“If you move another step towards me, I’ll blow you to hell!” The story of Fort Whoop-Up and Whisky Trading Forts of Southern Alberta

Figure 1: View of Fort Whoop-Up in 1881 (c) Wikimedia Commons

In the 1860s, Southern Alberta was home to several American whisky trading posts that sold liquor and guns to the local Indigenous groups in exchange for bison robes. These transactions occurred despite the United States Law of 1832 that banned liquor sales to the Indigenous groups. One such fort was Fort Hamilton (Later renamed to Fort Whoop-Up), established by John Healy and Alfred Hamilton in 1869 on a traditional camping spot of the Kainai. Although they had a successful first year, the fort was burnt down by the Kainai when the traders were prepping to leave for the summer.


Figure 2: Members of the Kainai Nation outside Fort Whoop-Up (c) Wikimedia Commons

Healy and Hamilton built a second, more elaborate fort the following year in 1870. The fort was only active in the winter when furs were most valuable. The traders would be there for eight months and then head back to Fort Benton in Montana for four months. The local Indigenous groups would set up camps outside the fort, where they would gamble, race horses, and drink the (usually watered-down) liquor they acquired from the fort. These groups were the Kainai, Piegan, and Siksika. These Blackfoot speaking people referred to the fort as akaisakoyi or “many dead” in their language. This name refers to the many conflicts between the white men at the fort and the Natives, but also approximately 70 died from alcohol related deaths (poisoning, passing out in the snow, etc.)

These conflicts were predominantly between the American wolf-hunters (Wolfers) and the Blackfoot. Due to these conflicts, the fort was renowned as a dangerous place by travelers in the region. Reverend John McDougall recalled stopping near the fort to eat when “several men rode out and surrounded them. The men were drunk and had just come from fighting with the Natives. One was all shot up and looking for a doctor.”

The animosity between the two groups stemmed from the Wolfers practice of sprinkling poison on bison carcasses and return to collect wolf hides to sell at the fort. This was not seen as honorable by the Blackfoot, but it also had unintended consequences of killing people and their dogs if they did not know the Wolfers poisoned the carcass. Sometimes the Blackfoot would follow the Wolfers and steal the wolves before the Wolfers would return, often leading to violence.

Figure 3: Inside Fort Whoop-Up (c) Glenbow Archives

Of particular concern to the other white traders in the Whoop-Up region was rumours certain forts were selling repeating rifles to the Blackfoot when only single shift muzzleloaders were allowed. A posse called the “Spitzee Calvary” of around 30-40 men were formed by John Evans and Harry “Kamoose” Taylor to travel to each fort and force the traders to sign an agreement at gunpoint and often took furs and supplies as a fine. When the approached John Healy, now running the nearby Fort Kipp, Healy welcomed them into the cramped trading room:


“guilty and you be damned. What right have you to come down here and try me. You’re a mad dog among a pack of decent hounds. They were good men until you (Evans and Taylor) got among them.” Healy pulled out a shotgun and leveled it at the men. “If you move a foot. If you move another step towards me I’ll blow you to hell!” In another version of the story, he held a lit cigar over an open powder keg. There are various accounts of this incident; some suggest it happened at Whoop-Up and others suggest it happened a Fort Kipp. I did some digging, and Healy clarifies that it happened at Fort Kipp in a 1903 issue of the journal Forest and Stream.

Figure 4: NWMP in 1878 at Fort Walsh, James McLeod sat centre (c) Wikimedia Commons


In response to the stories of violence, the illegal liquor sales, and rumours an American flag was being flown at Fort Whoop-Up, the North West Mounted Police were formed to clean out Whoop-Up. When they arrived in October 1874 after three months of hard travel on the plains, their leader, James MacLeod, set up his men expecting a battle but only found a man with a wooden leg, Dave Akers, and a few Blackfoot women. Exhausted from the long march and frustrated that Healy and Hamilton were nowhere to be found, the NWMP asked for whiskey, but Akers let them know they had none. MacLeod and his men thoroughly searched the entire fort, upstairs, downstairs, in every hole and crevice but could not find any whiskey.

After the NWMP cemented their presence in the region, illegal whisky trading declined, and an NWMP barracks was eventually established at Fort Whoop-Up. The NWMP presence continued until the barracks were burned down in 1888, and the NWMP ultimately abandoned in 1890.

Figure 5: Modern recreation of Fort Whoop-Up that can be visited in Lethbridge, AB. (c) Wikimedia Commons

A modern recreation of the fort can be visited in Lethbridge. Follow this link to learn more about Fort Whoop-Up and plan your visit.

Source:

Fooks, Georgia Green (1983). Fort Whoop-Up : Alberta’s First and Most Notorious Whiskey Fort. Whoop-up Country Chapter, Historical Society of Alberta.

The 9 types of Medicine Wheels in Alberta


Figure 1: Aerial view of the Majorville Medicine Wheel (Courtesy of Alberta Environment and Parks)

Most people are familiar with Medicine Wheels, either from popular culture or books such as “Canada’s Stonehenge” by Gordon Freeman. Many people might not know that while they are found all over the Northern Plains in Montana, Wyoming, and Saskatchewan, they are most numerous in southern Alberta. There are currently 57 documented medicine wheels in Alberta.

Figure 2: View of Majorville Medicine Wheel from the ground (Courtesy of Alberta Environment and Parks)

For those unfamiliar with medicine wheels, they are configurations of stone with at least two of the following: a central cairn, one or more concentric stone rings, or two or more radiating lines from the central cairn. Frequently, there are several other stone features present at the site, including hearths, tipi rings, anthropomorphic figures, and secondary cairns.

The term “medicine wheel” was first used in an issue of Forest and Stream, referring to the Bighorn medicine wheel located near Medicine Mountain in Wyoming. Since then, the term has become a basic generic category. But within this basic category are nine subgroups, which are discussed in further detail below.

Figure 3: Subgroup 1 Medicine Wheel (adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 1
  • Description: Central cairn surrounded by a stone circle.
  • # in Alberta: 24
  • Discussion: Typically found on high hills away from significant water bodies where high frequencies of glacial till are present (Brumley 1988). The presence of these types of medicine wheels on high peaks may result from the proximity to cobble and boulder-strewn moraine, which was used in the construction of the rock feature (Peck and Wetzel 2018). As for function, small artifacts and religious paraphernalia within cairns suggest ceremonial locations.
Figure 4: Subgroup 2 Medicine Wheel (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 2
  • Description: Central cairn surrounded by a stone circle but includes a “passageway.”
  • # in Alberta: 5
  • Discussion: These medicine wheels are similar to Subgroup 1 with the exception of the passageway. These types of Medicine Wheels are found on high hills and low terraces near waterbodies. Of the five medicine wheels observed in Alberta, there is no consistency in terms of the passageway’s orientation.


