Thomas Michael Blake


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Resource relationships along the Fraser River : a stable isotope analysis of archaeological foodways and paleoecological interactions (2019)

Interactions between humans, ecologies and resources within British Columbia have been sustained over millennia through the active management of terrestrial, marine, and riverine resources as well as through relationships existing between human and non-human environmental counterparts. Looking specifically at domestic dogs as a species so closely coupled with human action and yet still connected to the non-human environment, this dissertation examines how stable isotope analysis of dog remains and other fauna can inform us about pre-contact human-animal relationships. By examining prehistoric foodways within the Fraser River watershed, this study is the first to investigate carbon, nitrogen, and sulphur isotopic signatures of domesticated dogs and other fauna (n=244) from seven archaeological sites situated along the Fraser River as a means of determining dietary paleoecological variability that existed both spatially and temporally. In examining dietary variability and the resource relationships that shape the social and communal basis for it, I first investigate ecological communities along the Fraser River through stable isotope analysis of fauna before focusing on human-dog interactions through isotopic analysis of dogs. From a view of ecological communities as holistic in their inclusion and integrative of human and non-human counterparts, these isotopic investigations of fauna that occupied such varied niches, practiced different subsistence strategies, and played manifold roles in their resource relationships, offer an understanding of the past that brings coherence while accounting for variability in the archaeological record.

View record

Towards an understanding of Aztec architecture and urban planning (2016)

There exists a vast literature examining every aspect of Aztec culture. Despite this, few studies focus specifically on Aztec architecture and its implications for understanding broader aspects of Aztec cosmology. This dissertation contributes to our knowledge of Aztec society through an exploration of architectural and urban design principles that guided the building of their cities and ceremonial precincts.By examining ethnohistoric and archaeological sources, and drawing on evidence from several disciplines—art, astronomy, geography, geometry, mathematics and religion—I compile a body of information relevant to the study of Aztec architecture and urban planning. Cosmovision studies offer an understanding of ritual space and time; pictorial manuscripts contribute mathematical insights; analyses of monumental sculpture provide geometric knowledge; and high mountain archaeological research highlight the sacred landscape. The resulting information was then used in a set of archaeoastronomical analyses of seven pre-Aztec and Aztec architectural complexes. This approach builds on previous studies that have revealed the importance of astronomical considerations in Mesoamerican settlements.In order to analyse Aztec ceremonial architecture and urban planning from an archaeoastronomical perspective, I developed a methodology that allowed accurate analyses of the astronomical and topographic orientations of settlements and ceremonial architecture. This methodology integrates a wide range of digital applications including Google Earth, Google Maps, solar charting, topographic analysis, open-content collaborative, geo-location-oriented photo sharing applications as well as a custom-built geometric application.The results allow for a new understanding of: (1) the design principles of the Huey Teocalli, the unique Aztec double-temple architectural type found in almost all of their ceremonial centres, (2) the layout and design principles utilized in the construction of Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco and, (3) the Aztec remodelling of Tenayuca, Santa Cecilia Acatitlan and Teopanzolco. These analyses are also extended to the antecedent cultures of the region, revealing new aspects of the urban design principles of Teotihuacan and Tula including an additional interpretation of the Tlaloc mural in Teotihuacan.The implications of this research extend beyond Aztec scholarship, providing a replicable methodology that can be applied to the archaeoastronomical analysis of ancient settlements and ceremonial structures anywhere in the world.

