Dogs and horses through Alberta’s history

Editor’s note: The banner image about was reproduced with the permission of the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Sled dogs were critical for moving goods in northern Alberta, like this dog team outside a trade post in the Fort McMurray area in 1911.

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Domestic dogs have likely been in Alberta for least 5,000 years and some researchers think they arrived with the first humans in North America over 13,000 years ago. What role did they play in Indigenous life? And how did that role change when horses arrived in the 1700s?

Based on archaeological records and historic accounts, people on the prairies of southern Alberta likely had about 4-6 dogs per family. These pets could transport about 90-270 kg of goods using a travois (a series of poles attached to a dog’s back) or pack saddles. Dogs helped move tipi hides and poles (up to 100 kg per tipi) as well as dried meat and tools from camp to camp. Before Europeans arrived, Plains communities packed up and moved all of their belongings about 10-40 times a year, which helped them stay in contact with moving bison herds that were the main source of food and materials. Trains of several hundred pack dogs carried goods on trading expeditions.

A comparison of horse and dog characteristics that influenced their relationships with people in Alberta. Illustration by Terra Lekach.
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From Belize to Bezanson: Synergistic research in northwestern Alberta

Editor’s note: All images below courtesy of the authors.

Written by: Shawn Morton, Northwestern Polytechnic and Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, Athabasca University

Our careers as archaeologists have been dominated by research on ancient Maya peoples and places, particularly of the Classic Period (ca. 250-900 CE). Since beginning the community-engaged Stann Creek Regional Archaeology Project in 2014, our activities have focused on characterizing and explaining the settling and eventual abandonment of a relatively short-lived ancient townsite in Belize.

When urban centres expand rapidly in response to resource development, “instant cities” arise. These remarkable settlements are also called “boomtowns” or “rapid-growth communities”. They typically emerge in what are perceived as severely disadvantaged or isolated frontier zones. They might boom then bust over a short period, boom indefinitely or in cycles, or experience an incomplete boom. Their success is often dependent on their location relative to resource extraction and distribution activities, though not exclusively.

With its location along well-documented inland and coastal trade routes, and with access to an abundance of natural resources on the margins of the ever-expanding heartland of the southern Maya lowlands, the ancient Maya townsite currently known as “Alabama” (ancient name unknown) would seem to fit the “boomtown” bill. We have consistently invoked the concept as a heuristic tool in explaining its development.

Drone shot of Old Bezanson Townsite along the banks of the Smoky River.
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New discoveries of ancient sites in the boreal forest

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Regional Archaeologist

Recent archaeological discoveries in Alberta’s Boreal Forest are confirming the antiquity of Indigenous occupation of this place and refining ideas of how pre-contact people adapted to landscapes. Two fresh articles in the most recent issue of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta’s Occasional Paper Series explore ancient sites found in northwest Alberta.

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Archaeology and modern forestry in Alberta

Editor’s note: This blog post is derived from a recent paper published in the Archaeological Survey of Alberta’s Occasional Paper Series titled: Forestry and archaeology in Alberta: A history and synthesis written by Bereziuk et al. The second paper in this issue was also recently released and is titled: Dated ground stone artifacts from Tse’K’wa (HbRf-39), Peace River region, British Columbia.  

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Regional Archaeologist

Most archaeology in Alberta happens in advance of industry development when consultants are hired to ensure that archaeological sites are avoided or excavated prior to ground disturbance. For the last decade, about half of the new sites recorded in Alberta are found during forestry programs when consultants look for archaeological material in advance of tree harvesting and logging road construction. The contribution that forestry-based archaeology makes in Alberta is large.

Why do forestry operators have to hire archaeological consultants? 

Industry developers are generally required by law, through the Historical Resources Act, to submit development plans to the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, who then reviews the footprints for overlaps with known archaeological sites or areas with potential for archaeological material. Forestry is one of Alberta’s largest industries in terms of spatial area: about 87,000 hectares are harvested each year and over 2 million hectares have been commercially logged in Alberta since 1990. Archaeological sites in harvest areas can be disturbed during road construction, during logging (by heavy machinery that cuts trees or transports them), and by site preparation practices that relate to reforestation.

In many areas in Alberta, the ground is intentionally disturbed after harvest to encourage regrowth of desired seedlings: about 18,000 hectares of land in Alberta are annually subjected to mechanical site preparation by forestry operators. Archaeological sites in Alberta’s Boreal Forest are often quite shallow (within 30 cm from the surface) meaning that forestry can have large impacts on the province’s preserved heritage. In the big picture, the vast majority of Alberta’s forests and all archaeological material in the province are public resources. For these reasons, forestry operators are responsible for detecting and avoiding archaeological sites during development.   