Figure 5: Subgroup 3 Medicine Wheels (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 3
  • Description: Central cairn with two or more radiating lines out from the centre.
  • # in Alberta: 5
  • Discussion: In 1880, John McLean observed the construction of a Subgroup 3 Medicine Wheel while at Fort McLeod and noted, “Several great battles were fought, and these cairns were placed to commemorate these events and probably where great warriors died” (McLean 1896: 579). This explanation is similar to the ethnographic descriptions for Subgroups 4 and 7 Medicine Wheels, and all may have served a similar function but vary stylistically.
Figure 6: Subgroup 4 Medicine Wheel (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 4
  • Description: A stone ring that has two or more stone lines extending outward from its margins.
  • # in Alberta: 16
  • Discussion: In contrast to Subgroup 1, these are typically found on prairie surfaces along major river valleys or central portion of a river valley bottom or, in other words, typical camp locations (Peck and Wetzel 2018). Ethnographic evidence (Kehoe and Dempsey 1956) suggests these medicine wheels mark where a prominent Blackfoot leader died or was a favorite camp location of the leader. These types of medicine wheels’ location make sense when considering the areas they are found, although some are located on high hills back from waterbodies. What the radiating lines mean is debated, but all agree it is an indication of the Chief’s status that died. While one informant that spoke with Dempsey suggested the lines point to the direction of the warpath the Chief went to war, another informant suggested they are directions from which people would come to feast with the great leader (Kehoe and Dempsey 1956). Although both informants may be correct, and functions may have shifted over time.
Figure 7: Subgroup 5 Medicine Wheel (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 5
  • Description: A stone ring that is dissected into segments by four or more interior stone lines radiating outward from a central origin point.
  • # in Alberta: 1
  • Discussion: Archaeologists have only recorded one in Alberta (Jamieson’s Place Medicine Wheel, EePi-2). This subgroup is similar in style to the subgroup 6 Medicine Wheel. According to researchers at the site, it is possible there was a central cairn at the site but was destroyed due to vandalism (Thorpe 1982). If that is the case, it would be reclassified as a subgroup 6 Medicine Wheel.
Figure 8: Subgroup 6 Medicine Wheels (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 6
  • Description: A central stone cairn surrounded by a stone ring, two or more interior stone lines that connect the stone ring to the cairn.
  • # in Alberta: 1
  • Discussion: The only Subgroup 6 Medicine Wheel recorded in Alberta is Alberta’s most famous Medicine Wheel, Majorville Carin and Medicine Wheel. Located on a high hill overlooking the Bow River valley, the wheel has 27 badly disturbed stone lines that extend from the central cairn. Archaeologists excavated the southern half of the cairn in 1977 (Calder) and discovered that the central cairn was constructed over 5000 years in accretional domes. Analysis of the 17,000+ artifacts recovered suggests the cultural practice originated from 3200-2500 BCE and continued to be used uniformly until around 1000 BC. Use of the cairn decline until about 200 AD when use picked up again until European contact. The artifacts recovered include ceremonial artifacts and utilitarian artifacts (tools, flakes, cores, etc.); however, these utilitarian artifacts may have been offerings for success in the hunt.
  • Archaeastronomy: While some astronomical orientations are present at the site, there is not enough evidence to confirm if these alignments were intentional or merely an accidental coincidence. This evidence would have to come from oral or written sources or see consistency between the similar Medicine Wheels. Additionally, some astronomical alignments suggested at Majorville incorporate glacial till likely deposited naturally.
Figure 8: Subgroup 7 Medicine Wheels (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 7
  • Description: A central stone cairn surrounded by a stone ring, two or more interior stone lines that connect the stone ring to the cairn.
  • # in Alberta: 3
  • Discussion: These medicine wheels are similar in style and locations Subgroup 3 and 4 Medicine Wheels. One Subgroup 7 Medicine Wheel, Many Islands Medicine Wheel, was excavated in 1983. Over 2000 artifacts recovered but mostly represent campsite activities with an emphasis on a lithic workshop of Swan River Chert (Brumley 1988). A lithic workshop’s presence reinforces that the medicine wheel was likely constructed at the campsite location of the Blackfoot, where a leader died.


Figure 10: Subgroup 8 Medicine Wheels (Adapted from Brumley 1988)
  • Type: Subgroup 8
  • Description: A central stone cairn and ring, two or more lines extend outward from the cairn and pass through the wall before terminating.
  • # in Alberta: 0 (2 in Saskatchewan)
  • Discussion: Could be a variation on Subgroups 3, 4, and 7 but limited information.


Figure 11: Subgroup 9 Medicine Wheels (Adapted from Reeves and Kennedy 2018)
  • Type: Subgroup 9
  • Description: Two double circles with four or more spokes terminating just outside the outer ring.
  • # in Alberta: 1
  • Discussion: This is a recently added subgroup (Reeves and Kennedy 2018), based on a type first identified by Deaver (1987). This type of medicine wheel is found at the Grassy Bend Medicine Wheel (DgPc-6), located along the Milk River. The double circles may represent a smaller lodge erected within a a more extensive lodge for ceremonial purposes (Reeves and Kennedy 2018).

Top 10 Sites of 2019!

We are heading into the fall of 2020 and the season crunch is in full swing! We have been pretty busy, despite the challenges of COVID-19, and have found quite a few new and exciting sites. This makes us recall the sites of 2019! It was hard to make time to write up what we found in 2019. Although we find over 100 sites every year, these sites stand out either because we found interesting artifacts or the site is unique in some way.

Locations of the Top Ten Sites of 2019

GgPs-6: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Vanderwell Contractors near Swan Hills, AB. The site is located on an irregular ridge surrounded by muskeg and set back from a small lake. At this site we found an asymmetrical projectile point made of quartzite. The projectile point doesn’t fit any of the established diagnostic styles known in Alberta, but could possibly be a hafted knife similar to this knife we found back in 2014.

FgPw-21: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Weyerhaeuser Pembina Timberlands near the Brazeau Reservoir. The site is located on prominent hill surrounded by muskeg. At this site we found a small biface made of purple quartzite and a utilized Knife River Flint flake. The biface appears to have been resharpened in the past and was likely once much larger. The tool was likely discarded once the flintknapper felt the tool became exhausted and unusable. The flake of Knife River Flint, is an exotic material that comes from a source in the Dakotas. Along the sharp edges of the flake, small chips we call utilization scars or wear was observed. Sometimes all a person needs is a sharp flake to get the job done!

