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!
Using information compiled in the office, the next step of an HRIA is to leave the comforts of home behind and to venture into the field. Although there is a perception of archaeologists working at large excavations, often dressed in khakis and maybe wearing a fedora, archaeological survey is the most common type of field work in the CRM sector. So for now, we will focus on archaeological survey and discuss archaeological mitigation in an upcoming blog.
The purpose of an archaeological survey is to visit the high potential target areas we identified in our background research and GIS review in order to see if there are any historic or archaeological sites. We travel to these high potential locations using various means of transport including trucks, ATVs, Argos, the occasional helicopter for the most remote locations, and a lot of hiking (Figures 1 and 2).
When we arrive at these locations, we use experience and expertise to determine if the landform has potential for archaeological and historic sites. For example, is this spot flat and dry? Would we like to camp or hunt from here? High, dry areas, and spots that have nice views are often tested. In fact sometimes we identify a site in the exact spot where we dropped our gear for lunch, as we naturally tend to stop on the best part of the landform (Figure 3).
The most common method of subsurface sampling that we use is screened shovel tests (Figure 4). This means we dig holes about 40 cm square and 30 to 40 cm deep and screen all of the sediment in portable screens. If there are any tree throws or surface exposures, we also conduct opportunistic examinations of these for artifacts (Figure 5).
There are several different sampling strategies that we use, these include systematic, semi-systematic, and judgmental testing. Systematic testing is the term we use when we place tests using a set interval, for example digging a test every 10 m along a landform. For judgmental testing we do not use a set interval instead we place shovel tests on the best part of a landform based on our past experience and conceptual models of how people lived on different types of landforms. Finally, semi-systematic testing is a combination of the previous two. For this method we place tests on the best locations of a land-form while trying to maintain a certain overall density of testing.
The shape of the landform helps determine what type of sampling strategy to use to test a target. A long uniform ridge might be better suited for hybrid or systematic testing, while a hillock might be more often tested in a judgmental manner (Figure 6).
If the tests are negative, then we write our notes and move on to another location to survey. However, this does not mean that we can definitely say there is not a site at the location. Negative results only reduce the chance there’s a site at a location. To be 100% sure, we’d have to do a lot more excavation (Figure 7).
On the other hand when we do identify a site, then we stay at the location to undertake further evaluative testing (Figure 8).
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.
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.
We usually encounter at least one herd of wild horses each season when working in Sundre Forest Products FMA. This rather skittish group was encountered in 2014 by Madeline and Vince.
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!
Welcome to a snowy day in the Swan Hills! We found a small archaeological site on this point, overlooking this big beaver pond which had just started to freeze over. It was a long hike through swamp and snow to get to this place, but it was worth it!