How we know: Methods of understanding the past

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Jeudi, mai 2, 2024 - 10:20am - 4:00pm
Michelangelo C
  • Krista Gilliland, Western Heritage
Session Description (300 word max): 

Curiosity and the desire to learn are some of the most engaging and exciting qualities of being human, and are essential qualities for those working in the heritage disciplines. 

How do we know what we think we know about the past? Approaches to building understandings of the past are varied and include science-based methods, experimental archaeology, and traditional knowledge. These approaches may be framed as representing opposing views or truths. However, a multi- or interdisciplinary approach integrating a diverse range of methods can provide unique and complementary insights and build holistic, inclusive understandings of the past. 

The purpose of this session is to bring together heritage researchers that employ a variety of methods in studying artifacts, features, archaeological sites, landscapes, or palaeoenvironments, and to promote inter- and intra-disciplinary discussions and learning.

Academic and consulting professionals, and community-based and student heritage researchers are encouraged to submit abstracts as part of this session, with the intention to share results of studies that address questions about the past using one or more methods that range from science-based, to traditional knowledge and oral histories, to archival research, and beyond. Presenters are encouraged to follow a format that begins with a problem or question that they have addressed in their work.

10:20 AM - 10:40 AM: Beyond Similarity: Evidence of Scottsbluff Point Cloning in Central Alberta
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Bob Dawe - Royal Alberta Museum
  • Karen Giering - Royal Alberta Museum

In central Alberta, a variety of the Scottsbluff projectile point type has been identified that is so similar that it must have been made by a common group, and possibly the same person. The sample size of this peculiar type is quite small but the conformity to exacting dimensions in this group warrants the assignation of a common type name which we propose to be the Redwater variant of the Scottsbluff projectile point type. The Redwater type points that have been identified are almost exclusively Knife River Flint, the closest source of which is more than 1100 kilometres from where these artifacts were recovered.  What remains to be understood is the mechanism by which such artifact clones came to light so far from the source of the stone the majority of these were made from. It is hypothesized that these artifacts were manufactured by a craft specialist, but whether the manufacture occurred in the toolstone source area, or near the location of recovery, remains an enigma.

Keywords: Scottsbluff, projectile point, Knife River Flint, craft specialization

10:40 AM - 11:00 AM: How to Interpret First Nations Maps using their Perceptions of the World
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Gerald Oetelaar - University of Calgary

A number of archivists, historians and archaeologists have made important contributions to our understanding of maps produced by members of First Nations and Inuit communities. Perhaps none of these cartographic representations has received as much attention as that produced by Ac ko mok ki for Peter Fidler at Chesterfield House in 1801 and 1802. One of the greatest challenges in deciphering these historical documents is the identification of landmarks depicted and labelled on these Blackfoot maps. Of particular interest is the identification of the named peaks depicted and labelled within the double lines representing the Rocky Mountains. Earlier attempts have focussed primarily on relating the Blackfoot names to mountains with similar modern names or in terms of their location relative to other peaks. However, none of the researchers have tried to incorporate the Blackfoot understanding of the world in their approaches to the interpretation of the maps. In this presentation, I propose to illustrate the benefits of adopting the Blackfoot worldview in combination with our Western understanding of modern cartographic conventions to outline a process for the identification of specific peaks on one of Ac Ko Mok ki’s map.

11:00 AM - 11:20 AM: Testing, Critiquing, and Falsifying Social Evolutionary Models About Hunter-Gatherer Sites Through Lenses of Scientific Reasoning, Archaeological Evidence, and Indigenous Knowledge: How We Know What We Know About Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Kevin McGeough - University of Lethbridge
  • Shawn Bubel - University of Lethbridge

Archaeological studies of hunter-gatherer sites over the past seventy years have shown that there is widespread dissatisfaction with this as a social evolutionary category, and yet researchers continue to use this nomenclature. The term “hunter-gatherer” has come to be seen as limiting, especially since more diversity is attested in the archaeological evidence for these cultural groups than posited in older socio-taxonomic models. Using Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump as an example, we show how traditional, social evolutionary interpretations of the site can be limiting, especially with their focus on utilitarian, subsistence, and economic readings. However, by thinking about how the site does not fit the expectations generated through the category of “hunter-gatherer”, multi-vocalic interpretations of the past can be produced. Ironically, by falsifying different postulates of these older taxonomic categories, it becomes apparent that they are working as scientific models are intended. We argue that strong, though oversimplistic, models help us know what we know, and how the application of those models in tandem with more recent anthropological theory and Indigenous knowledge can promote new means of thinking about the past and present.  

