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)
, 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.