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.
Specializing in forestry archaeology in Alberta, I haven’t had much opportunity to work in winter conditions. One of the nice things about forestry is its relatively long planning horizon and the flexibility to schedule our work.
Unfortunately, in fall 2012, a variety of factors conspired to push some of our fieldwork into late October, and then we got an unusually early and heavy snowfall in northwestern Alberta. The heavy snow prevented the ground from freezing, so we went ahead with our planned surveys of forestry cutblocks, conducting landform evaluation and shovel testing as normal.
Trudging through 50 cm of fresh powder gave me some perspectives on moving and living in the boreal forest under winter conditions that I hadn’t previously gained. I had wondered what effect snow cover would have on mobility patterns. Summer travel in the forest tends to follow linear features like river and stream valley margins, but I’d wondered if under winter conditions that would still be the case. This week it certainly was. We were working on the Chinchaga River valley, and found that travel along the valley margin was much easier than cutting cross country or on the slopes or lower terraces. I’d say the advantage was even greater than under summer conditions. The level backcountry had deeper snow than the exposed margins, and the snow on the slopes was even deeper than that. The grey overcast sky and falling snow also obscured the sun, which made it very hard to maintain a bearing cross-country without a compass. Without a landform to follow, I could have been walking in circles and wouldn’t know until I hit my tracks.
If I was camping under those conditions, however, I think I’d be choosing very different locations than I would in the summer. The distinct valley margins, corners and points that we tend to focus our surveys on had great views of the river and were on our preferred walking paths. But they were also very exposed to the biting wind coming out of the northwest. Even the south-facing edges were exposed. The most comfortable locations we found to break for coffee were just back from the edge, sheltered in stands of immature spruce. For the last couple seasons, I’d been suspecting that our focus on exposed corners and points was only finding one class of sites, and this experience reinforces that suspicion. I think that winter camps in particular, and possibly all larger camps, would be located back from the sharp landform edges that we’re targeting most. Drainage is still a factor, especially on warm winter days when the snow turns to mush, so we should still be looking for local elevation. But maybe we should be testing some less distinct elevated landforms a little back from the edges if we want to find sites occupied during less than ideal weather.
(This brief article was originally published in the Archaeological Society of Alberta Newsletter Vol. 1, January 2013)
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.
Mitigative excavation is the process of digging an archaeological site that is threatened either by development or natural erosion. Mitigative excavations have different goals than academic excavations. The goal of mitigative excavations is is to save as much information about the site before it is destroyed, whereas in academic digs the goal is to answer specific questions about how people were using the site in the past.
When a planned development is in direct conflict with a significant archaeological site our normal first recommendation is for a project redesign in order to avoid impacting the site. When a project redesign is not a viable option a mitigative excavation might be required.
Before the excavation begins additional shovel testing may be required to ensure that the boundaries of the site have been confidently established and to identify the most important or valuable part of the site. Using what we have learned from the shovel testing we select areas for excavation blocks. We try to target the places where we’ll get the best return, in scientific information, for the investment of time. These excavation blocks are usually excavated in 1×1 m units. During the excavation layers of a predetermined depth are carefully removed. The sediment is screened and artifacts are collected. While excavating each layer is carefully described and locations of artifacts within the layer are recorded. Any changes in the soils or unusual staining is also described in detail. As each layer is removed photos are taken to further document the process. Once the unit is excavated to its final depth photos and drawings are taken of the unit walls. These photos and drawings will help us to understand the natural formation of the site area by studying the statigraphy. Looking at the layers of the soil can help us to determine if some artifacts in the site are older than others and can help us to understand how long or often the site was used by people in the past.
Mitigative excavations in Alberta typically do not involve excavation of the entire site as you might see in academic research excavations; instead archaeologists first consult with the developer and the government and excavate a sample of the site that focuses on the area of impact, and maximizes the information value of the dig.
Once the mitigative excavation is complete and the final report describing the project has been approved by the government the development will be allowed to proceed.
Mitigative excavations usually move along at a faster pace than academic excavations. This is related to time restrictions associated with development planning and budgetary concerns, as well as our focus on efficiency, and maximizing the return on investment. Academic excavations often take place over many field seasons but mitigative excavations have to be completed before the developer begins construction.
Mitigative excavation is our best tool to preserve archaeological heritage when avoidance isn’t an option, but it’s still a net loss in heritage value. Archaeological sites are non-renewable resources, once they have been destroyed, whether by excavation or development, no more information can be collected about the site.
You have made a plan for a development and reviewed your plan against the Listing of Historic Resources. You’ve found that you have a conflict on your land parcel, it is listed with an HRV of 4C. What does that mean?
