Monday, March 14, 2011

North American Series: Part 3.1

Northwest Coast: Environment and Subsistence

So now we’re going to move up north to the next culture area, the Northwest Coastal region. This regions starts at Northern California and extends a 1,400 mile stretch up through Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and the southern part of Alaska. Across this region there are 28 major groups of language, among which the most well known are the Athabaskan, Panutian, Salishan and Wakashan speakers. All these inhabitants are for the most part sedentary so they are concentrated on the landscape (Rochete 2010).

Unlike the Southwest and the Southeast culture areas that we have talked about already who are mostly farmers, the Northwest Coast are hunters and gatherers. This is due to the highly sedentary lifestyle and the environment of this area (Rochete 2010).

The environment of the Northwest Coast is very different from any of the other culture areas since it is affected by the warm water and air coming from Southern Asia. The constant chain of mountains just east of the coast becomes a barrier which causes the moist warm air from Japan to immediately hit the mountains as soon as it hits the coast. The air then becomes void of almost all of the moisture here at this strip of land between the sea and the mountains. This then causes an extremely moist and foggy environment which sees above 100 inches of rain per year, as well as relatively moderate temperatures (Rochete 2010).

This environment then makes it possible for lush forests and even some temperate rainforests to thrive. The vegetation includes fir, pine and cedar forests. The environment yields freshwater rivers which are great for salmon spawning. Part of the hunter and gatherer lifestyle then for this area is to prepare all year for the salmon spawning. As soon as the fish start to move up the rivers weirs are set up. Weirs are great lattices or stone works that extend across the river width to trap the fish (pictured above). Then the fishermen wait with nets and harpoons to catch the fish (Rochete 2010).

Other than salmon there were other resources both in the river and in the sea. Eulachon, a very oily fish, was very useful since they could extract the oil and save it to use for cooking. Cod, herring, smelt and trout were also important fish that were caught using weirs. Halibut were also caught but using large hooks. Sea mammals such as seals, sea lions, porpoises and whales were also important for the meat and the blubber which was essential to survival in the area. Seaweed, clams and other shellfish which were dug out from the coastline were also very important to the diet (Rochete 2010).

Like some of the other culture areas land mammals was also a part of the diet. Due to the abundance of sea life, land mammals aren’t as important in the diet but still were utilized. Deer, mountain goats are hunted as well as bear. Hides of these animals are important in the northern regions since it is colder (Rochete 2010).

Birds are also eaten as well as berries and roots that are grown in the forests. Farming in very scare in this area and in fact the only crop that is really grown at all is tobacco (Rochete 2010). It is very easy to see though that because of the environment and resources, agriculture isn’t needed which sets this area apart from much of North America.


Rochete, Eric

2010. Anth 146 Lecture for November 8, 2010.

The Pennsylvania State University.

Picture courtesy of


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