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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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.

Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada

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

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release the complete volume of Occasional Paper Series No. 40, available for free download:

Archaeological discoveries and syntheses in Western Canada: the Occasional Paper Series in 2020

In addition to two articles published earlier this year, this blog announces the release of four new articles to complete the volume:

Microblades in northwest North America

Skilled flintknapper Eugene Gryba discusses a specific stone tool technology called microblades in northwest North America. He draws on decades of first-hand experience creating stone tools to argue for a free-hand pressure technique to explain archaeological occurrences of microblades across the continent.

Napi effigies

Trevor Peck presents an updated synthesis of unusual and intriguing archaeological features called petroforms (boulder outlines), in this case, Napi effigies on the Plains. These large arrangements of boulders depict an important Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot) entity who figures prominently in stories and belief systems. The paper discusses their style and distribution and argues for a subdivision of different groups of Napi effigies that may be linked to different phases of Siksikaitsitapi history.

Porcellanite

A team of archaeologists is studying the raw materials used in Alberta to make stone tools over the past 12,000 years. The fifth paper in the current volume discusses a material called porcellanite that was fused over millions of years through natural coal combustion. Indigenous people used porcellanite from Montana, North Dakota, and from local outcrops in Alberta to make stone tools. The paper presents photographs and several laboratory results to help archaeologists accurately identify porcellanite.

Surface collection of artifacts

The final paper in the volume presents an interesting surface collection of artifacts from northern Alberta. The collection from the Fort Vermilion area includes stone projectile points, scrapers, knives, cores, and flakes made out of a variety of raw materials. Heinz Pyszczyk and colleagues from the Royal Alberta Museum and the University of Lethbridge argue that tool styles and affinities to the south suggest that the collection represents 9000 years of human occupation in the region.

Previous volumes can be downloaded for free here. Thank you to all the authors. If you are an archaeologist interested in contributing to the 2021 issue, dedicated to heritage in Canada’s boreal forest, please contact the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Spring 2021 Listing of Historic Resources

Written by: Colleen Haukaas, Archaeological Survey

In April the Historic Resources Management Branch (HRMB) released the Spring 2021 Edition of the Listing of Historic Resources. The Listing is a biannual release of lands in Alberta that are known to contain or are likely to contain lands of a sensitive historic nature. Land parcels used in the Listing are Legal Subdivisions in the Alberta Township Survey system. The Listing is generated as a tool to aid developers, land agents, planners and other stakeholders when planning land-based development projects in Alberta.

Each land parcel in the Listing is assigned a Historic Resource Value (HRV) ranging from 1 to 5:

Historic Resource Value (HRV)Description
HRV 1contains a World Heritage site or a site designated under the Historical Resources Act as a Provincial Historic Resource
HRV 2deactivated (formerly used to designate a Registered Historic Resource)1
HRV 3contains a significant historic resource that will likely require avoidance
HRV 4contains a historic resource that may require avoidance
HRV 5high potential to contain a historic resource
1See more information in Listing of Historic Resources: instructions for use

Each entry is also assigned a category of the primary historic resource category of concern:

CategoryDescription
aarchaeological
ccultural
glgeological
hhistoric period
nnatural
ppalaeontological
Sample map of the Listing of Historic Resources at Edmonton. Map was generated with the online Listing webmap.

A legal subdivision can have more than one HRV rating or category. For example, a legal subdivision that contains both an archaeological site and an area of high palaeontological potential may be classified as 4a, 5p.


The Listing is generated by gathering information from consultants and researchers working in archaeology, palaeontology, history and other industries in Alberta, and comparing their findings with known resources at the HRMB. Our staff use Geographic Information Science software to compile and generate the Listing.

To view the new version of the Listing, see the online webmap version here. For more details or for information for developers, see our website.

Fingerprints in Glass: Obsidian and Ancient Human Relationships

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

A butchered bison leaves bones behind; a fur trade post leaves rotting walls for archaeologists to discover. But humans are more than what we eat and build. To many, our lives are defined by relationships to other people. How do archaeologists in Alberta uncover and reconstruct human relations from 10,000 years ago when not much preserves in the soil?

Archaeologists use microscopic clues to link stone artifacts back to the quarries where the rock originated; this “provenance” work can reveal ancient networks. In a blend of geochemistry and sociology, researchers use volcanic rocks in particular to understand how groups interacted and moved across landscapes for millennia.

Obsidian arrowhead found in the Grande Prairie area of northwest Alberta. Source: Todd Kristensen.
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New Occasional Paper Series from the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

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.

The current and previous volumes can be downloaded for free here. Thank you to all the authors. If you are interested in contributing to the 2020 issue, please contact the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

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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The Archaeological Survey in Numbers- 2019 Update

Written By: Colleen Haukaas (Archaeological Survey)

This week’s post is an update on archaeological project and site data for 2019 from the Archaeological Survey. Click the image below the see the full size.

Archaeological Survey in Numbers 2019

Disclaimer: the archaeological site counts for 2019 may not be final. They are constantly being updated as consultants and researchers submit their reports to the Archaeological Survey.

See previous infographics from this series here:

Archaeology and Development: Statistics from the Historic Resources Management Branch

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part One: Archaeological Permits

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Two : Archaeological Permit Holders and Companies

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Three : Archaeological Site Investigation

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2017 Update

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2018 Update