ARCHAEOLOGY

THE POWER OF SECRET SOCIETIES

WHEN ARCHAEOLOGIST Brian Hayden of Simon Fraser University started working at the Keatley Creek site in British Columbia more than three decades ago, he was intrigued by nine small structures that had been clearly set apart from the main settlement. Located on a terrace above the Fraser River Gorge in the traditional territory of the Ts’kw’aylaxw (pronounced Tskwai-lah) First Nation, Keatley Creek was once one of the largest prehistoric settlements in what is now Canada. As many as 1,000 residents, who survived by hunting, gathering, and fishing, lived there at its peak around 1,000 to 2,000 years ago. Millennia of occupation left behind more than 115 depressions in the main settle-ment, evidence of partially underground wooden dwellings called pit houses that were inhabited in the winter.

The nine structures that caught Hayden’s attention were 300 to 600 feet away from the main group. Unlike the other dwellings at the site, they had rock-lined hearths and yielded rare artifacts including gaming pieces and shells from the Pacific coast. They also were near large roasting pits measuring up to 30 feet in diameter that suggested feasting had once taken place there. After many years of research, Hayden now believes that some of these distinctive buildings were used by members of secret societies to hold ceremonies with the ultimate goal of gaining influence over their fellow villagers.

Hayden says this is a pattern that can be found at ancient sites—from the painted caves of France’s Upper Paleolithic period to California’s Channel Islands—if you know what to look for. In his research, he has been guided by the work of ethnographers who have recorded the activities of secret societies among indigenous groups around the world. By studying

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