A day of bushwhacking in Alberta’s Parkland with Duncan & Maria.

Duncan – We are currently on a long running project along a large river valley in Eastern Alberta, as part of preliminary work for a pipeline. We have been here since January, and some of the team has been here since October last year. Winter working is a rarity in Alberta as the average temperature is about minus 20 degrees Celsius, occasionally reaching minus 40 this past winter. The work was only possible in heated tents, once the ground had been thawed out. Over the winter we excavated parts of three sites, but now in the heat of summer we have left our tents and are conducting exploratory survey work along both sides of the river valley. Last year a bison pound and associated processing site were excavated, and so far this year, we have excavated a badger den filled with placed artefacts – representative of a powow ceremony, a possible sweatlodge or hunting shelter, parts of a possible sundance lodge, as well as summer and winter campsites. The sites were repeatedly used over what seems to be the last 8 or 9 thousand years. Radiocarbon and OSL dates are pending, but we are hopeful that they will confirm this interpretation. The scale of the archaeological remains has thankfully prompted a re-routing of the pipeline to avoid the main sites, and we are currently doing survey work along the proposed re-routes. This entails digging shovel test pits at regular intervals along the routes to determine whether archaeological deposits, indicative of archaeological sites, are present. After the testing it is hoped that the best route, ie. the one that will impact the fewest archaeological deposits, can be chosen.

Maria – We start our day at 6am as we need to get as much work  done in the cooler tempretures of the morning.  We arrive at the edge of the survey area and have to spray down our footwear and put on paper shoes as there is a risk of bringing in club root (something which affects crops) .

spraying stationWe hike to the area we are shovel testing as it is not accessible by road.

morning hikeIt is really hot all day so we need to bring a lot of water with us and also a few crucial things in our packs: antiseptic wipes, sunscreen, blister plasters, trowel (with orange flagging tape so it won’t get lost in the bush), bear spray, insect bite pen, personal first aid kit, bug spray, stone tool ident book and emergency blanket and knife.

things in my bagWe are shovel testing and need to mark the locations along lines that we survey in.  Shovel testing is a way of sampling the archaeological potential of an area.  It is a hole dug 40x40cm wide and 80cm deep (deeper if we hit palaeosols).  We dig either in 5 or 10cm levels or spits and screen/sieve all the spoil to recover artefacts.  On this project we are digging the shovel tests by archaeological context, since have backgrounds in UK archaeology and are used to recording changes in soil colour, texture and composition.

The survey area is an ecozone called parkland, there is a lot of thick bush mixed with open grasslands.  Putting in lines for the shovel testing in the bush is very challenging, it is very hard to pull tapes through the thick aspen poplar, wild roses, wolf willow  and saskatoon berry bushes.

trying to get through the bushIt is very hot and airless, and full of ants and mosquitos.  I wrap up the wrist ends of my sleeves to stop ants crawling on my arms and biting me.

ant protection     On this day we are concentrating on getting some lines laid out through some of the thick bush.

forest surveyWe have spent some time clearing rhe bush with hand tools such as loppers and hatchets, using the pipeline surveyors’ pink flagging to guide us.  The lines are laid out using an optical theodolite, rather than a handheld GPS, as we require a higher level of accuracy.  We also have to tie orange flagging on all our equipment to stop it getting lost in the greenery.

cleared bushWe drop nails with orange flagging every 5m, and also flag the tree above to make the location clear.  Lines laid in the Spring have already been lost in the undergrowth!

putting in nails

flagging tape

We take breaks for lunch and water, and also to remove thorns!.

breaktimeAt the end of the day we cache our tools under a tarp in the bush, and hike back to the truck; we will start the digging of the shovel tests we laid out tomorrow.

Duncan – Our day of archaeology was fairly typical of the kind of preparatory work necessary before the digging begins.  The lines that were laid out today can be related to previous archaeological work in the area.  Little by little we are building a picture of life in this rich river valley over many thousands of years.  Thanks for joining us in our Day of Archaeology.