GgPs-10: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Vanderwell Contractors near Swan Hills, AB. The site is located on an irregular knoll overlooking muskeg to the south. Usually we find 1-10 flakes in shovel test, which we interpret as hitting the periphery of a flintknapping scatter likely associated with a single tool production event. Sometimes we get a positive test with 30-50 flakes in a shovel test and feel we hit the knapping area dead-on. If multiple lithic materials are present it likely represents various tool production events. But at this site we hit a full-on lithic workshop! We recovered four hammerstones, five cores, and a total of 7888 flakes!

GiPk-3: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Vanderwell Contractors near the Fawcett River. The site is located on a small knoll located southwest of the river and overlooking a wetland to the south. Although we only found one artifact at this site, it is a very interesting tool. The tool is a portion of an obsidian flake made using microblade core technology. The blade has some utilization wear along the lateral edges, as indicated in the picture above. As we have discussed before, obsidian is a volcanic glass and each volcano has a unique chemical signature that allows us to trace where the artifact material came from. We were able to zap this specimen with the pXRF and discovered this obsidian came from over 1700 km from Mount Edziza in British Columbia!

FiPx-5: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Blue Ridge Lumber near Niton Junction, AB. The site is located on a long ridge that comes to a high point in the southeast. At this site we found a 90 m long site with flakes, cores, and one ugly projectile point. The projectile point might represent an aborted point that the flintknapper discarded. One of the lateral edges and the one of the notches are broken off, which may represent an error during tool production which resulted in the tool being discarded.

FiPx-2: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Blue Ridge Lumber near Niton Junction, AB. At this site we found lithic debitage, two cores and one bone awl. The bone awl is somewhat degraded and the point is not very sharp, but it appears to have been sharpened into a point at one end. The awl would have been used to pierce and mark materials such as leather and wood.

GdPu-19: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Blue Ridge Lumber near Swan Hills, AB. The site is located on a low southeast facing edge overlooking a relict oxbow. Although we didn’t find much lithic debitage at this site, we found two hearths (old campfires), 54 pieces of faunal remains (animal bones), and lots of charcoal. Two of the animal bones have indicators of human modification in the form of cutmarks, polish, and spiral fractures. The charcoal from both hearths and the calcined bone were all sent away for radiocarbon testing and received dates of: Charcoal Calibrated AD (1495-1650 AD); calcined bone Calibrated AD (1681-1937 AD). While not very old, this site is interesting in that it was occupied just prior to European Contact in Alberta!

FcPx-39: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Sundre Forest Products near Nordegg, AB. The site is located on a west-facing terrace overlooking Dutch Creek. At this site, we found a beautiful siltstone biface preform. Much like GiPk-3 and other sites where we only find one formed tool, these sites likely represent a tool being dropped or lost by hunter or flintknapper.

FcPx-50: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Sundre Forest Products near Nordegg, AB. This site is located on a series of rolling hills overlooking the North Saskatchewan River. At this site we found one biface and 15 pieces of lithic debitage. The biface is made from Red Deer Mudstone, also known as Paskapoo Chert, is a material we do not find often. Additionally, we also found one piece of obsidian which was sourced to Bear Gulch, Idaho.

FcPx-49: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Sundre Forest Products near Nordegg, AB. This site is located on a large prominent ridge located back from a deeply-incised stream. At this site we had 12 positive tests over 170 x 75 m area. In these positive tests, we found one siltstone biface, two cores, one animal bone, and over 1000+ flakes. Several of the flakes also showed signs of utilization wear.

What’s in Your Bag?

Gear choice can have a big effect on your comfort level and efficiency while working in the forest. New workers, may have never been in the field and may not know what you really need to take for a full 12 hour day in the boreal forest. We expect to spend the entire day away from motorized vehicles so we need carry in everything needed for the day by hand, backpack, or vest. And if you don’t want to feel like your carrying around the kitchen sink, you need to be very selective in what you pack!

There are three basic categories I have on me at all times: archaeological (A), safety (S), and personal (P). The archaeological items are what I need to do the job. The safety are what I need to stay safe, and to meet the OHS Regulations in Alberta. The rest is what I need to enjoy/tolerate my day. These are not always mutually exclusive. For example, I need a radio to communicate with co-workers about the survey we are doing, but also in case of an emergency.

Time of year is also a factor. In spring, crews have encountered snow, rain, and sun all in the same day. Changing weather conditions may allow some items to be dropped, but other things, such as warm gloves, may need to be added. I never leave my rain gear behind, and also carry a survival kit and warm clothes, just in case I end up stranded overnight in the bush.

Load bearing equipment is an important consideration. I personally wear a True North Vest, but others may prefer a more traditional cruise vest. Many companies produce quality backpacks, but not all companies have the same level of warranty. Companies such as Osprey, make a durable lightweight backpack and fully stand behind their product with a stellar warranty. I prefer a 35-45 litre backpack as this size pack fits nicely inside our screens and gives me room for all my gear with a bit of extra space to put extra layers as the temperature rises. Make sure that you get a bag with a rain-cover. Most good bags come with one.

Keep in mind that I generally carry more stuff than most people, but I like to be prepared and don’t mind the weight. Adjust gear accordingly, and try to decide whether you really need something or not.

Things In My Vest

IMG_20200429_130349
All of this fits into the various pockets of the TrueNorth vest. A combination of safety and archaeology specific equipment.

  • iPad Mini (A, S)
    • Tethered to a Bluetooth GPS we use this for data collection, navigation, safety documentation.
  • In-Reach/Bluetooth GPS (A, S)
    • Emergency satellite communication device that increases the accuracy of the iPad’s location.
  • Handheld GPS (A, S)
    • Navigation, important waypoints (truck, quads etc.) data backup (shovel test locations).
  • VHF Radio (A, S)
    • Communication with co-workers and other crews. Great for notifying other nearby workers of hazards, or when we found a site!
  • Compass (A, S)
    • Navigation and orienteering. GPS are notoriously bad at telling you which way is north.
  • Tape measure (A)
    • Measuring shovel test depth. Scale for photography.
  • Pen and Sharpie (A)
    • Always need writing implements
  • Artifact Bags and Tags (A)
    • For  storing artifacts and labeling them with their provenience.
  • Gloves (S)
    • I keep the gloves I am using in my vest. Screening destroys gloves fast so I keep extras in my bag.
  • Multi-tool (S, P)
    • I keep my multi-tool in my vest so I have quick access to it if the need arises.

