What is Mitigative Excavation?

Mitigative excavation is the process of digging an archaeological site that is threatened either by development or natural erosion. Mitigative excavations have different goals than academic excavations. The goal of mitigative excavations is is to save as much information about the site before it is destroyed, whereas in academic digs the goal is to answer specific questions about how people were using the site in the past.

When a planned development is in direct conflict with a significant archaeological site our normal first recommendation is for a project redesign in order to avoid impacting the site. When a project redesign is not a viable option a mitigative excavation might be required.

Before the excavation begins additional shovel testing may be required to ensure that the boundaries of the site have been confidently established and to identify the most important or valuable part of the site. Using what we have learned from the shovel testing we select areas for excavation blocks. We try to target the places where we’ll get the best return, in scientific information, for the investment of time. These excavation blocks are usually excavated in 1×1 m units. During the excavation layers of a predetermined depth are carefully removed. The sediment is screened and artifacts are collected. While excavating each layer is carefully described and locations of artifacts within the layer are recorded. Any changes in the soils or unusual staining is also described in detail. As each layer is removed photos are taken to further document the process. Once the unit is excavated to its final depth photos and drawings are taken of the unit walls. These photos and drawings will help us to understand the natural formation of the site area by studying the statigraphy. Looking at the layers of the soil can help us to determine if some artifacts in the site are older than others and can help us to understand how long or often the site was used by people in the past.

Mitigative excavations in Alberta typically do not involve excavation of the entire site as you might see in academic research excavations; instead archaeologists first consult with the developer and the government and excavate a sample of the site that focuses on the area of impact, and maximizes the information value of the dig.

Once the mitigative excavation is complete and the final report describing the project has been approved by the government the development will be allowed to proceed.

Mitigative excavations usually move along at a faster pace than academic excavations. This is related to time restrictions associated with development planning and budgetary concerns, as well as our focus on efficiency, and maximizing the return on investment. Academic excavations often take place over many field seasons but mitigative excavations have to be completed before the developer begins construction.

Mitigative excavation is our best tool to preserve archaeological heritage when avoidance isn’t an option, but it’s still a net loss in heritage value. Archaeological sites are non-renewable resources, once they have been destroyed, whether by excavation or development, no more information can be collected about the site.

HRV 4C – What Happens Now?

You have made a plan for a development and reviewed your plan against the Listing of Historic Resources. You’ve found that you have a conflict on your land parcel, it is listed with an HRV of 4C. What does that mean?

An HRV of 4C indicates that an historic resource site is located on that parcel of land, and that one or more First Nations groups have reported that the site is of cultural significance to them. These sites are usually Traditional Use Sites with a historic component, or spiritually significant or religious sites. Some examples include historic cabins or trails, community campsites, prayer trees or other spiritual sites, burials, cemeteries, rock art sites, and mission sites.

Before you can proceed you or your historic resource consultant must submit a Historic Resource Application through OPAC (the Online Permitting And Clearance system) to the Aboriginal Heritage Section of Alberta Culture & Tourism. Aboriginal Heritage will review the development plans against their confidential records of the site and determine whether impacts are likely. If impacts to the HRV 4C site are likely, Aboriginal Heritage will issue site-specific Consultation requirements.

This means you may have to Consult with the First Nations who have Listed the site. More than one group may have an interest in the site because of shared history and land use. Be sure to consult with all interested parties in this matter. Consulting with only one group on overlapping Listings is not sufficient. Alberta Culture will inform you if Consultation is required or not, and with which groups site specific Consultation is required (Listing of Historic Resources, Instructions for Use). It’s very important to understand that any Site-Specific Historic Resource Consultation requirements are separate from and in addition to any other standard Consultation requirements regarding Treaty rights and land use. You may have to go back to First Nations you’ve already Consulted about your project in general, and may have to Consult with different groups or individuals.

Whether you are required to Consult with First Nations groups or not, an HRV of 4C may also result in a requirement for an Historic Resources Impact Assessment. The fact that a specific historic resource has been identified within your land parcel does not mean that the rest of the area has been surveyed and that there is only the one site there. It only indicates that an historic resource site has been reported. An historic resources impact assessment requirement is likely because areas that are considered culturally significant today usually have been considered important for centuries, or millennia. Areas with an HRV of 4C have a high potential to contain additional historic resources such as archaeological sites.

