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.
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…)
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…)
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. (more…)
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.
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…)
Pottery traditions have developed independently all over the globe thanks to the versatility of clay as a medium for utilitarian function and the expression of identity. Over 450 sites in Alberta have pre-contact pottery dating from 300 to close to 2000 years old. Fragments or “sherds” of pots at archaeological sites reveal surprising amounts of information about how people lived, how they transmitted knowledge, and why pottery traditions persisted in Indigenous populations for millennia. Ancient pottery production continues to influence modern potters and it can inform how modern society uses material goods to express identity. (more…)