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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Glossary of Terms

Adze: An axe-like tool for trimming and smoothing wood.

Alberta point - image from Provincial Museum of Alberta. Click to enlargeAlberta Point: Large spear points used about 9 500 to 8 900 years ago. Named in honour of the province, they are grouped into the Cody Complex of cultures with Scottsbluff and Eden points.

Archaeology: The study of the human past, it can include the study of material culture.

atlatl counter weight. Click to enlarge. Atlatl: Type of spear-thrower that began to be used approximately 8 000 years ago. This new tool effectively multiplied the length and power of the hunter's throw. Larger animals could now be brought down at greater distances.

Bone awls - click to enlarge. Awl: A tool used to make a hole in leather or hide which is too tough to pierce with a needle. The holes produced were ten used for sewing. Prehistoric awls are usually sharply pointed bone items.

collection of Avonlea points - click to enlarge. Avonlea People: Concentrated on the short grass prairies of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan approximately 1 800 years ago, their tools were made exclusively of local stone. The Avonlea Point was small and finely made. The Avonlea Complex shows the first use of pottery vessels.

Besant points - click to enlarge Besant People: Possibly migrants from the Dakotas, the Besant people established themselves across the plains and into the parklands and northern forests around 2,000 years ago. They introduced the brutal hunting method of "buffalo pounding" - a method of driving and trapping bison in an enclosure where they could be held until they were butchered. The emergence of pottery shards are also associated with this culture.

illustration of a buffalo pound - click to enlarge. Buffalo Pound: A corral, usually made of brush and hides, with a funnel-shaped fence leading to the entrance. Small herd of buffalo could be driven into the pound and killed.

Cenozoic: The latest era of geological time, following the Mesozoic era and including the present. It began about 66.5 million years ago and is characterized by the development of many types of mammals.

Clovis People: Earliest peoples of North America, appear around 11 500 - 10 500 years ago. Defined by their weaponry, more specifically the type of spear point they used for hunting.

Cody Complex: A group of sites dating from around 9 500-8 300 years ago. During this period we see the emergence of Alberta, Scottsbluff and Eden points.

Cretaceous: The third and last period of the Mesozoic era. It lasted about 74 million years and was marked by the final flowering of the dinosaurs, the development of early mammals and flowering plants as well as the decline and demise of toothed birds.

Devonian: The middle period of the Paleozoic era, which lasted about 48 million years between 408 and 360 million years ago and was marked by an abundance of fishes and the appearance of the first authentic land plants and amphibians.

Early Man/Paleo-Indian Period: 12,000-8,000 years ago, following the retreat of the glaciers from Alberta, this period is characterized by the hunting of large game animals such as the mammoth and giant bison. Archaeological investigation at sites such as Sibbald Flats (southwest of Calgary) and Fort Dunvegan on the Peace River has turned up engraving tools, flakes as well as tiny sharp edged microblades most made of non-local stones, mostly likely imported from elsewhere.

effigy made out of rock - click to enlarge Effigies: Similar to medicine wheels, effigies are also constructed out of glacial boulders but they trace out the figures of men and women, turtles, snakes, bison and various geometric shapes. The purpose of these stone constructions is generally unknown.

Folsom Man: Large game hunters, appeared around 11,000 - 10,000 years ago. Similar to Clovis culture.

Glacial Erratic: A large boulder that has been carried to its resting place by glacial ice. Erratics that have come a great distance can usually be recognized by their difference in composition from the local bedrock. There are several glacial erratics in southern Alberta, such an example is the Okotoks Erratic.

glaciers in Alberta 18,000 years ago - click to enlarge Glacier: A large mass of long-lasting ice that forms on land by the recrystallization and compaction of snow and moves slowly down slope or outward in all directions due to its own weight.

Holocene Epoch: The present epoch of the Quaternary period (our glacial age), extending from the close of the Pleistocene epoch about 10,000 years ago.

HoodoosHoodoo: A pillar of stone created when a hard caprock protects soft underlying rock from erosion. The word was originally associated with voodoo culture, and meant "bad luck." Because hoodoos sometimes occur in large numbers in eroded valleys and canyons, to European minds the resulting forest of otherworldly formations seemed sinister and magical. Many examples of hoodoos can be seen around the Drumheller area in southern Alberta.

Folsom People: Evidence of this culture around 11,000 - 10,000 years ago, the Folsom peoples were large game hunters and used a spear point similar to that of the Clovis culture.

Jurassic: The second period of the Mesozoic or dinosaur era, following the Triassic and preceding the Cretaceous, it lasted about 60 million years (between 208 and 140 million years ago) and was characterized by the dominance of dinosaurs and the appearance of flying reptiles and birds.

mammoths - click to enlarge Mammoth: Large animal, resembling modern day elephant. Emerged during the Cenozoic era. The woolly mammoth stood two to three metres high at the shoulder and had a high domed head, long sloping back and body covered with dense black hair. It was numerous in glaciated north America but may have been hunted to extinction by early man, dying out about 10,000 years ago.

