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

The Archaeological Survey in Numbers – 2017 Update!

This week’s post is an update on archaeological project and site data for 2017 from the Archaeological Survey. Click the image below and zoom to see the full size infographic.

Note on archaeological sites: the site counts for 2017 are not yet final. They are constantly being updated as consultants and researchers submit their records to the Archaeological Survey. Stay tuned to RETROactive for up-to-date numbers.

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

Written By: Colleen Haukaas (Archaeological Survey)

45+ Years of Data Management at the Archaeological Survey of Alberta

Whether excavating archaeological sites or surveying the land in search of undiscovered ones, archaeologists create data. That data can take the form of field journals, artifact catalogues, GPS tracks and waypoints, photographs, excavation plans, level records, site forms, and reports. It is often said that for every month spent in the field, an archaeologist will spend a year in the lab and the office processing the field data they collected.

The Archaeological Survey (the Survey) began managing Alberta archaeological sites, research, and mitigation in 1972, with the passing of what is now known as the Historical Resources Act. At the same time, the Survey also became the official provincial repository for most archaeological data. Today the Survey collects and archives data for use by archaeological researchers, consultants, and other stakeholders, and also relies on archaeological data in order to run the historic resources management machinery. Read more

The Swing of Things: Archaeology in Alberta and the Occasional Paper Series

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to kick-off Occasional Paper No. 38 with a new format and early contributions. Articles in the Occasional Paper Series will now be published online throughout the year, with the final, compiled volume released at the end of the year. Our goal in moving to this rolling release format is to make articles available in a timely manner, while helping to accommodate the schedules of CRM consultants, university students, and other contributors.

Cover of the 2018 Occasional Paper Series. Submissions are welcome.

Occasional Paper No. 38, “The Swing of Things: Contributions to Archaeological Research in Alberta, 2018,” is dedicated to an early member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta, Milt Wright, whose recent passing was mourned by the province’s archaeological community. The first article in the volume is a tribute to him.

Milt Wright (1952-2017) was an integral member of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta in the 1980s and 90s.

The second paper is an identification guide for Knife River Flint, supplemented by geochemical and mineralogical tests of this important raw material that was used to make stone tools in Alberta.

A sample of Knife River Flint artifacts found in Alberta. Individual artifact photographs courtesy of Eugene Gryba, Shayne Tolman, Bob Dawe, and Todd Kristensen.

The title, “The Swing of Things,” refers to what we hope will be consistent format and content for years to come: each issue will feature papers documenting the multitude of cultural resource management (CRM), avocational, and academic archaeological projects completed in previous years. Interested authors can pitch a paper or idea to the editorial committee. The current and past volumes are available for free download here.

Written By: Eric R. Damkjar, Head, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

After the Flood: Archaeology in Alberta and the Occasional Paper Series

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to release Occasional Paper Series No. 37 dedicated to historic resources encountered and documented during investigation programs following the June, 2013 flood in southern Alberta. The volume contains 18 articles written by historic resources consultants, university researchers, staff of the Royal Alberta Museum, and members of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta. The flood eroded and blanketed archaeological, palaeoenvironmental, and palaeontological sites; Alberta Culture and Tourism coordinated a series of contracts in 2014, Read more