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Squamish artifact dates back to at least 400 A.D.

Bowl discoverered by geoscientist on the banks of squamish river
UNEXPECTED FIND Geoscientist Pierre Friele shows off the 1,600-year-old bowl and pestle he discoverd while on an academic mission along the Squamish River. Photo by Gagandeep Ghuman

It was a routine academic mission for geoscientist Pierre Friele, but it ended with a discovery that goes back more than 1600 years.

Friele stumbled upon a prehistoric bowl and two cobble pestles while guiding a student researcher who was studying sediments along the Squamish River.

He found the bowl in a bank along the Squamish River, in an area opposite the creek mouth flowing from Lake Lovely Water.

"It's just amazing," said a beaming Friele.

"It's not every day you find things that are thousands of years old."

Carbon dating has determined the historical artefacts are more than 1,600 years old, said Rudy Reimer, a professor of First Nations history and archaeology at SFU.

"It's 1,610 (years old), plus or minus 20 years," Reimer said.

Reimer said numerous fields of science use radiocarbon dating to acquire age estimates of the places, sites and materials.

Radiocarbon dating, however, only works on organic materials, such as bone, shell, wood and charcoal.

Friele said when he found the artifacts, he estimated them to be thousands of years old based on the amount of sediment deposited.

"It doesn't happen in an instant. Every time there's a flood, there is a little bit of sediment deposited on it. There would have been a village in this location for thousands of years," he said.

The discovery was a fluke.

As Friele's student busied himself studying the river sediments, Friele wandered along river bank.

He stopped when he noticed something peculiar at one particular spot about three metres from the top of the bank: the colour of the earth was red, a sign of burning.

As a geotechnical engineer, finding pre-historic material isn't new for Friele, but his earlier findings have been limited to small tools.

This was something different.

Seeing the red markings, Friele dug a little deeper and noticed the earth change to a black charcoal hue.

Once he knew it was a fire hearth, Friele kept cleaning the face of the bank until he noticed a dark spot and a fragment of a stone.   

More cleaning revealed two pestles made of copper and then a bowl lying upside down in the hearth. The bowl has decorative carvings on it.

"It's a mortar and a pestle, and it could have been used for crushing seeds and food, or for making paints and dyes," Friele said.

When he returned home, his first call was to Rudy Reimer, who has a special interest in Squamish history.

Reimer said the bowl was a "highly significant" find.

"These bowls are rare, and even rarer to find in such a secure context," he said.

The find will be written up in a national archaeology journal, he added.

Reimer said even though many archaeological materials are found every year, it is rare to find something that has been found in its proper context.

"Only two others have been found in their secure context, and they date to the past 2,500 to 1,000 years. It is likely this find will be of similar age or potentially older," he said.

This particular archaeological site is unknown, said Reimer, and undocumented adding that there are several other sites in close vicinity dating back 3,000 or more years.

"If you or anyone else finds anything, do what Pierre did, contact the appropriate people so more information can be gained from such incredible discoveries," he said.

Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell said the Squamish Nation community is excited about the find.

"We are very well-pleased to hear about the discovery and its historical context," Campbell said.

"This find has generated a lot of excitement in our community."

He said the Squamish Nation would help offset some of the cost associated with carbon dating the material.

"We have spoken with Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre and they have indicated positive response in showcasing this," he added.