McKean Complex People:Evidence of this culture around 4 200 years ago. The McKean people hunted the buffalo herds communally. Their hunting techniques and weaponry (points) were similar to those used around the same period by peoples of the Great Basin of the United States, in Nevada and Utah. This would suggest that they may have been immigrants.

Anderson medicine wheel - click to enlarge. Medicine Wheel: Medicine Wheels are a rare and mysterious cultural feature found throughout the plains of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana and northern Wyoming. Imposing and visually impressive there is evidence to suggest that the medicine wheel served a variety of religious and ceremonial functions. At least some medicine wheels date back to around 5,500 years ago. Structurally they reflect a diversity of form and size. The examples of the 8 types of medicne wheels found in Alberta - click to enlarge. term "medicine wheel" has been used since the late nineteenth century to describe a wide variety of aboriginal surface stone structures found on the northern plains. Barry medicine wheel They are generally made up of a central cairn or circle of stone from the center of which radiates a series of rows of other stones. Though the true purpose of these stone constructions remains unknown, some aboriginal groups believe that they symbolize and reflect the dynamics and meaning of the universe.

Mesozoic: The geologic era after the Paleozoic and before the Cenozoic, a period between 245 million and 65 million years ago.

Miocene: The fourth epoch of the Tertiary period in the Cenozoic era, between 24 and five million years ago, marked by the evolution of many mammals of relatively modern form.

Old Women's points - click to enlarge. Old Woman's Complex: Named after the Old Woman's Buffalo Jump near Cayley, sites of this phase contain small side-notched arrowheads and pottery. This phase dates from approximately 1 200 - 225 years ago.

Oligocene: The third epoch of the Tertiary period in the Cenozoic era, between 37 and 24 million years ago.

Oxbow People: These people appeared around 5 000 years ago, they used a more round and concave spear point. The Oxbow people also used mauls and hammerstones hammerstones, possibly for pounding seeds and berries, or for breaking bones for marrow which might suggest that they were the inventors of pemmican. They also began to build large circles of stone, often with central cairns which are today called "medicine wheels".

Paleolithic: Of an Old world cultural period, before the Mesolithic, characterized by the use of flint, stone and bone tools, hunting, fishing and gathering of plant foods, also called the Stone Age.

Paleozoic: The geologic era between the Precambrian and Mesozoic eras, covering the period between 545 million and 245 million years ago. Characterized by the development of the first fish, amphibians, reptiles and land plants.

Pelican Lake point - click to enlarge. Pelican Lake Peoples: Like the McKean peoples the Pelican Lake People took part in large scale bison kills. Some at jump sites such as Head-Smashed-In but they used a sharply triangular, deeply corner-notched dart point with barb-like shoulders. Referred to as the Renaissance people of the plains, the Pelican Lake people possessed a sophisticated culture, trading widely with peoples to the south and east they created beautiful hand crafted ornaments.

petroglyphs from Writing-on-Stone - click to enlarge Petroglyph: Part of an art form used by native peoples to express their views of the world around them. Petroglyphs are rock carvings that either communicate ideas or that are an attempt to communicate with the supernatural realm for advice or assistance. Some believe this aboriginal art form to be associated with the religious concept of the "vision-quest", a puberty rite or power-seeking ceremony. These carvings are believed to be "biographic" art forms through which a carver relates an event that may include human figures, weaponry, animals, tipis, horse tracks and other symbols. Good examples of such carvings may be seen at sites such as Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta, which may date back to around 1,000 BC.

detail of pictograph - click to enlarge Pictograph: Part of an art form used by native peoples to express their views of the world around them. Petroglyphs are rock paintings that either communicate ideas or that are an attempt to communicate with the supernatural realm for advice or assistance. Some believe this aboriginal art form to be associated with the religious concept of the "vision-quest", a puberty rite or power-seeking ceremony. These paintings are believed to be "biographic" art forms through which the artist relates an event that may include human figures, weaponry, animals, tipis, horse tracks and other symbols. Good examples of such paintings may be seen at sites such as Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta.

Plano People: Appeared around 10,000-8,000 years ago, a foraging culture that subsisted on small animals, plants, roots, berries and nuts. The Plano points are long and leaf-shaped but unfluted, some with narrower bases or stems and they may be described in two groups: the unstemmed variety (Agate Basin/Hell Gap series) and stemmed (Alberta/Cody), which might suggest the existence of two separate tribal groups.

Pleistocene: The first epoch of the Quaternary period in the Cenozoic era 1.9 million to 10,000 years ago. Characterized by the periodic incursion and recession of continental ice sheets and by the appearance of the first modern humans.

Projectile Point: Refers to all weapon tips and includes large spear points, medium-sized dart points and small arrowheads.

Radiocarbon Dating: Method by which the estimation of the age of organic material may be ascertained by measuring the radioactive isotope carbon-14, which is a natural component of all living material

damaged Scottsbluff point - click to enlarge Scottsbluff Point: Large stemmed spear points used between about 8,800 to 8,300 years ago, generally evident at Cody Complex sites.

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