A lot of our work is located very far back in the boreal forest. It is not uncommon to have the only trail that gets close to our target areas be blocked by a fallen log. During hunting season, hunters usually clear these trails. But the rest of the summer it is up to us. Several of our crew members participated in a Chainsaw training course. We learned to how to properly maintain our equipment and how to safely operate the chainsaw. We had the opportunity to practice our skills by making small chairs from the logs.
There is a lot of PPE involved! We are sporting the stylish chaps, the fancy face cage, and the comfy ear muffs. We also need to be mindful of where our legs are so that we don’t accidentally get them in the way!
From 1979 to 1982, Dr. Ray LeBlanc, then Boreal Archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, conducted baseline surveys of the Lesser Slave Lake region. Before that time there were less than 1000 archaeological sites recorded in the entire Green Zone of northern Alberta (including the Grande Prairie region). Within the Lesser Slave Lake basin there were only 39 known sites (Figure 1, in yellow). These were mostly surface scatters of stone artifacts identified by members of the public and the Archaeological Survey during early reconnaissance work. Known sites included scatters at the Marten Mountain and Deer Mountain fire towers, several sites in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, and a few sites scattered around the shores of the lake. Besides their locations, very little was actually known about these sites, because little to no testing or excavation was done.
Starting with preliminary surveys in 1979, followed by systematic surveys in 1980 and ’81 and test excavations in 1982 Dr. LeBlanc recorded 89 new sites on the shores of Lesser Slave Lake and the surrounding area. The majority of these sites were located on the northwest shore of the lake, and on the north side of Buffalo Bay. Most of the sites were identified in surface exposure, including some large collections of artifacts from ploughed fields. Private collections west of Lesser Slave Lake included some rare artifacts from the earliest occupation of the province, such as Clovis period macroblades and large lanceolate points (Figure 2). Some examples of these finds can be seen today in the High Prairie & District Museum.
Some other notable finds came from a site on the south shore of the lake, near Joussard. Mr. Frank Madsen had collected a large number of artifacts from his farm on the shore. His collection included a number of projectile points (arrowheads and spear points) from the middle and late periods of occupation of the province (about 5000 to 250 years ago), as well as a number of oval tools made from quartzite cobbles. These tools had worked ends and chipped notches on the sides. They’ve been interpreted two ways. They may have been stone axe or adze heads. Archaeologists call these celts when we don’t know if they were hafted parallel to the handle, as axes, or perpendicular, as adzes. Alternatively, they’ve also been interpreted as stone net sinkers or weights, with the notches used to tie them to the bottom of fishing nets. The most interesting finds in the Madsen Collection are examples of ground-stone artifacts, which are rare in Alberta: a jade adze, and a steatite (soapstone) pipe bowl (Figure 3). The jade adze is typical of the type made and found in British Columbia. Only about a dozen of these have been found in Alberta, and the current Boreal Archaeologist, Todd Kristensen, is researching them.
These surveys in the early 1980’s made the Lesser Slave Lake region one of the best studied parts of Alberta’s boreal forest, but we still knew very little about the history of human occupation in the region, and how people lived at various times in the past. We would start getting the answers to some of these questions in the later 1980’s, when Dr. LeBlanc, as a professor at the University of Alberta, returned to some of these sites with students for a field school excavation.
LeBlanc, 2004 Archaeological Research in the Lesser Slave Lake Region. Mercury Series Archaeology paper 166, Canadian Museum of Civilization. Gatineau, Quebec.
This week we feature a picture of a biface found near Slave Lake, AB, a common stone tool in Alberta. The term biface is a generic stone tool classification, and simply refers to any thin piece of worked stone that has been flintknapped on both sides, or faces, of the artifact. So it can include tools like knives, arrowheads, and spear points, and certain types of cores. This biface is made of a fine-grained quartzite, and has been extensively worked around the margin to create a sharp cutting edge. The artifact exhibits a waxy luster, or sheen, that may indicate that it was heated to improve the quality of the raw material. Similar bifaces have been found in the foothills region and argued to be diagnostic of, or firmly associated with, the early middle period (5000 to 7500 BP) and referred to as Embarras Bipoints (Jason Roe, 2009, “Making and Understanding Embarras Bipoints: The Replication and Operational Sequencing of a Newly Defined Stone Tool from the Eastern Slopes of Alberta”).
I’ve submitted a poster for the upcoming CAA conference in Whitehorse, Yukon in May. Check out my abstract and check back for research updates on our blog!
Advances in remote sensing technologies and industry-driven initiatives have precipitated the wide scale production of lidar-derived digital elevation datasets in Alberta. These high-precision terrain models have been instrumental for cultural resource management strategies and the identification of new archaeological sites in the province. Lidar has proven to be extremely useful in targeting of distinct landforms and topographic features present on the landscape, and in the development of archaeological predictive models. While most lidar analyses for archaeological site predictions are focused on the modern landscape, these datasets can also be used to identify ancient landforms that may have been more suitable for human habitation in the distant past. Review of lidar data from the Lesser Slave Lake region in northern Alberta revealed numerous strandlines, meltwater channels, and relict beaches related to changing levels of proglacial lakes in the lake basin. These previously unmapped topographic features reveal a fluctuating landscape during the early period of human occupation in the province, and provide an opportunity to identify potential locations of ancient sites around the Lesser Slave Lake basin. A combination of reconstructions of proglacial lake levels using strandline elevations and current predictive modeling techniques was used to identify locations reflective of this past landscape with high archaeological potential for sites. This information will be used to direct future surveys in the region, to identify archaeological sites that might otherwise have been missed by cultural resource management programs.
Home away from home. Sometimes staying in town or at a work camp isn’t practical and we have to do it ourselves. After a hard day’s work in late September the crew is enjoying their evening meal of smokies and s’mores.
Today’s picture comes from the Ahai Mneh site on the shores of Lake Wabamun, west of Edmonton, AB. This archaeological site has a long history of human occupation, from earliest hints of people in Alberta using Clovis technology, right up to the Late Precontact and Historic Periods. Featured here is a Scottsbluff point, made of classic Alberta quartzite. This projectile point type is part of the Cody Complex, which was present across North America between 9 000 and 7 000 years ago. Point such as this one are famously associated with large communal kills, where the hunters dispatched dozens of giant Ice Age bison in natural and built traps.
From 1979 to 1990 Dr. Raymond Le Blanc conducted archaeological surveys and excavations in the Lesser Slave Lake region, first as a member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, and later with an archaeological field school with the University of Alberta. These projects are one of the largest archaeological bodies of work in Alberta’s boreal forest outside of the oilsands region. The Mercury paper published from them,
“Archaeological Research in the Lesser Slave Lake Region”, is one of very few monographs on northern Alberta prehistory.
Since 1990, nearly all archaeological research in the region has been conducted under Cultural Resource Management projects, primarily for the forestry sector. These projects have focused our interest away from the lakeshore into the uplands and hinterlands of the region. We have identified hundreds of new archaeological sites in these hinterlands, giving us new perspectives on land-use patterns and settlement systems, long-distance trade, and regional travel and trade networks.
I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on these sites at the 2016 Canadian Archaeological Assocation conference in Whitehorse Yukon this May, in a special session in Honour of my graduate supervisor, Dr. LeBlanc. I hope to see some of you there. If you can’t make it, watch this site for the full paper.