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No. 402: Old Aboriginal Sites at Lake Minnewanka

Minnewanka translates as "lake of the water spirit." An old native legend says a warrior standing at the top of a mountain near Banff once saw a fish in the water which appeared to be as long as the lake. And so he called it the "lake of the evil water spirit."

This story comes as no surprise to archaeologist Alison Landals, who is excavating old native artifacts at Lake Minnewanka.

It's one of the biggest lakes in Banff Park, and its been used by prehistoric, or pre-contact people in Banff for the last ten thousand years. It's been a very important focus of pre contact occupation in Banff.

Archaeologists first thought the historic record of native encampments on Lake Minnewanka had mostly been destroyed when it was turned into a reservoir for a local hydro electrical project.

But when Alison Landals began her research there in 1997, she discovered otherwise.

And what we found at Lake Minnewanka is a really good record of the time period from, especially from about 9300 years ago, as far back as 10,400 years ago. And then we have levels even deeper than that, that we haven't managed to get an actual radiocarbon date on, but could potentially be as old as 11 or maybe even 12,000 years old.

From at least the time of the last Ice Age, long before the pyramids were built in Egypt, native people have camped on the shores of Lake Minnewanka.

Lake Minnewanka is just a really special area in Banff. It's located within what's called the Montaine Eco Region, which is very important for animals. The lake itself would have been a rich resource for pre-contact people in terms of fish. [The] Cascade River kind of drains out of that area, and it's really good habitat for mountain sheep. And there's lots of mineral licks around the site. And that attracts animals to the site - we have mountain sheep visiting us almost every day when we're working there - and it's also got a very good southern exposure, which is important in the mountains, because you get good sunlight early in the morning.

Among the ancient fire pits and stone artifacts, archaeologists have found the oldest of native spearheads, the Clovis point.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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