Year in Review—Archaeology and Heritage in the News, 2016

Year in Review—Archaeology and Heritage in the News, 2016

By Richard M. Hutchings | 28 December 2016

With 2016 in the rear-view mirror, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on the year that  was. For me, two stories stand out. First, I believe 2016 may be regarded as the year the archaeology world became aware of the scope and scale of the global heritage crisis, particularly as it relates to climate change impacts (Hutchings 2016; Kawaja 2016; Markham et al. 2016).

This awareness is timely because 2016 is set to be the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row, meaning 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have  been this century (Carrington 2016a; Thompson 2016). This is of particular concern for coastal communities (Hutchings 2016) as sea level rise estimates doubled this year, a result of Antarctica’s rapid meltdown. Previously expected to rise 1 metre by 2100, 2 metres by 2200, and 3 metres by 2300, global seas are now estimated to rise upwards of 2 metres by the end of this century (Carrington 2016b) and 3 to 5 metres by 2200. The loss of ice on Antarctica alone could cause seas to rise more than 15 metres (50 feet) by 2500 (Dennis and Mooney 2016).

The fear now is that climate change is escalating so fast it could be “game over” in terms of stabilizing global temperatures below “dangerous” levels (i.e., below 2C [3.6F] above pre-industrial levels by 2100) (Johnston 2016). While previous “business as usual” models—characterized by continued use of large amounts of fossil fuels—have meant the Earth’s average temperature will rise by between 2.6C (4.7F) and 4.8C (8.6F) degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100, new estimates suggest the actual range could be  between 4.8C (8.6F) to 7.4C (13.3F) degrees by 2100 (Friedrich et al. 2016). As Ian Johnston (2016) writes,

It is a vision of a future so apocalyptic that it is hard to even imagine. But, if leading scientists are right, planet Earth could be on course for global warming of more than seven degrees Celsius within a lifetime. And that, according to one of the world’s most renowned climatologists, could be “game over”—particularly given the imminent presence of climate change denier Donald Trump in the White House.

Along with “Anthropocene” (Fassbinder 2016) and “President Trump” (King 2016), it appears we must also now add the term “runaway global warming” to the heritage lexicon.

The second story is important because it illustrates perfectly the problems inherent to archaeology and the modern heritage-industrial complex in which it is so deeply enmeshed, as well as how that system is connected to the climate crisis (Hutchings 2016). On August 9, Amnesty International (2016) called for a stop-work order on British Columbia’s $8.8 billion plus Site C hydroelectric dam, saying the Peace River megaproject threatens the human rights of Indigenous peoples. …

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Site C Highway Route Will Desecrate Graves


First Nations Chiefs Say Site C Highway Route Will Desecrate Graves, BC Hydro Disagrees

By Sarah Cox | Thursday, November 24, 2016

The route chosen by BC Hydro for a Site C dam highway relocation will “desecrate” a First Nations burial ground and destroy a culturally significant site used by the Dunne-za people for millennia, says West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson.

“This is a very serious matter,” Willson wrote in a letter to B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone, co-signed by Prophet River First Nation Chief Lynette Tsakoza. “Digging up graves is not acceptable in our custom.”

Willson told DeSmog that the graves are in an area of the Peace River valley known locally as Bear Flats/Cache Creek, which BC Hydro plans to clear cut this winter for the first phase of a $530 million project to move 30 kilometres of a provincial highway out of the Site C dam flood zone.

Called as tluuge by the Dunne-za, or Beaver people, an ethno-linguistic grouping within the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, the area slated for the first part of the highway realignment contains known B.C. archaeological sites, a natural spring, a sweat lodge, and a campground used by First Nations for elder and youth gatherings.

“The Dunne-Za people have been using Bear Flats for thousands of years and we’re still using it today,” Willson said in an interview.

“The desecration of burial sites is a very serious matter. There’s absolutely no reason for them to disrupt those graves. They can move the highway over.”

According to BC Hydro itself, the Bear Flats/Cache Creek area is classified as an “archeological site complex,” an area noted for its high density of archeological sites.

Eighteen archeological sites at the Bear Flats/Cache complex will be affected by the $8.8 billion Site C project, including four Class 1 sites and 10 Class 11 sites.

In July 2015, BC Hydro received an eight-year permit from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) to “alter” 163 archeological sites for Site C, including for the construction of permanent roads, clearing, surface stripping, excavations and inundation from the reservoir. The permit says all work must cease if human remains are found and the Archaeology Branch must be contacted for further direction.

In a statement e-mailed to DeSmog, BC Hydro said it has undertaken “extensive archeological fieldwork including extensive subsurface shovel testing” and has not found  “any specific burial locations that would be directly affected by the Highway 29 alignment” at Bear Flats/Cache Creek….

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Learn more about “Site Alteration Permits” and the systematic destruction/dismantling of Indigenous heritage landscapes in British Columbia:


ICHT Bulletin 2016-2 | Canada’s Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve as Economic Development and Colonial Placemaking

“In the Name of Profit” (ICHT Bulletin 2016-1) (PDF) deconstructs the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve/Region (MABR), a UNESCO biosphere reserve located on the populated east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. From a critical heritage perspective, MABR is seen as late modern colonialism and placemaking.


Taking a critical heritage approach to naming and placemaking in contemporary Canada, we discuss how the power to name reflects the power to control people, their land, their past, and ultimately their future. Our case study is the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve (MABR), a recently invented place on Vancouver Island, southwest British Columbia. Through analysis of representations and landscape, we explore MABR as state-sanctioned branding, where a dehumanized nature is packaged for and marketed to wealthy ecotourists. Greenwashed by a feel-good “sustainability” discourse, MABR constitutes colonial placemaking and economic development, representing no break with past practices.

More ICHT publications can be found here.