View record

An archaeology of food and settlement on the Northwest Coast (2014)

This dissertation examines multiple scales of Indigenous history on the Northwest Coast from the disciplinary perspective of archaeology. I focus on cultural lifeways archaeologically represented in two key domains of human existence: food and settlement. The dissertation consists of six individual case studies that demonstrate the utility of applying multiple spatial and temporal scales to refine archaeological understanding of cultural and historical variability on the Northwest Coast over the Mid-to-Late Holocene (ca. 5,000-200 BP). The first of three regionally scaled analyses presents a coast-wide examination of fisheries data indicating that Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) exhibit a pervasive and previously under-recognized importance in Northwest Coast Indigenous subsistence practices. Next, I use zooarchaeological data from the southern British Columbia coast to identify a pattern of regional coherence in Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth hunting traditions reflecting the scale of intergenerational cultural practice. The third study re-calibrates the settlement history of a small and historically significant locality in Coast Tsimshian territory (Prince Rupert Harbour) to clarify the temporal resolution of existing radiocarbon datasets and test inferences about social and political change. Following this regional exploration of scale, I document site-specific temporal variability in archaeological fisheries data from a Nuu-chah-nulth ‘big-house’ reflecting climatic and socio-economic change. I examine Indigenous oral histories and archaeological datasets to evaluate these parallel records of settlement in the neighbouring territory of an autonomous Nuu-chah-nulth polity before and during the occupation of a large defensive fortress. Finally, I demonstrate how everyday foodways are archaeologically expressed and reflect ecological differences and active management strategies within several spatially associated sites over millennial timescales. These linked case studies offer new clarity into long-standing debates concerning archaeologically relevant scales of cultural-historical variability on the NWC. They collectively demonstrate an enduring regional and temporal coherence for key aspects of indigenous resource use and settlement and a historical dynamism at finer scales. I argue this has cultural, historical, and archaeological significance as well as relevance for contemporary understandings of the Northwest Coast environment. I conclude that a focus on the pervasive aspects of the everyday over millennia offers insight into individual actions across broader patterns of history.

View record

Inscribing identities on the landscape : a spatial exploration of archaeological rock features in the Lower Fraser River Canyon (2011)

The research presented in this study is an archaeological exploration of the role of monumental rock features in the formation and maintenance of community identity in the past among the Coast Salish peoples of the Lower Fraser River Canyon region of south-western British Columbia. An area of intensive seasonal aggregation during the height of the salmon fishing season, the Lower Fraser River Canyon is an area where ownership and access to valuable commodities has been paramount through time. This central place is marked by a type of archaeological feature rarely found anywhere on the Northwest Coast – large scale, stacked rock walls, terraces, and other constructions. I apply a landscape approach to understand the cultural dynamics of social interaction in this region and argue that people evoke identities at various scales and defend their territory on the landscape through the construction of these features. Since only preliminary research had been undertaken on the rock features, I conducted a survey of the Lower Fraser River Canyon and located 82 rock features along a 7 km stretch of river. Characteristics of these features, along with three-dimensional maps of several sites where features cluster, form the basis of my analysis. I outline uses for the rock features, including fishing, defense, living surfaces, and ownership makers, before applying spatial analyses to evaluate whether or not these features formed a defensive network throughout the Canyon. The results of the Defensive Index, a quantitative measure of site defensibility, illustrate that the building of the rock features, even if their primary use was not defensive, enhances the defensibility of village sites. In addition, viewshed analyses indicate that sites with and without rock features are intervisible, supporting the hypothesis that signals could be sent through the Canyon as a warning of impending raids from either upriver or downriver (Schaepe 2006). I conclude that while rock features were a result of co-ordinated community activity and had an impact on the identities of people living in the Canyon in the past, assigning ownership of a place to a family or community has always been an active and ongoing process.

