A biface is a stone tool that has flakes removed from both sides. It can be used as a knife, scraper, or further worked into a more recognizable tool. The typical biface shape is an oval with slightly pointed ends. The biface on the left was found near Fort Vermilion in 2016.
Public archaeological programs are an excellent opportunity for people with a general interest in archaeology or amateur archaeologists to learn what an artifact is, and to practice the techniques that are used to find and interpret them. Often these programs will have a dig component, where people join for a few days or a week, and learn excavation techniques in units laid out over a buried site.
The Brazeau Archaeological Project (BAP), sponsored in part by Tree Time Services Inc., provides a unique experience. The current sites being surveyed are almost entirely exposed by the continuously fluctuating water levels of the reservoir. This also means that the entire history of the area has been deflated to one level, rather than multiple occupation levels that can be apparent in excavations. The occupation of the Brazeau River by First Nations extends as far back as 12- 14,000 years ago. This allows participants to gain a better feel of how large and spread out an archaeological site can really be. The largest site surveyed so far spans almost 1 km!
The project invites members of the Strathcona Archaeological Society (SAS) to come out for a day or weekend to learn survey and excavation techniques, as directed by experienced or professional archaeologists. As most of the artifacts lay exposed on the surface due to the ever changing water levels of the reservoir, the experience is relaxed, family friendly, and can be conducted over a single day or weekend, rather than a week-long commitment.
Participants learn what features to look for when looking for surface finds, such as material, shape, and modifications. By pairing participants up with experienced archaeologists we can point out the various ways an artifact, such a flake, can look; particularly how it can blend in or really stand out from its surrounding environment. For example, Amandah van Merlin, one of the co-ordinators, picked up a small, indistinct black pebble. The black pebble chert material, however, is a popular flint knapping material. As it turned out, Amandah had found a thumbnail scraper!
Public archaeology programs are also a great way to explore new technology or try experiments. One participant brought his drone. He was able to take photos from a bird’s-eye view of the site, providing a totally new perspective on what these landforms look like along the shore, and the distances between the sites. Madeline Coleman, the other co-ordinator, laid out various sizes of brick pieces in order to examine how artifacts are affected by water movement (or perhaps even people).
The project is still in its infancy. The pilot survey in May 2015 occurred over one day and had 9 participants. In May 2016, the survey occurred over two days with over thirty participants joining for one or both days. This past May, there were over 20 participants that joined for the full weekend. In addition, for two days prior to the public survey, BAP worked with University of Alberta field school students. Here they practiced map making, shovel testing, and laying out excavation units.
Outreach is also a very important aspect of a public program, such to First Nations group, schools, and universities. The BAP has recently reached out to Paul First Nation, in whose traditional territory the Brazeau River lies, and whom are active in working to protect their heritage. BAP has also recently partnered with Katie Biittner at Grant MacEwan University to begin a hands-on catalogue experience for university students at Grant MacEwan and the University of Alberta. In addition, the original finders of the site, Sandy and Tom Erikson, worked to create a 3-case display at their hometown school in Edson. The case shows some of the finds and information from the periods they may have originated in.
We took this photo in the fall of 2016 while completing fieldwork for Sundre Forest Products’. It’s of the Clearwater River valley as seen from a site we found that year. The site was easily identified because artifacts were eroding out of the steep valley wall and the ATV trails that cross the landscape.
From here, one would be able to keep an eye on traffic (human, moose, deer, etc.) through the valley (if the vegetation allowed it, that is). This is probably one of the reasons it was used as a campsite in the past, and still is to this day – we found a couple of modern fire pits at the ancient site.
Views are becoming an increasingly important and interesting part of predicting site locations and are becoming easier to consider. We have GIS to thank for that. Here former Tree Time archaeologist, Tim Allan, has an update on his MA research that provides an example of what a view-shed analysis can look like.
In the case of the Clearwater River site and the Hummingbird Creek site Tim discusses, both appear to be located to command the view – look how similar the landscapes are.
As more view-shed analyses are undertaken in Alberta, we may see patterns emerge that indicate that people were choosing to place their structures or settlements in a location that ensured they could see certain landmarks (like kiva towers), be seen from certain landmarks (like the possible Whitby signal station), or to be protected from views altogether (like low-elevation defensive sites in the islands of Fiji).
These analyses of the views to, from, and between contemporaneous sites can provide us with some clues as to social interactions and climates in the past.
Obsidian is commonly known as volcanic glass. It forms when a volcano erupts and the lava is cooled extremely quickly, such as when it flows into a water body. In Alberta obsidian is considered to be an “exotic material” because it does not occur here naturally. When we find it here it tells us that people in the past engaged in long distance trade, usually with people in British Columbia or the Yukon. In 2016 Teresa found this lovely obsidian flake at site FaPr-6 located near the community of Caroline.
Debitage, or flakes, are bits of stone chips that are left behind while making or modifying a stone tool. This artifact type has distinctive features that make them easily recognizable to archaeologists and clearly distinguish them from naturally occurring broken rocks.
Weather can change very quickly in the foothills. From one day to the next, and within the day itself.
The following photos were taken all on the next day.
The weather can also change a lot depending on your elevation. In order to get out of the valley we were in we had to drive up and down a mountain pass. There was a lot more snow at the higher elevation than where we were working There was no snow on our drive in that morning.
Living in Alberta, we all know how disastrous a forest fire can be. Some of you might have been personally affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurry or in Slave Lake. Brian knows personally how dangerous forest fires are because he used to be a forest firefighter. Many of us at Tree Time have walked though the remains of a burned forest and have seen what is left behind.
So when Brian and I were working the in foothills around Rocky Mountain house and we saw the remains of a smouldering fire, we took it seriously.
We noticed the smoke in the morning as we walked to our first target. The campfire had been abandoned, likely by people camping during the May Long weekend. This means it was likely burning unattended for three days. It looked like people had been burning garbage in the fire pit, including a mattress. The mattress frame was smoking heavily. The ground around the campfire was also smouldering a bit, and somewhat hot. The area around the pit was clearly burnt.
We put out the frame with water from a nearby creek. It was so hot that it caught fire again as soon as the wind touched it. Back at the campfire, we used our shovels to dig up the earth around the firepit and in the pit itself. Brian told me that he had fought many fires during the May Long weekend that started in this exact way. Not because of people burning garbage, but because of abandoned fires. People might think that they put out their fire, but debris (roots, moss etc) on or under the ground can catch on fire and spread the fire beyond the stone rings. You can see in the pictures that the area around the campfire has been burned.
That is why it is so important to make sure that you have properly put out your fire. Please check out the Alberta Parks Website for great advice on campfire safety.
Also if you need to report a wildfire, call 310-Fire (3473). Never put yourself in danger.
We thought we would share this story in advance of the long weekend to remind people about campfire safety. Alberta is a great place and camping is an amazing way to experience it. So from us at Tree Time, we sincerely wish you a great long weekend and happy, safe camping.