Glacial Lakes around Lesser Slave Lake

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.

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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.

Scottsbluff Point

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.