Projectile Point

Projectile points come in many shapes and sizes ranging from large paleolithic spear points to small protohistoric arrow heads to even smaller “toy arrow heads”. This artifact type is a stone that has been shaped using flint knapping techniques to create a sharp triangular and aerodynamic tip that is attached to a wooden shaft that can be propelled through the air by throwing by hand, atlatl, or bow, to hunt game. This is an important artifact type as over time the styles of points changed allowing us to use the style to estimate the time period a site was occupied.  This particular point is a Besant style dart point, which dates to approximately 2,500 -1,350 BP.


The context of an artifact is extremely important to archaeologists. The context of an artifact means the precise location of the artifact and it’s association with other artifacts and landscape features. This helps us determine such things as the relationships between artifacts on a site, it’s position in time and space, and even how it is related to different archaeological sites.

Below is a picture from a site near the Brazeau Reservoir, Alberta. The lithic scatter pictured below shows the flakes in their original context. The whole scatter is in a semi circle shape outlined in red. The positions of the flakes indicate that someone likely sat near the red circle. They then flint knapped purple quartzite which went in the direction of the purple arrow. They then shifted their body and began to flint knap a grey-blue quartzite that went in the direction of the blue arrow.

This is just a small portion of the site, so when we start to put together this information with other information about the site we begin to get a greater understanding of what happened, such as where specific activities took place and even what was going on in the area at that time.


An atlatl is a throwing stick with a small hook used to throw darts (projectiles). It allowed the hunter or warrior to create more leverage to increase the speed and distance of the dart. This weapon was used throughout North America including Alberta, approximately between 7,500 and 1,350 B.P.

IMG_4168 - Copy
Atlatl in action!
atlatl throwing
Note the size of the atlatl to the size of the throwing dart



A spokeshave is a type of formed tool that was used to scrape and/or smooth wooden shafts or handles such as on spears, darts and arrows. It is typically identified by the inward curving edge. This edge typically has small flakes removed from use or from shaping it into the curve prior to use.

Knapping / Flintknapping

The process of creating stone tools through lithic reduction (by removing stone chips).  A hammer (such as a stone or antler) is used to strike the core rock in order to remove smaller pieces.  The core is either shaped into a specific tool, like a biface, or the flakes that have been taken off are used or shaped into something specific, like a projectile point.

Surface Exposure

Surface exposures are areas where there is no vegetation and the mineral soils are visible. These can occur naturally (areas of slumping, beaches, blow-out, or other natural erosional processes), or be caused by human activity (ATV trails, furrows created for site prep and skid trails just to name a few). Surface exposures can be great for covering a lot of ground during survey.

Field School in Belize – Trent University

One of the most common questions that I get asked is what is the coolest thing I have ever found.  My default answer is this censer fragment that my excavation team unearthed back in 2009 as part of the Trent University field school in Belize, at the Minanha site.

1924021_121283822867_4490923_n - Copy
Censer fragment

My team was working on the excavation of a house platform.  The house platform was part of a small complex of households near a ceremonial and political centre.  the site was abandoned around 1000 years ago at the end of the Classic era of the Maya civilization.

excavationphoto - Copy
Our excavation unit

One of the first things found during the excavation was a small cylinder seal next to the large tree root (pictured above).  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the artifact but I still have my notes from the field school and a quick sketch that I did.

cylinder_seal - Copy
Sketch of cylinder seal

As we continued to excavate through different occupation layers, we came upon an assemblage of broken pottery sherds.  We were careful to map each artifact before we removed them from their context (as indicated by the nails at each corner of the artifacts).  We could see there were holes in the ceramics but had no idea of what was waiting once we turned it over.

A young Corey Cookson excavating the house platform (left).  The censer fragment in situ (right).

When the sherd with the holes was turned over, the entire team got really excited and gathered around while the professor, Gyles Iannone, explained what we found.  The artifact was part of a large incense burner.  When incense was burned within the vessel, the smoke would come out the holes in the censer.  The smoke flowing out of the mouth likely created a very stunning effect.  After the field school was completed, the graduate students catalogued the artifacts and re-assembled the censer (pictured below).

Reassembled Censer (left – front view; right – side view). Photo Credit: Melissa Jeffrey