“Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin” Takes Home Award

The Book Publishers Association of Alberta (BPAA) held their annual Alberta Book Publishing Awards on September 14 in Calgary. These awards recognize and celebrate the best of the Alberta book publishing industry. Of special note for the Historic Resources Management Branch is that Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin: Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments was awarded the Scholarly and Academic Book of the Year. This book was a collaborative effort between current and former employees of the Historic Resources Management Branch and the Royal Alberta Museum, researchers at the University of Alberta, members of Alberta’s archaeological consulting community, and Athabasca University Press. Well done and congratulations to everyone involved!

This volume tells a fascinating story of the oil sands region of northeastern Alberta, including how a catastrophic flood at the end of the last ice age formed the landscape of the region. It also highlights the intensive use of resources in the area by precontact groups since ca. 11,000 years ago. When the flood went through, it scoured pre-existing glacial deposits, and made bedrock deposits such as bitumen and a lithic raw material called Beaver River Sandstone accessible from the surface. Beaver River Sandstone was used to make stone tools for millennia following the flood. This stone can be found at a site called Quarry of the Ancestors near Fort McMurray, and over two million artifacts made of this material has been recorded in Alberta’s archaeological record. The chapters in this volume are invaluable for understanding the ecological and human past in northeastern Alberta and are important for informing future management of historic resources in the region.

Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Basin: Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments can be purchased or downloaded for free through Athabasca University Press.

“Isn’t it good, Norwegian Wood?”

So, a colleague of mine here in the Historic Resources Management Branch recently returned from a course on wood conservation in Oslo, Norway.

While he didn’t find out why John Lennon lit a former lover’s house on fire as the song strangely suggests, he did attend the 2018 International Course on Wood Conservation Technology (ICWCT). A biennial course that gathers academics, professors and scientists from around the world (including two from Canada) to deliver lectures, ICWCT also combines this with field work and theory centered on the practice of wood conservation.

1280px-Borgund_Stavekirk,_Norway
The Borgund Stave Church in Lærdalen, Norway was built just before 1150. From the Middle Ages up until the beginning of the twentieth century the use of pine tar was restricted to the protection of churches, since it was both time-consuming  and expensive to produce. This goes a long way towards explaining why outdoor woodwork on the stave churches from the twelfth century which has been protected with pine tar is preserved in an excellent condition. Norwegian church accounts reveal that the local farmers and villagers were obliged to apply fresh tar to the external walls of the stave churches at ten yearly intervals*. Photo by: AzaToth

Heritage Conservation Technologist Evan Oxland went to Norway to learn more about technical and theoretical aspects of wood conservation, as well as what other contemporary international approaches there are out there. He was the only Read more

Creating Connections: Paul First Nation History

Today, RETROactive is pleased to feature a community-created heritage project!

The Paul First Nation History website and Facebook page is the brainchild of Jaelin Rask. A Paul First Nation member who today lives on-reserve, Jaelin was raised primarily in Calgary, geographically and culturally-distanced from his Indigenous heritage. As an adult, Jaelin received a number of historical documents from his late paternal grandfather, David Bird (who served as Chief of Paul First Nation from 1952 to 1955), spurring his interest in genealogy and his father’s family history.

Jaelin Rask (Photo provided by: Jaelin Rask).

“Little by little” Jaelin’s document collection grew, aided by trips to the archives and conversations with community members. Word of his work travelled fast throughout the Nation, and Jaelin found his social media inboxes full of requests Read more

Beading the Way: Adornment and the Quest for Cultural Survival

Adornment reflects a symbolic visual language that includes materials and designs that contain communally understood messages. That is, the clothing or items we wear convey information about us to other people. The expression of these messages through clothing, tattoos, jewelry, or body paint, conveys information about an individual, group, society, or religion. Beading, and other embroidery techniques, can be seen as one aspect of adornment for Indigenous groups, and one that played a central role in cultural preservation for many groups post-European contact.

Beads have been found in the archaeological record as early as 40,000 years ago, and are staples in decorative adornment. Beads can be fashioned from many different natural materials including plant seeds, stone, gems, shell, bone, or metal. While plant-based seeds are the easiest to manufacture due to their availability, beads made from bone, metal, gems, or semi-precious stone require more effort and technology to produce, and are therefore more highly valued.

Prior to European contact, Woodland and Plains cultures of North America decorated the skins of animals, tree bark, and their own bodies with locally available and traded materials. Materials such as seeds, berries, porcupine quills, moose hair, Read more

‘Pollen’ me back into history!: What Pollen can tell us about Archaeological Sites

Anyone with allergies knows when spring begins, and plants start pollinating, the offensive ‘dust’ can wreak havoc. However, one of the great things with pollen, from an archaeological perspective, is the fact that it gets dispersed annually. This means that each year, the ‘signature’ of the pollen released tells us about the landscape at the time. Plants have evolved to reproduce with pollen in several ways, and one that is highly effective is pollinating via the wind.

Pollen being released from a flower which will be carried by the wind. Plant Pollen is available through the CC0 Public Domain.

When the wind transports pollen it gets dispersed across the landscape, sometimes even getting caught within puddles. Inevitably, many pollen grains get caught in lakes and accumulate in the sediments. When it settles on the bottom of a lake basin, it stays there and is preserved for researchers to find hundreds, and even thousands, of years later. All this Read more

Pronghorn Traps on the Northern Plains of Alberta

“The antelope possesses an unconquerable inquisitiveness, of which hunters often take advantage…The hunter, getting as near the animal as is practicable, conceals himself by lying down, then fixing a handkerchief or cap upon the end of his ramrod, continues to wave it, remaining concealed. The animal, after a long contest between curiosity and fear, at length approaches near enough to become a sacrifice to the former.” (James 1905, vol. 2, pp. 227)

On two different flights over southeastern Alberta, separated by about thirty years, unusual stone features were observed on the landscape. Upon further inspection by archaeologists, it was determined that these two sites are the remnants of drive lanes and traps that were used for the communal hunting of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana, also commonly referred to as antelope).

While it is commonly known that bison were one of the greatest resources for precontact North American Indigenous groups, it is important to note that before European arrival, it is thought that there were just as many pronghorn as bison in North America. They were an important resource as well, particularly for people living in the Great Basin region of the United States, as pronghorn were one of the largest game animals available in that region. For Plains groups, bison were preferred for meat (and there is abundant archaeological evidence of this in the many bison kill sites across the Plains), however, pronghorn were valued for their hides to make clothing and other items.

Communal antelope hunting is documented in many historical accounts both in the Great Basin and on the Plains. These accounts describe wood and brush drive lines that led to fenced enclosures and to pit traps excavated in the ground. Hunters disguised themselves as antelope, wolf or other animals to get close to the herds and then drove the animals into Read more

HONOURING ALBERTA’S HERITAGE HEROES

Who are the heritage heroes in your community? Help us celebrate the outstanding contributions of Albertans to the promotion and preservation of Alberta’s heritage. Nominate an individual, organization or project for an Alberta Historical Resources Foundation heritage award. Complete your nominations now.  Deadline for submission is July 15.

Awards will be presented in the Heritage Conservation, Heritage Awareness and Outstanding Achievement categories. In addition, the Foundation is proud to introduce the Indigenous Heritage and Youth Heritage Awards this year. Awards will be presented during an awards ceremony on October 25, 2018 at the Government House in Edmonton.

For a copy of the guidelines and nomination form, visit https://alberta.ca/heritage-awards.aspx or contact the Program Coordinator at 780-431-2305 (toll-free by first dialing 310-000) or Carina.Naranjilla@gov.ab.ca.