The Brazeau Reservoir Archaeological Survey Project

The Brazeau Reservoir Archaeological Survey is a project hosted by the Strathcona Archaeological Society, and is sponsored by Tree Time Services. It currently is centred around a large campsite and workshop on the upper valley margin at the confluence of the Brazeau and Elk Rivers, located near Drayton Valley and Rocky Mountain House.

The main site, FfPv-1, was found in 2009 by Sandy and Tom Erikson while out on a day hike. They contacted the Royal Alberta Museum to report their finds, and the site was visited by curators Jack Brink and Bob Dawe in 2013. They conducted an exploratory survey with Sandy and Tom, and found five additional sites, FfPv-2 to 6. These sites are all located around the edge of the upper water lines of the Brazeau Reservoir, and are covered by water for most of the year.

2 surface finds_resized

 

Jack and Bob brought these sites to the attention of the Strathcona Archaeological Society as an opportunity to engage with the society’s members through the practice of archaeology. What made these sites perfect to use for a volunteer project is that all the sites were identified by the artifacts found on the surface, thanks to the reservoir water that slowly stripped the soil away. This meant that volunteers could learn how to spot the artifacts sitting on the surface.

3 artifact sample

In 2015, Madeline Coleman, one of our Permit Archaeologists, co-organized the pilot volunteer project with another SAS member, Amandah van Merlin. Volunteers travelled across FfPv-1 to figure out the site’s extent, and what type of site it was. Survey of the landforms around FfPv-1 found three new sites!! Volunteers also found projectile points that crossed almost the entire expanse of Alberta Precontact history. The cultural phases represented include Clovis, Agate Basin, Hell Gap, Oxbow, and Plains Corner-notch.

 

4 amandah with a find_resized

Based on the location of the sites, it is very likely that the sites are located around the whole reservoir! The construction of the reservoir began in 1910, long before developments in Alberta were examined for impacts to archaeological resources. Currently, many of the sites recently identified are only accessible by boat.

A new survey with test excavation units are planned for May 28th and 29th. To register or for more information, email Madeline at [email protected]

The Archaeology of Wildfire

This is a guest post by Christina Poletto, a Master’s student with the Institute of Prairie Archaeology at the University of Alberta Department of Anthropology. She’s studying the palaeoenvironmental signature of wildfire, to look for signs of pre-historic controlled burning by indigenous societies in northeastern Alberta.

Fire is almost a constant in Alberta’s north, and its impact can be felt not only on the environment but on populations. In recent years’ fire has been seen in a negative light due to extreme fires that have impacted communities in northern Alberta. The 2016 fire in Fort McMurray has had a devastating impact on people in the area, displacing thousands and damaging houses and buildings. However, fires were not always this large and destructive.

Fire Map
Wildfires from 1930 to 2014. This map only presents 84 years of fires in the area, but it shows the frequency and scale of fires in the region. (Fire history from Canadian Forest Service. 2011. National Fire Database – Agency FireData. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, Edmonton, Alberta. http://cwfis.cfs.nrcan.gc.ca/en_CA/nfdb.; map created by C. Poletto)

As part of the boreal forest’s natural cycles, fires allowed for a diverse mosaic of landscapes to be re-established and helped support animal communities in the area. These natural fire cycles also help to remove ‘dead’ organic materials like fallen trees and overgrown plants. If these materials are left to build up, they become another fuel source for fire and make fires more intense. This has led fire scientists to argue that the more the forest is regulated and the more fires are suppressed, the more intense and dangerous fires become. In the years before fire suppression, fires were a crucial and positive part of the success and diversity of the boreal forest.

