The role of whaling in past and present colonial relationships of the Northwest

For my final assignment in this class I decided to investigate the role that whaling has played in the ongoing colonial relationships in the Pacific Northwest. I focused on three groups from the region: the Makah of the Olympic Peninsula, the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island, and the Alutiiq of Kodiak. Whaling has been practiced by each of these three groups for at least thousands of years and is a significant component of their cultural identities. Whaling was still practiced at the time of Euro-American arrival and whale oil, among other natural commodities, played a significant role in the development of colonial economies. Even though extensive whaling and trading of whale oil had taken place prior to European presence in the area, there was now increased hunting pressure on the animals and their populations began to decline. Makah whalers, for many years, were just as successful, if not more so, at hunting whales and processing the oil from them. However, once whale populations became depleted and moved farther from shore, colonial whaling ventures were able to take more whales and attempted to block Native access to this stock of whales. The last whale hunted by the Makah prior to recent times was in the 1920s. 

Makahs butchering a whale circa 1930. From Library Archives of the Makah Museum

In early 1970 a large storm eroded a bank and revealed five longhouses that had been buried by an earthquake in 1700. Excavations at this site in the village of Ozette, revealed a deep history of whaling by the Makah people. The vast quantity of whale remains along with ample whaling technology revealed that the Makah had been whaling for more than just subsistence. In order to store artifacts and share the knowledge obtained from excavations at Ozette, the Makah Cultural and Research Center was established. These excavations had renewed community interest in resuming the practice of whaling.

In the 1990s the gray whale was finally delisted as an endangered species and the Makah were allowed to hunt a whale in 1999. There was much opposition to this hunt from environmental groups. The hunt, however, was a major step in the cultural revitalization efforts of the Makah and has hopefully inspired other indigenous groups to renew their own cultural practices that were oppressed by colonial actions. 



Cote, Charlotte. 2010. Spirits of Our Whaling Ancestors: Revitalizing Makah and Nuu-Chah-Nulth Traditions.Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Miller, Robert. 2000. “Exercising Cultural Self-Determination: The Makah Indian Tribe Goes Whaling.” American Indian Law Review25(2): 165-273.

Reid, Joshua. 2015. The Sea is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs. New Haven: Yale University Press.

45K1765/P9-13; Who used this medicinal bottle in (aprox) 1892?


Sitting on the cold, analytical table of our lab, stands (not too tall) a little glass bottle named ” 45K1765/P9-13″. It’s body mostly whole, it’s colorless but opaque glass showing the signs of having been dumped and sealed under mud for years near the waterfront…

Some could argue that bolder and more “alcoholic looking bottles” would be more interesting to look at, but in the midst of all these beer and wine containers that were found on what used to be a massive dump for local businesses at 6th ave S, which was sealed in 1929, I find bottles destined for different purposes than being drunk at the end of a long day.

Because as we’ve learned throughout this class (especially through feminist archaeology) is that regarding the whole story other than the mere stereotype is essential for holding knowledge as a constructed , shared value.

And where am I going with all of this, you might ask? Well, have heard of how Seattle “was like” at the sea line in “the olden days”… If I close my eyes,  I can see muddy streets, underground tunnels with gambling and prostitution, bars and hotels filled with people still on their way to the Yukon to test their luck, and mostly a lot of drinking and passing out happening.

This might be true, but can also attribute a single face to those working class people who would inhabit those neighborhoods. That is why, through the Lag analyze I did on the bottles of my group, and the specific study of this particular bottle, I will try to discern what it was used for (if it was medicinal at all) and who might have used it.

  • What type of bottle is it and what did it contain?

This is a small cylindrical bottle, with colorless and slightly opaque glass, machine made with wide mouth which we believe may have been of medicinal use or in other generations, of miscellaneous use. It most likely held medicine or medicinal plants/pharmaceutical elementary material, but we are not a 100% sure! that is why it is interesting to look at.

  • When and where was the item manufactured?

We believe it was manufactured between the 1880’s and 1930’s, which would give it a mean production date of 1905. We are not sure where it was manufactured since there were no specific signs that could give us a clue.

  • Can you find any information concerning how the product was marketed and/or consumed? 

There is a valve mark, and the opening of the bottle shows signs of having had a tap that would be screwed on (like a little jam bottle). The wide opening of the bottle with no neck visible, gives us the idea that it might not have been used for drinking directly from the bottle, but it must have used to store the content, and then pour it somewhere else.

  • Who might have used the bottle and what contexts of use would you expect 

I believe this bottle could have been used in any local business, (ranging from a bar to a pharmacy or a hotel.) Because we are not a 100% sure if it was medicinal or used for other household needs such as holding food, we could imagine that it might have belonged to a business that required a kitchen and perhaps hosting people over, with more equipment than a simple bar. I can’t imagine a single individual carrying it around, it must have been used in a more “touristy” setting!





The Life of Lucy Foster

My final project for my Historical Archaeology course is a personal narrative formed by historical records and an assemblage recovered from a site in Andover, MA. The site is called the Lucy Foster Homesite, also known as “Black Lucy’s Garden”, which was excavated in 1942 by Ripley and Adelaide Bullen (Martin, 107). The areas that were excavated were the cellar hole, dump, well, vegetable cellar, and lumbermen’s shack on Lucy Fosters acre (Martin, 107). Although these areas all contributed to Lucy’s daily life in someway the only portion of Lucy’s home that still existed was the cellar hole (Martin, 107). The assemblage recovered from this site include material culture that is linked to socializing, labor, and food resources. In the past there has been a lot of focus on the ceramics from this assemblage because it is quite large. They recovered 113 reconstructed ceramics from the Lucy Foster Homesite (Martin, 107). Most of which were serving dishes.

It may seem obvious that Lucy Foster was entertaining members of her community based on the significant amount of serving dishes in this assemblage. But the original response to this assemblage was, how did she acquire such a large collection living in poverty? Assuming she lived in poverty because she was black and received financial assistance from the parish. But I think we are missing a major part of her life by only focusing on how she came to have this collection. I believe it is more important to know what she was doing with her ceramics and why a large collection would be important to her. This brings me to my goal for this project. I want to highlight the racial bias that is layered into the interpretation of Lucy Foster and her life. In return I would also like to offer an interpretation that recognizes her ability to cope with adversity and survive. In order to do this I will need to write two personal narratives from both perspectives. It is my hope that seeing these perspectives side by side may encourage others to identify the layers of bias that are woven into historical records and research. By recognizing these biases we can develop more accurate interpretations of the past and create an opportunity for communities to heal from the pain created by these distorted perspectives.

Works Cited

Martin, Anthony. “Homeplace Is Also Workplace: Another Look at Lucy Foster in Andover, Massachusetts.” Historical Archaeology, vol. 52, no. 1, 2018, pp. 100–112.