11:20 AM - 11:40 AM: An Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) application in Cultural Resource Management – Case Study
Format de présentation : Online - pre-recorded
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Courtney Cameron - Cameron Heritage

During the course of a CRM project on Cotnam Island in the Ottawa River, at Pembroke, Ontario; two stone features were recorded. Feature 1 is a circular feature approximately 3 m in diameter comprised a ring of rocks. Feature 2 is located approximately 19 m to the west of Feature 1. This feature is comprised of two roughly parallel low dry-stone walls approximately 2 m apart and 2 m long. Shovel testing was conducted around the features but no artifacts were recovered. The circular feature is definitely an indigenous shelter of some kind, probably from the Woodland Period; but what about feature 2? It is a puzzle. What is it? How old is it? Is it associated with Feature 1? How are we to know if it is even archaeological? Given its proximity to feature 1, the general size of the stones, and how overgrown the feature is, it seems likely to be archaeological. But how do we prove it? And how do we determine its Cultural Heritage Value and Interest for the purposes of CRM? To answer these questions, I turned to OSL to provide a path forward for development.

11:40 AM - 12:00 PM: An experimental inquiry into shell tempering choices: Implications of open-air firing in shell temper microstructures
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Duygu Ertemin - McMaster University Anthropology Department

Shell-tempered pottery (STP) is a specific category named after its tempering choice, a focus in archaeological science. While scholars have studied its functional properties, few have explored variations in shell tempering and its structural characteristics. This paper investigates the relationship between shell temper processing and resulting internal structural changes during firing, using experimental methods and SEM-EDS analysis. Clay pots with varied mussel shell volumes and processing styles are crafted and fired in an open-air environment. Results, monitored using thermocouples, reveal diverse outcomes, from thermal shock-induced explosions to spalling and cracking. SEM imaging reveals internal structures of the clay matrix and shell tempers, and elemental analysis via EDS investigates compositional variations. This study highlights the significance of open-air firing dynamics on shell temper's structural changes, influencing its physical properties. By investigating these relationships, the study offers insights into ancient technological choices. 

01:20 PM - 01:40 PM: Aerial Remote Sensing, Archives and Geomatics: Integrating and evaluating diverse spatial data.
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Scott Hamilton - Lakehead University
  • Nick Kuncewicz - Lakehead University

Integration of map information to support archaeological inference is often a frustrating process of grappling with issues of precision, accuracy, scale and data resolution. Over the past decade the nature and availability of map data has rapidly transformed, affecting how we collect, integrate and analyze it. Particularly important for our analysis are Manitoba provincial ‘data liberation’ policies whereby high quality geomatic data is readily available for download.  The Fort Ellice investigations have involved integration of precisely georeferenced aerial data with that collected using Unmapped Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These latter data feature output from diverse sensors beyond conventional ‘visible light’ cameras.  These modern baseline data are then evaluated utilizing archival information to further non-invasive archaeological prospection.

01:40 PM - 02:00 PM: Prospects for Resilience Thinking in Canadian Archaeology
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Matthew Munro - Stantec Consulting Ltd.

Resilience is an increasingly common concept used in archaeological interpretation. Its reliance on complexity science and heuristic modelling provides archaeologists a robust suite of interpretive tools to help analyse social change. The most valuable are provided through panarchic analysis and the use of the adaptive cycle metaphor. However, important critiques and some misunderstandings threaten to undermine the utility of resilience thinking. Its inability to account for systemic inequalities is problematic, whereas its reliance on systemic change is often misunderstood. This paper will provide a brief introduction to the concept and utility of resilience in archaeology followed by a review of its main weaknesses and misunderstandings. To conclude, some prospects for enhancing the profile of resilience through Canadian archaeological research topics are presented.

