Forget You Forest!

imagejpeg_2I had planned on writing about my last stint in the forest surveying sections of a massive pipeline, it was kind of terrible – terrible to the point that we were laughing hysterically in the middle of a gravel road because out luck was so consistently bad. I had the worst possible luck, every day. Tires popped off the argo, we got stuck (a lot), our fold-up ramp gave out while driving, I ripped the track off the argo, we almost got dumped in a lake, insanely long access routes….oh, I also discovered that bald eagles are not my spirit animal – every time we saw one we would end up having a most shockingly miserable day but they look so deceptively majestic! Apparently only one gender of bald eagle is good luck, I have yet to figure out which one is the lucky one and how to tell that in the field.DSCN1465

However, I have since forgotten all of those woes and moved on to much more awesome things – winter excavations on the prairies! Sounds bloody cold, doesn’t it?And yes, yes it is. Thankfully we managed to get out here a few days before the snow hit and set up some temporary garages/tents, add a couple of generators and heaters and tada! a cozy little oasis to do our excavating in. Really, the only downside to this plan is the long, chilly walk to the unheated port-o-potty – please let me know if you know of any that have heated seats…

We have 4 different sites to excavate, a total of 160 square meters, with the majority of them being excavated to IMG_5478over a meter deep – we’re going to be at this all winter (I hope!). As the snow set in we also covered areas of the sites we’ll be opening up later with hay bales to keep the ground from freezing, which has worked so far and also gives the tents a somewhat pleasant barn smell, until the hay gets wet that is.

The first site is amazing so far. We have at least two distinct occupation levels and there are tons of artifacts, bones (bison + a variety of other animals), fire cracked rocks, and stone tools and flakes. It is such a nice change to actually be finding things after all the forestry I did this summer where we hardly found anything. Thus far it definitely looks like it was a processing site, some evidence of butchering on the bones we’ve found and lots of tool manufacturing going on, as well as numerous boiling pits and hearths. So far we have a 50% ratio of features to units open which is exceptionally good for any site I suspect – hopefully that continues. More pictures of all the pretty things we’re finding to come, but sleep first! The temperatures have dipped to -23 degrees Celsius tonight – it is going to be a frosty morning on site tomorrow!13-246~92

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Hunting for Sites

Part of our challenge for this trip was to relocate the sites we are now excavating. IMG_4032The six sites were first identified two years ago, and we had a rough idea where most of them should be.As added insurance we also brought along the archaeologist who first identified the sites and she seemed to mostly remember where we wanted to go, mostly.

Stone adze-cut stump - the stone crushes as it cuts, this can be seen if you look closely

Stone adze-cut stump – the stone crushes as it cuts, this can be seen if you look closely

The first one we rediscovered is a tiny little lookout – a steep climb and a rocky seat, but a great view of the area. It had some interesting traditional use markers at the bottom of the hill: a tree tied in a knot (which has subsequently fallen over, but still cool), and a stump that was cut with a stone adze (you don’t see that much within the last century…).

Afterwards we wandered done to the river where there is an old cabin, as well as some of the machinery used to winch in barges – the only way to access the area without a plane. There isn’t too much left other than the corner of the cabin and some of the foundations. We don’t plan on doing any further work at this spot, but still fun to poke around.

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We discovered that one of our sites has been blasted through (they said is was an accident…) while they were busy gathering rock to build the road down to the modern ferry landing spot. We did a bit of shovel testing to see how much of the site they might have left us safely tucked away in the trees, but it looks like they did a pretty thorough job of destroying the high potential areas.

One of the sites required some serious climbing skills – the hillside seems almost vertical in places, luckily I was sent off to another site while the other team investigated this spot. Apparently, if you survive the climb the view of the surrounding valleys and rivers is fantastic. They continued on to the next high site where they found some very cool points (pics of awesome finds to come next post), I suspect more work will need to be done there or they will have to avoid the area with their mining operations. However, I am skeptical of the second option given what already happened when they were building the road.

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Crossing the little creek to get to the last site

The last site is tucked away in the forest on a good rise, across the river. That’s where I spent several days and will likely spend a few more. There are the remains of a tent foundation – evidence of traditional use of the area. But shovel testing reveals that the occupation of the area goes much further back than that – lots of flakes, microblades and general evidence of stone tool making in the area. The area didn’t start off that promising but that was just because we weren’t looking in the right places.

Pictures of some of the pretty rocks we’ve found to come soon!

Oh, the adventures we will have…

What an adventure-filled couple of days! We have finally figured out where the favoured areas are and are starting to find sites – high sandy knolls beside clearly defined water sources, they didn’t seem to like the vague, sloping areas at all. The lithics are not terribly spectacular to the average eye, but after a week of nothing they seem absolutely gorgeous.

It was a terribly long day though, 15.5hrs in the field – far less than ideal but we are at the mercy of the helicopter pilots and they could not ferry us home any sooner. It was amazing to be out so early in the morning though, everything was so crisp and fresh, all the birds were out and chirping, none of the insects were up and buzzing around yet. Everything just smells and looks more vibrant as the sun is coming up.

The following day was quite the exciting day;  it was my turn to find a site, this time with the tiniest flake possible. I found a second, slightly bigger flake tangled in the roots of the moss from the top of my test pit. It was reassuring to be reminded that yes, I still do know what I’m looking for – we just weren’t finding anything.

Later in the afternoon we went to scope out some of the other high potential areas; it was a much more dynamic argo ride. We managed to get ourselves into the middle of quite a bit of swampy muskeg, we ended up crashing through the forest in attempts to find where the road had abandoned us, I almost bounced out the back several times – quite the drive. However, it was not long until disaster struck!

Alright perhaps that’s a tad dramatic, but it could have been quite serious. We came upon a tree that was crossing the path, a tree we believed would easily go under the argo and be nothing more than an unpleasant bump. However, at the last second it whipped back and caught Yvonne, our team leader across the hand and then squarely in the chest. She stopped the argo and hopped out of the argo to catch her breath; however, she very quickly went into a swoon that would have made any Victorian woman proud. Instantly we had her in a recovery position, injury iced and the sat phone ready to go (please note I didn’t take the picture until she was on her road to recovery).
Luckily we were done for the day and heading for the helicopter anyways. Tucking her safely into the passenger seat we were off again in no time.

Disaster strikes again! Ok, not disaster but adventure time. The storm we were trying to out pace quickly caught up to us and we decided perhaps it was not wise to be driving around with the lightning directly overhead. Pulling over we broke into out emergency kit and set up a cozy little tarp house to wait out the rain under. The sound of the thunder cracking and rolling around us as we sat huddled in the heart of the storm was fantastic, you could feel it reverberating through your bones. Thankfully though the storm passed quickly and we made the rest of the journey home without incident.