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

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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Alpine Archaeology and a Pre-contact Stone Quarry in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park include some of the most rugged and remote mountains in Alberta; and for over 10,000 years, people have called these places home. A high alpine pass at the north edge of Jasper and south edge of Willmore holds clues of an important resource that ancient people visited year after year, in a place that nowadays only hardy back-packers and horseback visitors can reach.

Glacier Pass contains a quarry of stone that people used to make spear heads, knives, scrapers and other tools. The quarry was discovered by archaeologists B.O.K. Reeves and J. Elliot in the early 1970s. The rocks found there are what geologists call ‘concretions’ that were picked up as rounded cobbles by people long ago. Recent archaeological research tells us that the round rocks were then hammered to get rid of certain pieces and expose the best quality stone for making tools.

Stone cobbles like the ones here at Glacier Pass were picked up and worked into spear heads, knives, scrapers and other pre-contact tools. Source: Todd Kristensen.

 

A laboratory technique called hyperspectral scanning has confirmed that the composition of artifacts made from Glacier Pass concretions matches the composition of specific bands or portions of the cobbles from Glacier Pass. Glacier Pass concretions formed when bands of silica-rich rock grew around a core over millions of years. Some bands were good for stone tools while other portions of the rock were thrown out because they were too soft and/or unpredictable to flake or ‘flint knap’. Source: Todd Kristensen.

Based on the number of artifacts found by archaeologists, Glacier Pass was likely visited by small groups of people thousands of times over thousands of years. The stone quarry was part of a seasonal round when people moved from month to month to different areas to exploit or target different things. The alpine concretions at Glacier Pass were probably collected after the snow melted in summer or in fall when people hunted big game animals on high slopes like sheep and caribou.

Recent research by an archaeological team from the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Parks Canada and the University of Alberta has revealed that pre-contact people cracked Glacier Pass concretions to get at specific zones or bands of high quality stone that was ideal for making stone tools. The first two rows in this picture are mostly flakes removed while making tools. The bottom row (artifacts 11-15) are stone tools including knives, a core and a likely spear head that may be over 6,000 years old (14). Source: Todd Kristensen.

Modern visitors to Glacier Pass are unlikely to see tools: most of the artifacts there today are flakes of rock that people broke off while making stone tools. Almost all the finished products were carried away from the area. Visitors are reminded to respect the story of parks and mountain landscapes in Alberta by leaving all artifacts and rocks in place for others to experience. And remember that the land under our feet has a deep history full of geological wonders and human adaptations.

Glacier Pass between Jasper National Park and Willmore Wilderness Park is a beautiful and fragile place. To preserve the story of this landscape, and others in Alberta, visitors are encouraged to leave stones and artifacts in place. Source: Todd Kristensen.

 

Quarry of the Ancestors

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.

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Advancing Archaeology: the Occasional Paper Series in 2019

Written by: Krista M. Gilliland, Western Heritage and Todd Kristensen, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper Series No. 39 with its first two articles available for free. As with the previous volume, individual articles in the Occasional Paper Series are published online throughout the year, with the final, compiled volume released at the end of the year. We encourage submissions from archaeologists in cultural resource management (CRM), universities, and other heritage professions.

Submissions to Occasional Paper No. 39, edited by Krista M. Gilliland, are welcome.

Occasional Paper Series No. 39, “Advancing archaeology: Industry and practice in Alberta, 2019,” is dedicated to an influential member of the archaeological community in Western Canada, Terry Gibson, who passed away in 2018. The first article in the volume is a tribute to him.

Terry Gibson (1954-2018) played an important role shaping the CRM community in Western Canada.

The second paper is a summary of archaeological features called bone uprights that appear in Alberta and across the Northern Plains. These features consist of animal bone (usually bison) that was vertically embedded in the ground. Archaeologists have come up with several ideas to explain these curious components of pre-contact sites.

A sample of bone upright images from Reid Graham and John W. Ives’ paper in the 2019 issue (reproduced with permission).

The title of the current volume – “Advancing archaeology: Industry and practice in Alberta, 2019,” refers to Terry Gibson’s legacy in the province and an important goal of the Occasional Paper Series. We hope the series provides a venue to CRM archaeologists, heritage managers and others to improve the discipline in Alberta. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee.

Also, you can download previous volumes of the Occasional Paper Series for free:

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)

Flash in the pan: The archaeology of gunflints in Alberta

Written by: Todd Kristensen, Regional Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Did you know that for over 200 years, guns around the world had a specific part made of stone that archaeologists have found evidence of in Alberta? Gunflints are chunks of rock that generated sparks to ignite gunpowder. Their use in guns first appeared in Europe in the early 1600s. Most of Alberta’s earliest guns were muskets, which began replacing bows and arrows in the province in the late 1700s.

Gunflints reveal lots of information about fur trade life in Alberta and they tell archaeologists important details about when guns first arrived and who first brought them. Patterns of gunflints at archaeological sites can show where gun repairs took place or where the flints were stored. Historic records of the number of traded gunflints can tell us which forts were specializing in certain tasks and how many hunters or trappers they were supplying. In general, gunflints are interesting historic artifacts that are often the only preserved record of a weapon technology, flintlock firearms, that ultimately changed the West.

Muskets had a metal piece called the flash pan that was mounted on the outside of the gun and held a small pile of gunpowder protected from wind and rain by a movable lid (a ‘frizzen’). When the trigger was pulled, the gunflint pushed the frizzen, opened the flash pan, and created a spark. A small explosion of gunpowder on the outside of the gun (the ‘flash in the pan’) was then sent through a hole to a larger load of powder inside the musket barrel. This explosion then launched the musket ball towards future food or enemies.

Diagram of how flintlock guns worked (by Todd Kristensen).

Flintlock guns were used in North America before 1650, and, in parts of the West, gunflints were used well into the late 1800s. While a technology called percussion caps began replacing the flintlock in the mid-1800s in North America, guns were still hard to come by and flintlocks had a certain durability that kept them in use.

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Pebble Chert Quarries in East Central Alberta

Stone tools and debitage, also known as lithics, are one of the most common types of artifacts found in Alberta. In the past, stone tools were an essential part of Indigenous ways of life. These stone tools and associated debitage (pieces flaked off while the stone tool was being manufactured) are made from a variety of stone types, but generally they need to be produced from quality raw materials. The characteristics of a quality raw material for making stone tools include stones that are finer-grained, somewhat brittle and uniform in texture and structure, and have few or no inclusions because these might make the rock break in unpredictable ways. Some of the highest quality material that was used in Alberta in the past comes from other places around North America, such as Knife River Flint from North Dakota, obsidian from British Columbia and the northwestern United States, and other types of cherts, argillites and other materials from neighboring provinces and states. However, several material types are available locally. Some of the most common types available in Alberta include quartzites, siltstones, cherts and petrified wood. In East Central Alberta, a common type of rock utilized by Indigenous groups in the past was pebble chert. There are areas where this stone is readily available and it can be high enough quality to be knapped into tools. While these pebble cherts can sometimes be found today in road cuts or blowouts all across East Central Alberta, there are two pre-contact quarries and associated archaeological sites near Consort, AB where large concentrations of these materials were found, collected and utilized. At these sites, there is evidence that Indigenous groups used rounded and fist-sized pebbles of chert to make stone tools.

The Misty Hills quarry site and complex (Borden block EkOp) is unique because it has large densities of both high quality chert and quartzite pebbles found in more than 130 blowouts across the site. In addition to the raw pebbles, there are many associated quarry Read more