“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.

Where does the Obsidian we find come from?

Obsidian is a volcanic glass that was used by pre-European contact people all over North America. Known for its natural sharpness, ancient peoples sought the material for making tools for cutting and slicing. Additionally, it is easier to flintknap than the harder and more readily available materials local to Alberta.

As many of our readers know, there are no volcanoes in Alberta, so the obsidian is getting here either by trade or by the movement of people. Luckily for archaeologists, each source of obsidian in North America has a unique chemical signature, allowing us to trace where the material is coming from.

Finding obsidian in Alberta is rare, but over the past few years we have recovered three pieces (Figures 1-3) while working for Sundre Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser Pembina Timberlands Ltd. in the foothills region of the province. These artifacts were lent to Todd Kristensen at Alberta Culture and Tourism as part of the ongoing Alberta Obsidian Project. The artifacts we found were analysed using a technique called portable X-ray fluorescence.

FbPx-10_2
FbPx-10

FaPr-6_14
FaPr-6

FePr-4_7_ventral_dorsal---
FePr-4

The results show that two of the flakes (FbPX-10 and FaPr-6) track well with Yellowstone and one flakes tracks to Bear Gulch which is just outside of Yellowstone to the west. The source within Yellowstone is unknown, but it is assumed that it is the Cougar Creek source, which is the most wide used source.

FbPx-10_FaPr-6_FePr-4
Obsidian Sourcing Results

When we input the distance from FbPx-10 to Yellowstone National Park, we can see this artifact traveled 1,136 km and would take 231 hours to travel that distance by foot. Similarly, FaPr-6 was 1,033 km from Yellowstone National Park and FePr-4 was 979 km from Bear Gulch. This reinforces how valuable this material was for the First Nations of Alberta.

Distance
Distance between Yellowstone Park and FbPx-10

 

Top Ten Sites of 2018!

Now that all the reporting is done, we thought it was a good time to look back on some of the exciting sites we worked on from the past year. We find over 100 sites every year but these sites stand out either because we found interesting artifacts or the site is unique. It doesn’t matter how many points an archaeologist has found throughout their career, they will still get really excited when they pull a projectile point out of the their screen! In fact, compiling this list got me really excited to get out of the office and back into the field where an archaeologist belongs.

FbPv-29: Found while assessing a proposed cutblock for Sundre Forest Products near Fall Creek. The site is located on a small knoll overlooking a tributary stream. In our final test at the site we identified a feature in the corner of the test (Figure 2). This hearth/cooking feature has fire-cracked rock, several pieces of calcined bone (Figure 1), and discoloration of sediments. We sent a sample of the calcined bone recovered for carbon dating and received dates of: 2770-2750 Cal BP (820-800 BC) and 2845-2787 Cal BP (895-837 BC). That is one old camp fire!

IMG_1041
Figure 1: Corner of positive test with feature

FbPv-29_6 to 18
Figure 2: Calcined recovered at FbPv-29

FcPf-26: Found while assessing a new phase for the Paradise Shores RV Resort on Buffalo Lake (Figure 4). The site is located on a small rise overlooking the lake to the north (Figure 3). While the site is small, we identified the tip of projectile point (Figure 6, Figure 5) and a variety of lithic materials including petrified wood. A number of different stone materials is a good indication that the area was used more than once to create a tool. When see the views from the Paradise Shores RV Resort, you can definitely see why a hunter would want to hang out here!

IMG_1576
Figure 4: View of Buffalo Lake from south shore

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Figure 3: View along the Buffalo Lake margin

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Figure 5: Kristen holding the point tip

FcPf-26-6 Figure
Figure 6: Projectile point tip

FcPs-14: Found while assessing a gravel pit for Pidherney’s along the North Saskatchewan River valley margin. The site is interesting for the layers of history represented at the site including a precontact First Nations campsite (Figure 8) and an early 20th century dwelling. The dwelling is identified by the presence of depression, ceramic, metal, and glass artifacts. One piece of the glass has a purple tint which tells us the site probably dates to Pre-WWI. (Figure 7).

glass_purple

Figure 7: Purple glass found at FcPs-14

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Figure 8: Sample of lithic artifacts recovered at FcPs-14

FcPt-15:

Found in the South Horburg region of the Sundre Forest Products FMA, the site is interesting for the recovery of two large tools and the large extent of the site (200 m). The tools were a quartzite cobble spall with a unifacial retouched edge and a large quartzite biface. In addition to the tools we found a variety of different lithic materials which suggests this was an area that was revisited year after year.

