Knife River Flint Dart Base

In the summer of 2013, Tree Time Services surveyed cutblocks for Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries in the Logan River area north of Lac La Biche and found an artifact protruding out of exposed sediment along a previously constructed oil and gas access road.exposure_resized - Copy

When we find artifacts in disturbed areas it is unfortunate because these artifacts have lost much of their informational value. By finding the artifact in situ – or in its original context – there is much more information that can be gathered about the site, such as an association with other artifacts or organics, which can be informative of the age of the artifact. If the artifact is a single stone chip or flake from making a tool the loss is minimal; however, in this case the artifact recovered was an atlatl dart base made from Knife River Flint.artifact

The artifact is an atlatl (or spear thrower) dart based on the width of the base (The neck widths of arrowheads tend to be a lot narrower and are typically corner or side-notched). The artifact could date to anywhere between 7,000 to 9,000 years ago based on the timeframe that atlatl technology was prominent and stylistic preference of stemmed points. The style of the projectile point is similar to the Scottsbluff style which is usually associated with spear points rather than darts. Based on this style we believe it to be dated to the early period of the spear thrower technology

The artifact is also interesting for reasons other than its age. The artifact is made of caramel-coloured rock called Knife River Flint which is found mainly in streams in North Dakota which means people were either trading for the material or travelling great distances to obtain it. For context, the location of the knife river flint quarry and the location of the artifact find were loaded into google maps:google

The story of the artifact: The stone this artifact was made from traveled over 1300 km through trade and migration. Upon arrival in Alberta the stone was crafted into an atlatl dart by an expert flintknapper. The dart was likely used several times to hunt game and was retouched or reworked to sharpen the point. Eventually the tip was broken off and the dart could not be salvaged resulting in the dart being discarded. The artifact sat where it was discarded for possibly thousands of years and was buried by sediment not to be seen again until it was exposed by a bulldozer and spotted by an archaeologist.

Archaeology on Deer Mountain

On Friday, April 15th at 7 PM Tree Time Services Sr. Project Archaeologist Kurtis Blaikie-Birkigt will be presenting  at the High Prairie and District Museum on ongoing research on Deer Mountain, Alberta.  On the weekend, Tree Time will be at the High Prairie Gun & Sportsmen’s show with a display of artifacts and replicas to help identify your finds.

Figure 1. Stemmed projectile point found by Darryel Sowan of Swan River First Nation during archaeological survey by Western Heritage Services for Alberta Plywood Ltd. (From Cloutier, 2006. Courtesy of Western Heritage Services)


Early archaeological research on northern Alberta was focused on big lakes. Large campsites were found on major lakeshores and were assumed to be related to seasonal fisheries. It was assumed that past people’s hunting forays into the hills and hinterlands wouldn’t have left much of an archaeological trace. When we started doing archaeological surveys for forestry cutblocks in 2001, we didn’t expect to find very much. The typical sites we’d find would be small scatters of stone chips and flakes left from making stone tools like arrowheads. Even those sites were almost always very close to major streams or other waterbodies.

Figure 2. Location of Deer Mountain. Note the distance from major waterbodies.

In 2005, I was part of a crew that did some pre-harvest archaeology surveys for Alberta Plywood on Deer Mountain (Figure 2). Earlier surveys had found a few sites there, more than would be expected in a place so far from major waterbodies. Even knowing there were sites there, our findings in 2005 surprised us. We found quite a few sites, they were richer than expected, included a unique local stone called Grizzly Ridge Chert (Figure 3), and we found a spear point similar in style to ones that date to 8000 years ago (Figure 1). Deer Mountain was an unusual place, archaeologically speaking, and was very eye opening to me.

Figure 3. Grizzly Ridge Chert retouched / utilized flake found on Deer Mountain in 2015.

Last year, I got to revisit some of the same areas for Alberta Plywood, with the benefit of another 10 years of experience, high resolution LiDAR imagery, and significant improvements in survey and site evaluation methods. We found more sites, bigger sites, and more interesting sites in places we didn’t even think to look in 2005. I came away with an even greater appreciation for how interesting Deer Mountain is, and for how much I’ve learned over the intervening years.

