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Digging Up History:
An Overview of Archaeology in Alberta

Glaciers in Alberta 18,000 years ago. Click for details. Glaciers in Alberta 18,000 to 10,000 years ago - click to view details.Glaciers in Alberta 10,000 years ago.

Until quite recently most archaeologists believed that what we now know as Alberta was first populated about 11,000 to 12,000 years ago or 11,000 to 12,000 BP. According to this theory, as the glaciers retreated an ice-free corridor opened from Beringia, a continent sized land bridge connecting what is now Siberia with parts of Alaska and the Yukon. Nomadic hunters followed game animals south along the eastern slopes of the Rockies into Alberta through this ice-free corridor.

A collection of Avonlea points. Click to enlarge.Over the years, a number of archaeologists have found sites that may be older than 12,000 years throughout North and South America. Although dates were sometimes debatable, many speculated that people could have been living in the Americas before the glaciers advanced. Others suggested that people could have travelled south along a water route or on a coastal plain that is now covered by the Pacific Ocean. Support for these alternatives to the ice-free corridor has grown, especially since the discovery of Monte Verde, a 12,500 year old archaeological site in Chile. Most now agree that even if an ice-free corridor opened 12,500 to 13,000 years ago, or 500 to 1000 years earlier than previously believed, it is very unlikely that people would have reached the southern half of South America in just a few hundred years.

Mammoths... click to see detail.Whether Alberta was first populated by people travelling south through an ice-free corridor or north after entering North America along the Pacific coast (or even some combination of these methods), the oldest known sites in Alberta date from about 11,500 years ago. The occupants of these sites hunted mammoths, bison, horses and other Ice Age animals using stone tipped spears. The points for these spears are very distinctive and have been found throughout the western United States and the Canadian Prairies. Discovered first near Clovis and Folsom, New Mexico, archaeologists call the makers of these artifacts the Clovis and Folsom peoples. In Alberta, Clovis points have been found at Lake Minnewanka near Banff, Drayton Valley and in the Peace River area. Recently an important find of these points has been made near Cardston, Alberta. What makes this find particularly interesting is that the points were found in association with bones from extinct horses, and horse blood has been identified on some of the points.

A classic Clovis point. Click for details.A variety of Clovis points, known as "stubbies" to archaeologists because they are shorter than classic Clovis points, have been found at Sibbald Flats near Calgary and at Dunvegan on the Peace River. Folsom points are slightly smaller than Clovis points and their fluted edges are longer, extending almost to the tip of the point. Many archaeologists believe that the makers of Folsom points were a different people from the makers of stubby Clovis points. According to this theory, the Folsom people may have been specialized hunters of the giant bison of the period. Folsom points are very rare in Alberta, but they have been found near Vilna and in the Rockies at James Pass. They are more common on the plains in what is now the United States suggesting that Folsom people lived primarily to the south of modern Alberta. By contrast, the makers of stubby Clovis points probably hunted a wider variety of game animals and were more widespread in Canada.

The Plano Period (10,000 - 8,000 BP)

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