In 2009, the Archaeological Survey of Alberta discovered the Hummingbird Creek Site (FaPx-1), an archaeological site rich in stone artifacts, animal remains, and hearth features, in Alberta’s central Rockies. The site resided on a high terrace above Hummingbird Creek and the South Ram River, an ideal location for observing the valley below. Radiocarbon dates from the site’s lower levels indicated it was occupied from between 2,500 – 2,400 years ago, and upper levels dated from 1,000 – 700 years ago. This past August, Timothy Allan (MA student at the University of British Columbia), members of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, and the Red Deer Archaeological Society returned to FaPx-1 to complete excavations at the site. The team found atlatl (or throwing spear) projectile points, hide scrapers, stone tool debris (flakes), and animal bone.
Atlatls, or throwing spears, were a specialized hunting tool designed to take down large game, such as bison, moose and elk, and could be thrown from as far as 100 meters away. At FaPx-1, three atlatl projectile points were found associated with Bison remains, and one was found associated with Elk remains, all of which were found in levels dating from 2,500 to 2,400 years ago. These levels also contained hide scrapers, stone tool debris, highly processed bone, and evidence of campfires. Using comparisons to ethnographic examples, we believe that FaPx-1 represents a place that small groups of hunters camped, observed game in the wide South Ram Valley, and staged hunting expeditions.
With a view primarily to the east, the occupants of FaPx-1 would have had a commanding view of the South Ram valley. The front range of the mountains acts as a natural funnel for animals and people travelling between the Rockies and Foothills. If you were in the area, and followed streams or rivers on a natural path-of-least resistance, you would find yourself going through this same valley! Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the physical area that is visible from the site, or view-shed, can be displayed on a map (see above). The view-shed of FaPx-1 shows that this was an ideal location for observing the movements of animals and people travelling through the region.
The stone tool debris (flakes and other debitage) left behind at the site was analyzed by Timothy Allan. He found that in the lower deposits of FaPx-1, debris produced by the sharpening of finished tools far outnumbered debris of primary tool production. This indicated that the inhabitants of FaPx-1 were bringing finished tools with them to the site, as opposed to producing new ones. This paints a picture of ancient Indigenous hunters at a location with a commanding view of the landscape; and while waiting for or observing big game, they sharpened the tools they brought with them to prepare for the immediate hunt.
The animal remains identified at FaPx-1 provide evidence for what animals these hunters were after. The bones that were found were highly fragmented, burned, and potentially boiled; a common practice used by people in the past to extract as much meat and marrow from a kill as possible. Only two species of animals have been identified through the analysis of the bone, Bison and Elk. Both Bison and Elk prefer to travel in open spaces, so we believe that these animals were taken in the main valley and were processed at FaPx-1, rather than harvested directly at the site. Bighorn Sheep have been observed travelling along the high terraces in the area, even seen by the excavation crew at the site, but their remains have not yet been found at the site. Clearly, the occupants of FaPx-1 were there to ambush big game.
The research into FaPx-1 is ongoing, but the results so far have revealed exciting information into how ancient peoples lived in the Rocky Mountains.
Visit (https://albertashistoricplaces.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/albertas-ancient-darts-and-atlatl-hunting/) if you would like to learn more about precontact atlatl hunting in Alberta.
Written by: Timothy Allan, MA Student, Anthropological Archaeology, University of British Columbia.