IMG_3566
Dense forest cover can be both fun and challenging when accessing sites. For fires though, this can mean a faster moving and more intense burn (image C. Poletto)

In addition to natural fires, northern Alberta First Nations groups had traditions of cultural burning. These fires were highly regulated; they were only started under specific circumstances and were dependent on factors like weather conditions and the amount of fire fuel in an area. Early spring was the preferred season because the ground was dry enough to burn but damp enough to prevent the fire from getting too large, whereas during the fall it was drier, making it more dangerous to begin burning. When all the conditions were right, fires would be used to create landscape features like hay meadows or to form and maintain trails, and to promote plant and animal communities re-entering into an area. Ethnographic studies like ones conducted by Henry T. Lewis and Theresa Ferguson with the Dene-Tha (Slavey) in northwestern Alberta documented the longstanding tradition of controlled burning. Elders commented that these practices would not only promote the movement of people but would encourage vegetative communities to thrive and entice animals to revisit areas. In the forest, ensuring the availability of food resources for the months ahead and for years to come was the primary goal of these activities, which is why such great care was taken with the burning process.

In an archaeological site with deep deposits, records of these traditions could be noted by multiple layers of charcoal related to occupation periods. However, in many parts of the boreal forest, the soil deposits are shallow and make it challenging to see these patterns. Instead, researchers can look at soils in lake basins to help recreate these parts of the record. With these ancient and modern records, we can understand how different plant species respond to different fire types, and model the regrowth and response of animal communities. Understanding how First Nations groups manipulated these environmental relationships enhances our understanding of past groups living in the boreal forest. IN addition to its archaeological value, this knowledge can be integrated into modern forest management practices. In some parts of Alberta, highly regimented cultural burning through collaborative efforts has been reintroduced as a way to help minimize fire risk and to promote a healthy, diverse boreal forest.

Final_1200px
This map of the Clear Lake – Eaglesnest Lake area in the Birch Mountains shows how we can use current vegetation data to see how the boreal forest responds to fire. It also serves as a baseline for future research to attempt to interpret the boreal forest’s story of fire from lake records (created by C. Poletto).

 

 

 

Stone Drill

This week, we showcase a stone drill. That’s right, you guessed it, this type of stone tool is used to drill holes in things. Like knives and projectile points, drills are worked on both sides to create sharp edges and a narrow tip. Unlike other stone tools however, drills are very narrow and thick, and often are diamond shaped in cross-section. This design makes the drill stronger, and less likely to break. In Alberta, stone drills are often either long and straight, with a bulb or a “T” shaped base. More often than not, you find the broken end of drills, because they snapped off while in use. The stone drill bit would be attached to a long wood handle using sinew, rawhide, and pitch, and then spun to create the circular motion for drilling. This could be either done by hand, or using a small bow and string to spin the drill.

DSCN1489.jpg
Using a stone drill with a bow saw to drill a hole in a slate ulu.

We found this stone drill while working for Sundre Forest Products in 2012, in the Foothills west of Red Deer. The artifact is made from a brownish-gray chalcedony, and also shows evidence that it was heat treated. The drill has small “potlid” fractures, where irregular pieces of the stone popped off. This type of break happens when a stone is quickly heated and cooled.

2550 – 1400 year old projectile point!

This week we present one of the artifacts from a site we found while doing surveys for Sundre Forest Products on the North Saskatchewan River in 2015. More than 30 artifacts were found through shovel testing at the site, but this one is extra-special. It’s a dart point of the Besant style. Above is a photo of the point right after Corey found it in the screen we use to sift soil from the shovel tests we dig while looking for sites.

One reason this artifact is so special is because it helps us estimate how old the site is. We don’t have a precise date for when people were at this site because that usually requires finding an artifact made of material that was once living, like wood or bone, that can be sent to labs to be dated through special techniques. Unfortunately these kinds of material don’t preserve well in the acidic soil of the Boreal forest, but by finding a point like this we can give an estimate of the site’s age. Besant points have been found in Alberta at sites dating between 2,550 and 1,400 years ago. That means that before this photo, the last time the point was seen may have been more than two thousand years ago!

In addition to being one of the few artifacts we find that can be used to figure out how old a site is (and teach us about how people were living in the past and how that changed over time), this artifact is special because we don’t find points often. Most people have seen arrowheads like this at some point, but they’re not commonly found when archaeologists are at the test pitting stage of their work. Instead, we usually find all the rock that gets broken off when the past person was making the tool. We call those pieces “flakes” and there are way more flakes out there than points. That’s why it’s always a big deal to find a point through shovel testing. Look how happy Corey is at finding it in one of his shovel tests!DSCF2440_resized

 

Black Bear

It’s that time of year again! The bears are waking up and the field workers are heading into bear territory. One of our archaeological field crews encountered this little guy in 2013 and found that he was a little less scared of them than the average bear.

