VI. Cultural Keystone Places and Historical Ecology (Part 1)

Session Type: 
Session Date and Time: 
Thursday, 25 April, 2024 - 13:30 to 15:00
Auditorium North
Primary Organizer: 
Steve Wolverton - University of North Texas, Chelsey Armstrong, Torben Rick
Email address: 

Archaeologists are increasingly engaging local communities through heritage connections to places. For archaeologists, these places stand as sites of study. However, for many local peoples, such places hold significant cultural meaning, what ethnobiologists term cultural keystone places (CKPs). CKPs emphasize the deep connections between people, culture, and the natural world, offering a framework for merging cultural revitalization and environmental restoration. This session comprises examples of research on cultural keystone places from many areas of the world, representing a transition in the field toward recognizing that the future well-being of local peoples and ecosystems relies on connections to CKPs.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Steve - University of North Texas
, Chelsey Geralda - Simon Fraser University
, Jonathan - Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
, Susan C. - Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Archaeological sites are locations where past activities are physically manifested and defined by presence and density of material culture. This varies depending on the scale of past activities. Artifact absence does not mean a landscape was never a location of past activities. This is problematic in the legal world where Indigenous peoples use archaeological data to document land-use in cultural keystone places. We synthesize data collected by Crow Canyon Archaeological Center over decades to demonstrate variability in abundance of faunal remains from sites dating to A.D. 500-1300 in southwest Colorado. We infer how taphonomic variables explain discovery probability of remains. This data-rich study highlights variability in discovery probability of faunal remains (as one type of material culture) to demonstrate “absence” is possible within a location of past activities. Thus, land claims may require an assessment of discovery probability rather than a simple determination of presence or absence of cultural indicators.

Presentation format: 
Oral (pre-recorded)
Arinyo i Prats
, Andreu - Simon Fraser University & Aarhus University
, Nancy - University of Victoria
, Shauna - University of North British Columbia

Cultural Keystone Species and Cultural Keystone Places feature prominently in ethnobiological research and literature; these concepts emphasize and advocate for the well-being of traditional societies and their environments. However, little to no research has focused on cultural practices that extend beyond and may exist independently of CK Species and Places; we propose naming these "Cultural Keystone Practices". For example, many Cultural Keystone Practices, such as harvest rituals and fire-making, are independent of a specific place or species, but are nevertheless essential to a group’s continuity, identity, and social health. Therefore, we argue that the concept of "Cultural Keystone Practices" fills a gap in our terminology, allowing us to categorize cultural elements that have partial or no connection to places or species. This critical concept can help identify and protect essential immaterial cultural heritage, currently endangered in many parts of the world.

Presentation format: 
Oral (pre-recorded)
, Dana - Simon Fraser University
, Sean - Simon Fraser Univeristy

Historical ecology can be a powerful way to document the history of places with which descent communities strongly connect today. It can also be a powerful tool for re-awakening cultural connections to culturally imbued places. This is particularly so in highly colonized landscapes, where the tangible evidence of long-term Indigenous presence may be less evident. The Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archaeology Project ( focuses on the historical ecology of one small island in western Canada. It weaves together archaeological data, interviews and archival research on ecological change, ecological mapping, with community-centered outreach that brings together the descendent and settler communities connected to Xwe’etay. We documented a long-term and significant Indigenous occupation of the island. As a result, the connection to Xwe’etay among descendent communities has deepened. For many of the island’s settlers, their connection to this place has also been enriched, including a new understanding of what it means to honor Indigenous heritage.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Shauna - University of Northern British Columbia
, Olisarali - Mursi Indigenous Community Association (MICA)

Wild olive trees (Olea europaea subsp. africana) grow in the highland areas of Southern Ethiopia and are of vital importance to Mursi agro-pastoralists for health and social well-being. Travelling often over great distances, Mursi men harvest and carry heavy loads of bark to their communities where it is prepared as a purgative and/or ritual offering. Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Mun to access girarri, as a result of park policies, inter-ethnic conflict, illegal harvesting and strategic government support for sedentary agriculture. In this paper, we consider the concept of “Cultural Keystone Place” (Cuerrier at al. 2015) for understanding how girarri is connected to culturally salient practices that support Mursi health and well-being, and for convincing local park authorities to improve sustainable access to such important resources and places.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Nava - University of British Columbia
, Sofie - University of British Columbia
, Jennifer - University of British Columbia
, Tara - University of British Columbia

The Coastal Douglas-fir (CDF) zone in the Salish Sea is declining due to cumulative stressors, including hyperabundant black-tailed deer. Hyperabundant deer browsing simplifies CDF ecosystems, with trophic cascading effects impacting songbirds and pollinators. Deer impacts on Western redcedar forests of the CDF remain largely unknown and are studied herein by analysing plant communities with focus on culturally significant food species. Forests were compared between Penelakut Island (Puneluxutth), where deer are hunted by the Penelakut Tribe since time immemorial, Salt Spring Island and Galiano Island. On the latter islands, colonization has severed Indigenous deer stewardship, hunting is limited, and natural predators are extirpated. Surveys determined browsing pressure and the richness, cover, and diversity of plant species by forest layer, including traditional Coast Salish food plants. The results showcase negative relationships between hyperabundant deer and traditional food plants, emphasizing benefits of Indigenous ecological stewardship for CDF forest health and Indigenous food sovereignty.