Things In My Bag:

IMG_20200429_131601
Definitely more than in the vest! Many of these is “just in case” items we hope we won’t need, but could safe your life if conditions change. They are useless if they are left in the truck 3 hours away.

  • Water (S, P)
    • Bladder for hiking and Nalgene bottles for lunch and reserve. I find that I go through a lot of water, but may leave some at the quad if I know I will not need it. Very import to have extra if it is hot outside!
  • Food (S, P)
    • Enough food for the day and a little extra just in case you have to spend the night in the forest. I usually have 3 or 4 Cliff Bars squirreled away somewhere.
  • Knife (A, S, P)
    • Never go into the bush without one. Check out this blog if unsure about which type of knife is best to have.
  • Bear Spray (S)
    • Should never go into areas with bears undefended. It is always a good idea to have a Bear Awareness training before wandering into their backyard. I attach the holster to my bag when on the ATV, but put it on my belt when hiking.
  • Rain Gear (S, P)
    • I never leave my rain gear behind even if the forecast looks good. Our weather is too unpredictable and I rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
  • Head lamp
    • Small, lightweight form of illumination. It can get dark quick in the fall, and it sucks stumbling around the forest in the dark.
  • First Aid Kit (S)
    • Everyone at Tree Time Services Inc. carries a Type P (Personal) first aid kit and supervisors carry a Type 1.
  • Neck Brace (S)
    • I never ever want to have to use this! I will carry it regardless as it could be the difference between life and death.
  • Survival Kit (S, P)
    • I carry a small survival kit with some basic supplies just in case. I don’t plan on having to survive for more than a night without help. It all fits in a Nalgene, which keeps it waterproof. Bonus extra water container! It includes:
      • Extra knife
      • Mirror
      • Whistle
      • Small bundle of paracord
      • Fire starter
      • Bic lighter
      • Water purification tablets
      • Small plastic sheet
      • Cliff bar
  • Extra Clothes/Gloves (S, P)
    • Never know when you may need extra dry clothes or an emergency thermal layer. Extra warm clothing is useless wet, so I keep it dry bags. I bring:
      • Lightweight thermal baselayer
      • Extra warm gloves
      • Socks
      • Extra Bama socks
      • Buff or neckwarmer
      • Lightweight belaclava
        • Particularly important for cold quad rides
  • Bug Spray/Sunscreen (S, P)
    • For when the bugs get bad and the sun is out!
  • Toilet paper (P)
    • No explanation needed. Unless you really want the full nature experience of using leaves and moss.
  • Axe file (A, P)
    • For sharpening shovels and trowels. I hate a dull shovel. Most people sharpen at the truck and leave the file behind.
  • Trowel (A)
    • I usually only bring this on excavation jobs.
  • Bungie-cord (A, P)
    • I use this to attach my screen to my backpack.

Other Items:

  • Cellphone (S, P)
    • (Not pictured) I always keep my phone sealed in a ziplock bag and secured in my vest so that it cannot get damaged or lost.
  • Portable battery charger and Extra Batteries (A, S, P)
    • Can’t do much if our electronics don’t work
  • Flagging (A, S)
    • Always need multiple different colors of flagging for marking hazards, shovel tests and flagging site buffers.
  • Bug net (S, P)
    • Most people will carry a bug net either in their vest or bag depending on how much they use it. Bugs in the boreal can get pretty terrible at times.
  • Collapsible hand saw (A, S, P)
    • For clearing trails or roots out of test pits

Along with all of this we also need to carry a screen and shovel! Most people attach the screen to their backpack and everyone has their preference of shovel. Check out these shovel reviews (Grizzly vs. King of Spades, Bulldog spades) to determine what type you may like best! Enjoy your summer and happy hiking!

What Projects Need HRA Approval, or “Clearance”?

As Consulting Archaeologists, most of our work supports “regulatory compliance”.  We help developers get government approval by assessing and mitigating potential impacts to historic resource sites.  I’m frequently asked by developers whether a specific project requires Historical Resource Act Approval (or “Clearance”, as it was known before 2012).

This isn’t as easy a question as one might think.  Different projects have different levels of impact, and not every development requires approval.  Guidelines for developers are spread across numerous Bulletins and buried in the Instructions for Use of the Listing of Historic Resources.  To make life easier, I thought I’d try to summarize these rules in one place.  Please keep in mind that HRA regulations are constantly changing, so this is a snapshot of the state of the system in spring 2020. If you know of another trigger, or a development class I’ve missed, please let me know.

Alberta Culture uses a variety of triggering mechanisms.  The key tool for determining HRA Requirements is the Listing of Historic Resources.   The Listing was originally developed as a screening tool for small-scale oil and gas.  In response to requests from industry and regulatory agencies to provide more transparency and certainty, Culture is moving towards using the Listing for a wider range of developments. 

Parcels of land are registered on the Listing with a Historic Resource Value (HRV).  HRVs are ranked from 1 through 4  for known sites, or 5 for lands believed to contain a site (high potential).  Each entry on the Listing also has a class, which represents the type of resource.  Historic resources can include archaeological sites, paleontological sites, Traditional Land Use Areas, and historic buildings.  (You can read more about different types of resources here).  There are still many areas of Alberta that have historic resources potential that are not included in the Listing.  This is only one of of the many tools used during the screening process.

DeerMountain_HRV.jpeg
An example of the Listing of Historic Resources from Deer Mountain, near Swan Hills.  Red are HRV 4a (lands containing known sites). Yellow are HRV 5a (lands likely to contain sites). 

According to the Listing Instructions, there are several types of development that always require an application for HRA Approval:

  • Any project that requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): These applications generally result in a requirement for a Historical Resources Baseline Assessment.
  • Any project that requires National Energy Board (NEB) or Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) Approval
  • Forest Harvest Plans: These can be managed through the special Forestry HRA Compliance process.  This is Tree Time’s specialty. Contact me before submitting an Application in OPAC.
  • Class 1 Pipelines
  • Projects requiring Conservation and Reclamation Approval by Alberta Environment. According to the Conservation and Reclamation Guidelines for Alberta this includes:
    • The construction, operation or reclamation of a well, battery, oil production site, pipeline, transmission line, telecommunication system, mine, pit quarry, peat operation or plant.
    • The conduct or reclamation of an exploration operation for coal or oil sands;
    • The construction or reclamation of a roadway
    • The reclamation of a railway
  • All Area Structure Plans and other long-term municipal planning documents.

