Did you know that some of the earliest inhabitants of what is now Alberta were here over 12,000 years ago? Evidence of these people is found in the form of fluted projectile points, like the one shown in the image above. Fluted projectile points are lanceolate (no stem or notching) and have large flakes struck from the center of the base to form a flute or channel.
One style of fluted projectile point is attributed to a culture known as the Clovis people. Clovis spear points were first discovered in Clovis, New Mexico, but are found all across North America. These points were long thought to represent the earliest people in the Americas; however, more recent research has refuted this. (more…)
Each March, the vanguard of spring arrives in Alberta on thousands of pairs of wings. Tired, hungry, and honking, near-countless flocks of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) either stop over here or complete the northern leg of their annual migratory path – to rest, refuel, breed, nest, and brood – at or near the edge of Alberta’s many ponds, sloughs, lakes, creeks, and rivers. In the weeks that follow, these geese will be joined by many different bird species, particularly waterfowl, in one of the world’s most abundant migratory bird areas – the Mackenzie-Great Lakes-Mississippi Flyway that crosses western Canada.
Canada geese at Jasper National Park. Photo Credit: Tourism Jasper and Travel Alberta.
The seasonal comings and goings of different kinds of birds is particularly significant to Indigenous groups. According to war chief Fine-Day, the Nehiyawak (Cree) names for six different moons or months describe bird activities within those periods: “Mikiciwpi-cim, Bald Eagle Moon. That is when these birds are seen. Mis-kihpi-cim, Goose Moon … Pinawewipi-cim, Egg Laying Moon or paskawehowipi-cim, Egg Hatching Moon. Paskowipi-cim, Feather Moulting Moon. Ohpahowipi-cim, Starting to Fly Moon. No-tcihitopi-cim, Breeding Moon.”1 Many of these names relate to time periods when certain (more…)
Often when we talk about dietary evidence at archaeological sites in Alberta, we are referencing a multitude of game animals, such as bison, elk, moose, etc. What is often missing from these dialogues is the reliance First Nations had on native and traded plants. For the most part, organic material does not survive the test of time; this is especially the case in Alberta’s boreal regions where acidic soils rapidly decompose organics. However, missing data does not mean it was not there in the first place. A wide variety of plant species were utilized by Alberta’s First Nations for subsistence purposes. At archaeology sites, evidence of plant remains can be recovered from sediments, stone tools, and ceramics. Plant microfossil analysis is one method that can be used to identify what plants people were using in the past.
Residue on a ceramic sherd, this can be extracted and processed to identify plants cooked in the vessel (Burchill 2014).
After a few thousand years, most of the archaeological record in Alberta has been winnowed down to pieces of rock used to make tools. Organic artifacts, structures, and other less durable things generally don’t survive thanks to erosion and decomposition. To maximize the information we can pull from those pieces of stone, the Alberta Lithic Reference Project (ALRP) was formed by a consortium of archaeological consultants, heritage managers, geologists, students, and university researchers. The goals are to accurately and consistently identify the types of raw materials that pre-contact people used to make stone tools. Why is this important? Specific types of rock were traded and moved widely across the continent and serve as valuable indicators of cultural relationships and/or human mobility patterns. (more…)
The story of a rusty gun found in central Alberta begins across the continent in 1863 when 100,000 New Model Army revolvers were being made at the Remington & Sons factory near the banks of the Mohawk River in New York State. The New Model Army was a popular sidearm because it was affordable and tough: most were destined for use in close combat by U.S. Army soldiers in the American Civil War. Between New York and Alberta, much of the revolver’s story is a mystery. (more…)
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…)