Usually bears are skittish and will leave the area as soon as they know humans are around, especially if you have a noisy ATV running but this bear was a bit curious and stuck around long enough for a photo shoot. The crew scared him away and didn’t have another encounter. Remember to review your bear awareness training before heading into the bush for work or play!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Keep an eye open for fresh bear sign while you are out and keep alert!

Agate Basin Spear Point

This week’s photograph is of an artifact we found in 2015 when undertaking an HRIA for Sundre Forest Products. It comes from a site south of the Ram River – our 100th site of the year, in fact. It’s an exciting find: a spear point of the Agate Basin style. The picture above was taken when it was found and the picture below shows the point after it was catalogued in our lab. We have found our fair share of points over the years, but this is a rare one because of its age. Agate Basin points are some of the oldest found in the province and date between 10,200 and 9,600 years ago.

FbPu-31_8_IMG_0106The site was identified when we were surveying a disturbed area. Like Corey explained in his blog entry, a lot of information may be lost when a site is disturbed because the relationship of one artifact to another has been disturbed. Although we always hope to find sites intact and undisturbed, disturbances like erosion can allow archaeologists to see a larger area of soil than through shovel testing alone. This artifact was found lying on the ground when we were walking over a ridge. This is why archaeological assessments in disturbed areas can be worthwhile. It’s also why archaeologists are hard to walk with – they’re always looking down, searching for artifacts in even the most unlikely places.

What should I do if I find an arrowhead?

It is not uncommon for farmers, gardeners and outdoors-men and women to find artifacts like arrowheads, spear points, stone axes and hammerstones. Farmers often find them in their fields after plowing. In fact many farmers have more impressive artifact collections than a lot of museums do! Click here to read about some of Alberta Culture’s work documenting artifact collections across the province.

One thing people often are not sure about is how to report finding an archaeological site and who to tell when they find an artifact. Reporting artifact finds can help archaeologists to better predict where other historic or archaeological sites are likely to be. The more sites we can identify the better our understanding the past gets. You never know, your find might be totally unique and groundbreaking. Maybe it’s the oldest spear point in Alberta! We can learn about and protect our historic resources better if we work together.

To report a find you can go to the Alberta Culture website link below:

http://culture.alberta.ca/heritage-and-museums/programs-and-services/archaeological-survey/archaeological-discoveries/default.aspx

from here you will be asked to provide a digital photo of the artifact, a location (can be a GPS coordinate, a legal land description, a permanent landmark or an image of a map), your phone number (optional) and your organization, institution or corporate affiliation (optional). This is the minimum but if you could add a description of what you found and the circumstances around your find that would be helpful too.

When you click on “Report your Discovery” you will be brought to a blank page with the email address for the Archaeological Information Coordinator in the address line. Simply email the above information to that address.

What Happens Next?

The Archaeological Information Coordinator will confirm that this is a new archaeological site and assign the site a Borden Number. The site will then be entered in to the Archaeological Site Inventory database which will help archaeologists to predict where other sites in the region are. If it is a known site, she will contact the archaeologist that initially recorded it and confirm with them that it is the same site and discuss whether a site form update is required for the site. If you provided a phone number when you reported the find you may get a follow up phone call to let you know the outcome of your report. When you find an artifact please leave it where you found it. Removing artifacts from where they were found means we might lose important information to help determine the age of the find and whether it is associated with other artifacts.

If you’re not sure that your find is an artifact, or are not sure what to do about it, you can contact us, call us toll free at 1-866-873-3846, or email [email protected]. We would love to hear about your find and can help to confirm what it is and help with the next steps. We can even take care of reporting it to Alberta Culture for you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Artifacts collected during the 1950s by tobacco pickers near Delhi, Ontario. Photos courtesy of Teresa Tremblay.