Alberta

Out of the woods and onto the plains

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This is me, ecstatic to be out of the woods and onto the plains.

So, I have a problem. People ask me for help and I say yes. Every time. That creates a bit of stress, but it also creates a lot of variety in my work. And it’s archaeology, so it never really feels like work, does it?!

So, for the Day of Archaeology 2013 (which for me was July 29), I was extremely excited to be on the plains, after playing in the forest for the last few weeks. No bears, no spiders, no twigs in the eye. Just mosquitos and sunshine.

Our task was to mitigate a stone feature, which in this case was a cairn. This cairn had actually been identified two years ago, and was subject to Stage 1 excavations last year. A total of five 1-x-1 m units were excavated and they found a bunch of lithics, including a scraper and a multi-directional core. It’s actually somewhat rare to find artifacts associated with stone features, so when that happens, mitigation often goes to Stage 2. That’s where we came in.

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This is Rachel, digging away.

I decided to complete excavations on the cairn itself, and to investigate areas adjacent to the units that were most productive from 2012. We dug and we dug and screened and mapped and found… squat. Well, we found the odd sketchifact but really nothing to write home about. We were allowed to excavate up to 6 metres here, but I decided that the last unit would have been pointless. Sigh.

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Our cairn, post-ex and somewhat reconstructed.

So we shut it down, took some final photos, and left a reminder of what used to be here. A short and sweet day. Tomorrow, we will start mitigations on a much larger site, with multiple stone circles and cairns. This photo, taken at the Torrington Gopher Museum, is a (not-so-accurate) representation of what we are trying to investigate. We are crossing our fingers for some really good finds!

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“An Indian Village” from the Torrington Gopher Museum, Alberta. A must-see!


Arqueología del Paisaje en Vigaña (Asturias, España)

Este viernes 26 de julio ha sido un día muy ajetreado. Por la mañana me desperté temprano en Astorga (León) a donde había ido a dar una charla de difusión ayer jueves. En esta ciudad leonesa se celebran cada julio las Fiestas de Astures y Romanos. Un evento de recreación histórica en el que los habitantes de la vieja Astúrica Augusta se transforman en astures y romanos con el ánimo de pasarlo bien y de hacer suyo el importante patrimonio arqueológico que alberta esta zona en relación con la Edad del Hierro y la Romanidad. Actividades de este tipo son a mi juicio fundamentales para nuestra disciplina. Es necesario que los arqueólogos y las arqueólogas nos mostremos accesibles y cercanos a nuestros conciudadanos en relación con el desarrollo de nuestras investigaciones. Que, a fin de cuentas, son sufragadas en muchos casos con dinero público.

Vista de la aldea de Vigaá (Asturias, España)

Vista de la aldea de Vigaá (Asturias, España)

Como os decía, muy temprano puse rumbo de nuevo para Vigaña, donde este último mes de julio estamos excavando en distintos sectores del terrazgo de esta aldea [Blog de Arqueología Agraria: http://arqueologiaagraria.wordpress.com/]. Por un lado, la excavación del poblado de la Edad del Hierro de El Castru avanza a buen ritmo, y los hallazgos están siendo muy interesantes. Fundamentalmente, la buena conservación de los materiales óseos nos facilita realizar un gran avance en el conocimiento de las prácticas ganaderas de los grupos indígenas cantábricos, tema poco tratado aún por los especialistas. Además, el reconocimiento de un área metalúrgica para el trabajo del bronce adosada a la muralla, constituye una gran noticia para el proyecto. Al mismo tiempo, un grupo de compañeros y compañeras trabaja en el entorno de la iglesia parroquial de San Pedro de Vigaña, con el ánimo de reconocer las fases de ocupación de una necrópolis medieval que habíamos localizado ya en 2011. Por último, también estamos realizando pequeños sondeos en distintos sitios de la aldea para documentar mejor la secuencia ocupacional de esta localidad, algunos de los cuales están ofreciendo sorpresas importantes.

