convergences Screen 38 | The Question

Metal among the Mooachahts
is a mystery to Cook's men.
Has it come over the mountains
from Nor'west traders
or Hudson's Bay forts? From
Russians trading to the north
or Spanish in the south? Or is there
a local source? At this time
there is no hard evidence. Later
some will claim that it originated
with Cook's expedition itself.
History covers its tracks: as new
metal spreads out from the ships
at Nootka it contaminates
and obliterates information about
what was here before.


JOHN LEDYARD:
     We found a few copper bracelets
and three or four rough wrought knives
             with coarse wooden hafts
    among the natives of this place,
                        but could not learn
from the appearance of those articles,
     or from any information
                   they could give us, how
they became possessed of them.
JAMES KING:
        The iron amongst them
                  is of a very white kind
         and the instruments made of it
are of their own manufacture: these
        and other larger pieces of iron
             made for killing whales with
are in too many hands and too common
                       to suppose the metal
                  has been supplied them
by any chance vessels putting in here
             or on the coast; the supply
must be of a more certain source,
                  and of long continuance,
        although but in small quantities.
DAVID SAMWELL:
     They sold us two silver spoons
of an old fashioned make
           which we judged to be Spanish.
The Spanish we know
       have been further to the Northward
               than this, and they might have
                                  touched here,
                    though the Indians
might have got the spoons
          and the iron by way of traffic
from other tribes to the Southward,
    as this coast is probably inhabited
                      all the way down
              from this sound to California.
John Webber: Man with metal ornamentation

John Webber:
Man with metal ornamentation.


We walked three miles in from the road to the beach at Cape Alava, and slept on the sand. The great waves of the open Pacific pounded the rocks and small off-shore islands, and the tide rushed up over the flats almost to our sleeping bags. The moon broke through the clouds and the air was so clear we could see hundreds of navigational beacons winking in their different rhythms across the Straights of Juan da Fuca as far, perhaps, as Nootka Sound. This was the land of the Makahs, the Mooachahts' cousins. They shared customs and culture, and spoke mutually intelligible dialects. We had come to this place to see the dig, where a mud slide had suddenly come down the mountain side and covered Ossette village, preserving it almost intact until now. The archeologists had been excavating it for seven years, laying bare the articles and patterns of life that owe nothing to European contact. One of the diggers, a young woman with strong arms and rosy cheeks, told us what they had turned up and what they had learned of the life in the longhouses. There were a few metal blades and cutting pieces. The metal, when analyzed, had the consistency and characteristics of Japanese iron smelted in the twelfth century.

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