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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Amazing Discovery

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That was right at the end of the Pleistocene Era, the end of the Ice Age - the glaciers had already receded from the grasslands to the mountains and into northeastern Alberta - and just before many of these early species disappeared forever. Yet here is proof of their cover of Legacy, Alberta's Cultural Heritage Magazine healthy co-existence in a rich environment, proof spread over two square km at the bottom of the St. Mary Reservoir, about 15 km northeast of Cardston. All this was exposed as the water was drawn down last spring to enable construction of a new spillway for the St. Mary Dam. As the cracked mud-bed dried, the southern Alberta wind eroded the sediment and lifted the veil of sand covering the archaeological and palaeontological treasures.

For two years Shayne Tolman, a Cardston elementary school teacher, had been exploring Wally's Beach, the provincial recreation area at the reservoir. What he found a few months ago astonished him - at first, Clovis points, distinctive spear-points found in scattered sites around the province but never in such concentrations and never before with such early evidence of extinct animals; and then nearby, very clear, unidentifiable ungulate tracks pressed firmly into the mud. He found a skull later identified as muskox. "Then we saw a big circular pattern in the ground and then another and another - obviously an alternating track - and I knew from the size there was no question: it had to bemammoth."

Tolman alerted local archaeologist Barry Wood, then geologist/paleontologist Len Hills and archaeologist Brian Kooyman at the University of Calgary. Hills' graduate student, Paul McNeil, joined the group. Their excitement is still palpable months later, as they talk about the first few days of exploring the area.

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This article has been reprinted with kind permission from Legacy, Alberta's Cultural Heritage Magazine, and the author.

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