancouver Island. While this is exciting for some, the construction company was not nearly as excited. These were plant fossils after all, and not some new species of dinosaur or ancient hominid. The construction was briefly paused to allow some collecting to take place but was set to continue the following week. They did have a highway to build. Many keen volunteers swooped in to see what could be unearthed. Phone calls were made. Shifts were scheduled. Headlamps were employed as folks took to digging in the dark to maximize the limited collecting window.

Many beautiful specimens were collected. The fossilized leaves, branches and plant remains from broadleaf trees, shrubs, conifers and ferns were immortalized as they slipped into the muds and fine sand of a balmy river environment and slowly buried. 70 million years later, we were doing our best to dig them right back up again.

The fossils included plants and seeds you would expect to find in a much warmer, wetter environment than the climate enjoyed on Vancouver Island today. Perhaps as much as 10° warmer. We see similar specimens of Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) down in Washington State in the Eocene Chuckanut Formation. It is thrilling to see the correlation and transition in both faunal species and environmental conditions for the Pacific Northwest from the Cretaceous to the Eocene. The specimen you see here was generously gifted as a souvenir to attendees of the Third BCPA Symposium in Victoria, British Columbia. Specimen: Middle Campanian Plant Fossils from the Protection Formation, Reserve Member, Cranberry Arms, Cedar, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019


Fossil Turtle / Aspideretes subquadratus
A rare bit of Turtle Shell from an Aspideretes subquadratus, Upper Cretaceous, Belly River Formation on Sand Creek, Red Deer River, Alberta, Canada.

The holotype (No. 5724) is housed at the Royal Ontario Museum of Palaeontology. It was collected 100 years ago, on a University of Toronto Fossil Expedition in 1919. It was found by Canada's own George F. Sternberg.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019


Eocene Plant Fauna / Eohiodon Fish Fossil / McAbee
An Eohiodon rosei and Eocene plant fossils from the McAbee Fossil Beds. McAbee is part of an old lake bed deposited 52 million years ago and is one of the most diverse fossil sites known in British Columbia.

The McAbee beds are known worldwide for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils including lovely plant, insect and fish species. The site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site under British Columbia's Heritage Conservation Act and closed to the public in July of 2012. This decision has now been reversed.

McAbee re-opened to the public on June 21, 2019, with plans to build out a visitor's centre and educational programs. Funding is in place to have two staff on site this summer to welcome visitors from the general public Thursday to Monday 10AM-5PM. Collecting will be open access with no fees charged. The Province is committed to providing access to scientists, the lay public and tourists interested in local First Nations history. The direction on what happens next at McAbee is being driven by the Heritage Branch in consultation with members of the Shuswap Nation and Bonaparte Band.

Local members of the Bonaparte Band want to share the spiritual significance of the area from a First Nations perspective and see McAbee as an indigenous tourism destination. So it looks like it will be paleontology, archaeology with a cultural focus to add spice. In any case, collection of fossils will continue, likely through the use of day-permits with oversight to ensure significant fossil finds make there way to museums. It is an exploratory year for those running it. They'll be asking a lot of questions from those who drop by then collating that information to make recommendations, seek funding and set a plan for the future. 

Monday, 10 June 2019


In 2000, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge.

As they walked up the shoreline excitement began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints.

Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area and the birth of the Peace Region Palaeontology Society and Dinosaur Centre.

The Hudson's Hope Museum has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthyosaurs, a marine reptile and hadrosaur tracks. The tracks the boys found were identified the following year by Rich McCrae as those of a large quadrupedal dinosaur, Tetrapodosaurus borealis, an ichnotaxon liked to ankylosaurs. The dinosaur finds near Tumbler Ridge are significant. Several thousand bone fragments have been collected, recorded and now reside within the PRPRC collections, making for one of the most complete assemblages for dinosaur material from this age.


Daihua sanqi, Yunnan Province, China
This lovely fossil is Daihua sanqiong, an unusual 518-million year old sea creature that shares characteristics with our modern comb jelly. The animal’s 18 tentacles are all fine and feather-like, with rows of large cilia adorning the exterior.

The specimen was found in mudstones south of Kunming in the Yunnan Province of southern China by co-author of the study, Professor Hou Xianguang.

This isn’t the first biological discovery found in this particular region. It was named the Daihua Sanqiong after the Dai tribe in Yunnan and “hua” which means “flower” in Mandarin in honor of its flower-like shape. I met the colorful Dai several times while in Kunming in 2018. They are beautiful people with a rich cultural history. It pleases me that this specimen will be named for them.