Some development types use the Listing to selectively trigger requirements for HRA Approval:

  • Small-scale conventional oil and gas developments (wellsites, pipelines, access roads, etc)
    • HRA Approval is required if the footprint overlaps any HRV Listed lands.
  • Surface Materials (sand, gravel, clay, peat, etc. pits):
    • 5 ha or larger / Class 1 Pits: HRA Approval is always required.
    • Under 5 ha / Class 2 Pits: HRA Approval is required if the project area overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3 or 4 lands (known sites).
  • Subdivisions:
    • Most subdivisions: HRA Approval required if the project area overlaps any Listed lands (HRV 1-5).
    • Simple subdivisions (first parcel out, 80-acre split, lot / line boundary adjustment or parcel consolidation): HRA Approval required if the project area overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4 lands (known sites), but not HRV 5 (high potential).
  • Oil Sands and Coal Exploration operations (drilling programs and associated clearing, access and reclamation): HRA Approval required if the project footprint overlaps any Listed Lands (HRV 1-5).
  • Geophysical Programs (seismic): HRA Approval Required if the project footprint overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3 or 4, (known sites) but not HRV 5 (high potential).
  • Geotechnical exploration operations(drilling programs, including those in support of other projects). HRA Approval Required if the project footprint overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3 or 4, (known sites) but not HRV 5 (high potential).
  • Pipeline Integrity Digs (and similar operations, including all access, workspace, laydown, etc). HRA Approval Required if:
    • The activities will extend off the original disposition footprint, and overlap any Listed lands (HRV 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5), or
    • Any activities are on HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4C lands, even if they’re limited to the existing footprint.
  • Utility Distribution Services (including power, low pressure gas, and water supply projects that aren’t triggered by the EIA, NEB, or AUC processes): HRA Approval Required if:
    • The project footprint overlaps HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4 lands (known sites), or
    • The project footprint overlaps HRV 5 lands (high potential) and involves trenching on undisturbed land (eg. native prairie or forest).

Several other Regulatory processes trigger a review of the Listing and fall under the general Instructions for use of the Listing:

“In the absence of a Land Use Procedures Bulletin specific to the proposed project type and/or industry, the proponent must submit a Historic Resources (HR) Application”

  • Public Lands Dispositions:
    • the LAT (Landscape Analysis Tool) reviews all applications against the Listing and notes a Condition (2060) requiring HRA Approval for any dispositions in HRV 1, 2, 3, or 4 lands (known sites).
    • Dispositions not covered by the Bulletins above, such as miscellaneous leases (MLL), and licenses of occupation (LOC) may also be referred for HRA Approval for HRV 5 lands by approvals officers.
  • Water Act Applications: the Wetland Application Checklist requires submission of the results of a Historical Resources Act “Search”. Any developments that involve significant ground disturbance and overlap Listed lands (HRV 1-5) should be submitted for HRA Approval.
  • Temporary Field Authorization: The TFA Application form requires applicants to check the Listing and requires HRA Approval for all Listed lands (HRV 1-5).
  • Biophysical Impact Assessments: Some municipalities (eg. Calgary) include a check of the Listing, or a requirement for HRA Approval, as part of a Biophysical Impact Assessment.

Generally speaking, any development or activity should be referred to Alberta Culture for HRA Approval if it is:

  1. Located in Listed lands (HRV 1-5), and
  2. Involves disturbance of native prairie or forest, or deep excavation

If you don’t know where to start, or would like someone to review your project before you submit it to Culture, contact me (Kurt) or one of the team at 780-472-8878 or toll free at 1-866-873-3846. You can also email us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help!

No volcanoes in Alberta, so where does the Obsidian come from?

When working close to an obsidian source (i.e. volcanoes), archaeologist will regularely find obsidian tools and debitage. However, in the boreal forests of northern Alberta, obsidian is a rare find indeed. So to find any evidence of it at all is pretty significant. Volcanic glass, or obsidian, is one of the sharpest naturally occurring materials on earth. It is sometimes used by surgeons who require a cutting edge that is much thinner and sharper than a stainless steel scalpel. Not only is obsidian extremely sharp, but it is also relatively easy to flint knap and is used by many beginners trying to learn this ancient skill. These features made obsidian a highly valued knapping material.

Pre-contact peoples fashioned various tool types from it, such as knives, projectile points, or composite tools. One method of knapping obsidian was blade core technology. This method involves preparing an obsidian core so that a series of small blades can be removed. This method minimizes the amount of material that is wasted and allowed people to quickly reproduce blades that were a similar size and shape. These blades were then hafted to a bone or stick to create a cutting utensil. To create larger tools, obsidian would have been knapped using normal methods as well.

Obsidian blade and core
Photo credit: B. Bernard

Last summer, Tim and I were surveying some forestry cutblocks at the base of the southern slopes of the Marten Hills, east Slave Lake. During the screening process, I had targeted a series of small knolls that overlooked a muskeg. These knolls were close to the headwaters of the Fawcett River, where a natural pass would have allowed people to easily traverse through the hills. Tim and I walked to the top of the highest knoll and started digging test pits.

Brian at GiPk-3 - Copy
Brian at the GiPk-3 hill top

We were completely shocked when my first test contained an obsidian blade. At this point we were extremely excited, and were sure that we had just found a crazy site. However, even though we dug 40+ test pits, we never found another artifact. The site turned out to be an isolated find. Nuts!

obsidian blade

So if there are no volcanoes in Alberta, where did this obsidian blade come from? Luckily, advances in technology allowed us to quickly solve this question. During his Master’s degree, Tim obtained a license to operate a pXFR analyzer (portable X-Ray Fluorescence), so Tree Time Services Inc. rented one of these devices. Other obsidian artifacts recovered by Tree Time services were all found to come from south of the U.S. border. However, the results of Tim’s analysis suggests that the blade was made of obsidian from Mt. Edziza, British Columbia.

pXRF
Results of pXRF, showing range for various volcanic sources.

That means that this piece of stone had been transported/traded by Pre-contact peoples over a distance of 1700 km! At 10 km travelling distance in a day (on foot), that is 170 days, or almost 6 months. Mt. Edziza obsidian has never been found in the Lesser Slave Lake region, however is is somewhat common in the Peace Region in northwest Alberta. GiPk-3 represents one of the furthest known Mt Edziza obsidian finds from its source. Although Tim and I were disappointed that we didn’t find more artifacts, this single find provided evidence for trade networks that spanned vast distances long before European contact.

Edziza to GiPk-3
Image Credit: Todd Kristensen

Infectious Diseases in the Archaeological Record

COVID-19 has now been designated a global pandemic and continues to spread throughout the world. Not getting infected with this potentially lethal virus is at the forefront of many peoples minds, and the very real possibility of extended quarantine has led to shortages of items such as toilet paper, disinfectant and non-perishable food.