An HRV of 4C indicates that an historic resource site is located on that parcel of land, and that one or more First Nations groups have reported that the site is of cultural significance to them. These sites are usually Traditional Use Sites with a historic component, or spiritually significant or religious sites. Some examples include historic cabins or trails, community campsites, prayer trees or other spiritual sites, burials, cemeteries, rock art sites, and mission sites.
Before you can proceed you or your historic resource consultant must submit a Historic Resource Application through OPAC (the Online Permitting And Clearance system) to the Aboriginal Heritage Section of Alberta Culture & Tourism. Aboriginal Heritage will review the development plans against their confidential records of the site and determine whether impacts are likely. If impacts to the HRV 4C site are likely, Aboriginal Heritage will issue site-specific Consultation requirements.
This means you may have to Consult with the First Nations who have Listed the site. More than one group may have an interest in the site because of shared history and land use. Be sure to consult with all interested parties in this matter. Consulting with only one group on overlapping Listings is not sufficient. Alberta Culture will inform you if Consultation is required or not, and with which groups site specific Consultation is required (Listing of Historic Resources, Instructions for Use). It’s very important to understand that any Site-Specific Historic Resource Consultation requirements are separate from and in addition to any other standard Consultation requirements regarding Treaty rights and land use. You may have to go back to First Nations you’ve already Consulted about your project in general, and may have to Consult with different groups or individuals.
Whether you are required to Consult with First Nations groups or not, an HRV of 4C may also result in a requirement for an Historic Resources Impact Assessment. The fact that a specific historic resource has been identified within your land parcel does not mean that the rest of the area has been surveyed and that there is only the one site there. It only indicates that an historic resource site has been reported. An historic resources impact assessment requirement is likely because areas that are considered culturally significant today usually have been considered important for centuries, or millennia. Areas with an HRV of 4C have a high potential to contain additional historic resources such as archaeological sites.
You may be required to redesign your project to avoid the HRV 4C historic resources site. If the site can’t be avoided, mitigation may be required. Mitigation of archaeological and historic sites typically requires extensive shovel testing, detailed block excavations proportional to the percent of the site to be impacted and detailed mapping of the site. Mitigation of impacts to a Culturally Significant site would likely be site-specific, and determined in collaboration with the affected communities.
Our recommendation for HRV 4C conflicts is to identify them early, discuss them with communities in advance, avoid them at the planning stage.
If you don’t know where to start, or would like someone to help you Consult with First Nations contact Kurt or Madeline at 780-472-8878 or toll free at 1-866-873-3846 or email us at [email protected]. We are happy to help.
The majority of Tree Time’s archaeological work is done in the context of Historic Resources Impact Assessments, but what is an Historic Resource?
People are sometimes confused about what constitutes an historic resource because it is a very broad category. The first thing to come to most people’s mind would likely be the contents of a museum but as discussed below, historic resources encompass far more than the displays at museum. In the simplest sense an historic resource is anything of significant interest to a community, a cultural group, historians, archaeologists, or other scientists.
Alberta’s Historical Resources Act defines Historic Resources as:
“any work of nature or humans that is valued for its palaeontological, archaeological, prehistoric, historic, cultural, natural, scientific or aesthetic interest.”
A Historic Resource Site is any place where Historic Resources are found. When we say “site” people most commonly think of an archaeological site, but this is only one type. Alberta Environment and Parks has defined six categories of Historic Resource sites – archaeological, cultural, geological, historic, natural and palaeontological. However, an Historic Resource site can fall into multiple categories – one doesn’t take precedence over another. Some examples of this are the Big Rock Erratic at Okotoks which is classified as both a geological and an archaeological historic resource site and the Frank Slide which is both a geological and historic site.
The government of Alberta keeps track of all the known historic resource sites in the province. To do this they use a tool called the Listing of Historic Resources. This listing is a database that contains information about historic resource sites such as their location and a description of what they are and what condition they are in. It is important to be aware that not all historic resources are recorded in this listing as many of them have not been recorded yet and the listing is not updated every day.
Some examples of Historic Resources sites found in Alberta:
Archaeological sites are areas that have been occupied by humans in the past and have evidence of that occupation in the form of artifacts found on or under the earth’s surface. Some examples of archaeological sites common to Alberta include precontact campsites, rock art, tipi rings, buffalo pounds, homesteads, trails and medicine wheels. Some well known examples of archaeological sites in Alberta include Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and the Bodo Archaeological Site.
Cultural sites are sites that have been identified as significant to a specific cultural group by members of that group. These sites often include historic villages, cabins and community campsites, burials, prayer trees and other ceremonial sites. The majority of Culturally Significant sites are of First Nations origin, but not all are. Some examples are Pierre Grey’s Trading Post, the St. Charles Mission Site, the Grande Cache Dinosaur Tracks site, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and Áísínai’pi (Writing-on-Stone) rock carvings and paintings. Culturally significant historic resources often overlap with archaeological and historic period sites.
