A giant aircraft carrier made of ice? A giant aircraft carrier made of ice.

Written by: Sara Bohuch, BA Archaeology (Simon Fraser University) , MSc Conservation Practice (Cardiff University) 

In terms of places rich with classified war time projects and military intrigue, Alberta is rarely the first spot that people think of. But history holds no bias in terms of where it takes place, and Alberta had its own part to play in the eccentric branch of the military arms race circa WW2. This was in part due to the plentiful excess of one of Canada’s most abundant and hated elements: ice. 

In 1943, the Chief of Combined Operations for the British War Office had a point to prove about ice. His name was Lord Mountbatten, and he sincerely believed that ice could be used to defeat the Nazi menace during WW2. To establish his argument, he brought two huge chunks of it into the 1943 Quebec Conference. The secret conference was host to the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and William Lyon Mackenzie King, and Mountbatten had to justify the validity of his ice-related project to the leaders and their staff.

In front of a skeptical crowd of WW2 brass, he set up two ice blocks right next to each other. The first block was pure ice, while the block next to it was a new manmade composite mixture of ice and wood pulp. He retreated to the other side of the room, removed his gun, and shot a bullet into the first ice block. It predictably shattered to pieces. Mountbatten then reloaded his gun, took aim at the second block, and fired. This time, the bullet could not penetrate the ice, instead ricocheting completely off the block, flying through the pant leg of a nearby admiral, and ending up in the wall. The new material remained remarkably intact.

Artist’s rendering of what would be Project Habbakuk. Source: cnn.com.
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Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection comes to the PAA

Written by: Kate Rozon, Private Records Archivist

Did you know the Oblates of Mary Immaculate collection covers a wide array of subjects about Alberta’s history dating back to before Alberta was even a province?

In August 2018, the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) acquired the records of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), following years of negotiations with OMI Lacombe Canada. Since their acquisition, the PAA and several volunteers have been arranging, describing and processing this extensive and historic collection of the religious missionary order. The collection consists of over 400 metres of textual records, thousands of audio records and film, more than 50,000 images and hundreds of maps and drawings.

The ultimate goal is to have the entire collection processed by 2023. At that time, we hope to see the publication of a two-volume finding aid consisting of Oblate administrative histories and a catalogue of the entire collection. This will help researchers understand and navigate this important resource.

But for now, here’s a sneak peek at some of the objects from the OMI.

Archaeology through a different lens: Thin section analysis of lithic materials

Written by: Emily Moffat, Regulatory Approvals Coordinator, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

By examining the microscopic details of a lithic material, the geological history and characteristics of the rock comes into focus, which contributes to our understanding of the archaeological record. Archaeologists use this information to understand how people made tools, how they collected or traded stones, and how they moved around past landscapes. Thin sections therefore provide a different lens through which we can view human behaviour.

Thin sections are extremely fine slices of material that are viewed under a microscope to observe details not visible to the unaided eye. Petrography is the detailed description of the composition and texture of rocks and although it started in the field of geology, it has since been applied to archaeology. Petrographic analysis of thin sections has proven to be a powerful tool in better understanding archaeological materials, such as stone tools and other lithic artifacts, by furthering our knowledge of the rock types that they were made from.

To make a thin section, a small cut of rock is adhered to a glass microscope slide and polished down to a thickness of about 0.03 mm. At this point, the sample is so thin that light can pass through it. Petrographic microscopes are specifically designed to view rock thin sections because they have light polarizers that reveal unique optical properties of minerals. By viewing the rock under these polarizers (termed plane polarized and cross polarized light), the minerals within the sample can be identified and small-scale features that give clues as to how the rock formed become visible.

Rock thin section and petrographic microscope. Source: Emily Moffat.
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