Sunday, 9 June 2019


Shonisaurus sikanni / Sikanni Chief River
Dr. Betsy Nicholls, Rolex Laureate Vertebrate Palaeontologist from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, excavated the type specimen of Shonisaurus sikanniensis over three field sessions in one of the most ambitious fossil excavations ever ventured.

More than 200 million years ago, the Shonisaurus sikanniensis swan in our ancient seas. A 70-foot long specimen encased in limestone was unearthed on the banks of the Sikanni Chief River. Many beautiful souls contributed to our knowledge and excavation of Shoni including Dean Lomax, Sven Sachs and our own Betsy Nicholls.

Saturday, 8 June 2019


Cibelella Coronata / Photo: Alexei Molchanov
A spectacular specimen of the trilobite Cibelella Coronata from upper Ordovician deposits along the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Coast, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Thursday, 6 June 2019


Anisalaga (1823-1919) was one of the most celebrated Chilkat weavers of the Pacific Northwest. She is the All-Mother to more than 1,200 descendants.

She is known by many names — Ansaq, Anisalaga, Anis'laga, Anisalaga, A'naeesla'ga, Mary Ebbetts — and her daughter Elizabeth (Hunt) Wilson called her Anain. 

She is the proud woman you see in this photograph wearing all black. This photo and the one below used to hang in my grandmother's house in a place of honour.

Much of what I know of Ansaq is from my Grandmother Betty (Elizabeth Alberta neé Hunt) and through reading transcripts of interviews with Elizabeth Wilson, her last surviving daughter — whose traditional name was Whale-swimming-by (Tlahlemdalaokwaw) and when at Alert Bay amongst the Niskish, was called Thunderbird (Kunkwukulegye). 

I have also learned much from George Hunt, the ethnologist (Anisalaga's eldest son & Elizabeth's brother, my great-great-uncle) who worked with Franz Boas and through that work, kept wonderful albeit skewed records. George often portrayed and staged photographs with his mother's work as representing Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw traditional artistry when he knew full well that its origins were Tlingit. Anisalaga's Kwak'wala name was Musgemxàala, bestowed upon her arrival to Tsaxis. Even so, she was a proud Tlingit by blood and very high ranking at that. 

George was more forthright and enlisted Franz Boas in the light deception of his mother's Chilkat weaving, but did bend the truth in an effort to please American photographer Edward Curtis — hence all the mislabelling of Curtis's photographs.

Anisalaga belonged to the Raven/Yéil phratry of the Gigalgam Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongass / Larhtorh/Larhsail at Cape Fox. Anisalaga is the blood that binds all the Hunts on the West Coast of British Columbia. Her sister belonged to the Wolf/Gooch moiety. 

​They were both descendants of Chief Keishíshk' Shakes IV (her father), whose wife was S’eitlin, a Deisheetaan, a clan of the Raven moiety whose principal crest is the Beaver/S'igeidí (Gaanax.ádi) (her mother) from Aan goon (Angoon) and the Head-Chief of Wrangell (her grandfather).

At the time of her birth in 1823, life was very different in Tongass, Alaska. The Russians still controlled much of the coast and had not yet negotiated its sale to the United States. Ansaq led a traditional Tlingit lifestyle while Alaska was navigating under the tensions of the rule of Czar Alexander I of Russia. 

My grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Henderson née Hunt's Chilkat Blanket
Ansaq was a skilled weaver from a long line of Chilkat weaving Masters — some originally Jilkháat and Tsimshian of Wrangel, now family through marriage. 

The name Chilkat derives from the Tlingit people of the Chilkat in the Jilkháat region of Alaska near Klukwan on the Chilkat River. 

The Nisga'a are reputed to have invented the technique, according to some, though this conflicts with some Tsimshian weavers.

When she was fourteen, Anisalaga was put in seclusion by her mother according to the old Tlingit custom. A skilled painter was engaged to put up a painted cloth behind where she worked. An elder woman then described the figures as they were being painted in the manner of old Chilkat design.

Without looking, Anisalaga would reproduce the designs into her own work. There might be a Raven on each side, Grizzly-Bear in the centre and the Killer Whale underneath — with faces of other bears to illustrate the Bear Mother story. The weave would sometimes include other traditional designs — but always with a central figure to showcase when the robe was danced. 