This site type will often have overlap with other types of Historic Resources. Geological sites are areas of the province with unique geological features like the Canmore Hoodoos, Hetherington Erratics Field and the Whitecourt / Woodlands Meteorite Impact Crater.
Historic sites are places that can usually be related back to specific people or events in history. This category is a little more complicated because it includes heritage structures, historic places and districts, and historic period archaeological sites.
The most common Historic Sites are places with preserved historic buildings. The Province tracks historic buildings in a database called the Heritage Survey. Any structure older than 50 years is eligible to be added to this list. This of course includes old buildings, like houses, grain elevators and train stations, but also includes other types of man-made above-ground structures, including earthworks, preserved wagon trails, and early 20th century oil wells. Historically significant structures or places can be designated as Municipal or Provincial Heritage Resources, and protected. Some examples of these include include the Brooks Aqueduct, the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator near Castor, the Parliament Building in Edmonton and old houses in the Highlands neighbourhood of north Edmonton.
Other Historic sites are areas with known historical significance. While these sites may not have retained any standing structures they are places where significant events are known to have taken place or important historic figures visited. These include the locations of many historic fur trade posts and forts. Some of these sites have been recreated for public enjoyment and educational purposes. Some examples of this are Fort Victoria, Lac La Biche Mission and Historic Dunvegan. Other historic sites in Alberta include the Victoria Settlement, Frog Lake Massacre Site, and the Grand Rapids Portage on the Athabasca River.
Historic period archaeological sites are the most common example of overlap between two categories. These are places with underground material evidence of the past (archaeological resources) from the historic period. At these places, archaeologists have documented the presence of historic period artifacts, ranging from fur trade beads and tools, to early 20th century cans and bottles. We may or may not have written records about these sites. Common examples of this site type are fur trading posts, pioneer homesteads, and early trapping cabin locations. A less common example would be this plane crash.
Natural sites are areas of special and sensitive natural landscapes of local and regional significance. These sites often have overlap with archaeological and historic site types. Some examples are Eagle Butte, Purple Springs and the Rumsey Natural area.
These are sites where fossils can be found. Fossils of plants, animals and even dinosaur bones fall into this category. Examples include Dinosaur Provincial Park near Brooks and Pipestone Provincial Park near Grande Prairie.
Many people are interested in researching their family history and genealogy. The Index to Alberta Homestead Records are an excellent place to start your research. The following blog will give instructions on how to use the Index. If you wish to learn what the homestead records are, or how they can help archaeologists, please check out our previous posts.
The Index to Alberta Homestead Records 1870 to 1930 was a project created for the 100th anniversary of Alberta joining the confederacy. The members of the Alberta Genealogical Society and friends created an all name index to the homestead files to help researchers. There are 686 reels of microfilm that contain homestead records from 1870 to 1930. With this index, the researchers would be pointed to the exact reel and file number. For more information on this project or the Alberta Genealogical Society please visit their website (http://www.abgenealogy.ca/).
You can search the homestead record index by different methods including surname, legal description, or place name. Once you have that information either visit the Alberta Genealogical Society’s website and under resources click on Alberta Homestead Index then search the index or click on the following link: http://www.abgenealogy.ca/ab-homestead-index-page.
If you are doing research on your own family history, you can search by surname. When we were conducting research on the cabin that we found near Peace River, we searched the area by the legal land description.
Once you fill in the information you have, the search results will automatically appear. You can see part of our results below.
If you want to see the scanned microreel file of the homestead records, you will need to copy the film number and the file number. The film number for the homestead records only consists of numbers. The one we were searching for is circled in green. The red arrow is pointing to a different file type (grazing lease) and it consists of letters and numbers. Once you have the film and file number, go to https://archive.org/. In the search area type in Alberta homestead with the film number you wish to search for as we did below.
The reel with your homestead record should pop up. Click on the link (where the red arrow is pointing).
Then you can download it in the format that you wish. Personally I prefer downloading it as a PDF.
The next step is the longest part of the process. You will have to look though the reel until you find the file number associated with your previous search. This may take some time because reels can contain hundreds of files. As mentioned in the previous blog post, the file number is associated with a quarter section of land and the first page often contains the file number. If you searched by a person, you might find that the results will have multiple file numbers (maybe even on multiple reels), indicating claims on different sections.
If you are not able to do the research yourself, you are able to order the homestead records (or other research) from the Alberta Genealogical Society. Check out the following link for more information
The Alberta Homestead Index is a wonderful tool directing researchers to the required reel or reels. Before this index was created you can imagine how long it would take to search through all of the records. This is especially true when searching by surname since the only way to tell if someone tried to homestead multiple sections would have been to search though every single record. Thanks to the Alberta Genealogical Society this is no longer the case. Happy researching!