Nuestro proyecto de investigación, anclado en la Arqueología del Paisaje, pretende ofrecer una lectura de tiempos largos en relación con la genealogía del paisaje en esta área de montaña. Así, nuestro grupo de trabajo acoge investigadores centrados en distintos períodos cronológicos que abordan el estudio de yacimientos que se datan entre el Neolitico y la actualidad. También convergen especialistas de distintas disciplinas, como antropólogos, especialistas en patrimonio, historiadores y arqueólogos.

El día lo hemos cerado con la visita del Director General de Patrimonio del Principado de Asturias, que ha querido conocer los avances de nuestras investigaciones, ya que las últimas semanas hemos obtenido cierta trascendencia en la prensa regional y estatal. No es mala señal ésta en los tiempos que corren, pues los brutales recortes en investigación y desarrollo que se han impuesto desde el gobierno central amenazan con paralizar el proyecto en próximas campañas, por lo que es muy necesario implicar al máximo número de apoyos e instituciones para que nuestro proyecto pueda continuar. Y para terminra, en escasos diez minutos, comenzará en Belmonte de Miranda la última sesión del ciclo de charlas y debates que hemos organizado en paralelo a nuestra excavación. La mesa redonda de hoy servirá para debatir sobre aspectos varios de la ganadería y enlazar los resultados de nuestras investigaciones con las problemáticas a las que se enfrentan los ganaderos actuales en el valle del Pigüeña.

La braña de L'estoupiel.lu, en los pastizales de altura que se elevan sobre la aldea de Vigaña.

La braña de L’estoupiel.lu, en los pastizales de altura que se elevan sobre la aldea de Vigaña.


A Day of Archaeological Survey in Alberta’s Parkland

Hello!

Excited with my find… no, really.

Last year’s Day Of Archaeology saw me on a rather disappointing, but entirely typical urban project in York.  This year sees me on the other side of the Atlantic embarking on an entirely new venture.  In fact, the Day of Archaeology coincides (almost) with my first ever day working in commercial archaeology in Alberta in western Canada, and I’m both excited and nervous.  My Friday was taken up with a rather uneventful first aid course so I have taken the liberty of documenting Monday, which was my first day, and was much more interesting.

My day begins at 8am when I’m picked up from a friend’s place in Edmonton by Marg, who runs Circle Consulting.  We travel out to Stony Plain, where we meet Stephanie, an environmental consultant, who is accompanying us on our archaeological survey.  A further half hour drive takes us to the first of the mile long segments along the route of a water pipe that is to be surveyed.

Tailgate talk (done on the bonnet, but nevermind)

The first job is to do various health & safety paperwork; a standard risk-assessment, but here called a tailgate talk… or something.  Then we tool up.  I have been in archaeology a while, but I lack a lot of the PPE that is necessary here,  (thanks Marg for the loan).  It includes the boots, gloves, eye-protection, and sturdy long-sleeved clothes that I’m used to, as well as a sturdy red vest/equipment harness,  2litres of water, insect repellent (not enough as it turns out), hat (protection from the sun and ticks), gaiters (swampy ground and ticks again), bear horn & bear spray (funnily enough for bears), that I’m definitely not used to, as well as a lightweight spade.

 

An easy start to the job.

We set off on the first of the survey transects.  This part of Canada was originally surveyed in mile by mile “sections”, each divided into 4 “quarter sections” measuring half a mile square, and encompassing 160 acres.  Most of our survey transects were a mile long, and therefore a two mile round trip back to the truck.  This sounds easy, but as I was to discover, the terrain was extremely variable, and often very difficult.