Great Uncle Bob & Uncle Doug, Tsaxis, 1992
She was taught to prepare all of the materials for weaving — gather and split red cedar bark into fine threads, traditional dying with bark, copper and urine. 

Over the years, she grew to become a very skilled weaver and Master of the Chilkat tradition — a noble art she guarded from outsiders but shared with family and those closest to her. She worked in bold yellow, turquoise, black and white — including an abstract design in the corners that is her signature. 

Raven house, like all clans, owned stories — epics and sacred histories — naming the past people, places and resources. These might be histories of great feats or simply stories that share tales of fishing, berrying, seaweeding and hunting. 

Each house owning their crests through inheritance — or sometimes conquest or as compensation for a wrong to a moiety clan based on Tlingit law. 

House crests might be myths, names, designs, songs, dances, carvings, masks, costumes and the location of houses, graves and camps near food resources. These stories and house crests are reflected in Anisalaga's Chilkat weavings and passed down to her children and relatives by blood.

The physical house where she grew up was a large rectangle with cedar planks set along the sides and upon a low-sloping, the peaked roof held up by four decorated corner posts and a ridge beam. 

Uncle Doug and Grandma Betty, Tsaxis 1992
Inside, the floor was dug down so the sides of the house could hold two or more levels of benches —  platforms where people could sit to visit and share stories and another higher one with wooden partitions to give some privacy to sleeping compartments. 

Take a deep breath and breathe in the smell of salt air, cooking fires, red cedar and smoked fish. If you listen for the sounds, you can hear a child cry, someone washing and pounding a blanket clean, wood being worked and the chatter of those gathered by the communal cooking hearth. 

Down on the beach in front of the house, men gather to take out the canoes to fish, hunt whale and visit with the tékeeyek or 'sea-spirits,' — the waters of the sheltered bay calm and protected by an archipelago of islands, but further west in the Gulf of Alaska, these same waters can quickly turn to a tempest.

This is Tongass, Alaska, now the Tongass National Forest, a 16.7 million-acre temperate rainforest that covers most of southeast Alaska. It is home to eagles, bear and salmon. It is a land of plenty and the childhood home of Ansaq. 

When she was older, Ansaq travelled with her father, Chief Shakes, down the coast to visit and trade. They stopped in Wrangell and Ketchikan and ventured all the way down to Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island. 

Anisalaga / Ansaq / Mary Ebbetts
It was on one of these trips that she was to meet and eventually marry Robert Hunt of the Hudson's Bay Company. 

In 1870, they were married in traditional fashion by the sharing of blankets and giving gifts. Their wedding was at Fort Simpson, at Lax-Kw'alaamson on the Nass River. It was witnessed by family and the Tsimshian with whom they were staying. 

For a time, Ansnaq and Robert lived in the north. Later, they moved to Tsaxis, Fort Rubert and Alert Bay, home of the Kwakiutl, bringing her Tlingit totems and sacred knowledge of Chilkat weaving. 

Ansnaq and Robert Hunt had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons — George, William, Emily, Eli Fredrick, Sarah, Mary (who died young), Mary (second child of the same name), Elizabeth, Robert James Jr. Jane Charity and Annie. Their descendants are the Hunts you meet on the west coast of British Columbia.

Their eldest son George (1854-1933), was an ethnologist, linguist and artist best known for his collaboration with Franz Boas. Their son (and George's younger brother) William (1866-1952), married Annie Wilson and together they had (Robert) Vivian Hunt (1895-1985), my great grandfather. 

Anisalaga Chilkat housed at the Honolulu Museum of Art
Willian Hunt was the lighthouse keeper at Scarlett Point on Balaklava Island from 1908-1939, replacing James William Davies, the first Keeper. William had been recommended for the role by Agent Gaudin as William Hunt had served briefly as an assistant at Pine Island Lighthouse. William got the job and moved his family to Scarlett Point. 

"(William) Hunt moved his Indian wife and two sons to Scarlett Point in 1908, and over the coming years, the family would grow to include a total of ten boys and a girl. 

Vivian, one of the middle sons, was paid ten dollars a month to haul mail and supplies between Port Hardy, Scarlett Point, and Pine Island. 

“I used to wait for what looked like a good spell of weather,” Vivian recalled, “but my father smoked plug tobacco in a pipe. That caused me some trouble. When he ran out of tobacco, I went to Port Hardy no matter what the weather was like. In good weather, with a good tide, I could make the trip in four hours. But sometimes, when it was bad, I’d be eight hours getting across.”

