Archaeological Survey Section

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…)

Mountain Movement: How the Rockies Shape Alberta

Most of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains finished uplifting 50 million years ago – they’ve been pouring sediment across the province ever since. The Rockies shaped our water drainage network and, with the help of glaciers, erected the house of silt, sand, and stone that we all live in. The tilt that our mountains built is largely responsible for the development of our prairie soils and modern agriculture. Our mountains have also shaped how cultures interact and move, which has moulded much of our history.

At first glance, the Rockies are imposing – an impressive barrier rising from the foothills like a stony gate. But for thousands of years, people traveled across and within them to trade and acquire goods. Groups in southeastern British Columbia, like the Kootenai, often descended into Alberta’s valleys to hunt bison and other big game. The Kootenai engaged in trade and formalized sport (like the hoop and arrow game) with local Blackfoot, Cree, and other groups. Large caches of meat and hides were then transported back across (more…)

Ask an Expert – What’s the most unusual archaeological find in Alberta to date?

Earlier this year, we launched our Ask an Expert initiative. We received our first question via our Facebook page “Alberta’s Historic Places.” The question is:

What’s the most unusual archaeological find in Alberta to date?

There are many correct answers to this question depending on people’s interests but this video shares some of our expert’s favourites! Enjoy!

Jade Celt

https://albertashistoricplaces.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/ancient-jade/

Knife River Flint Eccentrics

https://albertashistoricplaces.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/from-north-dakota-with-flair/

Nephrite celts are highly polished with a flat and slab-like shape. This specimen was found near Stony Plain outside of Edmonton.

Jade Celt

 

 

 

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Knife River Flint Eccentrics

If you’d like to submit a question to one of our experts at the Historic Resources Management Branch comment below or find us on Facebook (Alberta’s Historic Places) or Twitter (@ABHistoricPlace).

Video and text by: Courtney Lakevold, Archaeological Information Coordinator

Back on the Horse: Spreading Archaeology in Alberta

The Archaeological Survey of Alberta is proud to announce the re-establishment of an occasional paper series that served as the principal means of sharing archaeological information in the province from 1976 to 1994. The series consisted of annual review volumes (with papers that summarized a years’ worth of archaeological projects) and thematic volumes that showcased current projects and research pertaining to a specific region or topic in Alberta archaeology (past volumes can be accessed here). To kick-off the series revival, we present a volume of 16 articles led by current and former staff of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta and Royal Alberta Museum. The articles present new methods, approaches, and results of archaeology in the province. The current and all future volumes will be available for free download.

Back Cover No. 36

Back Cover No. 36

Who is this by and who is it for?

 In keeping with tradition, we hope that future issues of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta’s Occasional Paper Series (nick named the ‘Blue Book series’ because of the blue covers) will feature work by archaeological consultants, university students and professors, and other professional archaeologists working in Alberta. Any practicing archaeologist is welcome to submit a paper: click here for further information about submissions and guidelines. Papers can be based on cultural resource management policy, archaeological best practices, guidelines, methods, academic research, summaries of archaeological projects, or in-depth investigations of particular facets of Alberta’s archaeological record. The audience of the revived Blue Book series includes professional archaeologists, avocational archaeologists, students of the discipline, and interested members of the public.

Why is this important?   

Archaeological resources are protected in Alberta by our Historic Resources Act: to demonstrate why that act, and Alberta’s record of past human activity, are important, we need a venue to share archaeological information. The Blue Book offers a place to showcase the amazing, inspiring, and humbling records of people that shaped this province. And it creates a dialogue to openly discuss how best to protect that past while recognizing the needs of modern Albertans to continue to develop the province. The intents of the Archaeological Survey of Alberta’s revived Blue Book series are to stimulate, illuminate, and debate the records and practices of archaeological work in the province.

Written By: Robin Woywitka, Cultural Land Use Analyst, Archaeological Survey of Alberta

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From North Dakota with Flair

The St. Mary Reservoir, near Cardston in southern Alberta, was built and filled by the early 1950s. During reservoir draw downs and droughts, lake bottom sediments are exposed and quickly eroded, which has revealed a unique collection of artifacts and even trackways of now extinct megafauna like mammoth and camel.

Two particularly interesting artifacts are termed ‘eccentrics’ because their shape and significance are so unusual. Eccentrics are very rare artifacts, the shapes of which are thought to be determined more by aesthetic rather than functional reasons. Some archaeologists think that the large flintknapped stone artifacts from St. Mary Reservoir are symbolic representations of the branched “horns” of pronghorn antelope once common across the Great Plains. Others think they may have been ceremonial knives used on special occasions.

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Knife River Flint ‘eccentrics’ from St. Mary Reservoir. The different colourations of these pieces are due to ‘patination’. This is when a chemical rind develops over time around particular edges or faces of artifacts depending on their exposure to different local conditions (courtesy of Shayne Tolman).

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Five-hundred Years of History at McKinnon Flats: New Discoveries Made in the Aftermath of the 2013 Flood

You may have recently seen a news story about archaeological finds at McKinnon Flats, approximately 22 km southeast of Calgary (see below for news links).  Today, McKinnon Flats is a popular recreational area, used for fishing, hiking and bird watching.  But did you know that five centuries ago it may also have been used for bison hunting and camping?

Archaeologists of Lifeways of Canada Limited have been contracted by Alberta Culture and Tourism to find out about early settlement at McKinnon Flats.  They’re part of Culture and Tourism’s three-year Post-Flood Investigation Program, which was initiated to record the effects of the June 2013 southern Alberta flood on archaeological and palaeontological sites along rivers such as the Bow, Highwood, Sheep and Kananaskis.  As a result of the program, 100 new archaeological sites were identified and additional information was gathered at 87 sites that had been recorded prior to the flood.  Many of these sites were found eroding from the riverbanks, with some in need of investigation before they disappeared entirely. (more…)

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)

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