Before 2013, archaeological survey in the Sucker and Buffalo Lake regions only identified three sites. In contrast, just 5 km east, in the Logan and Clyde River systems, around 25 sites had been found. This is likely due to the location of developments being surveyed, but it may also reflect older archaeological survey methods. The dense river systems and the sandy sediments typical to these two areas really increase the archaeological potential. This means there are numerous sites that have yet been identified by archaeological survey.
When Millar Western Boyle and Alberta-Pacific submitted new forest plans for this region, we knew we could improve the archaeological understanding of the area. Over two field seasons we put in 477 shovel tests and surface inspections. We increased the sites in the area by 14 sites!
Not only did we find sites, but we found two artifacts that really help us understand the people who used this area by helping us determine a date and possible trade connections. Two artifacts, one projectile point and one knife, were the most interesting finds of the survey.
The projectile point is the base of a dart thrown by an atlatl. This is an older technology than the bow and arrow, used prior to 2000 years ago. The point is likely Scottsbluff style which is dated up to 8,000 years ago. This atlatl dart point is also made of Knife River Flint. Knife River Flint is a very significant material that only comes from a quarry site in North Dakota (over 1300 km away!).
The knife is an asymmetrical corner notched siltstone knife. The only known knife typologies in Alberta belong to the Cody Complex; however, unlike this knife, the stems of Cody knives are usually straight and have a flat base. Further research at this site and about this artifact may significantly alter our knowledge about knife manufacture and technology in Alberta. The style may also be representative of a knife style found in other regions of North America which would suggest travel or trade.
Knife River Flint point base
Siltstone knife (dorsal – left, ventral – right)
Cabins and historic trails were also identified during the assessment. These are from late 19th to early 20th century occupation of the area, possibly associated with First Nation or Metis use and of cultural significance. At site GgOw-10, two cabins were present, one older than the other. We know this because of the way the two cabins were constructed: one with chainsawn logs and the other with an axe. This is indicative of significant, long-term land use in the Buffalo Lake area. At this site, many metal and glass artifacts were also observed, including a wagon wheel hoop, cans, pots, pans, and a cast iron stove. In addition, we identified wagon trails used to travel along between Buffalo Lake and other nearby settlements such as Philomena.
Chainsaw-cut cabin logs
Axe cut cabin logs
Wagon wheel hoop
Wagon wheel ruts
The area is still being used today and remains an area of importance to local First Nations. A prayer tree was identified while surveying a cutblock along a tributary stream. The cutblock was dropped from the harvest plan due to the presence of the prayer tree. The tree was a jackpine with a red and white pieces of fabric tied to the trunk. The prayer tree can indicate an area where a ceremony took place or an area with medicinal plants. A photo of the tree was not included out of respect for Indigenous traditions.
We always look forward to returning to areas we have surveyed in the past. Continuous archaeological survey helps us better predict where other sites are likely to be and fills out our understanding of how landscapes were used over time.
Where we find archaeological sites in the province is often strongly tied to the physical environment. We look for the different physical characteristics such as distance to water and if an area is high and dry. These features are indicators, which tell us that there could be an archaeological site in the area. This approach to finding archaeological sites is useful, but there are problems when we start considering how the landscape might change over time. The top of a hill set really far from a stream today, might have been beach front property in the past.
This is important in regards to our work on the shores of Lesser Slave Lake in Alberta. The Lesser Slave Lake basin has undergone extensive changes over the past 13,000 years, largely due to the retreating front of the glacial ice sheets at the end of the last ice age, and the incision and creation of the modern river valleys. Understanding how this environment changed over time is useful for identifying new archaeological sites in the region, as it helps us to understand how First Nations used the landscape in the past. Older archaeological sites may be on ancient beaches and meltwater channels that don’t look like they would be suitable for a campsite today, but were actually prime real estate 10, 000 years ago. These sites could be missed during an archaeological review and survey based on the modern landscape, so it is important that we understand how an area has changed, so that we can better predict where archaeological sites are going to be.
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.
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 Scottsbluff point, made of classic Alberta quartzite. This projectile point type is part of the Cody Complex, which was present across North America between 9 000 and 7 000 years ago. Point such as this one are famously associated with large communal kills, where the hunters dispatched dozens of giant Ice Age bison in natural and built traps.