Visiting the Great Wall of China

In honour of the Mysteries of China IMAX series currently playing at the Telus World of Science, I decided to look back on my trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in February of 2014.

We took a tour to Mutianyu organised by our hostel in Beijing. This portion of the wall is in a mountainous region running southeast to northwest for 2.25 km. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to this section of the wall from Beijing. While you are on the bus the tour guide will take the time to tell you a bit about the history of the wall.

For those who don’t know, The Great Wall of China is several sections of a 21,196 km wall made of brick and stone along the northern borders of China to serve as fortifications against northern invaders. The wall was built over several centuries from the 7th century BC until the Ming Dynasty (1369-1644), first using rammed earth and locally sourced stone and later using bricks

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View of the Great Wall

February is a good time to go because there were basically no crowds besides our tour group and, as a result, there were very few hawkers trying to sell us souvenirs. However, there were still a few touts but they are useful for getting snacks and water while you are hiking the wall. The only negative about visiting during this time of year was that it was a little chilly and we didn’t get the lush green vegetation and vibrant flowers.

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View of one of the vendors along the restored section of Mutianyu

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Taking the chair lift up to the Great Wall

The bus will take you to the parking lot, where you will have to walk a few hundred metres to the group ticket gate. From here you can choose to either hike up to the wall or you can take the chair lift. Our tour guide told us that hiking once on top of the wall is challenging enough so we decided to conserve our energy and take the chair lift up. From here you will have great views of the surrounding mountains as your excitement grows as get nearer to the top. 

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Some nice views from the chair lift

Once you get off the chair lift you are at Tower 14. You can turn left and head northwest towards Tower 23 which is the highest point at this section of the wall. This portion of the wall is all restored and is very steep. It is mostly uphill and there are a lot of steps that a predominantly uneven. You will see several watch towers, cannons, and buildings. The restored portions of the wall are pretty cool but after awhile it gets repetitive. 

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View towards Tower 23 from Tower 14
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View of one of the cannons

We worked our way back southeast toward Tower 14 and continued in that direction to get to the unrestored portion of wall. It is a bit of a hike to get to the unrestored area of the wall but it is not as steep as the previous section. This portion of the wall won’t be for everybody because it is covered in trees and many of the towers and wall sections are crumbling. I really enjoyed it as an archaeologist, it is a nice contrast to see the difference.

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View of an unrestored tower
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Unrestored portion of the wall with vegetation growing on top

Click here to view a video taken at a peak along the unrestored portion of the wall

After about an hour or so here we headed back west. When you reach Tower 6, you can take a toboggan track back down to the ticket gate. This was really fun but we ended up getting stuck behind a guy who either had a malfunctioning toboggan or didn’t know how to work it. Once we reached the bottom we reconvened with our group and had lunch and some beers before heading back out to Beijing.

Click here to view a video of toboggan run

Stay tuned for another blog post about my visit to the Terracotta Warriors.

Side-Notched Projectile Point

We often post images of beautifully crafted tools such as the besant point from FcPu-11 or the siltstone knife from Buffalo Beach but not every tool we find is a “work of art.” This week’s photograph is of an “ugly” artifact we found in 2016 when undertaking an HRIA for Sundre Forest Products. The site was found on a terrace overlooking the confluence of two tributaries to the North Saskatchewan River. The artifact is a side-notched chert projectile point similar to the Prairie or Plains side-notched typology. The point is asymmetrical with one edge being a rounded convex shape and the other an undulating edge with an angular shoulder. The tip of the point is broken off which is common of the projectile points we find and is likely the reason the point was discarded. While aesthetics can add to the function of a projectile point this artifact demonstrates it was not necessary. The idea that it doesn’t matter how it looks as long as it works was alive in the past as much as it is today.

Slave Lake Plane Crash

In the summer of 2013, Vince and I were walking through a harvested cutblock south of Slave Lake and we noticed something big and white on a high hill along the tree line. At first we thought it was some sort of tarp but as we got closer we realized it was the broken tail portion of an airplane. We were both pretty excited to find the wreckage because a plane crash is something we don’t find everyday.

