Endowment, Investment, and the Transforming Coast: Long-Term Human-Environment Interactions and Territorial Proprietorship in the Prince Rupert Harbour, Canada

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Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

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We propose connections between long-term persistent use of landscapes, anthropogenic landform modifications, and the production of systems of territorial ownership/proprietorship. Exploring the case of the socio-politically complex cultures of the Northwest Coast, we argue that while tenure and proprietorship were mediated by historical precedent of use (proprietorship-through-endowment), investments in places through physical engagement with or transformation of coastal landforms could be used to make explicit these endowed rights or to assert or negotiate new rights (proprietorship-through-investment). A key ingredient in negotiating proprietorship was an engagement with the dynamic coast itself, an active agent in landscape transformation perceived as being spiritually powerful. Using the archaeological landscape of the Prince Rupert Harbour area, we assess the timing and tempo of measurable investments in the physical landscape at village sites and the occurrence of independent archaeological proxies for restricted or unequal access to territory or resources. Systems of territorial proprietorship existed there by at least the mid-Holocene, though we document increasingly institutionalized proprietorship systems coincident with increased investments into the built environment beginning ~3000 years ago. Our approach has broad applicability, and encourages archaeologists to explore the role of human engagement with dynamic landscapes in the generation of senses of identity and social or political organization.


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