Artifacts of prehistoric beach party uncovered in Banff, AB
August 10, 2008
A July 2008 archaeological dig at an endangered site uncovered the richest, most prolific cache to date of c. 5000 artifacts from several cultures proving that Banff’s rich concentration of natural resources like wild game, edible plants and the famous hot springs, attracted (not repelled as was argued) nomadic peoples for at least 7,000 years.
In July 2008 Parks Canada archaeologists Bill Perry and Brad Himour during a month-long archaeological dig at an endangered, rare site located west of the town of Banff, excavated 1% of the potential 30,000 square metre site (eleven pits) and uncovered Banff National Park’s richest, most prolific cache to date of thousands of artifacts some dating back 7,000 years, belonging to the Besant, a Plains nomadic civilization previously thought to have avoided the mountains and living mainly on the prairie, had in fact regularly passed through this mountain paradise. Perry says. “On the eroding slope face we’re finding flakes, fire-broken rocks and projectile points. A lot of important information will be lost if we don’t do some salvage excavation.” This site is part of a kilometre-long chain of potential archaeological sites. Although Parks Canada has a dedicated fund for threatened archaeological sites, funding operates on a case-by-case basis, giving priority to culturally sensitive areas at risk from erosion, says Parks manager of cultural resource services Gwyn Langemann. This rich source of knowledge was first threatened in the 1880s when the railway undercut the slope where the excavation sits. “Throughout Western Canada, modern archaeology is only just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to piecing together early human migration paths. Debate still rages on how long ago glacial ice receded from the Bow Valley, opening up the corridor for nomadic travellers. What is known is that human inhabitation in the Banff area extends back at least 11,000 years, with the oldest site in the area at Lake Minnewanka. That site, exposed only a couple months each year and otherwise submerged beneath the lake’s fluctuating waterline, is also at risk from water damage. Much is still being learned about early settlement in the Rocky Mountains, which were originally viewed as a barrier to migration – a harsh and inhospitable place that divided Western Canada’s early civilizations. Bill Perry claims that since the 1980s archaeologists have reversed their knowledge claims on human settlement history and early human migration paths in which they had argued that the Rockies were a barrier to plains people migrating further west – a harsh and inhospitable place. Using modern archaeological methodologies they have found undeniable evidence showing that Banff valley region rich concentration natural resources like wild game, edible plants and the area’s famous hot springs, attracted nomadic peoples. Its prime campsites and travel corridors remain similar to what they are now. “With the valley’s current vegetation little more than a century old, it was once home to broad meadows and open, grassy Plains that played host to grazing bison.” “Debate still rages on how long ago glacial ice receded from the Bow Valley, opening up the corridor for nomadic travelers.”
Perry describes the site as a “prehistoric beach party”, evidenced by ancient fire pits and cooking sites. Roughly dated by the technology used, nearly 5,000 artifacts have been found, indicating several cultures passed through the area between 7,000 and 500 years ago. Although there is no known link to modern day aboriginal cultures in the area, both Stoney and Blackfoot oral histories connect them with the Bow Valley, while the Kootenay and Shuswap crossed the pass to hunt bison here. “It’s an amazing deposit of fire-broken rock on this ledge,” Himour says. “It’s going to definitely add to the conversation about the Besant occupation of the park.” Artifacts will be catalogued and inventoried over the winter, with carbon dating test results expected next spring. Perry hopes funding will continue, allowing ongoing exploration of the culturally important area. “At best all you can hope to do is get enough money to get a sampling of what’s here. Archaeology is an expensive business,” he says (Follett 2008-08-07).
Follett, Amanda. 2008-08-07. “Dig indicates Plains culture spent significant time near Banff.” Rocky Mountain Outlook.
Filed in anthropology, First Nations, Memory Work
Tags: animal rights vs human rights, archaeology, Banff, Besant, Blackfoot, Bow Valley, digg, First Nations, First Nations social history, Kootenay, Lake Minnewanka, land claims, RCAP, relocations, Shuswap, Stoney