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Namu is a major archaeological site on the central Northwest Coast of North America, located at the mouth of the Namu river, in British Columbia. The site is important for its good preservation of Early Pacific period burials and stone tools.

Namu was first occupied during the Paleoarctic/Archaic, reached its maximum development in the Early Pacific period, and was abandoned by the beginning of the Late Pacific period.

As typical for complex hunter-gatherer groups, people living at Namu focused alternatively on few specialized resources, such as salmon catching, shellfish collecting and mammal hunting, depending on local conditions.

Namu during the Archaic Period

Human occupation of Namu dates back to the Archaic period (ca 9000 – 5000 BC), and includes few, scattered remains, such as waste material from stone tool working and some microblades. The main development of the site, however, dates to the Pacific period.

Early Pacific Period Development

The Early Pacific is the best represented period at Namu. The Early Pacific spans between 4400 to 1800 B.C. The most important event registered for this period in the Northwest Coast is the stabilization of the sea levels, which allowed the development of a more productive and predictable environment along the coasts.

During the Early Pacific, salmon was the most exploited resource, along with marine and terrestrial mammals, such as seals and deers. This is probably the result of the stabilization of the sea and the Namu river levels.

Between 4000 and 3000 BC, salmon consumption grew alongside shellfish exploitation.

This shellfish exploitation produced a huge shell midden where remains of fish, shells, birds and mammals have been found.

Namu Shell Midden

Shell middens are often where archaeologists identify organic remains, thanks to their alkaline content, which is a good natural preserver. At Namu, an important burial context has been recovered in the shell midden, dating circa 3400 BC. The presence of this hunter-gatherer cemetery is further evidence of a prolonged sedentism, a characterisitc of complex hunter-gatherers.

Early Pacific Technology

At Namu, archaeologists identified a well developed stone technology related to fishing and hunting activities.

The earlier periods included a less sophisticated chipped stone industry, along with microflakes and microblades, but no cores.

More information derives from tool equipment dating to the Early Pacific. The shell midden produced bone and antler tools, along with celts, microblades, and burnishing stones. Specialized tools include fish hooks, probably used to catch halibut, whereas there is no direct evidence of food storage devices.

Namu Social Organization and Lifestyle

There is no evidence of permanent structures at Namu, but postholes and hearths suggest prolonged seasonal occupation. The cemetery is the most important source of information about social organization and lifestyle at the site.

Burials included individuals in different positions. Graves included both ornamental items and everyday objects. Important is also the finding of a stone labret associated with a male burial. Evidence of a labret wearer suggests the existence of high rank individuals. Among Northwest Coast people, in fact, these objects were restricted to chiefs and elite.

Late Pacific Period Decline

By the beginning of the Late Pacific period, at the beginning of the common era, occupation declined at Namu. This was probably the result of environmental variations, like a heavy sedimentation process in the Namu river. From this moment on, Namu became a fishing locality, only sporadically visited.


This glossary entry is a part of the guide to Northwest Coast, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Ames Kenneth M. and Herbert D.G. Maschner, 1999, Peoples of the Northwest Coast. Their Archaeology and Prehistory, Thames and Hudson, London

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