While this may seem like a novel experience to most, pandemics are not new to the human condition and have occurred many times throughout history. However, acute illnesses such as the common cold, the flu, or smallpox, are difficult to study in the archaeological record, since they do not leave any visible signs of infection on skeletal remains. These infections have a rapid onset, and those infected by them usually either recover or perish before the disease has a chance to affect their bones.

On the other hand, chronic infections have a slower onset and may last long enough for a person’s skeleton to show signs of the condition. Tuberculosis, leprosy, and syphilis are three infections that were quite common in some populations and are visible in the archaeological record. These diseases can last months to years, and without modern treatments, people can be plagued with these horrendous conditions for the duration of their lives. Although we may think of them as a part of history, these three infections continue to affect people that do not have access to modern healthcare.

Syphilis

 

Syphilis_2_mono
Photo Credit: original courtesy of @medicalmuseion; sketch photo credit: @nagerna

Syphilis is caused by Treponema pallidum pallidum, which is a spiral-shaped, mobile bacterium. The infection is sexually transmitted (STI) and has several stages. This infection is sometimes fatal if left untreated and the bacterium can also be transmitted from pregnant women to their unborn children. While not all those with the bacteria will show symptoms (latent syphilis), usually within the first months of exposure, infected individuals will begin to experience skin lesions and rashes.

Syphilis_1_mono
Photo Credit: original courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

If left unchecked, the infection will spread throughout the body and sometimes cause massive sores, which may eat away the cranial bones. It is commonly speculated that during the 1500’s, endemic syphilis contributed to the rise in popularity of the powdered wig. Useful for controlling lice populations, powdered wigs were also used to cover up the hair-loss and unsightly sores experienced by those suffering from late stage syphilis.

Leprosy

Leprosy, which is Greek for ‘scaly skin’, has been recognized by humans for thousands of years, but its cause was poorly understood. An infection of Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis causes the condition known as Leprosy (a.k.a. Hansen’s Disease). These bacteria destroy nerves throughout the body, causing infected persons to slowly lose their ability to feel pain. Early symptoms include pale or red rashes on skin, hair loss and numbness. As the disease progresses, secondary infections usually lead to disfigurement of the hands, feet and face.

Leprosy_hands&feet_mono
Photo credit: original courtesy of The British Academy; sketch photo credit: Professor Eileen Murphy, Queen’s University Belfast

The transmission of leprosy is still not fully understood, but is generally believe to be passed via the respiratory tract, not via skin contact, which was commonly believed prior to the modern era. Leprosy is usually contracted by close contact with an infected individual, or as the result of living in poverty in tropical climates where the bacteria is naturally prevalent. It is also possible for the bacteria to pass from animals to humans and vice versa, and the leprosy-causing agent has been found in both red squirrels and armadillos.

Most people that are in contact with the bacteria do not contract leprosy, and mothers cannot pass the bacteria to unborn children. However, there is a long history of social stigma attached to leprosy, and in some areas, afflicted individuals are still forced to reside in ‘leper colonies’. The word leper’ is now considered a derogatory term.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a primarily a pulmonary disease caused by an infection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. Like leprosy, TB has been around since ancient times, and was referred to as ‘phthisis’ in ancient Greece and ‘consumption’ in English speaking areas throughout history. While TB is primarily an infection of the lungs, it can spread to other regions to the body and can cause identifiable damage to the bones of afflicted individuals.

Spinal TB_mono
Photo credit: original courtesy of Hungarian Natural History Museum. Creator: Hajdu, Tamás and Évinger, Sándor. Contributor: Szőke, Béla Miklós and Évinger, Sándor

TB is thought to have originally been transmitted to humans from bovines (cows), and can be passed to humans from close contact with the animals, or consuming meat and unpasteurized milk products. One of the oldest known instance of tuberculosis is from a 17,000 year old bison skeleton. However, TB can also be transmitted from humans to cattle, so it is unclear whether the bacteria is originated in bovids or humans. In humans, the bacteria is transmitted via pulmonary aerosols similar to COVID-19. Also similar to COVID-19, TB is an opportunistic infection and is usually more severe in people with compromised immune systems. Approximately 90% of infected people will experience no symptoms, but if symptoms do develop, 50% of afflicted individuals will die without proper treatment.

A vaccine for TB does exist. However, once symptoms arise, a lengthy treatment using multiple antibiotics is the only cure. Recently there has also been an increase in drug resistant strains of the bacteria, which are much more difficult to treat. Today, TB remains to be one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world. It is estimated that roughly 1/4 of the world’s human population is infected by the bacteria, and that it causes approximately 1.5 million deaths annually.

Historical Diseases are not History

The long history of these diseases is visible in the archaeological record, yet these afflictions themselves are not history. We may think of leprosy as a medieval, or ancient syndrome, but the truth is that people still suffer from this horrendous diseases. Even though these conditions are treatable, the antibiotics needed are expensive and many people simply do not have access to them. Donate to reputable charities such as, Doctor’s Without Borders, if you wish to help fight these terrible infections.

Sourcing with pXRF (portable X-Ray Fluorescence)

“Sourcing” is the study of associating artifacts with their geologic origin in order to infer human transport of materials. This field of research has revealed networks of trade and exchange among indigenous peoples in pre-contact times. But how do researchers figure out the actual source?

One method is with Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) analysis. These instruments are used by geologists, archaeologists, and other specialists to gather chemical data of materials in a non-destructive manner. When the results are compared to known sample locations, archaeologists can infer how far the material an artifact was made from has traveled from its geological source. Take obsidian, for example. Obsidian has been found at archaeological sites thousands of kilometers from any volcano. Since there are several volcanoes in North America, identifying which artifact comes from which source affects the interpretation of trade networks.

2 - Copy
A pXRF analyzer

The analyzers themselves are a very intricate piece of technology that use radiation to gather chemical data of samples. The two main components are the X-Ray tube and the detector. Radiation is emitted down the X-Ray tube towards the sample object and interacts with its surface atoms. This interaction consists of radiation knocking an electron from the atom out of place, creating a vacancy in the electron cloud. This vacancy is filled by other electrons in the atom. The electrons shed energy in the form of X-Rays as they fill that vacancy, which is emitted out and collected by the detector.

The spacing between the orbital shells of electrons in the atom is unique to that element. An atom of potassium for instance, has different spacing between the electron shells than gold or iron. So, when an electron fills the vacancy and emits X-Rays, the emitted X-Rays are equivalent to the distance that is unique to that element. The detector collects these x-rays which are diagnostic of the elements present in the sample. Internal software then calibrates the readings into proportions of all elements in the sample.