On February 22, 1930, Vivian’s brother Tommy (Thomas Edwin) Hunt (1892-1930) set out in a rowboat to deliver supplies to nearby settlers. 

“As far as I can make out, a comber must have struck the boat and turned her right over,” Vivian Hunt reported to the marine agent. “He had his rubber hip boots on when he left here, he had them both off when we found his body the next day.” 

Annie Wilson, William's wife, grieved his passing. A few months later, she felt particularly ill and went back to bed. Vivian was sent to retrieve a doctor, but she passed away while he was still within sight of the station. 

In 1920, Vivian met and married the lovely Irene Isabelle Jennings at Scarlett Point and together they had six children — one of whom was my grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Alberta Hunt (1923-2010). It was on Balaklava Island that my grandmother Betty met and married my grandfather. 

James Lyon, William Hunt, Vivian Hunt & wife Irene Isabelle (1920s)
Together they had six children — including my father Gordon Fredrick Henderson (1942-2015). 

He was born on Balaklava Island and it was his grandfather, Vivian who served as the midwife — for him and all his siblings — as he had done for his own children. 

Vivian used to row twenty-one kilometres into town to visit us every month, bringing his smile, sea urchin shells and stories. 

Ansnaq brought Tlingit songs, stories and the Chilkat weaving tradition from the north to the coast into traditional Kwakiutl country. 

Through the Ravens of Tongass, her marriage and move to Fort Rupert Ansaq brought Kyinanuk totem pole carving traditions to both Fort Rupert and Alert Bay — influencing their use of the Thunderbird, the Raven, the Sun, the Cannibal Tsonokwa, the double-headed serpent of the Sisiutl and the Sea-Lion. 

Elizabeth (Betty) Alberta Henderson née Hunt 
Living amongst Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw, Ansaq and her children, adopted the language and blended many of their stories, dances and families with her own. They spoke Tlingit in the home but English and Kwak'wala when with others.

The Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw had similar stories and crests, but how the stories were told, what is emphasized, added or subtracted from the tale shifted to include crests of both Tlingit and Kwakiutl. 

A replica of Ansaq's mother's Tongass pole — erected on her mother's grave at Tongass, southern Alaska — was raised in Fort Rupert — a visual symbol that the Hunt family had come from the north but equally honoured both the Tlingit and Kwakiutl nations — and looked to mend past conflicts and historical animosity.  

Photo: Grandma Elizabeth (Betty) Henderson nee Hunt's Chilkat Blanket. Betty was a Master Weaver in the style passed down to her from Anislaga.

Photo: My Great Uncle Bob (Robert Thomas Hunt) and Uncle Doug (Norman Douglas Henderson) at the 1995 Hunt Potlatch in Tsaxis. 

Photo: Uncle Doug (Norman Douglas Henderson) and my Grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Alberta Henderson née Hunt dancing her Chilkat blanket. 

Photo: Anislaga / Asnaq / Mary Ebbetts (1823-1919), proud Tlingit woman and Master Chilkat Weaver 

Photo: Agnes Hunt Cranmer, one of the first family members to have a camera became the designated family photographer. In this photograph, taken by Agnes in the 1920s at the Scarlett Point Lighthouse on Balaklava Island we see (LtoR) James Lyon (1906-, William Hunt "Uncle Willy" and his son (Robert) Vivian Hunt (my great grandfather) & his lovely wife Irene Isabelle Jennings (1902-1997) whom he married at Scarlett Point on December 29, 1920, just after her eighteenth birthday. Together they had six children — one of whom was my grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Alberta Henderson née Hunt. This image was generously shared by John Lyon, whose father (of the same name) is the handsome young teen at the far left of the photo.

Note: William Hunt (1866-1952) was the Lighthouse Keeper at Scarlett Point, Balaklava Island. He was the second son to Ansaq (Mary Ebbetts) and Robert Hunt; and, brother to George Hunt, ethnologist. 

Note: (Robert) Vivian Hunt (1895-1985) was the son of William Hunt, Ansaq's second son. Vivian was twenty-five when he married Irene Isabelle Jennings. When his father William (Uncle Willy) passed away, Vivian took over as Lighthouse Keeper at Scarlett Point. 

Photo: Grandma Elizabeth (Betty) Henderson née Hunt taken by her devoted granddaughter Heidi Henderson in 2009, the year before she passed away.

References and further reading:

Matrilineal Kinship: Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000: 286–7. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.