View record

"They recognize no superior chief" : power, practice, anarchism and warfare in the Coast Salish past (2009)

This inquiry focuses on warfare in the Coast Salish past. Located in the Northwest Coast of North America, the Coast Salish practiced warfare as a basic component of their culture, and warfare manifested in two main periods. Archaeologically, fortified defensive sites were constructed from 1600 to 500 BP. According to ethnohistoric documents and oral histories, conflicts also erupted in the decades after Euroamerican contact, about AD 1790. For this study, I incorporate archaeological, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and oral historical data for an investigation of warfare, including Coast Salish practices, protocols, and ideology. I assess the types of settings in which warfare occurred and evaluate the motivations for conflict. Finally, I examine these practices for insights into Coast Salish sociopolitical organization and how it altered through time. To evaluate the array of data, I employ a theoretical framework integrating power, practice, and anarchism. For power, I implement Eric Wolf’s modes of power to assess the intensity of conflicts and scales of defensive site construction. For practice, I harness Pierre Bourdieu’s materialist approach to culture, which is focused on historical, human actions, or practices; moreover, Bourdieu’s multiple types of capital provide a rubric for assessing motivations for warfare as individuals pursue and exchange various forms of capital. The theory of anarchism provides principles for evaluating the dynamics of societies without formal governments. These include an emphasis on local autonomy, voluntary association, mutual aid, network organization, and the decentralization of authority (and resistance to concentrations of authority). This framework illuminates how these principles varied throughout the Coast Salish past and highlights significant differences in defensive structures between precontact and colonial periods. Both periods of warfare appear after phases of increasing entrenchment of elite power and hegemony (2400 - 1600 BP and ca. 500 to 200 BP). Both periods also exhibit a broader expanse of elites, or nouveau riche. I conclude that warfare was an anarchic practice implemented by Coast Salish factions to destabilize elite power structures and allow non-elites to gain wealth and prestige. These practices resulted in the decentralization of power––a heterarchy of chiefs, rather than a centralized chiefdom.

View record

Pre-colonial Sto:lo-Coast Salish community organization : an archaeological study (2009)

This study integrates settlement and community archaeology in investigating pre-colonial Stó:lō-Coast Salish community organization between 2,550-100 years before present (cal B.P.). Archaeological housepits provide a basic unit of analysis and proxy for households through which community organization manifests in relationships of form and arrangement among housepit settlements in the lower Fraser River Watershed of southwestern British Columbia. This study focuses on spatial and temporal data from 11 housepit settlements (114 housepits) in the upriver portion of the broader study area (mainland Gulf of Georgia Region). These settlements were mapped and tested as part of the Fraser Valley Archaeology Project (2003-2006). The findings of this study suggest a trajectory of continuity and change in community organization among the Stó:lō-Coast Salish over the 2,500 years preceding European colonization. Shifts between heterarchical and hierarchical forms of social organization, and corporate to network modes of relations represent societal transformations that become expressed by about 550 cal B.P. Transformations of social structure and community organization are manifest as increasing variation in housepit sizes and settlement patterns, and the development of central arrangements in both intra- and inter-settlement patterns. In the Late Period (ca. 550-100 cal. B.P.), the largest and most complex settlements in the region, including the largest housepits, develop on islands and at central places or hubs in the region’s communication system along the Fraser River. These complex sets of household relations within and between settlements represent an expansive form of community organization. Tracing this progression provides insight into the process of change among Stó:lō pithouse communities. Societal change develops as a shift expressed first at a broad-based collective level between settlements, and then at a more discreet individual level between households. This process speaks to the development of communities formed within a complex political-economic system widely practiced throughout the region. This pattern survived the smallpox epidemic of the late 18th century and was maintained by the Stó:lō up to the Colonial Era. Administration of British assimilation policies (e.g., Indian Legislation) instituted after 1858 effectively disrupted but failed to completely replace deeply rooted expressions of Stó:lō community that developed during preceding millennia.

