Tag Archives: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Bill Reid’s sculpture, “Spirit of Haida Gwaii”

(left) A map showing Haida Gwaii‘s main towns and other physical features. By TCY via Wikimedia Commons.


Last night, an earthquake of  7.7 magnitude occurred off the west coast of Canada. According to a Globe and Mail, news story, the “earthquake occurred along the Queen Charlotte Fault – west of Haida Gwaii between two major plates – in an area that has experienced many large earthquakes in the past.” The area is peopled by the First Nations Haida. They were very lucky the earthquake caused little damage.

Skidegate Indian Village of the Haida tribe. Skidegate Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. By George M. Dawson via Wikimedia Commons


Two main islands make up most of the land mass of Haida Gwaii and, small though it is, it is an area rich in beauty and wildlife. Protected areas include a UNESCO World Heritage SiteGwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site and Naikoon Provincial Park. The many animals of the area are revered by the Haida and figure strongly in their spirituality. The Haida may best be known for their carvings of such fauna on totem poles. While I have yet to travel to this remote area of B.C., when I do, I especially want to go to Skidegate. Referring to the whole area, the UNESCO website explains “it is above all the 32 totemic and mortuary columns on the edge of the dwelling zone which contribute to the world renown of the site,” according to the entry.

A person who has also contributed to the fame of Haida Gwaii is an artist named Bill Reid whose father was Scots/German and mother was Haida. The onetime Canadian Broadcast Corporation reporter studied the art of jewelery-making and carving. “In 1951, he returned to Vancouver where he eventually established a studio on Granville Island, and became greatly interested in the works of (Charles) Edenshaw,”according to the Wikipedia entry,”working to understand the symbolism of his work, much of which had been lost along with the many Haida traditions.” The photographs which follow are of Reid’s masterpiece, “Spirit of the Haida Gwaii,” which depicts a canoe filled with animal and human figures, all chosen for their spiritual and cultural symbolism. “The sculpture was originally created in 1986 as a 1/6-scale clay model, enlarged in 1988, to full-size clay. In 1991, the model was cast in bronze,” states Wikipedia. You can find out about the animals that are portrayed and what they represent in the same Wikipedia entry.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for sparing Haida Gwaii.

Spirit of Haida Gwaii, plaster original
Spirit of Haida Gwaii,” plaster original, by Bill Reid, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec. By D. Gordon E. Robertson via Wikimedia Commons

RK 0908 9604 Spirit of Haida Gwaii the Jade Canoe“Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe,” sculpture by Bill Reid, in bronze, at the Vancouver International Airport. By Reinhard Kraasch via Wikimedia CommonsSpirit of Haida Gwaii, The Jade Canoe, port side“Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe,” bronze sculpture by Bill Reid,  Vancouver Airport, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. By D. Gordon E. Robertson via Wikimedia Commons.

“Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe,” sculpture by Bill Reid in bronze, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington. By Bengt Oberger via Wikimedia Commons


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Mesa Verde and the Anasazi cliff dwellers

I’m not sure how old I was when I saw the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, but it must have been in the late 1960s, when we moved either to or from Texas. Since then, I’ve seen many sights, but the “green table” stands alone. The impression Mesa Verde makes is so great, you just don’t forget. I remember the impossibility of it all and the enormous overhanging cliffs…. A great silence engulfs the area today, but in ancient times it housed a rich and thriving culture. The ingenuity and tenacity of the Anasazi still astounds me. Back when my brothers and I were scrambling around it, there weren’t as many restrictions. Thankfully, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a very good thing because it is a fragile site and, while well-preserved, it needed more protection than it had when we whirled through like dust devils.

The geology of Mesa Verde determined what sort of shelter the Anasazi had as well as the type of water supply that was available. The tan cliffs . . . are composed of sandstone, a porous rock which allows rain, snow, and running water to slowly seep down through it. Beneath this sandstone is a layer of shale through which the moisture cannot penetrate. Water reaches the shale, flows between the two layers and emerges in the form of a seep or spring such as the one at the head of [the] canyon.” Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde Museum (Mesa Verde National Park, n.d.), p. 3.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. By Sascha Brück via Wikimedia Commons

Around A.D. 1200, some of the people living on Mesa Verde moved down into the alcoves, often occupying the same ones that had been inhabited by their ancestors, the Basketmaker people, 600 years earlier. . . . The construction of Cliff Palace was a herculean effort, most of which occurred in a very short time, only about twenty years…. To create a level floor, the builders of Cliff Palace erected a retaining wall along the front of the alcove and backfilled behind the wall, making a flat working surface and solid foundation for rooms. Some 150 rooms-living rooms, storage rooms, and special chambers, plus nearly 75 open spaces-were eventually created.” — Rose Houk, Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde Museum Association

