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No. 403: Lake Minnewanka: Part Two

Lake Minnewanka near Banff is now regularly flooded by a hydro electrical project in the area.

But according to archaeologist Alison Landals, radio carbon dating indicates natives camped at Lake Minnewanka for more than 10 thousand years.

Last year we had a wonderful field season because the water rose very slowly and we were able to dig much deeper in the site than we ever have before. And what we found was strata graphic layering, so we would find a hearth with stone tools and bones, and you'd dig down deeper and find the same sort of thing.

And we were lucky enough to get a radio carbon date from the uppermost of three layers, and that radio carbon date was 10,400. The two lower layers are still undated, but we know, because of their position in the ground, that they must be older than 10,400 years.

Early aboriginal people were drawn to Lake Minnewanka by an abundance of animals for hunting and stone for making spearheads.

You have to have suitable stone for making a stone tool, you can't just use any kind of rock. And so what we find is that there were certain areas that were really favoured by pre-contact people, because they had good quality lithics - stones for making the stone tools.

And there were some quarries right within Banff National Park. But we found evidence of obsidian, for example, which must have been traded in over at least 500 or 600 miles. We found rock from southeastern B.C., and some rock that we just don't have any idea where it came from. We consider it to be exotic to the area.

When archaeologists first visited the site in the 1960s, the shoreline was carpeted with spearheads and stone tools. These represented every period from the time the people hunted mammoths, right up to the modern fur trade.

What we've found is a lot of evidence for what the people were doing. We found hearths, or fire pits, where they were...lighting fires, and when they light the fire you get little scatters of charcoal, and there's soil changes, the soil gets very red, and bits of the bone of the animals that they were hunting and eating. And we found some chips of different kinds of stone from different areas, which you can then use to look at which quarries people were using and how the quarry use may have changed over time.

Because the encampments date back to the last Ice Age, the artifacts will contribute to a better understanding of how the Americas were first peopled - whether from the north or from the south.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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