Lying just northeast of Vancouver Island, near the Queen Charlotte Sound, Triquet Island is a tiny, uninhabited islet in the Great Bear Rainforest that up until recently has received fairly little attention from the outside world. But the island holds the key to many ancient stories: it shows evidence of human inhabitants that has recently changed what scientists believe about the history of civilization in North America.
Triquet Island contains remnants of the oldest village ever discovered in North America. The village was discovered in 2017 when Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria, led an archaeological dig on the island that excavated a settlement far older than the Egyptian pyramids: radiocarbon dating determined that the village was approximately 14,000 years old. This means that the civilization existed multiple millennia before the invention of the wheel.
This archaeological evidence confirms what the Heiltsuk First Nation’s oral history has long held: these Heiltsuk stories had always insisted that the first of their people, who are indigenous to the Great Bear Rainforest, came to the island to take refuge during the last ice age. During the dig, the team found evidence of this, and they uncovered many early tools, including those for lighting fires, fish hooks, and spears. They also exhumed a hearth with pieces of charcoal dating between 13,613 and 14,086 years old.
Until this discovery, however, the written record had only recognized the Heiltsuk peoples’ occupation of the area dating back to about 7190 BCE. Scientists and archaeologists disbelieved the Heiltsuk stories because it had always been believed that during the ice age all of Western Canada had been covered by a glacier. Scientists had therefore supposed that Triquet Island would similarly have been swallowed by ice, making it impossible to access or inhabit. The dig thus proves to be a testament to the validity and incredible longevity of indigenous oral tradition stories, and it works to establish a harmony between two very different methods of keeping history.
That the dig even took place is somewhat remarkable. Generally, archaeological expeditions stem from some form of concrete historical records to justify an excavation. This team, however, acted solely on account of the indigenous oral histories they had heard, and they had to travel roughly 500 kilometres from Victoria.
Not only did these excavations confirm indigenous oral tradition stories, but the artifacts that the team was able to uncover give vital clues about how early civilizations formed. Notably, the dig suggests that humans crossed over from Asia much earlier than previously thought. The find also challenges long-held beliefs about the ice age, indicating that not all coastal areas were covered in ice, and that some islands, such as this one, seem to have acted as refuges. The discoveries of 2017 have led scientists to say they will continue to lead archaeological expeditions to other remote islands in BC to see what other traces of early human inhabitants can be found.