The leaves are quickly changing their colours into their beautiful fall reds, yellows, and even browns. This usually marks our annual crunch as we try to complete all our fieldwork before the snow falls! Here Alex is testing out a site we found for Alberta Plywood in the Marten Hills, near Slave Lake, AB.
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.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of rain hit areas of the province. During this time of year, the hot humid weather generates plenty of late afternoon thunderstorms. These storms can blow in quickly with heavy rain, leaving you drenched to the bone. Just one of the many fun challenges of working in the forests of Alberta. It does lead to great photo opportunities like this one. This photo was taken on the north shores of Lesser Slave Lake, while a intense storm was sweeping through the south shores of the lake.
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.
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”).
I’ve submitted a poster for the upcoming CAA conference in Whitehorse, Yukon in May. Check out my abstract and check back for research updates on our blog!
Advances in remote sensing technologies and industry-driven initiatives have precipitated the wide scale production of lidar-derived digital elevation datasets in Alberta. These high-precision terrain models have been instrumental for cultural resource management strategies and the identification of new archaeological sites in the province. Lidar has proven to be extremely useful in targeting of distinct landforms and topographic features present on the landscape, and in the development of archaeological predictive models. While most lidar analyses for archaeological site predictions are focused on the modern landscape, these datasets can also be used to identify ancient landforms that may have been more suitable for human habitation in the distant past. Review of lidar data from the Lesser Slave Lake region in northern Alberta revealed numerous strandlines, meltwater channels, and relict beaches related to changing levels of proglacial lakes in the lake basin. These previously unmapped topographic features reveal a fluctuating landscape during the early period of human occupation in the province, and provide an opportunity to identify potential locations of ancient sites around the Lesser Slave Lake basin. A combination of reconstructions of proglacial lake levels using strandline elevations and current predictive modeling techniques was used to identify locations reflective of this past landscape with high archaeological potential for sites. This information will be used to direct future surveys in the region, to identify archaeological sites that might otherwise have been missed by cultural resource management programs.