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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.”
The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release Occasional Paper Series No. 39, devoted to advancing archaeological practice in Western Canada. The volume contains seven articles written by archaeological consultants, university researchers, and heritage managers. The 2019 volume is dedicated to Terrance Gibson who passed away in 2018 and was a life-long advocate of improving archaeological research and practices.
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.
Editor’s note: All images in the post below were sourced from a report developed by the Archaeological Survey, Lifeways and Stantec.
Written by: Matthew Wangler, Executive Director, Historic Resources Management Branch
For decades, northeastern Alberta has been home to large-scale industrial activity in the region’s massive petroleum deposits. A remarkable discovery in the midst of the oil sands revealed that the same area of the province also accommodated another significant industry in ancient times; that historic and contemporary land use share a common origin in an epic event that profoundly shaped our province’s past. This blog post will explore how historic resource management in Alberta helped reveal a lost chapter of our province’s history, how the discovery illuminated both the remarkable richness and depth of the Alberta story, and the surprising connections between past and present.
For the past few years, I have committed, heart, body and soul to the pursuit of my graduate degree in archaeology. I know many people in pursuit of their degrees would choose to study a fascinating subject, with the potential to change the world; but being the go-getter that I am, I chose the blood-racing world of dental microwear analysis. My focus, specifically, was in applying the study of dental microwear to bison from sites in southern Alberta to determine which seasons those sites were occupied (the site’s seasonality).
What is dental microwear?
The analysis of microscopic patterns on teeth has been useful to several fields, including archaeology. The method can provide information about an animal’s diet immediately before death, allowing researchers to reconstruct past environments and determine the season that an animal died. This is based on the recognition that different types of food produce identifiable features on the enamel of teeth.
In faunal archaeology, the most common distinctions made based on microwear are between herbivores who either graze or browse. Grazing animals that mainly eat grasses and other low-lying plants, such as cattle, tend to use a grinding motion when chewing, which drags food across the enamel. This produces features Read more →
Thank you to guest authors, Margaret Patton and Shalcey Dowkes, for this interesting post about shell beads from a unique archaeological site in Southern Alberta.
The authors would like to acknowledge the Siksika Nation and Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park in their support for the ongoing archaeological research at Cluny Fortified Village.
All over the world beads have been manufactured for adornment in jewelry and clothing, trade, and may have even been used in storytelling and gaming. In North America, Indigenous groups in extensively traded marine shells. On the Plains, freshwater clams from local rivers were also used to manufacture beads. However, there are limited examples of freshwater shell beads found archaeologically on the Northern Plains. Over 1,450 pieces of shell have been recovered from the Cluny Fortified Village archaeological site, making it a prime candidate to study the production of beads on the Canadian Plains.
Cluny Fortified Village
The Cluny Fortified Village Site is unique as the only known fortified village on the Northern Plains. Located on the northern bank of the Bow River, the site Read more →
This week’s post is an update on archaeological project and site data for 2017 from the Archaeological Survey. Click the image below and zoom to see the full size infographic.
Note on archaeological sites: the site counts for 2017 are not yet final. They are constantly being updated as consultants and researchers submit their records to the Archaeological Survey. Stay tuned to RETROactive for up-to-date numbers.