 

 

 

Shovel testing

In places along the route that have a higher potential for human occupation, such as near watercourses, on south-facing slopes etc. we dig occasional shovel test-pits, each circa 30cm by 30cm, and only as deep as the sterile natural geology, and examine the upcast for artefacts.  The positions are marked with a hand-held GPS, notes are taken about the deposit depths and make-up, and if no artefacts have turned up we move on. On the second transect I find a bifacial tool fragment, which was the only stone of any sort in all of the shovel test pits I dug.  I find it hard to guage how common or uncommon this sort of find is during survey work, but I get the impression that it is towards the uncommon end of the scale.

 

This is the shovel test pit, so it really seems like needle-in-haystack stuff.  If an artefact is found in a test-pit, the next step is to dig a pattern of further test pits around the find-spot to determine if it is part of a larger scatter of artefacts and if so, how far it extends.  Video here.

Sadly, we don’t find anything in these test-pits, which I assume means that the bifacial tool was discarded or lost, and is not part of a occupation site.  Video here.

After our second mile long transect, 4 miles hiked so far, we have a welcome lunch in the truck. Video here. And we plan our next phase of work. Video here.

The third transect turns out to be where a road was started, the ditches were dug and the ground built up, but no surface was laid.  This therefore, is disturbed ground where there is little to no chance of finding an occupation site. This bit was not going to be productive, however the wildlife more than made up for it. Video here.

This transect was a long one, so we moved a vehicle to the far end so that we needn’t hike it twice.  Here is a video of the different type of terrain.  On this one we quite often lost the marked route of the pipeline. Video here.

At the end of the day we try to find a historic house that the pipeline passes.  We weren’t successful on this occasion, but here is a pic from the next day when we did find it.  It was built in the 1920’s by a skilled stonemason who used local stone (glacial erratic boulders I think), and is entirely unlike the other historic buildings out here.  I like it, but it looks a bit modern to my UK biased eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had a great day, but I have no idea if it is typical of the work I’m going to be doing over the next 4 or 5 months.  Six miles, 33 shovel test-pits, some strange finds, left, and (video here), lots of insect bites, but no tick or bear encounters thankfully, and I’m knackered but pleased.

 

 

That’s my day, thanks for joining me on it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing Archaeology, Digitally

This Day of Archaeology doesn’t see me out surveying or excavating, nor in a lab.  Instead, it finds me sitting at my desk at MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University in front of my Mac Book Pro, two large Apple Cinema Displays (powered by an old, yet remarkably reliable, Mac Pro), an iPad, an iPod, an Android handset (Droid X2 if you are interested), and a Galaxy Tab 10.1.  This (extremely technological) state of affairs results from the fact that its been a long time since I’ve actually stuck a trowel in the ground.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a great field archaeology pedegree.  I spent my elementary, highschool, and undergrad years (my father is an archaeologist as well) working on sites in the Northern Plains (mostly Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta – and a little bit in Montana and North Dakota).  As a graduate student, I worked in Indiana and Illinois.  My primary area of research as a graduate student (as well as my archaeological heart), however, rested in Egypt – Predynastic Egypt to be precise.  I worked several seasons with Fred Wendorf and the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at Nabta Playa.  The bulk of my work in Egypt, however, was at Hierakonpolis, where I excavated a variety of Predynastic household sites and did research into Predynastic household economy.

As a graduate student (and even as an undergrad, to be quite honest), I found myself increasingly interested in how information, computing, and communication technology could be applied to archaeology for teaching, research, outreach, and scholarly communication.  Fast forward several years and I find myself sitting at my desk at MATRIX in front of a dizzying array of devices.  My transformation from a “traditional” archaeologist (if you will – though, to be honest, is there really such thing as a “traditional” archaeologist) to a digital archaeologist is complete.

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Surveying on the Plains in southern Alberta, Canada

Archaeology in Alberta. When I first interviewed to work in here, I had just completed a stint of 8 months in northern Italy, doing pre-publication work for an exciting Roman site complete with statues, coins, mosaic floors, structures,  etc… This came after some years of working in the UK, where the archaeology has always fascinated me.  When I came home, I was warned that I would be bored.