How XRF works
Simplified diagram of an XRF. Left, an X-Ray tube emits radiation onto a sample, which interacts with the surface. The emitted X-Ray data is collected by a detector. Right, The radiation ejects an inner electron from the atom. This vacancy is filled by a 2nd (a) or 3rd (b) layer electron. This movement of the electrons emits X-Rays.

pXRF analyzers are useful tools for archaeologists since we study culturally significant objects, and do not want to alter or destroy the artifacts we wish to analyze. They are also relatively easy to use. Although users require a certification, they are safe when operated correctly, and the data can be downloaded and interpreted quickly.

A recent study of 750 obsidian artifacts has showed that indigenous trading networks spanned thousands of kilometers. Archaeological sites in Alberta contain obsidian which originated from north, central, and coastal British Columbia, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon, spanning a trade network almost 2,000 km across.

Harriet Boyd Hawes

To celebrate International Women’s Week, I present Harriet Boyd Hawes (1871 to 1945), a pioneer in the field of classical Greek archaeology. Her anthropological approach to fieldwork and the understanding of past lives were well ahead of the times and helped the discipline move away from arm-chair studies focused on high status artifacts and museum exhibits. You can read more about her in Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure, by Amanda Adams. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning more about early women archaeologists and their contributions to the field.

Harriet Boyd Hawes was born Harriet Ann Boyd in Boston, Massachusetts on October 11, 1871. She was raised by her father and brothers, since her mother died when she was a child. Her brother Alex, was instrumental to her career in archaeology, encouraging her to explore Classical studies. In 1892, she received her B.A. in the study of Classics from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

3623579250fe7a50294918f35fb2f3fc--archaeology
Harriet taking notes (Notorious Women Podcast)

Early in her career, Hawes was drawn to Greece and furthered her education at the American School in Athens. She found it quite difficult to break into the male-dominated field and was excluded from the prestigious excavations around Athens, since digging in the dirt was not a woman’s place. Frustrated by this, she decided to move her academic pursuits to the island of Crete. This was not an easy task, as at this time Crete was war-torn and considered quite hostile. Despite this, Harriet Boyd Hawes, discovered and excavated many sites, and was the first woman ever to direct a major field project in Greece. She was also the first woman to ever speak before the Archaeological Institute of America, where she reported findings from her discovery and excavation of the Minoan (Bronze Age) town at Gournia, Crete.

http://metamedia.stanford.edu/imagebin/minoan%20crete%20map.JPG
Map of Minoan Crete (Wikapedia)

Eventually Harriet began teaching Archaeology, epigraphy, and modern Greek at Smith College, while working on, and receiving, her M.A. She also taught at Wellesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harriet married Charles Henry Hawes, an English archaeologist in 1906, and had two children together. And although studying the people of the past was her passion, she did not neglect those of the present. Several times throughout her life, Harriet put aside her archaeological endeavours and worked as a war nurse. She treated sick and injured soldiers during the Greco-Turkish War, the Spanish-American War and World War I. Later the couple moved to Washington D.C. where she continued teaching and eventually died at age 73 on March 31, 1945.

Hawes differed from many of her contemporaries in that she was more interested in the daily lives of the people she studied, rather than the gold, jewels and palaces of the higher classes. Her publications and discussions concerning her work are technical, and not filled with romance and stories like those of many of her contemporaries. She was well published and received an honorary doctorate from Smith College in 1910. Harriet not only made major contributions to archaeology study, but she also broke down the barriers of her male-dominated field and paved the path for future generations of women in academia. She was truly a pioneer of modern archaeological investigations.

Gear Guide – Knives

If you take a survival coarse, read outdoor living manuals like Northern Bush-craft, or talk to people who spend a great deal of time in the wilderness, one of the first items they suggest always having is a good knife. A good bush knife can be the difference between life and death in a survival scenario, much like a means of water purification and starting a fire (multiple BIC lighters is king!). When surveying the Boreal forest most of what we find are the remnants of First Nations Peoples making cutting implements out of stone. Unless you are an expert flint knapper, I would not recommend making stone tools in a survival situation and instead just follow the experts advice. However, with so many different types of knives on the market today, choosing which knife is best for you may be very daunting. So I asked the archaeological staff at Tree Time Services Inc. what type of knife they carry, why they carry that knife, and what they like/dislike about it? With this information, and my own personal experience, I wrote this guide on knives to share with our followers. Keep in mind, that not all clients allow knives on projects, so occasionally we have to leave them at home.

Folding Knives

Although I would not a consider a folding knife (a.k.a. pocket knife) the best choice for bush-craft, they do have certain qualities that make them quite useful when compared to other options. They key aspect that make folding knives a decent option is right in the name: they fold. Folding knives are the best type of knife for every day carry (EDC) because they are portable, usually lightweight, pack-able and easy to deploy like a Spyderco Paramilitary II. I would not buy a heavy or bulky folding knife. I want to put the knife in my pocket or pack and forget that it is there until I need it. I also would not buy a folding knife that cannot be operated with only one hand. Folding knife technology has advanced enough that knives that require two hands to open (or close) are now obsolete, but some people just fancy the more traditional style and aesthetic of a Buck 55 or Opinal #8. However, when buying any knife, especially folding knives, it is important to buy one that has a comfortable handle. While they may be aesthetically pleasing, many folding knives are very uncomfortable to hold and will cause hotspots and blisters during extended use.

The major downside to folding knives is that the fold is an inherent weak spot, which makes them far less durable than fixed blades, although perfectly adequate for small cutting tasks. Many people would choose lightweight and easy to carry over heavy and bulky. When doing archaeological survey, we have multiple means of communication (cellphone, radio, and In-Reach), and it is extremely unlikely that we would spend any longer than 24 hours stuck in the bush. Both Reid and Elenore think a pocket knife is perfectly adequate for what we do and don’t bother carrying a fixed blade knife. In my 10+ years of forest life, I have never been in a true survival situation, but I carry a fixed blade knife nonetheless, because I want to have it if I need it and I find it useful for tasks unsuited for a folding knife.