View record

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Pre-Columbian diets in the Soconusco revisited : a dietary study through stable isotopic analysis (2013)

This MA thesis focuses on the study of pre-Columbian subsistence and dietary patterns through the use of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis of human samples (n = 20) recovered from the Acapetahua, Mazatán, and Río Naranjo zones in the Soconusco region—located in the present-day state of Chiapas, México and the Northeastern coast of Guatemala. The stable isotope results in this study demonstrate the heterogeneity of ancient human diets in the Soconusco region, illustrating the complexity of ancient people’s lifeways from the Late Archaic (3500-1900 cal. B.C.) to the Late Postclassic (A.D. 1250-1530) periods. Further, the presence of C₄ plant (i.e., maize) consumption was minor isotopically compared with the consumption of a variety of locally available wild and cultivated food resources. As a result, there is an absence of a clear subsistence transition towards maize agriculture as the main subsistence practice in the region, based on the human samples analyzed in this study. While the quantification of every food source in the diet, including maize, is more difficult without additional data and other lines of evidence, I suggest that other food products like marine, estuarine, and riverine resources, as well as other wild and cultivated plant foods may have been more important in the every-day diets of Soconusco inhabitants across time (particularly at Mazatán). This appears to have been a common pattern indicative of the wide diversity of food resources found in tropical environments across Mesoamerica.

View record

Assessing the utility of ground penetrating radar in archaeology on the Northwest Coast : the 'new wave', 'all Snell', or 'it just hertz'? (2012)

This project investigates the application of ground penetrating radar (GPR), a remote sensing geophysical survey method, to the archaeological investigation of earthen architecture on the Northwest Coast of North America. The objective of this thesis is to assess the ability of GPR to detect and distinguish between architectural features within an earthen matrix, and to understand the limitations and uncertainties of the method in this and similar contexts. This thesis also assesses the ability of GPR to provide data that are able to contribute to broad anthropological questions of demographic change and socio-political complexity. GPR was used at Welqámex (DiRi-15), a Stó:lō-Coast Salish settlement near Hope, British Columbia, to collect nearly 1,000 m2 of data over a minimum of 11 structures. GPR data were analysed with comparison to surface and subsurface data from Welqámex, including excavation data collected prior to and following GPR survey. The survey identified 157 anomalies that may be useful in guiding future excavations. Direct comparisons of GPR reflection profiles and amplitude slices with excavation stratigraphic profiles and plan views indicate that GPR is moderately successful in detecting sqémél floors, s’iltexwáwtxw floors, and pit features larger than 15 cm in diameter, but is not successful in detecting post and stake mold features larger than 15 cm in diameter, hearth features, and structure boundaries. The anomalies produced from these features, however, are not easily distinguished from one another or from other natural and archaeological features. The results suggest that while GPR is able to identify anomalies that may be useful in guiding archaeological excavation, it is at this time not an ideal method for addressing broader anthropological questions on its own.

View record

Core and peripheral settlements in ancient central Panamá : a reconstruction of population change at Site 054 in the Río Parita Valley (2012)

The suggestion that demographically nucleated cultural centers of Preconquest central Panamanian Coclé chiefdoms firmly controlled and/or influenced peripherally located occupations is empirically evaluated using newly collected, intensive survey sampling in the Río Parita valley and shovel testing of one small site in particular: Site 054. This research shows that Site 054, a relatively small-scale hamlet for its entire 1300 year-long occupation (A.D. 250 to 1522) was peripherally located relative to the major centres at the time. In spite of rapid, precocious advances in socio-political complexity at adjacent sites within the valley, Site 054 appears to have remained unaffected by trends of population nucleation associated with the emergence of complex socio-political organization. It was not until 200 years after chiefly authority had been established in the valley that Site 054 was impacted by trends of population nucleation. The findings of this research contribute to a collectively established and expanding archaeological database designed to test specific environmental and cultural factors involved in the emergence of Coclé chiefdoms in the Central Region of Panamá.

