Pronghorn Traps on the Northern Plains of Alberta

“The antelope possesses an unconquerable inquisitiveness, of which hunters often take advantage…The hunter, getting as near the animal as is practicable, conceals himself by lying down, then fixing a handkerchief or cap upon the end of his ramrod, continues to wave it, remaining concealed. The animal, after a long contest between curiosity and fear, at length approaches near enough to become a sacrifice to the former.” (James 1905, vol. 2, pp. 227)

On two different flights over southeastern Alberta, separated by about thirty years, unusual stone features were observed on the landscape. Upon further inspection by archaeologists, it was determined that these two sites are the remnants of drive lanes and traps that were used for the communal hunting of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana, also commonly referred to as antelope).

While it is commonly known that bison were one of the greatest resources for precontact North American Indigenous groups, it is important to note that before European arrival, it is thought that there were just as many pronghorn as bison in North America. They were an important resource as well, particularly for people living in the Great Basin region of the United States, as pronghorn were one of the largest game animals available in that region. For Plains groups, bison were preferred for meat (and there is abundant archaeological evidence of this in the many bison kill sites across the Plains), however, pronghorn were valued for their hides to make clothing and other items.

Communal antelope hunting is documented in many historical accounts both in the Great Basin and on the Plains. These accounts describe wood and brush drive lines that led to fenced enclosures and to pit traps excavated in the ground. Hunters disguised themselves as antelope, wolf or other animals to get close to the herds and then drove the animals into Read more

45+ Years of Data Management at the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Whether excavating archaeological sites or surveying the land in search of undiscovered ones, archaeologists create data. That data can take the form of field journals, artifact catalogues, GPS tracks and waypoints, photographs, excavation plans, level records, site forms, and reports. It is often said that for every month spent in the field, an archaeologist will spend a year in the lab and the office processing the field data they collected.

The Archaeological Survey (the Survey) began managing Alberta archaeological sites, research, and mitigation in 1972, with the passing of what is now known as the Historical Resources Act. At the same time, the Survey also became the official provincial repository for most archaeological data. Today the Survey collects and archives data for use by archaeological researchers, consultants, and other stakeholders, and also relies on archaeological data in order to run the historic resources management machinery. Read more

The Swing of Things: Archaeology in Alberta and the Occasional Paper Series

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper No. 38 with a new format and early contributions. Articles in the Occasional Paper Series will now be published online throughout the year, with the final, compiled volume released at the end of the year. Our goal in moving to this rolling release format is to make articles available in a timely manner, while helping to accommodate the schedules of CRM consultants, university students, and other contributors.

Cover of the 2018 Occasional Paper Series. Submissions are welcome.

Occasional Paper No. 38, “The Swing of Things: Contributions to Archaeological Research in Alberta, 2018,” is dedicated to an early member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Milt Wright, whose recent passing was mourned by the province’s archaeological community. The first article in the volume is a tribute to him.

Milt Wright (1952-2017) was an integral member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta in the 1980s and 90s.

The second paper is an identification guide for Knife River Flint, supplemented by geochemical and mineralogical tests of this important raw material that was used to make stone tools in Alberta.

A sample of Knife River Flint artifacts found in Alberta. Individual artifact photographs courtesy of Eugene Gryba, Shayne Tolman, Bob Dawe, and Todd Kristensen.

The title, “The Swing of Things,” refers to what we hope will be consistent format and content for years to come: each issue will feature papers documenting the multitude of cultural resource management (CRM), avocational, and academic archaeological projects completed in previous years. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee. The current and past volumes are available for free download here.

Written By: Eric R. Damkjar, Head, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

After the Flood: Archaeology in Alberta and the Occasional Paper Series

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release Occasional Paper Series No. 37 dedicated to historic resources encountered and documented during investigation programs following the June, 2013 flood in southern Alberta. The volume contains 18 articles written by historic resources consultants, university researchers, staff of the Royal Alberta Museum, and members of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta. The flood eroded and blanketed archaeological, palaeoenvironmental, and palaeontological sites; Alberta Culture and Tourism coordinated a series of contracts in 2014, Read more

Hunting With a View: Excavations at the Hummingbird Creek Site (FaPx-1) in Alberta’s Central Rockies

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. Read more

Clovis Points and the Ice Free Corridor

Did you know that some of the earliest inhabitants of what is now Alberta were here over 12,000 years ago? Evidence of these people is found in the form of fluted projectile points, like the one shown in the image above. Fluted projectile points are lanceolate (no stem or notching) and have large flakes struck from the center of the base to form a flute or channel.

One style of fluted projectile point is attributed to a culture known as the Clovis people. Clovis spear points were first discovered in Clovis, New Mexico, but are found all across North America. These points were long thought to represent the earliest people in the Americas; however, more recent research has refuted this. Read more

Odd Birds, Good Eggs: Traditional Human Exploitation of Alberta’s Waterfowl

Each March, the vanguard of spring arrives in Alberta on thousands of pairs of wings. Tired, hungry, and honking, near-countless flocks of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) either stop over here or complete the northern leg of their annual migratory path – to rest, refuel, breed, nest, and brood – at or near the edge of Alberta’s many ponds, sloughs, lakes, creeks, and rivers. In the weeks that follow, these geese will be joined by many different bird species, particularly waterfowl, in one of the world’s most abundant migratory bird areas – the Mackenzie-Great Lakes-Mississippi Flyway that crosses western Canada.

Canada geese at Jasper National Park. Photo Credit: Tourism Jasper and Travel Alberta.

The seasonal comings and goings of different kinds of birds is particularly significant to Indigenous groups. According to war chief Fine-Day, the Nehiyawak (Cree) names for six different moons or months describe bird activities within those periods: “Mikiciwpi-cim, Bald Eagle Moon. That is when these birds are seen. Mis-kihpi-cim, Goose Moon … Pinawewipi-cim, Egg Laying Moon or paskawehowipi-cim, Egg Hatching Moon. Paskowipi-cim, Feather Moulting Moon. Ohpahowipi-cim, Starting to Fly Moon. No-tcihitopi-cim, Breeding Moon.”1 Many of these names relate to time periods when certain Read more

Early Plant Use in Alberta

Often when we talk about dietary evidence at archaeological sites in Alberta, we are referencing a multitude of game animals, such as bison, elk, moose, etc. What is often missing from these dialogues is the reliance First Nations had on native and traded plants. For the most part, organic material does not survive the test of time; this is especially the case in Alberta’s boreal regions where acidic soils rapidly decompose organics. However, missing data does not mean it was not there in the first place. A wide variety of plant species were utilized by Alberta’s First Nations for subsistence purposes. At archaeology sites, evidence of plant remains can be recovered from sediments, stone tools, and ceramics. Plant microfossil analysis is one method that can be used to identify what plants people were using in the past.

Residue on Sherd
Residue on a ceramic sherd, this can be extracted and processed to identify plants cooked in the vessel (Burchill 2014).

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Connecting the Continent: Stone Tools in Alberta

After a few thousand years, most of the archaeological record in Alberta has been winnowed down to pieces of rock used to make tools. Organic artifacts, structures, and other less durable things generally don’t survive thanks to erosion and decomposition. To maximize the information we can pull from those pieces of stone, the Alberta Lithic Reference Project (ALRP) was formed by a consortium of archaeological consultants, heritage managers, geologists, students, and university researchers. The goals are to accurately and consistently identify the types of raw materials that pre-contact people used to make stone tools. Why is this important? Specific types of rock were traded and moved widely across the continent and serve as valuable indicators of cultural relationships and/or human mobility patterns. Read more