02:00 PM - 02:20 PM: Quarries, Questions, and Quantum Physics: Archaeological and optical studies at quarry Site EgPn-797
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Brian Vivian - Lifeways of Canada Ltd.
  • Krista Gilliland - Western Heritage

Representing the first recorded Precontact-era cobblestone quarry in Calgary, EgPn-797 recently provided an opportunity to revisit the question of how to date these enigmatic sites. Cobblestone quarries have received considerable attention since the 1960s, particularly regarding temporal use and cultural association. However, the typical absence of datable organic materials or time-diagnostic artifacts has thwarted these studies.

At about 15 to 20 cm below the surface, artifact-bearing sediments at Site EgPn-797 had the potential to address this longstanding issue. Soil monoliths were collected, screened using optical profiling, and submitted to the University of St Andrews for laboratory and formal optical measurements.

Optical profiling demonstrated that three luminescence ‘units’ could be defined within the stratigraphy. Laboratory characterization validated the profiling results and further demonstrated that the sediments were suitable for formal analysis. Formal dating was conducted on four samples and indicated that the artifact-bearing sediments at Site EgPn-797 accumulated between about 9.25 ± 0.74 ka and 5.27 ± 0.67 ka. 

Our work demonstrates the effectiveness of using optical methods in investigating cobblestone quarries and other stratigraphically shallow sites and underlines the importance of a staged approach which increases the interpretability of the data and makes the method accessible within most research contexts. 


02:20 PM - 02:40 PM: A small-scale team with big ideas: testing digital technologies and field strategies to expedite research
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Cara Tremain - Langara College
  • Alec McLellan - University of Toronto

Faced with a small window of time to collect data, and an equally small research team with which to do it, we went into our 2023 investigations of an ancient Maya site in Belize with tools and techniques that had the potential to help answer our research questions in an accelerated timeframe. We implemented a digital recording strategy using iPads, a drone, and 3D modelling software based on LiDAR and photogrammetry. We also excavated a series of small-scale units across a systematically placed grid, following a consistent strategy and methodology. This paper will present an overview of the successes and challenges we faced, to shed light on how our small team were able to investigate our ‘big’ research ideas about the past.

Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Petr Kurzybov - Western Heritage Services Inc.
  • Michael Ma - Western Heritage Services Inc.
  • Carmen Finnigan - Western Heritage Services Inc.

Historic resources (i.e. buried archaeological sites) are often subject to impacts created by various industrial developments. These impacts may lead to damage and eventual loss of the resource. Recognizing, describing, and classifying these impacts are complex tasks usually addressed during traditional in-field historic resource impact assessment (HRIA). The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) technologies has the potential to change and improve the detection of ground disturbances and mitigate impacts to previously unrecorded archaeological sites. UAVs help to acquire inexpensive fine-resolution imagery on demand. Their affordability, versatility, and flexibility give them an advantage over other means of acquiring remote-sensing data (e.g., ortho or satellite imagery). Advancements in software for processing and analyzing imagery (i.e., machine learning) have also opened many new opportunities.

Western Heritage developed a methodology of using UAVs in the boreal zone of Northwestern Alberta designed to acquire and analyze landscape imagery to identify and classify land disturbances created during forest harvest. Obtained data is intended to be used to narrow down the search area for potentially impacted archaeological sites. The implementation of this methodology demonstrated its potential benefits and clarified its advantages and challenges. Results of this study will help to inform and potentially define HRIA strategies.

03:40 PM - 04:00 PM: Exploring Archaeology Through Thermal Imaging
Format de présentation : In-Person
Auteur-e(s) :
  • Tammi Mills - University of Lethbridge
  • Craig Coburn - University of Lethbridge

Aerial thermography is a technique that can be used to reveal archaeological features in the landscape. Advancements in remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) remote sensing technology has expanded to include visible to thermal infrared is available for archaeologists to use in image analysis that produces high-quality results at lower costs than traditional methods. Utilizing an archaeological site in Southern Alberta as a study area, a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) was used as a reconnaissance tool for thermal data collection. The results from RGB and thermal orthomosaics show that careful consideration should be given to the acquisition parameters, such as optimal temporal and spatial resolution. Understanding these critical imaging parameters enhances methods available for archaeologists to use while targeting smaller areas for more intensive pedestrian surveys. Additionally, remote sensing in archaeology uses non-invasive methods for the delineation and analysis of subsurface archaeological and cultural features. With the increased popularity and lower costs of the technology, the use of remote sensing in archaeology will make the overall project more robust in coverage and data collection and offer a way to cover large areas over a shorter timeframe.