This week, we showcase a stone drill. That’s right, you guessed it, this type of stone tool is used to drill holes in things. Like knives and projectile points, drills are worked on both sides to create sharp edges and a narrow tip. Unlike other stone tools however, drills are very narrow and thick, and often are diamond shaped in cross-section. This design makes the drill stronger, and less likely to break. In Alberta, stone drills are often either long and straight, with a bulb or a “T” shaped base. More often than not, you find the broken end of drills, because they snapped off while in use. The stone drill bit would be attached to a long wood handle using sinew, rawhide, and pitch, and then spun to create the circular motion for drilling. This could be either done by hand, or using a small bow and string to spin the drill.
We found this stone drill while working for Sundre Forest Products in 2012, in the Foothills west of Red Deer. The artifact is made from a brownish-gray chalcedony, and also shows evidence that it was heat treated. The drill has small “potlid” fractures, where irregular pieces of the stone popped off. This type of break happens when a stone is quickly heated and cooled.
This week we present one of the artifacts from a site we found while doing surveys for Sundre Forest Products on the North Saskatchewan River in 2015. More than 30 artifacts were found through shovel testing at the site, but this one is extra-special. It’s a dart point of the Besant style. Above is a photo of the point right after Corey found it in the screen we use to sift soil from the shovel tests we dig while looking for sites.
One reason this artifact is so special is because it helps us estimate how old the site is. We don’t have a precise date for when people were at this site because that usually requires finding an artifact made of material that was once living, like wood or bone, that can be sent to labs to be dated through special techniques. Unfortunately these kinds of material don’t preserve well in the acidic soil of the Boreal forest, but by finding a point like this we can give an estimate of the site’s age. Besant points have been found in Alberta at sites dating between 2,550 and 1,400 years ago. That means that before this photo, the last time the point was seen may have been more than two thousand years ago!
In addition to being one of the few artifacts we find that can be used to figure out how old a site is (and teach us about how people were living in the past and how that changed over time), this artifact is special because we don’t find points often. Most people have seen arrowheads like this at some point, but they’re not commonly found when archaeologists are at the test pitting stage of their work. Instead, we usually find all the rock that gets broken off when the past person was making the tool. We call those pieces “flakes” and there are way more flakes out there than points. That’s why it’s always a big deal to find a point through shovel testing. Look how happy Corey is at finding it in one of his shovel tests!
It’s that time of year again! The bears are waking up and the field workers are heading into bear territory. One of our archaeological field crews encountered this little guy in 2013 and found that he was a little less scared of them than the average bear.
Usually bears are skittish and will leave the area as soon as they know humans are around, especially if you have a noisy ATV running but this bear was a bit curious and stuck around long enough for a photo shoot. The crew scared him away and didn’t have another encounter. Remember to review your bear awareness training before heading into the bush for work or play!
This week’s photograph is of an artifact we found in 2015 when undertaking an HRIA for Sundre Forest Products. It comes from a site south of the Ram River – our 100th site of the year, in fact. It’s an exciting find: a spear point of the Agate Basin style. The picture above was taken when it was found and the picture below shows the point after it was catalogued in our lab. We have found our fair share of points over the years, but this is a rare one because of its age. Agate Basin points are some of the oldest found in the province and date between 10,200 and 9,600 years ago.
The site was identified when we were surveying a disturbed area. Like Corey explained in his blog entry, a lot of information may be lost when a site is disturbed because the relationship of one artifact to another has been disturbed. Although we always hope to find sites intact and undisturbed, disturbances like erosion can allow archaeologists to see a larger area of soil than through shovel testing alone. This artifact was found lying on the ground when we were walking over a ridge. This is why archaeological assessments in disturbed areas can be worthwhile. It’s also why archaeologists are hard to walk with – they’re always looking down, searching for artifacts in even the most unlikely places.
It is not uncommon for farmers, gardeners and outdoors-men and women to find artifacts like arrowheads, spear points, stone axes and hammerstones. Farmers often find them in their fields after plowing. In fact many farmers have more impressive artifact collections than a lot of museums do! Click here to read about some of Alberta Culture’s work documenting artifact collections across the province.
One thing people often are not sure about is how to report finding an archaeological site and who to tell when they find an artifact. Reporting artifact finds can help archaeologists to better predict where other historic or archaeological sites are likely to be. The more sites we can identify the better our understanding the past gets. You never know, your find might be totally unique and groundbreaking. Maybe it’s the oldest spear point in Alberta! We can learn about and protect our historic resources better if we work together.
To report a find you can go to the Alberta Culture website link below:
from here you will be asked to provide a digital photo of the artifact, a location (can be a GPS coordinate, a legal land description, a permanent landmark or an image of a map), your phone number (optional) and your organization, institution or corporate affiliation (optional). This is the minimum but if you could add a description of what you found and the circumstances around your find that would be helpful too.
When you click on “Report your Discovery” you will be brought to a blank page with the email address for the Archaeological Information Coordinator in the address line. Simply email the above information to that address.
What Happens Next?
The Archaeological Information Coordinator will confirm that this is a new archaeological site and assign the site a Borden Number. The site will then be entered in to the Archaeological Site Inventory database which will help archaeologists to predict where other sites in the region are. If it is a known site, she will contact the archaeologist that initially recorded it and confirm with them that it is the same site and discuss whether a site form update is required for the site. If you provided a phone number when you reported the find you may get a follow up phone call to let you know the outcome of your report. When you find an artifact please leave it where you found it. Removing artifacts from where they were found means we might lose important information to help determine the age of the find and whether it is associated with other artifacts.
If you’re not sure that your find is an artifact, or are not sure what to do about it, you can contact us, call us toll free at 1-866-873-3846, or email [email protected]. We would love to hear about your find and can help to confirm what it is and help with the next steps. We can even take care of reporting it to Alberta Culture for you.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.