Historic sites preserved

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

In the last 20 years, surveys done by archeology companies for forest companies have revealed about 542 historic resource sites in the Lesser Slave Lake area.

Alberta has around 42,000 sites.

Vincent Jankunis from Ember Archeology, made a presentation at the June 7 Slave Lake Forest Public Advisory Committee. His topic was ‘The Contribution of HRIA Programs to Our Understanding of Lesser Slave Lake.’

HRIA stands for Historic Resource Impact Assessments. The provincial government requires these for various types of development including forest harvest planning, pipelines etc. HRIA are a requirement of the Historic Resources Act of 1973.

“It’s a non-renewable resource,” says Jankunis about historic sites.

The Alberta government’s website says, “Historic resources are susceptible to the effects of time and can be damaged by the various development activities aimed at accommodating growing populations and modernizing society…Because many historic resources are not visible on the surface, the potential for a proposed development to impact these resources may not be apparent.”

Historic sites may be archeological, paleonto- gical, historic or traditional Indigenous use sites.

Jankunis has worked in archeology for over 10 years. His first trip to the Lesser Slave Lake area was in 2011 after the Slave Lake wildfire. He has done archaeological surveys for forest, oil and gas, other companies, and First Nations.

Most of these surveys are done for forest product companies. In the Slave Lake area, the surveys were done for Tolko, West Fraser, and Vanderwell Contractors. The companies operate mills near Slave Lake and High Prairie.

Prior to the last 20 years, the archeological information for the area was limited, said Jankunis. The only studies were done in the late 1970s and early 1980s, by Dr. Ray LeBlanc. He did archaeological digs around the shores of Lesser Slave Lake and Utikuma Lake, on House Mountain in the Swan Hills, and in a plowed field by Faust.

LeBlanc found a jade adz, a stone pipe, projectile points, bones, fire broken rocks, obsidian, etc., said Jankunis. He was able to trace these to the Northwest Territories, coastal B.C. and the plains. Many of these finds are prehistoric. He also found some historic artifacts including a gun flint and wax plugs. The sites were aged between 1,200 years ago to the 1850s.

The studies were done to answer big questions about archeology and used full excavation, said Jankunis. Since then, the focus has been on surveys to identify sites and preserve sites, but not excavation.

The surveys done in the last 20 years have covered a much wider swath of land. Some highlights have been obsidian traced to Mt. Isa in northwest B.C. and the discovery of a local Grizzly Ridge opal. These finds include burials, cabins, homestead, historic industrial areas, quarries, workshops, stone tools, and lithic scatters.

Lithic is an archeological term relating to stone and a lithic scatter is a group of stone flakes which indicate that stone tools were created at a site. Of the 542 sites in the Lesser Slave Lake area, 240 are scatters of 10 or fewer artifacts.

“What is so special about 10 flakes?” asked Jankunis.

He answered his own question with an example of a 10 or under scatter site discovered in a survey for a pipeline in the Marten Hills. Since the company was not going to avoid the area, an excavation of 10 square metres revealed 58 artifacts.

For the most part, industry avoids an area, so that the site remains undisturbed.

“There’s a lot more there,” said Jankunis, “and it’s been protected … We have enough information to know that it’s significant.”

Researchers have access to the information produced by the surveys, but Jankunis doubts that many excavations will be started any time soon to dig deeper.

However, the sites will be ready when someone is interested.

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