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Historic Period Archaeology

An example of a Petroglyph. Click to enlarge.Most scholars make a distinction between the periods before and after written records are available for an area. Some call this the dividing line between the historic and prehistoric periods. These terms do raise some issues, however, and no one should assume that people have no history before they have written records. In fact oral traditions, winter counts, language, Another petroglyph. Click to enlarge. petroglyphs, archaeology and many other types of evidence can be used to reveal the history of Alberta's first inhabitants, long before the first written records about what would become Alberta appear. These documentary sources only begin to appear in the early 18th century and most date from after 1754 and the first clearly recorded visit by a European fur trader to Alberta.

Prior to the arrival of Anthony Henday in central Alberta in 1754, Aboriginal people from the area were trading with Europeans either directly by visiting posts to the north and east themselves, or indirectly by trading with Cree and Assiniboine groups. These Aboriginal traders exchanged goods they had acquired from fur trade posts for furs, Beaver Indians at trading post. horses, food and other products. In turn, they then traded furs and other goods at posts for more goods that they could trade later. In this way European trade goods reached Alberta in unknown qualities for at least half a century before the first European arrived in person to trade.

Excavation of a hearth at Fort George. Click for details.Historical archaeology plays a major role in the study of fur trade and mission sites. Extensive digs have been made at many of Alberta's most significant early historic sites including Fort Edmonton, Fort George and Buckingham House, near Elk Point, Rocky Mountain House, and Dunvegan on the Peace River. In addition to these digs at major fur trade and mission sites, historic archaeologists have worked on homesteads, ranches, North West Mounted Police posts, Archaeological remains at Fort Chipewyan. Click for details. and many industrial sites. The work of historic archaeologists complements information found in archival records as well as giving us direct information about the material goods used by people in the past, the location and layout of buildings, diet, disease and a host of other important subjects.

Suggestions for Further Reading and Information

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            For more on the Aboriginal history of Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.