In this talk, I’ll touch on careers in archaeology, archaeological methods, how industry and government manage risks to archaeological sites, and a really interesting area in Alberta archaeology that’s barely been studied.

Figure 4. View to significant site GfPt-3 on Deer Mountain.



Cloutier, Riel

2006      Heritage Evaluation of West Fraser Slave lake (Alberta Plywood Ltd. Division) 2005/2006 Annual Operating Plan Forest Harvest Developments, Slave Lake, Alberta. Archaeological Research Permit No. 2005-378. Report on file, Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Edmonton.


Oxbow Dart Point

Today’s picture is brought to you from the Peace River Trail. It is a nearly-complete Oxbow dart point, made of a medium-grained quartzite. Dart points are larger than arrow-heads and were used on long spears that were thrown using an atlatl. The atlatl gave the thrower extra force than when using a spear. An Oxbow point is recognized by it’s “Micky Mouse ears” that form the base of the point, and is one of the most easily identifiable point types. The Oxbow Phase dates between 4500 and 4100 BP (Before Present), and is part of Alberta’s Middle Precontact Period.

Checkout our Slave Lake Roadshow April 9, 2016

This Saturday, April 9, 2016, Tree Time archaeologists will be giving a presentation on some of our survey results in forestry developments along the historic Peace River Trail, which is located on the north shore of the Athabasca River between Smith and Sawdy, AB. This trail is now the modern Peace River Wilderness Trail, a part of the Trans Canada Trail mission, and follows approximately the same route as the historic trail. Originally, the historic trails in the area were created by Aboriginal people, using the Athabasca River as a major corridor, either by foot or canoe, and later by horse. As Europeans began to traverse the same areas, whether it be for trading, homesteading, or exploring, they would follow the same trails, rather than create new ones. Over time, the Peace River Trail became wider and well-traveled, with small reroutes as people forged new trails around areas that became impassable.1 bridge DSCF1420_tsl_2014

Archaeological survey along the trail, beginning in 2006, has identified 19 sites with one or more prehistoric, historic, and contemporary components. These sites indicate the trail has been in use continuously over time. However, giving dates to these sites and determining how long this area, and possibly the trail, has been used for is very difficult because we do not often find items that can be placed during a specific time frame. Tree Time has been fortunate that during our 2013 and 2014 field seasons, we found one site that can be confidently dated to the Middle Precontact Period (4500-4100 BP), and one site to the historic period, with contemporary use.

2 trail map

At the historic site, GgPj-1 we found an older segment of the historic trail that has not been heavily used for some time. We even found evidence of wagon ruts! Directly along the path we found a tree blaze (a tree that was marked by removal of some of its bark). By coring the tree, we were able to determine that the tree blaze was made around 1958 AD. Only a few steps off the trail, we found a land survey pin with the typical four holes placed evenly around the pin. Starting in 1910, the Alberta Township System was implemented, following a method very similar to the Dominion Land Survey system. This site, although not exactly along the present-day designation of the township system, is only approximately 200 m off.

3 GgPj-1 site map

At the second site, GhPj-12, we found a nearly-complete quartzite Oxbow dart point. The Oxbow cultural phase dates between 4500 and 4100 BP. The site is located 700 m southwest of the modern Peace River Trail, right along the Athabasca River upper valley margin. The landform itself is very flat with excellent edges along the sides, and a little erosion at the point. Finding the Oxbow was clearly a moment of luck because only two artifacts were recovered from GhPj-12! Out of the 17 shovel tests we placed around the site, only one shovel test contained artifacts.

4 Oxbow point GhPj-12_resized


To hear more about how these two sites, along with other sites in the area help us piece together the history of the Athabasca River and the Peace River Trail, come check out our Roadshow at the Boreal Centre in Slave Lake, AB, April 9th (1-5 pm) We will have a Stones and Bones session, where you can show us your finds. Don’t forget to try your hand at Atlatl throwing, one of the hunting methods used during the Middle Preconact Period, including the Oxbow culture!

