How Homestead Records Can Help Archaeology: An Example from Peace River

In the summer of 2016, while doing some work on behalf of Northern Sunrise County near Peace River, Tree Time archaeologists, recorded a cabin as an archaeological site. Although the cabin had clearly been renovated in the late 20th century with wood paneling and plastic sheeting, the cabin showed signs of earlier construction. The cabin was built with aspen logs, that were axe-felled, saw-cut and notched, with mud chinking between the logs.

aspen poles and mud chinking - Copy
Red arrow indicates mud chinking.
axe cutting - Copy
Red arrow indicates axe marks.

After we documented the cabin and returned to our office in Edmonton. We turned to the Alberta Homestead Records to see if we could find any historic documents about this cabin. There were three entries for the quarter section of land that the cabin was located on. The first was on the 19th of July in 1928. Mr. Orval Moxley, originally of Kentucky, applied for a homestead, but appears to have abandoned the property and applied for another homestead on a different quarter. The following summer, on August 30th, 1929, Paul W. Unruh of East Prussia Germany applied for homestead. The application notes “Nil” for previous improvements on the quarter when Unruh took possession. This means that Mr. Moxley had not completed any improvements on the section before he abandoned the land. Mr. Unruh must also have found the location not to his liking, because there are no records of him applying for patent for his homestead.

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Mr. Unruh’s homestead application.

On 29th January or July (the record is illegible) of 1930, Mr. George H.B. Garstin, of London England, applied for homestead of the quarter. Mr. Unruh must have been somewhat industrious, as Mr. Garstin notes the presence of a “log shack, old stable + well” in his homestead application. The homestead record ends here. Indicating that Mr. Garstin failed to prove up his homestead and apply for patent.

log shack
Mr. Garstin’s homestead application.

The aspen log cabin is interpreted as having been built by Paul Unruh in late 1929 as part of his efforts to homestead the quarter. Maybe further archival, historical and genealogical research could find out why he abandoned it.

The Alberta Homestead Records are a valuable tool for researchers. This is not only true for archaeologists, but also for people trying to research their own family history. The next couple of blog posts will explain what the homesteading process was like and how to use the Alberta Homestead Records to research your own history.

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The Glenbow Museum Archives

The Glenbow Museum Archives are an exciting tool we can use as archaeologists to learn more about some historic sites that we encounter in our day to day field work, and to predict where we might find a certain type of historic site.

We recently worked on a historic site located between Mundare and Vegreville (southeast of Edmonton) consisting of three concrete foundations. Area locals informed us that this was a historic era school yard but didn’t know much about it beyond that. We were able to get information about the school by doing a search of the Glenbow Museum School Districts Archives. These archives have records of names, locations and dates of establishment of school districts in Alberta established between 1885 and 1982.

Using the Glenbow Museum Archives website (link below) we were able to search by legal land description (also known as the Alberta Township System or ATS) or by school name to find out which school district our site was located in.

http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesSchoolSearch.aspx

Searching by ATS we entered the township, range and meridian and came up with two possible school districts for our location, Kolomea established June 8, 1906 and Thornton established January 10, 1910. We determined that the school at our location must be the Kolomea School as the ATS section it was listed in was consistent with the location of the site.

Thanks to the Glenbow Museum Archives we now had the name of the school which helped with further searches, and enabled us to find archival photographs and texts regarding the school and its history. Some archival photos were found by searches of the Virtual Museum and the Alberta Provincial Archives (links below).

http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/

http://culture.alberta.ca/heritage-and-museums/provincial-archives-of-alberta/

The Glenbow Museum School District Archives is also a great tool that can be used for background research in a project area before the field work starts on an Historic Resources Impact Assessment. Using the School District Archives prior to commencement of field work will inform field workers if they should be looking for a school yard and might narrow down the search area to the quarter section the school yard should be located in.  This tool could have enabled the identification of the Kolomea School Site before construction started, and prevented some construction delays.

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, HerMIS:

https://hermis.alberta.ca/paa/PhotoGalleryDetails.aspx?ObjectID=A10686&dv=True

Wedge

This little guy is a wedge, or sometime as it is sometimes known as its french name, pieces esquilles. These tools are thought to have been used to split organic materials like wood and bone, much like an ancient stone chisel. One of the sharp sides of the wedge would be placed against the material that you wanted to split, and you would hammer the other end with a stone to drive the wedge through it. Since this little tool would literally be caught between a rock and a hard place, using a wedge would often create bipolar flake scars. You will also often see crushing and lots of hinge fractures on the tops and bottoms of these tools, where the edges are being crushed against the hammerstone and the material being split. As a result, wedges often have a short and squat rectangular body shape.

This particular specimen is made from a very coarse grained quartzite. Based on the reddish hue of the stone, it may have even been heat treated to improve the quality of the material. It was found near Wabasca-Desmarais, on a high ridge that overlooked a broad stream valley.

Finding Archaeological Sites from the sky using high-tech advances in archaeology

In recent months, news feeds have been erupting with stories of “Lost Maya Cities discovered using LiDAR”, “revealing the secrets of Stonehenge using LiDAR”, “LiDAR uncovers ancient city near Angkor Wat”, and the popularity of “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak, but this technology is not limited to finding the remnants of “lost civilizations” in far reaching corners of the globe. LiDAR is used by archaeologists in Alberta to assist in the locating of potential archaeological sites that are threatened by development.

Figure 1. Marching Bear Effigy Mounds Lidar Imagery (Wikimedia Commons)
Figure 1. Marching Bear Effigy Mounds LiDAR Imagery (Wikimedia Commons)

Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) is the process of mounting a laser on an aircraft and bouncing light pulses off the ground and measuring the time it takes for the laser to return. The process can take 2000-5000 measurements per second and makes the surface appear treeless, revealing surface features that cannot be seen using simple satellite imagery or aerial photos (Figure 1). However, using LiDAR to find archaeological sites in northern Alberta is not as easy as it can be in other parts of the world. LiDAR is great for identifying building structures, walls, and other features common of archaeological sites in other parts of the world. In northern Alberta these features are absent from Indigenous archaeological sites. To study the human history of northern Alberta prior to European contact we have to look at the landscape and identify landforms that would have been suitable for camping and hunting activities.

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Figure 2. Satellite imagery of ridge overlooking marsh
lidar
Figure 3. LiDAR hillshade of the same ridge

In the above images, the first image is a satellite image of a ridge where we found an archaeological site (Figure 2). With just satellite imagery the area appears to be predominantly flat which is not a good area to camp or hunt. This is because the area would be thought to be poorly drained and with limited visibility of the surrounding terrain. When using LiDAR imagery (Figure 3) we notice there is a complex of distinct hills and ridges that would be ideal for making camp.

This technology has revolutionized the process of finding archaeological sites in Alberta and is revealing more about the history of people in the boreal forest. The ability to pinpoint the best landforms without having to do extensive on-the-ground survey has greatly increased the inventory of sites found in northern Alberta. This benefits our clients who will pay less money for the survey of their developments and we can make more accurate predictions about site locations which allow them to modify their developments to avoid potential sites.