You may be required to redesign your project to avoid the HRV 4C historic resources site. If the site can’t be avoided, mitigation may be required. Mitigation of archaeological and historic sites typically requires extensive shovel testing, detailed block excavations proportional to the percent of the site to be impacted and detailed mapping of the site. Mitigation of impacts to a Culturally Significant site would likely be site-specific, and determined in collaboration with the affected communities.

Our recommendation for HRV 4C conflicts is to identify them early, discuss them with communities in advance, avoid them at the planning stage.

If you don’t know where to start, or would like someone to help you Consult with First Nations contact Kurt or Madeline at 780-472-8878 or toll free at 1-866-873-3846 or email us at [email protected]. We are happy to help.

Dewberry

We all especially enjoy working during the summer months when the berries are ripe and plentiful. Featured here is a dewberry, they are easy to recognize because the leaves and berries look similar to raspberries but they grow close to the forest floor and are not prickly. They taste similar to raspberries as well but are not as tart.

What is an Historic Resource Site?

The majority of Tree Time’s archaeological work is done in the context of Historic Resources Impact Assessments, but what is an Historic Resource?

People are sometimes confused about what constitutes an historic resource because it is a very broad category. The first thing to come to most people’s mind would likely be the contents of a museum but as discussed below, historic resources encompass far more than the displays at museum. In the simplest sense an historic resource is anything of significant interest to a community, a cultural group, historians, archaeologists, or other scientists.

Alberta’s Historical Resources Act defines Historic Resources as:

any work of nature or humans that is valued for its palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest.”

A Historic Resource Site is any place where Historic Resources are found. When we say “site” people most commonly think of an archaeological site, but this is only one type. Alberta Environment and Parks has defined six categories of Historic Resource sites – archaeological, cultural, geological, historic, natural and palaeontological. However, an Historic Resource site can fall into multiple categories – one doesn’t take precedence over another. Some examples of this are the Big Rock Erratic at Okotoks which is classified as both a geological and an archaeological historic resource site and the Frank Slide which is both a geological and historic site.

The government of Alberta keeps track of all the known historic resource sites in the province. To do this they use a tool called the Listing of Historic Resources. This listing is a database that contains information about historic resource sites such as their location and a description of what they are and what condition they are in. It is important to be aware that not all historic resources are recorded in this listing as many of them have not been recorded yet and the listing is not updated every day.

Some examples of Historic Resources sites found in Alberta:

Archaeological Sites

Archaeological sites are areas that have been occupied by humans in the past and have evidence of that occupation in the form of artifacts found on or under the earth’s surface. Some examples of archaeological sites common to Alberta include precontact campsites, rock art, tipi rings, buffalo pounds, homesteads, trails and medicine wheels. Some well known examples of archaeological sites in Alberta include Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and the Bodo Archaeological Site.

Cultural sites

Cultural sites are sites that have been identified as significant to a specific cultural group by members of that group. These sites often include historic villages, cabins and community campsites, burials, prayer trees and other ceremonial sites. The majority of Culturally Significant sites are of First Nations origin, but not all are. Some examples are Pierre Grey’s Trading Post, the St. Charles Mission Site, the Grande Cache Dinosaur Tracks site, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and Áísínai’pi (Writing-on-Stone) rock carvings and paintings. Culturally significant historic resources often overlap with archaeological and historic period sites.

Geological sites

This site type will often have overlap with other types of Historic Resources. Geological sites are areas of the province with unique geological features like the Canmore Hoodoos, Hetherington Erratics Field and the Whitecourt / Woodlands Meteorite Impact Crater.

Historic Sites

Historic sites are places that can usually be related back to specific people or events in history. This category is a little more complicated because it includes heritage structures, historic places and districts, and historic period archaeological sites.

