Rocky Mountain Alpine Project: Jasper National Park 2016

A few weeks ago we featured ice patch archaeology in Willmore Wilderness Park as part of the Rocky Mountain Alpine Project. The trip to Willmore was one of two attempts this summer to find archaeological artifacts and other organics melting out of Alberta’s ice patches. The second attempt took place from August 22-26, this time in Jasper National Park and, as promised, here are the results! For a background on the Rocky Mountain Alpine Project, check out our video.

This year was our second visit to Jasper’s ice patches. The goal of last year’s trip to Jasper was to determine if there was potential for finding organics and archaeological artifacts in Alberta’s alpine ice features. The trip was very successful and we found that many organics, like antlers and wood, were preserved at high altitudes. We also found a cultural piece of leather, with two knots in it, melting out of one of the patches. It was radiocarbon dated to A.D. 1640. The exploratory trip proved to be successful and we were excited to return to Jasper this year, both to re-visit the ice patch that yielded the leather and to explore some new areas.

Ice patch in the Maligne Lake Area of Jasper National Park, archaeologists surveyed the patch in August 2016. (Photo Credit: Aaron Osicki)

Ice patch in the Maligne Lake Area of Jasper National Park, archaeologists surveyed the patch in August 2016. (Photo Credit: Aaron Osicki)

This year’s crew was made up of Todd Kristensen (Northern Archaeologist), Courtney Lakevold (Archaeological Information Coordinator), Aaron Osicki (Archaeologist, Parks Canada) and Timothy Allan (M.A. Candidate, University of British Columbia). After a one day delay due to overnight snow at high altitudes (brrrr!), the crew, along with Mike Dillon (Cultural Resource Specialist, Parks Canada), started out with surveys at ice patches near Maligne Lake in the eastern portion of Jasper. This was the first time exploring these patches and the preservation of organic material was impressive. We observed caribou antlers and dung, wood, leaves, rodent teeth, bone and feathers. One of the most exciting finds was a large bone that is likely a bison humerus. If confirmed, this would indicate that bison visited high alpine ice features in the Rockies several hundred to several thousand years ago. The bone will soon be submitted for radiocarbon dating to determine how old it is. In addition to the great preservation, some of the ice patches near Maligne Lake also had great stratification (hundreds of layers of ice separated by leaves, twigs, and airborne silts) that is promising for environmental research and reconstruction. Ice cores through these layers will reveal how climates and vegetation communities have been changing in the Rockies for millennia.

A large bone, likely a bison humerus, was found melting out of an ice patch near Maligne Lake (seen in the background) in Jasper National Park.

A large bone, likely a bison humerus, was found melting out of an ice patch near Maligne Lake which can be seen in the background.

After a day of surveying near Maligne Lake, the crew split up into two teams. Aaron and Tim headed to Tonquin Valley near the B.C. border to return to the ice patch that yielded the leather in 2015, as well as others in the area, and Todd and Courtney went to Mount Bridgland and the Miette Pass area north of Yellowhead Highway. Both teams observed many organics and collected samples of caribou antlers and dung, a possible elk antler, mammal fur, wood and feathers. These samples can potentially be used for research such as environmental reconstructions and caribou genetics. The team hopes that ancient DNA recovered from a growing database of antlers will reveal how caribou populations have grown and shrunk over thousands of years, which can inform modern management strategies. This time around, no cultural material was found in the ice patches, the possible reasons for which are explained in our last RMAP blog post.

Caribou antler observed melting out of an ice patch on Mount Bridgland, Jasper National Park.

Caribou antler observed melting out of an ice patch on Mount Bridgland, Jasper National Park.

Archaeologist Aaron Osicki surveying an ice patch in the Tonquin Valley.

Archaeologist Aaron Osicki surveying an ice patch in the Tonquin Valley area (Photo Credit: Timothy Allan).

Historic cairns were observed in the alpine regions, similar to ones we observed last year in Jasper and this year in Willmore Wilderness Park. One cairn was located on Waddington Peak and had historic refuse around it such as wood structures, old battery parts, and historic cans and other refuse. The other cairn was located west of Miette Pass on the Alberta/BC boundary and consisted of rocks built up around a wooden post. Stone tools and flakes were also discovered by the team on Miette Lake, which represents an exciting extension of pre-contact activities into a remote region of Jasper National Park.

Historic cairn on Waddington Peak (Photo Credit: Aaron Osicki).

Historic cairn on Waddington Peak (Photo Credit: Aaron Osicki).

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Historic cairn on Alberta/B.C. border, west of Miette Pass.

Although no cultural materials were found in the alpine ice patches during four days of survey, the 2016 work successfully resulted in the identification of several frozen biological repositories for information that will reveal how animals, plants, and climates have changed in Jasper National Park for thousands of years. There is still great potential for archaeological finds so we hope to continue this research next year.

Thanks to Parks Canada and the Archaeological Survey of Alberta for their support.

Written By: Courtney Lakevold (Archaeological Information Coordinator) and Todd Kristensen (Northern Archaeologist)

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