Archaeology of the Marten Creek valley

Last year (2015) archaeologists from Tree Time Services conducted surveys of a number of areas on the Marten Creek valley, from near the mouth of the creek at Lesser Slave Lake to the headwaters at Marten Lakes.  These surveys were done in advance of forestry operations by Alberta Plywood and Tolko Industries Slave Lake mill.  We found several clusters of precontact archaeological sites that show the Marten Creek valley has been occupied and traveled through for thousands of years.

Point found at GjPr-8 on Marten Creek. Probably 3500 to 1350 years old.

Near the mouth of the creek, we surveyed areas on the north and south sides of the valley for Tolko.  A little survey had been done in this area before, for a pipeline that crossed the creek valley just east of Highway 88.  This survey found two small scatters of stone flakes on south facing terraces over the creek.  We flagged those sites for avoidance, and we found several other small sites.  At two of these sites (GjPr-8 and 10), we found small, side-notched points. If you found these, you’d probably call them arrowheads, but based on the size, they were probably attached to a shaft bigger than an arrow, for a javelin-like small spear. We call these spears ‘darts’. They were thrown with a throwing stick called an atlatl, that gave them a lot more range and force than a spear thrown by hand.  We know that atlatls were used in Alberta from about 8000 years ago up to 1300 years ago.  These points are similar to Besant or Bracken style points that date to the end of this period, from about 3500 to 1350 years ago.

Broken dart point from GjPr-10, overlooking Marten Creek. Probably 3500-1350 years old.

Further upstream, on the north side of Marten Lakes, we found several small sites and a couple much more extensive campsites.  We didn’t find any diagnostic tools, like projectile points, that would give us a time of occupation, but we did find some other tools and cores that give a sense of what people were doing here.  A lot of the debitage, or flakes and chips from making tools, are from the early to middle stages in the tool making process and are of quartzite, which is present in the local glacial gravel.  This tells us that one of the things people were doing in the valley was making tools from local stone. The local quartzites are fairly coarse-grained, and very strong. They’re good for making things like stone choppers, hide scrapers,and expedient (quick, disposable) knives, and we have found a couple tools like this in the area. We also found some cores and flakes of materials other than quartzite. These include a fine grained siltstone core and a flake of chalcedony or silicified peat, which is a material similar to flint. These were probably brought here from elsewhere because people knew it would be difficult to find nice fine-grained stone here to make smaller, sharper tools with.

The biggest site on Marten Lakes (GjPp-4) had multiple components, identifiable occupations from different time periods.  There were stone flakes buried about 20 cm down; some stone flakes and moose bone fragments about 5 cm down, below the moss and duff; a pit feature, cans and moose bone in the duff, and an ATV trail and bullet casings on the surface.  We didn’t do enough excavation to get specific dates for the occupations, but our preliminary interpretation is that we have a precontact occupation of unknown age, maybe another more recent precontact / protohistoric (fur trade era) occupation, an early 20th century occupation (maybe a trapping cabin), and recent traditional or recreational use.

There’s another, very interesting historic site at Marten Lakes, an old ranger cabin with a marked grave. We revisited this to make sure that it wouldn’t be disturbed by the forestry operations, and to update the government on it’s status since it was last reported in 2007.

Known archaeological sites on the Marten Creek valley, as of 2016.

All of these sites tell us that that the Marten Creek valley has been occupied and traveled through for at least 2000 years, and probably a lot longer. We didn’t do enough digging to interpret any of these sites in detail, but based on the types of tools we found: points, scrapers and expedient knives; moose hunting was probably a major activity here. Marten Lakes might also have had a very productive spawning season fishery. The Marten Creek valley and Willow River valley also form a natural travel corridor through the muskeggy country from Lesser Slave Lake to Wabasca, and this probably also played a role in its occupation during the precontact and historic periods.

Radial Biface

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 large radial biface, made of a fine-grained siltstone. This artifact was found in a field adjacent to the site, having been turned up by a plow. While not exclusive, radial bifaces such as this one are commonly associated with the Clovis tool kit, dating back to 13 000 years ago in Alberta.

Chainsaw Training

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!