Anyone who has watched Vance’s digital story <click here to view> knows that the land we are moving on to has long been special to him. As a boy (and still) he would imagine wooly mammoth’s migrating along the creek valley, pondering how the ice ages and geological time have shaped the hills, valleys, and soils we sit on.
Finding arrow heads and other obvious cultural artifacts used to be common place but as Alberta has been farmed for decades, they are rarer finds.
So when Vance found an arrowhead sitting on top of the ground near a few burnt bits of bone, it reignited conversations about who and what had been here long before us. We decided to call the Alberta government’s Department of Culture, Historic Resources Management division, to see if they would be interested to check out the arrowhead and visit the site.
It was a hot June morning when our two archeologist friends arrived and very quickly we were down to business. They corrected us: what we had been calling an arrowhead was actually a spearhead, used with an atlatl (a throwing stick) in the days prior to bow and arrows. It is at least 2500 years old and made of quarzite stone. He showed us where the head had been resharpened and said it was quite close to usable. While we find the heads and think of the work going in to carving and sharpening, we were told that the real value was in the spear shaft itself: finding and forming one that was perfectly straight and the right weight meant that you didn’t just leave a spear behind, whoever threw it likely spent quite a bit of time trying to find it before giving up.
It was an exciting few hours as they described to us how the larger stones found were cooking stones and the burnt bones were also used in the fire as fuel. While we picture the native peoples camping alongside the creek, this was another area where we were quickly corrected. They would tend to camp further up on the hills – away from the mosquitos and other bugs and where the view was clearer.
While we complain about the beachsand that is our soil, our archeologist friends were delighted. The sandy soil had washed in recent rains and blown in the recent wind so that everything was sitting right on top of the soil, easy to see. As well, they noted that there were no rocks around so every item we were seeing was likely some form of cultural artifact.
As we were walking from one hilltop to another, Vance hit the big find of the day: a matching quarzite knife and scraper set.
We found them near another set of cooking stones and burnt bones and this added to the image we were creating of a group of native peoples sitting around the fire, sharing supper, telling stories, and working on their new hides.
While we are planning to make changes to the lands that have been farmed – planting trees, reseeding the land to forages, working to integrate our animals into biointensive grazing systems – we also aim to conserve the native prairie that is around us. Our society tends to think of land as something that belongs to us. Learning about the history of this place is a large part of us starting to belong to this land which is an exciting part of the journey in front of us.
We are looking forward to future visits from others like the archeologists from the Royal Alberta Museum – the invitation is extended to naturalist groups, herbalists and other who could come walk along our land, learn from it and share with us what you are seeing.
In the mean time – this one afternoon changed the way we look at the land: we spend even more time with our eyes down, looking for clues and artifacts that will add to the story of our land and of us.