Fixed Blade Knives

When choosing a fixed blade over a folding knife, you need to decide whether you want portability or durability. Fixed-blade knives don’t fold, and therefore they need to be carried in a sheath on your belt or attached to a pack. While both types of knives are very proficient at cutting things (provided the edge is well maintained), fixed blade knives are much more versatile. They are universal tools that can be used for many things that would break a less durable folding knife. Digging holes, chopping down trees and cutting firewood, can all be done with a good fixed-blade knife, but would quickly destroy a folding knife. However, keep in mind that not all fixed blade knives are created equal, and a good bush-craft knife should have a full tang (the metal of the blade extends all the way to the base of the handle). This makes the knife substantially stronger than a knife that only has partial tang, or no tang at all, like those “Rambo”-style knives that have a hollow handle. Sure it may seem nice to be able to store matches and snare wire inside your knife, but that hollow-handle knife will break long before a full-tang knife will.

Before choosing which fixed-blade knife to buy, you need to decide what you will be using the knife for, and how much weight are you willing to carry? For instance, Tim carries a Gerber Vertebrae, which is small 3 inch, lightweight blade. In contrast, I carry a Ka-Bar, which is not small (7 inch blade) or lightweight, but I can use it as a small machete to clear helipads, cut roots out of test pits, and baton it through firewood with ease. However, when it comes to fine jobs requiring manual dexterity, the Gerber Vertebrae shines, while the Ka-Bar is just too big for precision cuts. Jay carries an older Gerber knife similar to the Gerber LMF-2 Infantry, which is probably a happy medium between what Tim and I carry. With a 5 inch blade, Jay’s knife is still light enough to be dexterous, while still being large enough to chop and baton.

Morakniv Companion

Vince carries the now discontinued Gerber Guardian, which is a double edged knife that is extremely cool, but not the most useful for anything other than Tactical Forest Operations. Vince admits that while two edges do not dull out as fast as one, his knife cannot baton through wood and is somewhat awkward to use since you can’t put your thumb on the spine while whittling. If price is a concern, but you still would like a good fixed-blade knife then look no further than the Morakniv Companion. These knives are very durable and come highly recommended by many outdoor and survival enthusiasts. Not to mention that you could buy 10 of them for the price I paid for my Spyderco Paramilitary II! Brittany lost her Morakniv Light My Fire this year and doesn’t seem to feel too bad about it.

Multi-tools

The usefulness of multi-tools is undeniable and most of the archaeologists at Tree Time carry one into the bush. Swiss Army knives are great, but Leatherman’s addition of pliers to the “boy scout knife” in the 1980’s changed the multi-tool forever. Since then the multi-tool market has exploded and many different variations with different types of tools are produced by many different manufactures. When buying a multi-tool it is important to keep in mind that when carrying gear through the forest all day “ounces become pounds”. Like other knives, you need to balance weight with usefulness. Ask yourself “do I really need that tiny pair of scissors when I am already carrying a multi-tool with two knife blades and a fixed-blade on my belt?”. Do this for every tool, and soon you will realize that a lightweight multi-tool with 10 functions is likely better. Sure it may seem like a good idea to get the Leatherman Surge with 21 different tools, but it also weighs in at a whopping 12.5 ounces, which is nearly a pound. Luckily many multi-tool manufactures have realized that weight is a concern for many people and have designed tools, such as the Leatherman Signal, with backpacking in mind.

Personally, I would refrain from getting a micro multi-tool like the Gerber Dime or Leatherman Micra. While these are extremely lightweight, I’ve always found that the pliers just don’t generate enough force and the knives just aren’t big enough. If force generation is a must, SOG recently designed the “Power-” line of multi-tools that have a mechanism the doubles the force applied to the pliers. Another important thing to consider when buying a multi-tool is whether you can access the tools with the pliers in the closed position and whether it can be operated one-handed. Like knives, not all multi-tools are created equal and it is important to do a bit of research before you buy a product to ensure you made the right choice.

Digging Knives

While I like to carry a knife that I can use for digging if need be, Kurt likes to carry a knife that was especially designed for the task. When conducting archaeological survey, Kurt carries a folding knife, a multi-tool and a Hori Hori Knife. The Hori Hori knife is a Japanese knife that is part trowel, part knife and is traditionally used for gardening. The dished shaped knife features a serrated blade on one side and a straight blade on the other, although Kurt wishes these were reversed so that the straight blade faced down when held in the right hand. The Hori Hori knife is large enough to be used as a small machete, and is very useful for cutting sod, removing roots from test pits and troweling through tree throws. According to Kurt, the major downfall of the Hori Hori knife is that it does not have a full tang, and the blade becomes loose with heavy use. Since the handle is riveted, there is no way to tighten the handle once it slacks off. Kurt says he may replace the rivets with screws so that he can periodically tighten it up.

In the past, Kurt has also carried a Lesche knife, which is another knife designed primarily for digging and loved by the metal detector community. Although Kurt was fond of this knife, he says that he gave it up for the Hori Hori, due to the offset handle making it awkward to carry. Like trying to carry a trowel on your belt, the offset handle sticks out from your body and gets caught on branches and trees while navigating dense forests. However, he was very fond of the sheath and it fit his Hori Hori knife perfectly.

Folding Saw

I will mention one other tool that is extremely useful and hard to do without. Folding saws are an excellent tool that are a necessity for anyone doing archaeology in the Boreal forest. There have been countless times where a tree or large branch is totally blocking a cutline that we need to quad down to access our work area. Instead of walking for an extra 3 km, we simple deploy a folding saw and cut the tree out of the way. If I know there will be lots of deadfall, I bring a chainsaw, but sometimes one small tree can mean the difference between a 200 m or a 2000 m hike if you can’t get your quad around it.

The two main types of folding saws we use are the “folding” type and the “collapsible” type. Both of these saws work, but a folding saws is more portable and easy to deploy, whereas a collapsible saw is better at actual cutting. Madeline uses her Kershaw folding saw so much she actually keeps it in her vest. She uses it to clear trails and get those pesky roots out of her test pits. Last year Tree Time bought 4 of the collapsible Agawa Boreal 21 Saws for people to take with them on the quads. We found that these saws were extremely useful, and cut through fairly large trees with ease.

Closing Remarks

When purchasing knives, multi-tools or saws for work, or pleasure, remember to ask yourself “do I actually need this?”, and better yet “do I really want to carry this around all day?”. This is what you have to remember when buying a folding-knife versus a fixed-blade knife, a 7 inch blade versus a 4 inch blade, a 21 function versus 12 function multi-tool or a folding versus collapsible saw. Weight adds up very fast when you have to carry it around for 12 hrs a day, every day, so it is these small choices that make all the difference. You cannot leave your food, water, GPS or first aid kit at home, but you can choose a multi-tool that is 5 ounces lighter, or a knife that fits in your pocket. However, always remember that outdoor living is always a trade off, and conscious well thought out decisions should always guide you when choosing your kit.