But guess what? Archaeology in Alberta can be both fun and exciting.  Archaeology here is well regulated by the provincial government and the Historical Resources Act, which basically says that any and all historic resources must be addressed by developers with potential for conflict or impact.  In some cases, field assessments are necessary.

 

Enter the archaeologist… on a quad! This is one thing that I didn’t have the opportunity to do in Europe; it’s hard to be bored ripping around on an ATV.  Of course, we do our best to respect the environment, minimize our impact, and we stick to our development area outside of main trails.

Today, on the Day of Archaeology 2011, we surveyed a lengthy development for the presence of archaeological resources.  The entire project area was traversed by ATV, with periodic stints of foot traversing and surface assessment of upturned soils, as well as shovel testing for buried cultural material.  Unfortunately, we didn’t identify any artifacts, but we did find a stone feature site or two. One was just a single cairn; as always, it had a fantastic view of the surrounding prairie.


Stone feature sites mark the presence of prehistoric people, traveling along similar corridors. They are easily identified by an unnatural patterning of well-buried lichen covered rocks, some of which are arranged in a circle, an arc, or a round mound. Stone feature sites are found throughout the Plains; more famous ones include Majorville Medicine Wheel and Sundial Hill Medicine Wheel.

In southern Alberta, the majority of historic resources identified are stone feature sites. While there are many to be found, all are protected under the Historic Resources Act, and must be avoided or mitigated; most developers choose to avoid and preserve. Some have been identified after development; these have been protected from future potential impact.

Our Day of Archaeology here in Alberta was great.  Sunny skies, buried sites and good times.  Of course, we would’ve loved to find more, and it certainly would’ve been great to find some Bronze Age burials, jade masks or terracotta armies, but that’s not our reality.  Our reality consists of continually identifying and preserving local prehistoric sites, and yes, that is exciting.

Alaskan Archaeological Adventures in Digital Terrain Analysis

Sarah here. I am just getting this post in right at the last minute (so mind my grammar) but I thought I’d contribute and support this day because Jess is one of my dearest friends and I couldn’t have survived my M.Sc. in Archaeological Computing at Southampton without her! Anyway I will stop being gushy and tell you a bit about what I have been working on up here in ALASKA!

A client of ours last year asked for an “archaeological probability model” to assess the potential for discovering cultural resources within a proposed 2000 foot wide by 116 mile road through the Northern Brooks Range and North Slope of Alaska (way above the Arctic Circle). I will not go into the debates about predictive modeling in this blog but as you may know these models have definite pros and cons. This model was to accompany approximately 65 days of archaeological survey field work in the summer of 2010 (we are just now getting funding to continue this summer). This road is being proposed through a remote area where the Alaska Natives still rely heavily on caribou and seasonal fishing trips (for those of you who are familiar with Lewis Binford’s work, god rest his soul, he studied the Nunamiut or Inland Eskimo quite intensively and this project is within their traditional territory). The road is being designed to open up oil and gas fields (sigh).

So I decided to get in contact with a college of mine in Alberta, Canada who is well versed in archaeological predictive/potential modeling. He has been using available high resolution DEMs (digital terrain models) produced by Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) elevation data to perform digital terrain analysis and multi-criteria analysis to construct archaeological potential (suitability) models. So I decided to give it a shot seeing as we had a LiDAR DEM!
To accomplish this task, I utilized terrain analysis (LandSerf©) to highlight two types of landforms with a higher potential for the presence of archaeological sites. These two landforms are level areas near terrain breaks (such as terrace breaks-in-slope), and ridges. I selected these landforms because they are consistent with observations concerning site location made by archaeologists in northern Alaska. I then ranked the archaeological potential of these landforms based on proximity to higher order streams (fish bearing rivers are the highest) using a multi-criteria analysis (IDRISI©).
So now I am working on a field survey plan to test the model this summer. I am not nearly done and there is a chance the helicopter is going to be ready to take us out there next week! Oh boy, I’d better get after it!