View record

From remains to rituals : exploring the changing mortuary program at El Rayo, Nicaragua (2012)

El Rayo is an archaeological site in Pacific Nicaragua that spans two time periods the Bagaces (AD 300-800) and Sapoa (AD 800-1350). In addition to the domestic assemblage of the site, El Rayo also contains burials from both time periods. El Rayo is one of the most well documented archaeological sites in Nicaragua and the presence of both Bagaces and Sapoa material makes it a valuable archaeological site. In comparing the burial assemblage, the patterns which appear in the archaeological record are distinct in the different time periods. These patterns, including the change in the location of burials from within domestic areas to specific mortuary contexts, a transition from single to multiple burials, and the inclusion of burial goods with the burials that appear to represent significant changes in the rituals associated with the burial of the dead. By exploring the mortuary program at El Rayo I argue that the changes represent the negotiation of a single community through changing cultural circumstances that mark and in some ways define the transition from the Bagaces Period to the Sapoa Period. The mortuary program shows continuity which supports the notion of cultural interactions without the complete replacement of one group by another. I focus on the burial area and the nature of the remains to interpret a changing mortuary program rather than focusing on the mortuary goods recovered with specific individuals. Based on Arthur Saxe’s Hypothesis 8 that argues for the connection between the use and maintenance of formal cemeteries and control of critical resources (1970:119). I suggest that the changing mortuary program is the result of increased population pressures and the desire to create public markers of identity and ownership of local resources.

View record

Peanuts and prestige on the Peruvian North Coast : the archaeology of peanuts at Huaca Gallinazo (V-59) and Huaca Santa Clara (V-67). (2012)

This thesis explores the role that a single species of plant, the peanut (Arachis hypogaea), played in pre-Hispanic North Coast communities of the Andes. Through a literature review of ethnohistoric accounts, Moche iconographic interpretation, and nutritional analysis, I explore the symbolic importance of the peanut, as well as other special properties that may have contributed to peanuts’ luxury status in the pre-Hispanic North Coast. This study documents the peanut’s use not only as a comestible, but also as a prestige good used in competitive feasts and for veneration of the dead. I show how the peanut was used both practically and symbolically in order to create and reify status differences between elites and commoners, and how this trend extends into the South Coast. Finally, I provide evidence for peanuts’ prestige association through a case study of the archaeobotanical remains from Huaca Gallinazo (V-59) and Huaca Santa Clara (V-67), two important Early Intermediate Period sites located in the Virú Valley and that were part of the Virú polity.

View record

Shishalh responses to the colonial conflict (1791-present) : resilience in the face of disease, missionaries and colonization (2012)

Anthropological research regarding Coast Salish responses to the colonial conflict has held a central place in Northwest Coast anthropology for decades. Recently, it has been argued that “inordinate” attention has been given to these developments as processes of assimilation, rather than as strategic responses. This process has been viewed by the Crown as the inevitable absorption of the Coast Salish into what would become Canadian society: a result that has been facilitated by the forces of colonialism, including missionization, removal of the Coast Salish from their land, and its resources and the perceived desire of the Coast Salish to adopt Euro-Canadian practices and institutions. Through the exploration of ethnographic accounts, oral narratives, historical documents, and archaeological evidence, I illustrate how one Coast Salish people, the shishalh, have responded to and (when possible), resisted the political, social and economic stresses of the colonial conflict. I argue that shishalh resistance can be observed in the complex pattern of population redistribution from the period immediately prior to and following the smallpox epidemics of the late 18th century, and subsequent European contact and colonization. Through the use of oral narratives I situate the identified changes in population distribution within the broader framework of shishalh history, allowing for the contextualization of population restructuring in the post-contact period, not as an isolated response to the calamitous effects of contact, but more accurately as the latest in a long line of shishalh responses to changing circumstances throughout their history. Post-contact shishalh history is poorly understood by outsiders, and little academic research has been dedicated to this period of rapid, social and political reorganization. Privileging shishalh accounts provides an emic perspective and an alternative to standard scholarly interpretations of the colonial conflict that has traditionally relied on outsiders’ perspectives. By foregrounding shishalh oral history my approach includes a distinctive shishalh voice to the interpretation of this seminal event.

View record

Current Students & Alumni

This is a small sample of students and/or alumni that have been supervised by this researcher. It is not meant as a comprehensive list.

Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.