FcPt-15_11
Figure 9: Biface recovered at FcPt-15

FcPt-15_13

Figure 10: Unifacially retouched cobble spall

FdPv-8:

Identified on the relict valley of the Baptiste River for Sundre Forest Products. Eric found the base of a large tool, likely a knife or spear point (Figure 11). He was pretty excited to find it as we can see in the photo below (Figure 12)!

FdPv-8_16
Figure 11: Tool base recovered from FdPv-8

IMG_1118
Figure 12: Eric holding the tool base

FeQa-5:

FeQa-5 was found overlooking a tributary to the Brazeau River for Weyerhaeuser Pembina Timberlands. The site is extensive with beautiful views of the valley margin below. While testing the site out we found a variety of lithic materials including possible Knife River Flint.

IMG_0788
Figure 13: View south from the site to the valley below

FeQa-5_5 to 8 ventral
Figure 14: Possible Knife River Flint recovered from FeQa-5

FkQa-10:

A very interesting site identified for Weyerhaeuser Pembina Timberlands near Edson, AB. The site was initially identified when we found an old corner of a cabin (Figure 15) on the crest of a small knoll. The knoll was quite prominent compared to the surrounding terrain and close to a lake, so we thought it had pretty high potential for a pre-contact component as well. A test near the cabin corner identified fire cracked rock, two hammerstones, and several pieces of lithic debitage (Figure 17, Figure 16)Sites like this either show that people at different times used the same landforms, or they may be evidence of continuous use by Indigenous people from pre-contact times through the fur trade. It would take more work to figure out which.

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Figure 15: Cabin corner found at FkQa-10

FkQa-10_1 top_side view

Figure 17: One of the hammerstones recovered

 

FkQa-10_5-7; 10-11; 14-16
Figure 16: A sample of the quartzite debitage recovered

GgPm-7:

Found while assessing a cutblock for Vanderwell Contractors Ltd. Along the Athabasca River (Figure 19). This precontact campsite is huge (800 m) with great views of the River to the east. The site was found in a post-impact context (Figure 20). While it is normally required to obtain HRA approval prior to harvest, this block was assessed post-impact because a recent blowdown event made the block hazardous. The risks to the site are balanced by better visibility and artifact recoveries. We found lots of different materials, fire-cracked rock, a biface, two cores, and one Besant projectile point (Figure 18)!

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Figure 18: Besant Projectile Point recovered

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Figure 19: View toward the Athabasca River

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Figure 20: Flake found in the exposed sediments

 

Pinto Creek Plateau:

Rather than a single site, this entry is for a group of sites on the Pinto Creek Plateau found for Sundre Forest Products this year. We found several sites on a variety of landforms ranging from low hilltops overlooking beautiful alpine meadows (FbPx-10, Figure 22) to high steep cliffs overlooking alpine stream valleys (FbPw-17, Figure 21). The coolest artifacts include a piece of obsidian (Figure 23) and a beautiful chert end scraper (Figure 24). The obsidian was sourced and the chemical signature matches the obsidian source in Yellowstone. The scraper narrow at the proximal end, indicating the use of a hafting element. Stay tuned for articles about the scraper and the obsidian sourcing!

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Figure 22: View north of a meadow from FbPx-10 and the location of the obsidian artifact

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Figure 21: View from FbPw-17 and a deeply incised river valley

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Figure 23: Obsidian flake recovered from FbPx-10

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Figure 24: End Scraper recovered from FbPw-17

FcPt-16 and FcPu-27:

Found on the old valley margin of the North Saskatchewan River for Strachan Forest Products. These two sites are separated by a steeply incised stream channel, located back from the current valley. At FcPt-16 over 70 artifacts were recovered from one 40 x 40 cm hole! Additionally we found a very unique spokeshave. Spokeshaves are usually made by retouching a flake, but this one was chipped and ground out of a smooth tabular rock (Figure 26). At FcPu-27 we found a large site with a variety of lithic materials, including one piece of salt-and pepper quartzite. Most interesting is a large Siltstone preform that we found (Figure 25).

