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The Pit House

• August 31, 2012 • 9:04 AM

Our multimedia presentation on the evolution of fairness continues with a visit to the reconstructed houses that saw the rise of a ‘transegalitarian’ society.

Previous: The Path to Keatley Creek

After studying stone tool fabrication and use with the aborigines in Australia, Brian Hayden returned to the University of Toronto to complete work on his doctorate. One summer he was given a contract for a dig where a new airport was planned. “There was basically an undisturbed village in the Pickering area in the way of the runway”, he said. “I got the contract to do the excavation before they put in the runway. At that location I became very interested in long houses as social and economic phenomena. We called them corporate groups at the time, residential corporate groups… There’s an interesting problem as to what kind of social forces could bring all these people together… It’s not universal, and archaeologically it’s very visible.”

A desire to understand the sort of corporate living arrangements he found at the Pickering site, which showed evidence of “owners” and “workers” living in a single longhouse, would prove to be a guiding force in his career. He wanted to investigate how these early instances of a rudimentary class system evolved, and how they functioned. What was life like in these transegalitarian societies, with large households encompassing two unequal classes?

Pit House

While the pits themselves are all that remain at Keatley Creek, researchers invited to a reconstructed pit house get a feel for what the structures were like when occupied. (Photo by Alan Honick)

Since the pits were all we could see at Keatley Creek, it took a leap of the imagination to visualize the houses that once stood there, and what life might have been like for the people who lived in them.

Luckily, we were provided an excellent visual aid. Our hosts arranged for us to visit another archaeological site, where we were taken on a tour of a reconstructed pit house by Chief Bradley Jack of the Xwisten Nation.

Next: House Pit Seven

Alan Honick with Gordon Orians
Alan Honick is a documentary filmmaker who has focused on issues of ecology and human sustainability for most of his career. Gordon Orians, a behavioral ecologist, is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington. His most intensive research area has been behavioral ecology, primarily with problems of habitat selection, mate selection, and mating systems. Recently he has focused on human emotional responses to environments.

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