Found artifact traced to pre-European people
An artifact discovered near Jasper’s Tonquin Valley has been shown to have belonged to people travelling in the area one century before Europeans were in Alberta.
Radio carbon dating has confirmed that a leather strip recovered by archaeologists, as reported in the September 15 Jasper Local, is approximately 270 years old, according to Todd Kristensen of the Provincial Archaeology Survey.
“We can say with 95 per cent statistical confidence that the date is between 1535 and 1795 AD,” Kristensen said. “We’re pretty excited.”
In August, an archaeology team of four researchers travelled to the border of Jasper National Park and Mount Robson Provincial Park, looking for signs of ancient hunters. They were high in the alpine, retracing the paths of caribou herds, with the thought that hunters would have followed the animals onto the ice patches where caribou seek refuge from predators and bugs. Besides caribou movement data, the scientists also used the 2009 discovery of an ancient wooden shaft near Barbican Pass, in B.C., as a waypoint from which to start their search. Still, even in Kristensen’s most optimistic moments, he could only hope that they’d find something so substantial on their first expedition.
“We feel really lucky,” he said a few days after his colleague Courtney Lakevold spotted the small knotted strip in the rocks next to a huge, nondescript ice patch.
continued from cover...
“To find an artifact right away is very exciting.”
Although to some human historians, 270 years doesn’t seem very old (give or take 20 years, according to the lab’s confidence levels), for Kristensen, the discovered artifact’s value lies in its potential to draw links between modern people. While a leather strip might not shed much light on which culture was moving through the Tonquin Valley in 1680, it hints at the possibility of finding other artifacts which could connect the area to modern First Nations cultures.
“If we can use these ice patch finds and connect them to oral histories of First Nations and historical records, and connect them to people who are descendants of those actual cultures, then it becomes a lot more significant and meaningful,” he said. “It tells a richer story.”
The archaeology for the Jasper area is still young. Some theories suppose that hunters would have travelled east from the plains, another theory suggests they would have come from B.C.’s Columbia River basin while other research points north as to the home of people hunting seasonally in the mountains. Whether the strip would have come from the moccasin of a traveller from the Blackfoot, Kootenay, Shuswap or the Dene tribes is impossible to tell, however, what’s clear is that Jasper was a cultural intersection.
“Jasper was a pretty big cultural hodgepodge, with lots of changing occupations,” Kristensen said.
That melting pot became even more complex not long after the owner of the leather strip dropped it near Barbican Pass; David Thompson first discovered Athabasca Pass in 1811.
“To produce a date that puts it right on the cusp of when Europeans are arriving in the province gets everybody excited about an important time in Alberta’s history,” he said.
The discovery is timely for a different reason, too: Jasper’s glaciers are melting at an increasing rate. For archaeologists hoping to find in-tact discoveries of wooden spears, ornamental clothing or notched arrowheads, for example, time is of the essence. Indeed, all over North America the race is on to make archaeological discoveries before climate change unlocks the glacial ice and exposes the delicate artifacts to the alpine air.
“We’re facing the reality of maybe 10 years of ice patch work before some of these archives are gone forever,” Kristensen said. “Some have been cased in ice for thousands of years. We’ve got a pretty narrow window to record some pretty unique stuff.”
For now, Kristensen is hoping to work with Parks Canada and the University of Alberta to drum up more interest in a larger scale program. As well as traversing the ice patches of Jasper and Mount Robson parks, researchers will follow the footsteps of caribou in Wilmore Wilderness Park, where they’ll hope their luck continues.
“If we can start to link some of the things happening in some of these ice patches with actual First Nations who were historically in the area, that makes it a lot more powerful and a lot more meaningful for me.”