Stone Drill

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.

Using a stone drill with a bow saw to drill a hole in a slate ulu.

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.

Agate Basin Spear Point

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.

FbPu-31_8_IMG_0106The 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.

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.


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!


Biface from Lake Lake

This week we feature a picture of a biface found near Slave Lake, AB, a common stone tool in Alberta. The term biface is a generic stone tool classification, and simply refers to any thin piece of worked stone that has been flintknapped on both sides, or faces, of the artifact. So it can include tools like knives, arrowheads, and spear points, and certain types of cores.  This biface is made of a fine-grained quartzite, and has been extensively worked around the margin to create a sharp cutting edge. The artifact exhibits a waxy luster, or sheen, that may indicate that it was heated to improve the quality of the raw material.  Similar bifaces have been found in the foothills region and argued to be diagnostic of, or firmly associated with, the early middle period (5000 to 7500 BP) and referred to as Embarras Bipoints (Jason Roe, 2009, “Making and Understanding Embarras Bipoints: The Replication and Operational Sequencing of a Newly Defined Stone Tool from the Eastern Slopes of Alberta”).