Wapato (Sagitaria latifolia) In Katzie Traditional Territory, Pitt Meadows, British Columbia

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Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia Willdenow; Alismataceae - Water Plantain family), a tuberous starchy carbohydrate food-plant, is frequently mentioned in ethnographies, historic accounts and archaeological reports concerned with the Halkomelem speaking Katzie First Nation located in the Fraser Valley region of southwestern British Columbia. However, none of the archaeological reports contain substantive archaeobotanical evidence for the prehistoric use of wapato. The reports rely completely on ethnographic and historic accounts for their speculations and conclusions about wapato. The need for critical and contextual review is also evident for the ethnographic and historic accounts upon which the prevalent archaeological view of wapato is based. Complicating this situation is the absence of information regardmg the charring and identification of carbonized wapato remains and the lack of a model to predict where it might be found archaeologically. To redify the foregoing situation this research brings together an informative survey of the abundant botanical literature on the ecology of wapato in conjunction with a critical and contextual review of relevant environmental, archaeological, ethnographic, linguistic and historic information to set the stage for the construction of an archaeological model for wapato. Field work involved the location of wapato patches in traditional Katzie temtory and recording environmental information, and leads to the conclusion that wapato is only found outside the modern dike system and no longer in many of the ethnographically documented locations inside the dike system. A major contribution to the process is the conduct of a wapato charring experiment which clarifies the nature of charring for this tuber and provides the necessary details for identifying charred wapato remains emphasizing macroscopic features visible with the unaided eye, supplemented with low power and scanning electron microscopy for greater detail. With the results of the critical and contextual review in combination with the charring experiment results, a model for the archaeological recovery and identification of wapato is constructed for Katzie traditional territory. All or some of the elements of the analytical process followed and the archaeological model are applicable in other locales and should contribute significantly to our understanding of traditional wapato use.

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Department of Archaeology - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (M.A.)