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We documented the site with photographs and mapped it as we would a normal historic site. We found pieces of the wreckage scattered over 100 m along the hill. The site seems to be a local hangout as evident by the bullet holes in the tail and several beer cans scattered around the wreckage.

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Thankfully the registration number, C-GWYD, was still visible on the tail portion and were able to learn more about the crash. On December 29, 1975 a Beechcraft 99 en route to Peace River from Edmonton crashed into a high hill overlooking Slave Lake to the north. The plane came to a rest upside down and sadly both pilots, Captain Bill Groesnick and Co-pilot Banshi Ghelani, were killed upon impact. However, all seven passengers survived with minor injuries.

When discussing historic resources we often attribute it’s value to the age of the site. The Slave Lake plane crash site, while only 40 years old, demonstrates that something can have historic value because of it’s significance to a local community or a historic event.

Asymmetrical Knife

This week we feature a picture of an asymmetrical knife found north of Lac La Biche at a site called Buffalo Beach. The knife has one rounded retouched cutting edge and the other edge is straight. The notched knob at the bottom of the artifact is where the knife would have been attached to a handle. The handle was likely made from an organic material that does not preserve as well as stone (for example bone, antler, wood, etc.). The style of this knife does not match any previously recorded artifacts found in Alberta.

Biface Preform

This week we feature an artifact found recently while conducting a survey for an Associated Aggregates gravel pit along the Nordegg River. The artifact is an irregular biface that is likely a preform. A preform is often an ovate or triangular shaped rock that has been flaked on both sides using percussion and pressure flaking techniques. This artifact was likely in the early stages of becoming some form of tool (e.g. knife or projectile point) before it was discarded by the flintknapper.

It is not clear why the flintknapper quit working on the artifact, the knapper may have made a mistake or did not like the stone material. The artifact is made from a unique red speckled chert with some fossilized plant remains embedded on the dorsal side of the artifact. We asked the consulting community if they knew what kind of chert the artifact was made from and Jason Roe, Lifeways Canada, identified the material as Paskapoo chert.

The artifact was found at a site identified by our clients, Dan Hill and Jodie Bauman, who were interested in the process of historical resource impact assessments (HRIA). While screening a shovel test, under the supervision of our archaeologists, Jodie found a large utilized quartzite flake. Further testing, revealed the site was over 200 m long and had evidence of fire (fire cracked rock) and tool making (biface).

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Knife River Flint Dart Base

In the summer of 2013, Tree Time Services surveyed cutblocks for Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries in the Logan River area north of Lac La Biche and found an artifact protruding out of exposed sediment along a previously constructed oil and gas access road.exposure_resized - Copy

When we find artifacts in disturbed areas it is unfortunate because these artifacts have lost much of their informational value. By finding the artifact in situ – or in its original context – there is much more information that can be gathered about the site, such as an association with other artifacts or organics, which can be informative of the age of the artifact. If the artifact is a single stone chip or flake from making a tool the loss is minimal; however, in this case the artifact recovered was an atlatl dart base made from Knife River Flint.artifact

The artifact is an atlatl (or spear thrower) dart based on the width of the base (The neck widths of arrowheads tend to be a lot narrower and are typically corner or side-notched). The artifact could date to anywhere between 7,000 to 9,000 years ago based on the timeframe that atlatl technology was prominent and stylistic preference of stemmed points. The style of the projectile point is similar to the Scottsbluff style which is usually associated with spear points rather than darts. Based on this style we believe it to be dated to the early period of the spear thrower technology

The artifact is also interesting for reasons other than its age. The artifact is made of caramel-coloured rock called Knife River Flint which is found mainly in streams in North Dakota which means people were either trading for the material or travelling great distances to obtain it. For context, the location of the knife river flint quarry and the location of the artifact find were loaded into google maps:google

The story of the artifact: The stone this artifact was made from traveled over 1300 km through trade and migration. Upon arrival in Alberta the stone was crafted into an atlatl dart by an expert flintknapper. The dart was likely used several times to hunt game and was retouched or reworked to sharpen the point. Eventually the tip was broken off and the dart could not be salvaged resulting in the dart being discarded. The artifact sat where it was discarded for possibly thousands of years and was buried by sediment not to be seen again until it was exposed by a bulldozer and spotted by an archaeologist.