FcPu-27-23
Figure 25: Siltstone preform recovered at FcPu-27

FcPt-16-73


Figure 26: Spokeshave recovered from FcPt-16

 

Birgitta Wallace

In honour of International Women’s day we will explore the life and studies of Birgitta Wallace. She is a Swedish-Canadian female archaeologist and expert on Norse archaeology in North America.

Born in 1944, Birgitta Wallace studied and received her degree in her home country, Sweden. She studied at Uppsala University and underwent field training in Sweden and Norway. In 1975, after receiving her masters degree in Pittsburg, Wallace moved to Canada and started her work with Parks Canada. She would continue to work with Parks Canada until retirement and she is best known for her work on the archaeological site L’anse aux Meadows.

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Figure 1: Recreated Sod House at L’anse aux Meadows (Wikimedia Commons)

 

While it was long accepted that Christopher Columbus was the first non-aboriginal to set foot in the Americas, the Viking settlement of L’anse aux Meadows predates the landing of Christopher Columbus in North America by almost 500 years (dated around the year 1000 CE). L’anse aux Meadows was established as a Norse site due to definitive similarities between it and settlement structures found in Iceland and Greenland. While there are other suspected Norse sites in the New World, it si currently the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America south of Greenland. The area that the Vikings settled along the Atlantic coast is referred to as “Vinland” in Norse lore by explorer Leif Erikson. The exact locations and reach of Norse settlement remains a mystery. In particular, the location of a lost settlement referenced in Erik the Red’s saga continues to elude researchers. The story of this settlement, referred to as Hop, captured Wallace’s attention and, even after her retirement, she continues to theorize about Hop.

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Figure 2: Birgitta Wallace in Greenland (National Post)

In 2018, Wallace claimed only a particular area of New Brunswick can accommodate all the criteria found in the saga writings. Wallace theorized that due to the “(abundant) lumber, masses of salmon, halibut, and grapes” referenced in Erik the Red’s Saga, New Brunswick is the most likely candidate for the location of Hop. Other areas theorized as possible locations – New York, Maine, New England – lack one or more of these resources. Perhaps her most compelling argument, was that she identified a species of plant at the site of L’anse aux Meadows which is exclusively native to New Brunswick.

While we may never know the true locations of Vinland or Hop, rest assured Birgitta Wallace will continue to search for us. Her story is one of a career archaeologist who continues to stoke the fires of our curiosity well after retirement. If you would like to know more about the adventures of Women in Archaeology you can read “Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and their search for Adventure.

If you share Wallace’s insatiable interest in Vikings, you can read her many works on the topic and make sure to visit the Vikings exhibit at the new Royal Alberta Museum in April.

Ground Penetrating Radar

Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) is the process of sending radiowaves through the ground. As these radiowaves pass through the ground, any change in the subsurface materials will cause some energy to be reflected back to towards the surface while the remaining energy continues deeper. This information is recorded by a receiver which records the time it takes the wave to travel from the source, reflect off the buried object or disturbance, and travel back to the surface. The receiver converts this signal into a depth for the disturbance or object under the ground.

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Figure 1: Brian Leslie walking a transect with the GPR

The ability to map and record information below the earth’s surface without excavating is a valuable tool to an archaeologist. The excavation of archaeological sites is a destructive process, so having a non-invasive way to analyze and interpret sites is sometimes necessary. This is particularly important when dealing with sensitive cultural remains and unmarked graves.

