Wedge

This little guy is a wedge, or sometime as it is sometimes known as its french name, pieces esquilles. These tools are thought to have been used to split organic materials like wood and bone, much like an ancient stone chisel. One of the sharp sides of the wedge would be placed against the material that you wanted to split, and you would hammer the other end with a stone to drive the wedge through it. Since this little tool would literally be caught between a rock and a hard place, using a wedge would often create bipolar flake scars. You will also often see crushing and lots of hinge fractures on the tops and bottoms of these tools, where the edges are being crushed against the hammerstone and the material being split. As a result, wedges often have a short and squat rectangular body shape.

This particular specimen is made from a very coarse grained quartzite. Based on the reddish hue of the stone, it may have even been heat treated to improve the quality of the material. It was found near Wabasca-Desmarais, on a high ridge that overlooked a broad stream valley.

The One That Got Away

In this blog series, we will be reviewing and summarizing recent archaeological research occurring in the province and around the world. To see the original article, and others like it check out the Blue Book Series presented by the Archaeological Survey of Alberta.

When we find animal bone in an archaeological site, we can usually tell whether that animal died of natural causes, or if they were hunted and butchered by people. Evidence of butchery is sometimes obvious. We can see cut marks on the bone that are left behind when a sharp metal or stone knife cut into the outer layer of tissue that makes up bone. We can also see different fracture patterns in how the bone breaks. You can butcher an animal with an axe, leaving behind deep gouges in the bones, or using a saw which leaves distinct striations in the cuts.

Telling how an animal was hunted is more difficult. We often have to infer how the animal died based on the surrounding evidence. If we are looking a site like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, we can make a pretty good guess that the animals died from falling off the cliff. If we find a bison skeleton surrounded by stone arrowheads, it likely was shot using a bow. Very rarely do we ever see “the smoking gun” in archaeology. However, in the case of the Pibroch Vertebra we have a unique specimen that provides an insight into how people were hunting in the past. In an article published in the Archaeological Survey of Alberta Occasional Paper Series, Dr. Jack Ives at the University of Alberta and Bob Dawe at the Royal Alberta Museum reviewed their findings from the Pibroch Vertebra.

Continue reading “The One That Got Away”

Can you spot the archaeologist?

It’s always important to stay highly visible and safe out there. While overhead hazards are not a concern at most archaeological sites, we often do work in places where banging your head and falling debris are a serious risk. One also needs to be careful when exploring historic sites, like this root cellar here. Often times, historic structures such as this can have pieces of metal farm equipment hidden in the tall grass. If you are not careful, you can run the risk of stepping on a rusty nail or the spikes on a set of harrows.

Spruce Grouse

Can you see them? I almost didn’t! These spruce grouse chicks were hanging out on a trail we were walking on near Wabasca-Desmarais, Alberta, nested in the woody debris on the trail. The only reason we stopped was because we saw the mother hen making short flights down the trail and making a lot of noise. Often, the grouse mothers will fake an injury and make a lot of noise to draw predators away from their chicks. Luckily for her, we weren’t hungry that day!

Atlatl Point

This little quartzite projectile point comes from a small site near Wabasca-Desmarais, Alberta. We found it on a small hill that was next to a lake, along with several chert and quartzite flakes. This point likely was fitted to an atlatl dart, a type of feathered throwing spear that uses a hooked throwing stick to help propel the projectile.

It is difficult to tell how old this particular projectile point is. It has a straight base and broad side-notches, which is similar to the Besant Phase (2500 to 1000 years ago on the northern plains), but it is also similar to some of the early side-notched points from the Middle Precontact (8000 to 5000 years ago). Looking further to the north, this stone point also has some similarities to the kind of projectile points found in the Taltheilei tradition in the Northwest Territories. Unfortunately, we do not have a clear understanding of projectile point typologies in the boreal forest of northern Alberta, as this region is lacking deeply stratified archaeological sites with material that we can radiocarbon date.

Antique Car?

Do you think she’ll start? While surveying harvest blocks in the Marten Hills by Slave Lake, we found an old car parked on the side of an old overgrown road. While not as unique an old plane crash, it does show how much an area can change. What used to be a road is now an overgrown trail through the forest.

Wet Screening

Archaeology is messy work, but sometimes things get really wet and muddy! Elenore and Teresa are practicing here what is called “wet screening.” Wet screening is similar to dry screening as you try to get all the sediment through a mesh screen, but water is used to wash away any particularly thick lumps of sediment. Once all the dirt has been washed through the screen, any rocks or artifacts will be left behind to find. This is a particularly effective way of dealing with heavy clay or bulk soil samples, but requires a lot of water and a place that you don’t mind getting messy!