Old as… ?: Dating Archaeological Sites

Knowing the date of an archaeological site is one of the things that makes it most interesting – when were people here?

Two main types of dating are applied to archaeological sites when possible– relative and absolute dating. Relative dating puts sites or artifacts “in order” by simply determining if one event happened before or after another. A common example of relative dating in Alberta is by using Mazama Ash. About 7600 years ago, Alberta was blanketed in ash after the Mazama volcanic eruption. This ash is still sometimes found today in stratigraphic profiles, buried under other deposits of sediment. When this ash is encountered it can be used as a time marker. Anything below it is older than 7600 years and anything found above it is younger than 7600 years.

Example of a buried volcanic ash (also known as tephra) found during archaeological excavation. The ash is the lightest coloured layer in the profile, between 25 and 35 cm below the surface (between the 1 and 3 on the tape measure).

Relative dates can also be obtained using artifact styles. Projectile points are one of the most common types of artifacts used to relatively date sites. Spearpoints represent the oldest projectile point technology and indicate that the site falls within the “Early Prehistoric Period” (11,200-7,500 calendar years before present), dartpoints are representative of the “Middle Prehistoric Period” (7,500-1,350 calendar years before present) and arrowpoints represent the emergence of the use of bow and arrow in the “Late Prehistoric Period” (1,350-250 calendar years before present). Dates can be further refined within each general time period based on the spear, dart or arrow style.

Absolute dating is more specific than relative dating and provides a more exact date (with standard deviation) of when the site or artifact was used. There are several methods of absolute dating but one of the most common methods used by archaeologists is radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating can be used on organic material such as bone or charcoal. A radiocarbon date can be obtained by measuring the amount of (more…)

“Erin go Bragh” in Alberta

This post was originally published on RETROactive on March 17th, 2015. We are once again approaching St. Patrick’s Day and we wanted to highlight this great post that talks about the history of the holiday in Alberta. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy.

“What is the matter with the Calgary Irishmen?” asked a frustrated correspondent to the Calgary Herald in March 1916. The writer, who identified themself as ‘F. Fitzsimmons,’ was complaining about the city’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day, with no public events planned to celebrate the day. Fitzsimmons conceded that people were likely distracted by the war effort, but lamented that Calgary’s leading Irish citizens had gotten “cold feet” and failed to plan any celebrations. “If all Irishmen were like the Calgary bunch” closed the writer, then “‘God Save Ireland.’”

The language used by Fitzsimmons in this letter is highly suggestive. By stating that Calgary’s Irish leaders had gotten ‘cold feet,’ he/she was implying that they lacked the courage to publicly celebrate their ethnic heritage. Further, ‘God Save Ireland’ was an explicitly nationalist slogan, associated with the last words of three Irish revolutionaries executed by the British in 1867. In short, Fitzsimmons was calling for an open celebration of Irish identity that did not shy away from nationalist politics. What Fitzsimmons saw as a simple issue, however, was much more complex for the majority of Irish people in Calgary and across Alberta. The often turbulent politics of the Irish homeland, and the campaign for Irish autonomy from (more…)

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

This week’s post is part two of a series of infographics about the Archaeological Research Permit Management System at the Archaeological Survey of the Historic Resources Management Branch. This infographic discusses the professional archaeologists and archaeological consulting companies working in Alberta.

Previous posts:

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY IN NUMBERS 2016 – PART ONE: ARCHAEOLOGICAL PERMITS

ARCHAEOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT: STATISTICS FROM THE HISTORIC RESOURCES MANAGEMENT BRANCH

Archaeological Survey in Numbers Part Two table

What Happened to Old Fort Edmonton?

The afternoon of October 11th, 1915 saw removal operations commence. At the time, the buildings associated with Fort Edmonton V (the last incarnation of the fur-trading fort) were seen as an eye-sore next to the newly completed Legislature building and grounds. Newspapers of the day reported that the fort was taken down quickly as some citizens were outraged at its demolition. To quell the panic, the government assured the people that the old fort was being dismantled and would be moved to new quarters, repurposing the buildings as a museum. That never happened and the timbers associated with dismantled Fort Edmonton seemingly disappeared from the public eye. So, what really happened to the old fort? Stories about what happened to the timbers spread like local urban legends, most of them with no apparent basis in fact. There were rumours: that the timbers were reused in the construction of various structures and buildings in and around the Edmonton area; that the timbers sat for years in several piles both outside the Legislature and on the south side of the river; that beams were stored in the basement of the Legislature, before being used as firewood by an uninformed custodian; or that at least some of the historic timbers met their end in a nine-metre high Boy Scout bonfire lit May 12, 1937 to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. While some of these stories have some factual basis, others have not been fully confirmed or discounted.

Demolition of Fort Edmonton (1915), City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-79.

Demolition of Fort Edmonton (1915), City of Edmonton Archives EA-10-79.

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Before SAIT, ACAD and the AFA: A brief history of arts organizations in Alberta

“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”

-Jackson Pollock

Modern art is unhappy with the current society; it’s a reflection of reality that’s unabashedly unrealistic. To anyone with a general knowledge and interest in art, you might not think Alberta owes a great deal of its early artistic development to modernist creation. But, modern art indeed played an early role in establishing the foundation for the funding and encouragement of artistic expression in our province. It would be two artists who, tired of the rigid hand of colonial Britain influencing what art “should” be in Alberta, would help other artists, painters and printmakers express themselves in whatever way they saw fit. (more…)

Obadiah Place, Amber Valley: Commemorating African American Settlement in Alberta

Willis and Jeanie Bowen at Amber Valley, courtesy of the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society.

Willis and Jeanie Bowen at Amber Valley, courtesy of the Black Settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan Historical Society.

In January of 2017 the Government of Alberta officially proclaimed February as Black History Month, recognizing the contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made to the province. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Black History Month in Canada, a time to celebrate the history and achievements of black Canadians within Canada.

In the spirit of that announcement, RETROactive would like to feature one of Alberta’s historic places, which commemorates African American settlement. The Obadiah Place at Amber Valley was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1990. The following information is adapted from the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

In 1911, a party of black Americans made their way from Oklahoma to seek a new life on lands north of Edmonton. Recent statehood for Oklahoma had brought with it restrictive ‘Jim Crow’ laws and many black (more…)

“IT THREW A MUSHROOM CLOUD JUST LIKE AN ATOMIC BOMB”: THE LEDUC No.1 OIL DISCOVERY – 70 YEARS AGO

On a bitterly cold afternoon, at 3:55pm, Nathan E. Tanner, Minister of Lands and Mines turned a valve at the Leduc No. 1 oil well as a rig hand held out a burning rag, setting alight a massive column of smoke and flame that roared hundreds of feet skyward. That event took place on February 13, 1947, seventy years ago today and it heralded in a new era for Alberta. An era of rapid development and prosperity fed by the now discovered reserves of oil deep under the province.

p1342

“It flared hundreds of feet” is how tool push Vern Hunter described the lighting of the flare as the Leduc No. 1 oil well was brought in on February 13, 1947. Source, Provincial Archives of Alberta, P1342

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