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Figure 2: Corey Cookson and Liam Wadsworth surveying for unmarked graves

As part of an Archaeological Society of Alberta project, Tree Time Services Archaeologists, Corey Cookson and Brian Leslie, and University of Alberta Graduate Student, Liam Wadsworth, completed a GPR scan of an area identified by a local community as having possible unmarked graves. The team spent the afternoon surveying a grid to identify possible grave-shaped anomalies. The data was analyzed and the GPR scans revealed several clear grave-shaped anomalies 1.5 m beneath the surface. Some of the grave-shafts were narrow and may have contained a single individual (Figure 3, #1), while others were wider and may represent a burial pit with multiple individuals (Figure 3 #2, at least 5 m wide). This larger internment may have been the result of mass burial. It was speculated that these graves were dug around the time of the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic.

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Figure 3: Radargram with pit-shaped anomalies

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Figure 4: Same Radar gram with interpretation of pit-shaped anomalies

Purple Glass = Pre World War I

When we find post-European contact sites in Alberta we find a variety of historic resources including: cabins, ceramics, metal, and glass. The style of each of these can be a good indication of age and, in particular, glass has several features we look for. This includes molds, pontil marks (Figure 2), lip forms (Figure 1), and colour.

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Figure 1: Bottle lips crudely applied by hand prior to 1880s when lipping tools invented (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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Figure 2: Pontil mark on the bottom of glass bottle on all bottles dated before 1860 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This year, while assessing a gravel pit along the North Saskatchewan River, we found a multi-component site (FcPs-14) with both a pre-European contact First Nations campsite and a post-European contact dwelling. In addition to the typical lithic debitage, we found a cabin depression, ceramics (Figure 3), metal (Figure 4), and glass artifacts. One shard of glass caught my eye because of the purple tint to the glass (Figure 5).

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Figure 3: Ceramic recovered from FcPs-14

M1182_modifiedFigure 4: Nail recovered from FcPs-14

 

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Figure 5: Purple glass recovered from FcPs-14

From 1885 to 1914, manganese dioxide was used as a clearing agent by glass makers to make sure the glass remained clear. However, when exposed to the sun over time, the manganese dioxide in the glass will cause the glass to turn a purple tint. The main source of this clearing agent was Germany. This supply was cut off with the outbreak of World War I. After World War I, selenium became the preferred clearing agent. When exposed to the sun’s rays, selenium will turn glass yellow.

By recovering this piece of glass, we can make a reasonable interpretation that this component of the site dates to before, or shortly after, 1914. Even a seemingly commonplace artifact like a shard of glass can tell us a lot about a site.

Rat’s Nest Cave – Pictographs

Last year I visited a very interesting site located near Canmore, AB. The Rat’s Nest Cave is accessible through the touring company, Canmore Cave Tours, and can be visited all year round. With the help of my guide, Brent, I rappelled 18 m into the cave and squeezed through many tight water carved gaps and tunnels. Eventually you reach “the grotto” where you can hang out by a crystal clear pool and several beautiful stalagmites and stalactites.

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Left: Repelling into the cave.  Right: One of the many squeezes you will experience!

Also in the cave are many animal bones dating to approximately 7000 years ago and, although I didn’t see any while on the tour, several stone tools dating to 3000 years ago. One of the most fascinating aspects of the cave are the pictographs located at the entrance of the cave. Inside the cave, are several small rock paintings that indicate the cave was of cultural significance for the First Nations people possibly for thousands of years. My guide also informed me that there are several pictographs on the outside of the cave above the entrance but due to years of weathering they are not visible to the naked eye.

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Assemblage of animal bones found in the cave

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One of the rock art images inside the entrance to the cave

Luckily, recent advances in technology allow us to digitally enhance rock art paintings. A process called Decorrelation Stretch or simply D-Stretch is currently being used by archaeologists and rock art researchers to enhance even the faintest of pictographs. The process works by increasing differences in hue and stretching the contrast for each colour variance. When D-stretch is used to enhance the image of the entrance of the Rat’s Nest Cave, a series of handprints can be seen going up the wall.

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Left: Normal image of the wall above entrance.  Right: D-Stretch image of wall above entrance

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One of the handprints isolated (Photo Credit: Jack Brink)

Continuity – Buffalo and Sucker Lake Region

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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Reid documenting an area near the prayer tree

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.