Alberta’s forested ecoregions (data from Alberta Parks 2005). The Parkland is not a commercially harvestable forest type. South of the Parkland is Alberta’s Prairie ecoregion. Source: Todd Kristensen.
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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2020 Update Part Two

Written By: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

This week’s post is an update on archaeological sites recorded in 2020 as part of the Archaeological Survey’s permit management program. Part One of this post discussed archaeological permits, archaeologists and companies, and archaeological field activities. This week’s post highlights information about archaeological sites recorded during field work under archaeological permit activities.

In Alberta, archaeological sites have been protected since the 1970s under what is now the Historical Resources Act as, “a work of humans that is of value for its prehistoric, historic, cultural or scientific significance.” One would not need to look far to see that Alberta has amazing archaeology, ranging at least 13,000 years, at sites like Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi, Head-Smashed-In and other buffalo jumps, Wally’s Beach age megafauna, and many other amazing sites. Over 40,000 sites have been recorded in Alberta, and archaeologists record 500-700 new sites per year.

The majority of new sites today are recorded by archaeologists working with developers to avoid potential impacts to known or potential archaeological resources in a Historic Resources Impact Assessment. Any sites they might record are reported to the Archaeological Survey and added to the Archaeological Site Inventory, which is available to archaeological researchers and consultants. Sites are also recorded by researchers working at universities, museums, societies and other institutions. Researchers usually record fewer sites overall, and revisit the same sites year-to-year to continue detailed research.

You can explore previous Survey in Numbers to compare statistics year over year.

Garden of the gods: Áísínai’pi on the Great Plains

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Aaron Domes (Alberta Parks), Jack Brink (retired Curator of Archaeology at the Royal Alberta Museum) and Martin Heavy Head (Elder and cultural leader of the Kainai) for their input and review of this article.

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Terra Lekach, freelance archaeologist and artist

A muddy ribbon of water flows through southern Alberta on its way to the Missouri. Along the Milk River lies 3,000 years of beliefs etched and painted as rock art on sandstone walls. An 18 km stretch of the river meanders through 149 archaeological sites displaying several thousand individual rock art images. The art documents millennia of spiritual connections to a sacred landscape and centuries of cultural change during European settlement on the Great Plains.

Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the Milk River in southern Alberta. Image created by Todd Kristensen.
Over 60 per cent of rock art in Alberta is found in Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi and over 8 per cent of Indigenous rock art in Canada is found along this small stretch of the Milk River. Image created by Todd Kristensen, with input from 13 heritage managers across Canada.
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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2020 Update Part One

Written By: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

This week’s post is an update on the Archaeological Survey’s permit management program from 2020. In Alberta, as elsewhere in Canada, archaeological sites are protected and managed through legislation, as archaeological sites and artifacts are thought to be of value to Albertans. Most of the work archaeological permits since the 1970s have been issued to professionals, or consultants, working in the cultural resources management (CRM) field.

Consultants in this field work with developers and the Archaeological Survey to ensure that proposed developments, such as subdivisions, well sites, waterlines, etc., will not impact known or potential archaeological sites. This work is crucial to ensure that Alberta’s development industries can continue while also avoiding impact to archaeological resources, which are non-renewable and best left in the ground. Since the permit management system was legislated in the 1970’s, CRM consultants have recorded tens of thousands of archaeological sites in all areas of Alberta and made immeasurable contributions to the stories and knowledge of Alberta’s past.

This infographic looks at some of the details of Alberta’s permit management program- How many permits are we issuing? How many are CRM (mitigative?) Where are the permit projects this year in the province? What types of research activities are archaeologists carrying out under their permits? Please stay tuned for Part Two of this infographic, which will look at archaeological sites recorded in 2020.

You can explore previous Survey in Numbers to compare statistics year over year.

Did volcanic eruptions in Canada’s deep past affect Indigenous people?

Written by: By Dr. Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Archaeologists compare records before and after ancient volcanic eruptions to understand how the lives of people changed. Impacts of ecological disasters on humans can be detected along local and broad scales: how did Indigenous people cope at a specific site and how did human relationships change across vast regions? A massive eruption 1,200 years ago, called White River Ash East, changed the way that people in northern Canada hunted and gathered in areas affected by volcanic ash, which fell in beds up to 1 m thick. Beyond the ash footprint, human networks were forever altered, with ripple effects that spread through Alberta and North America.

A volcano in Alaska sent ash east across southern Yukon, southwest NWT, and into northwest Alberta. Geologists study beds of ash (tephra) to reconstruct the size of eruptions. The shaded colours are rough estimates of how thick the volcanic ash is. Source: Todd Kristensen.
Ash depth relative to people (top). When the ash originally fell, it was loose and deep but would’ve compressed over time (top right inset). Based on other eruptions, the White River Ash East tephra may have shrunk up to 50% in the following decades after it fell. At bottom is an estimate of ash thickness in current sediments with the original ash thickness in brackets. Source: Todd Kristensen.
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Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada: the Occasional Paper Series in 2020

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Jack W. Brink, Royal Alberta Museum

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper Series No. 40 with its first two articles, which are available for free download here:

The atlatl weights of Saskatchewan

The rock art of the Williams Coulee site, EcPl-16, southwestern Alberta

Individual articles are published online throughout the year and the final compiled volume is typically released in spring. We encourage submissions from archaeologists in cultural resource management (CRM), universities and other heritage professions.