The most common Historic Sites are places with preserved historic buildings. The Province tracks historic buildings in a database called the Heritage Survey. Any structure older than 50 years is eligible to be added to this list. This of course includes old buildings, like houses, grain elevators and train stations, but also includes other types of man-made above-ground structures, including earthworks, preserved wagon trails, and early 20th century oil wells. Historically significant structures or places can be designated as Municipal or Provincial Heritage Resources, and protected. Some examples of these include include the Brooks Aqueduct, the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator near Castor, the Parliament Building in Edmonton and old houses in the Highlands neighbourhood of north Edmonton.

Other Historic sites are areas with known historical significance. While these sites may not have retained any standing structures they are places where significant events are known to have taken place or important historic figures visited. These include the locations of many historic fur trade posts and forts. Some of these sites have been recreated for public enjoyment and educational purposes. Some examples of this are Fort Victoria, Lac La Biche Mission and Historic Dunvegan. Other historic sites in Alberta include the Victoria Settlement, Frog Lake Massacre Site, and the Grand Rapids Portage on the Athabasca River.

Historic period archaeological sites are the most common example of overlap between two categories. These are places with underground material evidence of the past (archaeological resources) from the historic period. At these places, archaeologists have documented the presence of historic period artifacts, ranging from fur trade beads and tools, to early 20th century cans and bottles. We may or may not have written records about these sites. Common examples of this site type are fur trading posts, pioneer homesteads, and early trapping cabin locations. A less common example would be this plane crash.

Natural sites

Natural sites are areas of special and sensitive natural landscapes of local and regional significance. These sites often have overlap with archaeological and historic site types. Some examples are Eagle Butte, Purple Springs and the Rumsey Natural area.

Palaeontological sites

These are sites where fossils can be found. Fossils of plants, animals and even dinosaur bones fall into this category. Examples include Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks and Pipestone Provincial Park near Grande Prairie.

Blasting Powder Cans

Here is an example of a unique artifact type – it is a large metal can that once contained blasting powder. We often find these cans associated with the old historic railways found throughout the province. This particular can has an inscription on the base which helps us to identify the contents of the can. In this case it also has the name of the producer. This information can help us to narrow down the age of the can.

black blasting powder
This is a rubbing from the base of the can, it sure makes it easy to identify what the can once held.

The Glenbow Museum Archives

The Glenbow Museum Archives are an exciting tool we can use as archaeologists to learn more about some historic sites that we encounter in our day to day field work, and to predict where we might find a certain type of historic site.

We recently worked on a historic site located between Mundare and Vegreville (southeast of Edmonton) consisting of three concrete foundations. Area locals informed us that this was a historic era school yard but didn’t know much about it beyond that. We were able to get information about the school by doing a search of the Glenbow Museum School Districts Archives. These archives have records of names, locations and dates of establishment of school districts in Alberta established between 1885 and 1982.

Using the Glenbow Museum Archives website (link below) we were able to search by legal land description (also known as the Alberta Township System or ATS) or by school name to find out which school district our site was located in.

http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesSchoolSearch.aspx

Searching by ATS we entered the township, range and meridian and came up with two possible school districts for our location, Kolomea established June 8, 1906 and Thornton established January 10, 1910. We determined that the school at our location must be the Kolomea School as the ATS section it was listed in was consistent with the location of the site.

Thanks to the Glenbow Museum Archives we now had the name of the school which helped with further searches, and enabled us to find archival photographs and texts regarding the school and its history. Some archival photos were found by searches of the Virtual Museum and the Alberta Provincial Archives (links below).

http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/

http://culture.alberta.ca/heritage-and-museums/provincial-archives-of-alberta/

The Glenbow Museum School District Archives is also a great tool that can be used for background research in a project area before the field work starts on an Historic Resources Impact Assessment. Using the School District Archives prior to commencement of field work will inform field workers if they should be looking for a school yard and might narrow down the search area to the quarter section the school yard should be located in.  This tool could have enabled the identification of the Kolomea School Site before construction started, and prevented some construction delays.

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, HerMIS:

https://hermis.alberta.ca/paa/PhotoGalleryDetails.aspx?ObjectID=A10686&dv=True