Tlingit Houses, Clans & Crests:

Reminiscences of Fort Rupert, by Travis, December 1946. Kwakiutls, Fort Rupert: the following information was obtained in 1947 from: Mrs. Elizabeth M. Wilson née Hunt of Fort Rupert. Mrs. Wilson shares her own story as given by herself.

HBC Record Note: Robert Hunt entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1849, having been recruited by Philip Francis of Hinton St. Mary, Dorsetshire, England. 

Robert sailed aboard the Norman Morison, leaving London on the 18th of October 1849 to Vancouver Island. He arrived in April 1950 and began his work as a labourer in Fort Rupert. From 1868-1871 he was the Postmaster at Nass River, then the Postmaster in Fort Rupert from 1871-1882. The Hudson's Bay Company closed their Fort Rupert operation in 1882 and the stock was purchased by Robert Hunt. In 1885, the land was transferred into his name. Later, the store would be run by his daughter Jane Charity who married Harry Tennyson Cadwallader.  

HBC Record Note: Robert Hunt had a first wife who died two years after marriage. Robert's brother Eli Hunt was in Yenston, near Blandford, Somersetshire in 1893.

Note: George Hunt (Robert & Mary's first son) was employed by the HBC in 1864.

Image: Ceremonial masks and regalia, including Chilkat blankets (photo taken in Quatsino Sound) - Ben Leeson photograph. Circa 1900. The Chilkat blankets were woven by Anisalaga, also known as Mary Ebbets, who was Tlingit. She married fur trader Robert Hunt who ended up purchasing the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Rupert. They stayed in the North Island and their many children married locally. Many North Islanders today are descendants of Mary and Robert. #Quatsino; City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-3011

Lighthouse Friends:

Wednesday, 5 June 2019


Isaac Lake / Bowron Provincial Park
Isaac is the longest of the pristine lakes in the Bowron Lake circuit in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. It is beautiful to paddle and offers well-appointed camping sites on the shore after a full day on the water.

Isaac is picture perfect, nestled between Mount Falkner and Kaza Mountains to the west and southwest and Mount Amos along with the reindeer-themed, Vixen and Dasher Peaks to the east.



Monday, 3 June 2019


Arnioceras semicostatum & Arnioceras miserable
These beauties are from the Arnioceras beds near Last Creek, British Columbia. The fossils found here are from the Lower Jurassic, Lower Sinemurian, Little Paradise Member of the Last Creek formation.

This site is part of the research area for Dr. Howard Tipper, GSC (who is hugely missed) and Dr. Louise Longridge, University of British Columbia.

Several ammonites species can be found here including Arnioceras semicostatum & Arnioceras miserable.

Building on the work of Dr. Howard Tipper and Dr. Louise Longridge, along with Taylor et al from 2001, Pengfei Hou did a Master's thesis through UBC in 2014 on Sinemurian (Early Jurassic) stratigraphy at Last Creek, British Columbia and Five Card Draw, Nevada : paleontology and environmental implications.

As part of that work, he collected over 400 ammonite specimens from the Last Creek Formation in Last Creek, British Columbia and the Sunrise Formation in Five Card Draw, Nevada. The research led to three new species: Tipperoceras n. sp. A, Tmaegoceras obesus n. sp., Arnioceras n. sp. Nice to see Tip getting a nod for his efforts with a species named after him.

The two gastropods you see in the central block look to be Promathildia turritella. The age is certainly correct. Here's hoping a nice grad student takes an interest. The rare but lovely gastros from this area would make an excellent thesis. Perhaps comparing their distribution to their counterparts in Europe.

Sunday, 2 June 2019


Blue Lias Ichthyosaur / Photo: Lewis Winchester-Ellis
Ichthyosaurs were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods, until they were replaced as the top aquatic predators by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
In the Late Cretaceous, ichthyosaurs were hard hit by the Cenomanian-Turonian anoxic event. As the deepest (benthos) layers of the seas became anoxic, poisoned by hydrogen sulphide, deep water marine life died off. This caused a cascade that wreaked havoc all the way up the food chain. At the end of that chain were our mighty predaceous marine reptiles. Bounty turned to scarcity and a race for survival began. The ichthyosaurs lost that race as the last lineage became extinct. It may have been their conservative evolution as a genus when faced with a need for adaptation to the world in which they found themselves and/or being outcompeted by early mosasaurs.

Saturday, 1 June 2019


North Cascades, Cascade Range, western North America