Archaeologists used a computer software program (Dstretch) to enhance the images of painted figures in southern Alberta (image by Jack Brink).

Occasional Paper Series No.40, “Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada, 2020” features articles with a broad range of topics about archaeology on the Northern Plains and Boreal Forest. The first paper summarizes an interesting stone tool called an atlatl weight that hunters on the plains used for several thousand years. The second paper documents an impressive archive of rock art found in a small coulee rock shelter in southern Alberta. Both articles relied in large part on discoveries reported and shared by farmers and ranchers. Look for four more articles to be released in the next two months to complete the volume.

We hope the volume informs future work and research in Alberta. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee. Past volumes are available for free download here:

Back on the Horse: Recent Developments in Archaeological and Palaeontological Research in Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 36 (2016)

After the Flood: Investigations of Impacts to Archaeological Resources from the 2013 Flood in Southern Alberta, Occasional Paper No. 37 (2017)

The Swing of Things: Contributions to Archaeological Research in Alberta Occasional Paper No. 38 (2018)

Advancing Archaeology: Industry and Practice in Alberta, Occasional Paper Series No. 39 (2019)

Renowned Alberta archaeologist receives Order of Canada

Written by: Jared Majeski, Historic Resources Management Branch

For his decades-long work as an archaeologist, curator and author helping to promote and preserve Blackfoot Culture, former Historic Resources Management Branch and Royal Alberta Museum staff member Jack Brink was recently named a member of the Order of Canada. He became part of this illustrious group along with a handful of other Albertans, including: Daniel Steadward, a lifelong Paralympic advocate; Dr. Lori West, who directed transplant immunology research at the U of A; and Art Bergmann, a prolific punk rock musician both as a solo artist and member of the legendary Young Canadians.

Blair First Rider, an Aboriginal Consultation Advisor with the Alberta government, worked with Jack for a number of years on, among other things, the cultural resource management file; this included work at Writing-on-Stone, Head-Smash-In Buffalo Jump and the Okotoks Erratic. In honour of Jack’s work with The Blackfoot Confederacy and Treaty 7, he was given the honourary Blackfoot name Owl Head.

“It’s kind of a bit of disbelief,” Jack Brink told Global News when asked how he felt when he heard the news. “You’re thinking… ‘What have I done to deserve this?’” Source: Office of the Governor General of Canada.

 “Jack has earned his name as a way of acknowledging his support and efforts of reconciliation, repatriation and preserving the archaeological record of the sacred sites and cultural resources we are entrusted with as stewards of the land,” First Rider explained.

Understanding and preserving Indigenous history and culture, in this era of reconciliation, is done in numerous ways. One way is through archaeology, a field Brink has worked in for much of his professional life. He mentions that through archaeology, we can begin to understand the great accomplishments Indigenous people who have lived in Alberta (and Canada) for thousands of years.

“I think when the general public learn more about the deep past of Indigenous people,” Brink said, “we  [can] make steps forward in terms of truth and reconciliation. The ‘past’ is a great part of the true story of Indigenous people on this continent. Most people are unaware of it, and as they learn more they come to respect the success of indigenous people surviving on this land under challenging conditions for such a long period of time. I believe that this builds an appreciation of what Indigenous people have accomplished and contributed.”

Former colleagues at the Royal Alberta Museum, where Jack worked for over 25 years, recall lessons learned from one the country’s preeminent archaeologist and curator. Assistant Archaeologist Bob Dawe mentioned that, “Jack is an excellent teacher and writer with enviable communication skills. The most beneficial enduring advice he taught me was how to be more succinct with writing and lecturing – cut to the chase rather than clutter scholarly publications and conference presentations with time wasting less relevant material. Other than this extremely helpful lesson, he didn’t belabor advice as much as lead by example.”

Acting Curator of Archaeology Kris Fedyniak worked with Brink on the ultimately successful bid for Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Through the numerous and lengthy United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization application bids, Jack taught me the importance of perseverance. A ‘no’ sometimes means you have to reset, reframe and try again.”

Recognition of a professional archaeologist at such a high level will hopefully inspire younger generations to not only recognize the important role archaeology and science play in our world, but to pursue a career in the field.

“I think recognition by the Governor General’s office is recognition of the power of archaeology to do good in this world,” Brink said, “to help reveal impressive stories about past cultures and to do so in a respectful way. I would hope that this would have a positive effect on young people who may be considering a career in archaeology; that it would make them aware that significant achievements can be made in the field of archaeology and that a great career can come from it.”

Congratulations Jack!

Sources:

Global News Edmonton

Governor General of Canada