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.

Castle Byers?

We never know what we are going to find when out walking in the woods. This summer we came across this neat modern cabin with a roof that doubles as a tree stand. The cabin overlooks a pretty stream and has nice fire pit with split log benches around it to boot.

Fire Drill

Our clients require us to carry fire fighting equipment including shovels, pulaskis, fire extinguishers and full backpack fire pumps, also commonly known as ‘piss packs’. At the end of a shift we decided to do a quick drill to make sure everyone knew how to use the fire pumps, which had the extra bonus of giving us a head start on washing the trucks.

End Scraper

This week we feature a stone tool found upstream on Fall Creek, about 55 km west of the community of Caroline, AB. We were undertaking an assessment for Sundre Forest Products and testing a flat area overlooking the creek (shown below) when Ryan found the end scraper shown above.

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A “scraper” is a type of tool that is usually unifacial, meaning the stone was worked on one of its sides (or faces) only. Compare the two sides shown in the image above and you’ll see the one shown on the left is much smoother, except for a small piece that may have been broken off when digging the shovel test. The face of the scraper that is worked typically has pieces chipped off on the side or end in order to make a thick and strong edge. This is the scraping edge that could be used to prepare hides.

Unifacial working and a thick edge are the two main criteria used when identifying an artifact as a scraper, so as you can imagine there are a lot of different styles of scrapers found at archaeological sites. Just take a look at the beautiful example Reid describes in this blog post.

Regardless of what style of scraper you’ve found, a close look at the edge of these artifacts can reveal some “use wear,” when the edges become chipped, polished or worn down through the process of scraping hides, bone, wood or other softer materials. As a result of this wear, scrapers would occasionally need to be resharpened and the tools would become smaller and smaller through the resharpening process. It’s possible this scraper was considered too small to be of any more use and so was thrown away only to be found by us, perhaps thousands of years later.

Spokeshave

This week we feature an artifact from a large site we found on the Pineneedle Creek valley margin, west of Caroline (a community between Rocky Mountain House and Sundre) and off of the Forestry Trunk Road. The site was found when we were undertaking an assessment for Sundre Forest Products. More than 100 stone artifacts were recovered from this site, most of which represent chips broken off when making stone tools. This one stands out from the rest. It’s not so obvious an artifact as some of the stone tools we’ve shown in previous blog posts, but it represents the other critical component of an arrow or a spear: the shaft.

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Figure 1: Two sides of an ancient spokeshave.

This is a “spokeshave”. This kind of tool is used even today for shaping and smoothing wooden rods for wheel spokes, chair legs, paddles, etc. You can find a spokeshave at your local hardware store, but it will look nothing like the example shown above.

An ancient spokeshave is thought to have been used to shape shafts for arrows, spears and darts. It’s recognized by the semi-circular notch on its side where you can imagine a wooden rod fitting nicely. In the picture above, the arrows are pointing to the notch on this artifact.

In many parts of Alberta, the soil is so acidic that materials like bone and wood don’t preserve so we don’t find arrow shafts. It’s pretty exciting and humbling to find an artifact that reminds us that there were once many more materials at these sites.

Big John’s Spring

A couple of the traits that serve archaeologists best are curiousity and an ability to recognize when something doesn’t belong.

For example, look at this site Brittany found in 2014 on the North Saskatchewan River when we were undertaking assessments for Sundre Forest Products. It may not look like much at first glance, but it’s an interesting historic period site.

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Figure 1. The first hint of the site was a break in the berm.

Brittany was riding her ATV along the recreational trail that follows the route of the historic Canadian Northern Western Railway line that ran between Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House. She was looking for the best place to park and begin her hike when she noticed a break in the berm that follows some parts of the rail line. It was a strange and deliberate looking design and so she stopped to investigate. Visible from the trail and through the berm was a small pool of water. Closer inspection showed the pool to be square shaped, lined with cut boards, and overflowing; the water was flowing out of the pool and down the slope away from the railway line. It must be spring fed for the water to be flowing like that.

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Figure 2. Square pool of water near the railway line.

We both walked through the surrounding area, looking for anything else that might be related to the site. We found some cans, part of a shovel and some other metal items. These things are common along the railway line. We saw that there was barbed wire fencing strung across the pool, probably to keep cattle in as this area has a history of grazing. Could this pool be a watering hole for cattle? Since the barbed wire ran right over the middle of the pool we decided that it likely wasn’t made for that reason. Perhaps it was a watering stop for the nearby railway. It may be a bit small for refilling a train (although we couldn’t safely confirm how deep it is). I think it’s more likely this water was used for human consumption.

We later found this story about the nearby town of Saunders Creek in the book Ghost Town Stories of Alberta1:

During the hungry Depression years, when there was very little work at the mine, most residents survived on garden vegetables, wild meat and fish from the North Saskatchewan River. Near his cabin, Big John discovered a way for townsfolk to keep their food and water supplies fresh… One day in 1932 while out walking, Big John discovered water seeping from a side hill. He climbed up a bit and dug a hole. As water began flowing into it, he realized he’d found a spring. He built a little shed around it to create a cooler. People stored perishable food there, and whenever the mine’s washhouse water line froze up, Big John allowed folks to help themselves to water. Over the years, it became a regular sight to see residents walking along Big John’s path from the creek, loaded up with as many buckets of water as they could carry.

Could this be the remains of Big John’s spring / cooler? We later found the remains of a cabin just 130 m down the slope from this pool (see photo below) so it certainly sounds like the same set up described in the history book.

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Figure 3. Door frame of log cabin.

Unfortunately, the location just doesn’t quite match up. Big John apparently lived close to Saunders Creek whereas this site is more than 20 km down the railway from Saunders. It could be a coincidence or an example of how good ideas spread.

To hear more about what we’ve been finding along this stretch of railway, join us on May 21st at the Sundre Museum for an Archaeology Roadshow.

1 Bachusky, Johnnie 2011. Ghost Town Stories of Alberta: Abandoned Dreams in the Shadows of the Canadian Rockies.