Mesa Verde National Park Spruce Tree House Kiva 2006 09 12

Kiva at Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park. Andreas F. Borchert via Wikimedia

Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling among several hundred within park boundaries (Cliff Palace and Long House are larger), was constructed between A.D. 1200 and 1276 by the Anasazi. The dwelling contains about 114 rooms and eight kivas (kee-vahs), or ceremonial chambers, built into a natural cave measuring 216 feet (66 meters) at greatest width and 89 feet (27 meters) at its greatest depth. It is thought to have been home for about 100 people.” Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde Museum (Mesa Verde National Park, n.d.), p. 5.

Mesa Verde Pueblo II corrugated jars

Mesa Verde Pueblo II corrugated jars. By National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons

When Spruce Tree House was occupied, the courtyard . . . was filled with activity. Here women ground corn into flour, made pottery, wove baskets and prepared food. Men made stone tools, turkey feather or cotton blankets, or prepared for summer planting. Older people sat in the sun and talked, while children, domesticated turkeys, and barking dogs scurried about the plaza.” Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde Museum (Mesa Verde National Park, n.d.), p. 11



[T]he kivas had an efficient ventilation system. The large pit in the center of the floor was a fireplace. Fresh air was drawn in through the ventilator shaft at your feet, hit the deflector wall between the ventilator outlet and the firepit and circulated evenly through the entryway. Beyond the firepit in the center of the floor is a small hole. This hole, called a sipapu (see-pah-poo), represents the opening through which man emerged onto the face of the earth. . . . Niches held special ceremonial objects such as turquoise, shell beads, and prayer sticks. . . . The bench was used for storage of many ceremonial objects; the pilasters supported the beams of the roof.” Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde Museum (Mesa Verde National Park, n.d.), p.15.

This is a section view of Kiva A in Mesa Verde’s Fire Temple, cut from laser scan data. Kiva is a Puebloan term for ceremonial rooms, and most of the Kivas at Mesa Verde are round in form and subterranean. The entire courtyard of Fire Temple itself is defined as a Great Kiva by both modern Puebloans such as the Hopi and by archaeologists due to its design and entirely non-domestic function. However, since Fire Temple was at least partially built to conform to the dimensions of the cliff alcove in which it was built, it is neither round in form nor truly subterranean. Along the southern terminus of Kiva A are the foundations of an original wall or a stepped bench. Archaeologists have disagreed over the years as to whether this represents an enclosure to the Fire Temple’s Kiva, or whether it would have been open at the front perhaps to keep its prominent fire hearth visible from some distance away. Kiva A’s walls were originally covered in white paint, with black and red geometric designs and symbols on it that are very similar to those found on black and white pottery found in Mesa Verde from the same time period. Due to exposure to the elements over time only scattered remnants of this paint remain intact and most of the designs are faded. By CyArk via Wikimedia Commons

Mesa Verde Pueblo II Mancos Black-on-White jar and ladle

Mesa Verde Pueblo II Mancos Black-on-White jar and ladle. By National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, and of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau. The country was still waiting to be made into a landscape.— Willa Cather

Long House

Long House in the Mesa Verde National Park. By Khlnmusa Kyong H. Lee (Kyong H. Lee via Wikimedia

By A.D. 1300 nearly everyone had left Mesa Verde, and in fact the entire Four Corners area that had been the center of Ancestral Puebloan culture. They departed for a number of possible reasons. A long-term drought at the end of the 1200s had been documented. Without water, crops would shrivel and people would be thirsty. Essential resources such as fertile soils, wood, and wildlife might have been exhausted after centuries of harvest and use. Warfare, disease, and internal disputes have also been offered as explanations. . . . but people did not “vanish.” By all evidence, they went south to the Hopi villages in northern Arizona, to Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, and the pueblos along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. To some of them, Cliff Palace remains a special place.” Rose Houk, Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde Museum Association (Mesa Verde National Park, n.d.), p. 15.

Map of Mesa Verde National Park

Map of Mesa Verde National Park. National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons

To people off alone, as we were, there is something stirring about finding evidences of human labour and care in the soil of an empty country. It comes to you as a sort of message, makes you feel differently about the ground you walk over every day. — Willa Cather

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