What a Sweet Spot!

Photo by Uriel Mont on Pexels.com

Have you ever been outside enjoying nature and thought to yourself – this sure is a sweet spot! Whether you are camping, fishing, hunting, or just enjoying the outdoors, there are certain aspects of our favorite spots that make them ideal and cherished. Nice sheltered level ground near the river – great for camping and fishing. Elevated location with a 270° degree view overlooking a muskeg – great for moose hunting. It just so happens that many of the things we look for in the perfect camping or hunting spot, are also the characteristics that First Nations people were looking for throughout the many millennia that they inhabited North America.

Archaeologists at Tree Time Services Inc. use high-resolution imagery, 3D and predictive modelling , as well as keen eye, when screening development footprints for our clients. However much of what we do boils down to simply trying to find good camping and resource procurement areas within the footprint. When our survey crews walk up to a targeted landform and see an ideal camp site or vantage point, usually someone will confidently declare that this is a site, or comment that ‘this is a sweet spot!’ – more often than not, they’re right!

High resolution LIDAR and 3D models of landscape aid in archaeological site detection.

In 2016, Kurt and I were doing some work for Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries in an area near Anzac that was affected by the Ft. McMurray wildfire. During screening, Corey had targeted a small knoll along a continuous bench with low-lying, marshy terrain to the south. Upon arriving at this location, both Kurt and I took note of the panoramic view that this little knoll offered, and it just so happens that someone else had as well. A permanent hunting stand had been erected on the knoll. Although it looked slightly aged, it was still strong and sturdy.

After only a couple quick shovel tests, Kurt found a single chert flake and we were able to designate the knoll as a new archaeological site. We then delineated the site (determined how big it is), but after many more tests, we had failed to recover another artifact. Somewhat disheartened that this site would only be recorded as a small, isolated find, Kurt started flagging the buffer and suggested that I continue digging some evaluative shovel tests. Digging these extra shovel tests may recover more artifacts, and add to our gathered information. I dug a couple more tests close to where Kurt found the flake with no luck.

Modern tree stand behind a positive test pit.

Kurt however, sometimes likes to test low-lying areas at sites, especially if they are sheltered from the wind. So on his recommendation, I put my last test in the low ground at the back of the bench. We generally focus on high, dry ground, so a low spot such as this is usually assumed to be less likely to have artifacts. After shaking through some dirt, I looked down, and to my surprise there was a projectile point in my screen! If it wasn’t for Kurt’s decision to begin site evaluation, the site would have remained a rather insignificant isolated find. In this case, a small amount of site evaluation allowed us to not only dramatically increase the site’s significance, but also gain more information concerning the site’s age and the activities that had occurred there.

Projectile point found in shovel test in low spot!

The small siltstone point we recovered, is likely an atlatl dart point and is very similar to Besant-type points (2500 – 1350 years old) found on the northern plains. It is also bears similarities to points belonging to the Late Taltheilei (1300 – 200 years old) tool tradition used by caribou hunters in the Northwest Territories. More archaeological research conducted in the boreal regions of Alberta may provide us a clearer picture of the movements of people in the past, but as of now our knowledge of past cultural interactions is somewhat limited. Artifacts from sites such as this, increase our understanding of past lifeways and provide data for future research.

Besant atlatl point (2,500-1,350 years before present)

It is interesting to note that the tip of the dart point is missing. The tip of the point may have been accidentally broken off during its production or re-sharpening, but it could have also been broken during use. Point tips regularly break off when they hit something hard in flight, such as bone, a tree or a rock. This point missing its tip is an interesting example of the continued use of a landscape for a specific purpose.

This knoll, which is currently someone’s hunting spot, was also used for hunting over a thousand years ago. Alberta alone has over 40,000 registered archaeological sites, and this number grows every year. There is a good chance that ‘sweet spot’, which you use for camping, hunting or fishing, has been used repeatedly throughout the past and will be continued to be enjoyed by future generations. Next time you are out and about, take a minute to think about how we share the land with past peoples and how our landscape shapes the human experience. If you happen to discover archaeological material at your favorite spot, be sure to inform the Government of Alberta so that it can be properly protected for future generations!

Flakes like these may reveal an archaeological site at your favorite spot!

Projectile Point

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

Atlatl

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

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Atlatl in action!

atlatl throwing
Note the size of the atlatl to the size of the throwing dart

 

Knife River Flint Dart Base

In the summer of 2013, Tree Time Services surveyed cutblocks for Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries in the Logan River area north of Lac La Biche and found an artifact protruding out of exposed sediment along a previously constructed oil and gas access road.exposure_resized - Copy

When we find artifacts in disturbed areas it is unfortunate because these artifacts have lost much of their informational value. By finding the artifact in situ – or in its original context – there is much more information that can be gathered about the site, such as an association with other artifacts or organics, which can be informative of the age of the artifact. If the artifact is a single stone chip or flake from making a tool the loss is minimal; however, in this case the artifact recovered was an atlatl dart base made from Knife River Flint.artifact

The artifact is an atlatl (or spear thrower) dart based on the width of the base (The neck widths of arrowheads tend to be a lot narrower and are typically corner or side-notched). The artifact could date to anywhere between 7,000 to 9,000 years ago based on the timeframe that atlatl technology was prominent and stylistic preference of stemmed points. The style of the projectile point is similar to the Scottsbluff style which is usually associated with spear points rather than darts. Based on this style we believe it to be dated to the early period of the spear thrower technology

The artifact is also interesting for reasons other than its age. The artifact is made of caramel-coloured rock called Knife River Flint which is found mainly in streams in North Dakota which means people were either trading for the material or travelling great distances to obtain it. For context, the location of the knife river flint quarry and the location of the artifact find were loaded into google maps:google

The story of the artifact: The stone this artifact was made from traveled over 1300 km through trade and migration. Upon arrival in Alberta the stone was crafted into an atlatl dart by an expert flintknapper. The dart was likely used several times to hunt game and was retouched or reworked to sharpen the point. Eventually the tip was broken off and the dart could not be salvaged resulting in the dart being discarded. The artifact sat where it was discarded for possibly thousands of years and was buried by sediment not to be seen again until it was exposed by a bulldozer and spotted by an archaeologist.