Managing Chaos at the Okotoks Erratic.

Jack Brink. Photo © 2014 Kai Sunderland

October 15, 2014. University of Calgary Room ST 141. 7:30pm

Jack Brink, Royal Alberta Museum

The Okotoks Big Rock is a designated provincial historic site that is owned and operated by the Alberta government as a tourist destination. In the past several decades the town of Okotoks has exploded in population, leading to greater public presence at the Big Rock erratics and a sharp increase in vandalism, especially graffiti. In addition to graffiti being unsightly and disrespectful, it threatens the integrity of rock art and red ochre smears that are known to be located on the rocks. Improved photo enhancement has led to discovery of much more rock art at Okotoks than previously known, including in places that have been covered with graffiti. But how to remove graffiti without harming the underlying rock art? This talk explores that question, reports on recent efforts to record the rocks in 3D, reviews graffiti removal episodes and rock art integrity, and considers future directions for management of the troubled Okotoks site.

Not Quite Written in Stone: Rock Art Monitoring at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

April 16, 2014. University of Calgary Room ES 162. 7:30pm

Mike Turney, Golder Associates, Calgary, Alberta. 

Although rock art is literally ‘written in stone’, it is unfortunately not as un-changing or stable as this expression of permanence might suggest. The rock substrate upon which rock art is created can be affected by natural deterioration, surface weathering of the rock art itself, and by subsequent inscriptions and acts of vandalism. As part of a project to nominate Writing-on-Stone (WOS) Provincial Park for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the rock art panels at the Park have been systematically monitored for the last four years. Possibly the only program of its kind in Canada, the presentation details the implementation and progress of the monitoring program thus far and presents some of our initial findings.

Neolithic Halloween?: Plastered Human Skulls and the Origins of Agriculture in Near Eastern Neolithic Villages

Ian Kuijt. Photo © 2014 Kai Sunderland

March 19, 2014. University of Calgary Room ES 162. 7:30pm

Ian Kuijt, Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame.

For many years researchers have debated the purpose and meaning of Neolithic human skull removal and plastering in the Near East.  Recent fieldwork has documented the wide-spread use of these practices some 10,500 years ago, and clearly identified that the elaborate manipulation of the dead was central to ritual and mundane life within the world’s first agricultural villages.  Human skulls, often found in groups, were occasionally covered in clay plaster in such a way to recreate eyes, noses, ears and other facial features.  It is clear that Neolithic people used skulls as heirlooms, and through such manipulation created tangible connections to the past.

Projecting Future Change from Archaeological Data: Evidence for Climate-Related Contaminant Fluctuations in Holocene Marine Archaeofauna

Mink Island
Mink Island. A location related to Dr. Murray’s talk.

February 19, 2014. Maribeth Murray, Arctic Institute of North America. 

Biogeochemical analysis of total mercury (tHg) and d13C/d15N ratios in the bone collagen of archaeologically recovered marine fauna from coastal Alaska shows high tHg levels during early/mid-Holocene (ca. 52-4600 rcy BP). This is linked to glacial melting and sea-level rise at the end of the Pleistocene. Under current conditions of climate warming, these processes may lead to future increased Hg bioaccumulation in marine species and by extension their human consumers. I discuss the value of length time series for understanding ecosystem structure and function and change over time, and the connections among ocean processes, sea level rise, and prehistoric human health and future health risks.


Dr. Maribeth Murray
Dr. Maribeth Murray

Dr. Maribeth Murray is the Executive Director of the Arctic Institute of North America and Professor of Archaeology at U Calgary. She came to Calgary in July from the International Arctic Research Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she was the Executive Director of the International Study of Arctic Change (ISAC). As Executive Director of ISAC she was responsible for the growth and development of an internationally supported, ongoing program of arctic environmental change research, science planning, and stakeholder engagement. She has worked in the Arctic and subarctic for over 20 years where her research is focused on climate change and human and marine system dynamics. She holds a BA in Archaeology from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and a PhD in Anthropology from McMaster University. Dr. Murray serves on a number of polar advisory committees, including that of the Swedish Mistra Foundation’s Arctic Futures program, the EU Svalbard Integrated Earth Observing System science advisory board, and the US Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) observing change panel.

Understanding geographical constraints on human land use patterns in the eastern slopes of Alberta

Robin Woywitka

January 15, 2014. Robin Woywitka and Darryl Bereziuk, Archaeological Survey of Alberta. 

Most cultural resource management (CRM) projects undertaken in the eastern slopes of Alberta are focused on spatially constricted developments such as road alignments, forestry cutblocks, petroleum pads and pipelines. Often the evaluation of archaeological potential for these projects is focused on geographic constraints in the immediate vicinity of the development (e.g., proximity to water, local topography and soil properties). This paper examines broader scale geographic characteristics that influence the movement of people through the eastern slopes, focusing on the connections between hinterland site locations and resource procurement destinations (e.g., major lakes, lithic sources, alpine environments). Case studies from the Lick Creek Basin, Willmore Wilderness Park, Kakwa Wildland Park and Musreau Lake will be presented. These case studies highlight the use of digital terrain analysis and lithic raw material studies in identifying links between site location and resource procurement destinations.

Landscape Change and Human History of the Athabasca Glacier Area

November 20, 2013. Alwynne B. Beaudoin, Curator, Quaternary Environments, Royal Alberta Museum. 

Sunwapta Pass and the Athabasca Glacier are visited by thousands of people each year as they travel the famed Icefields Parkway, following in the footsteps of the first tourists who marvelled at the glacier in the late 19th century. Easy to access, the area has also been intensively studied by geoscientists and palaeoecologists. Within its small compass, it exhibits considerable diversity of landforms, vegetation, and bedrock. Here, we can find stories of mountain building, ancient volcanoes, flowing ice, tilted trees, climate change and adventurous travellers.

Small Stones and Big Buttes: Pebble Quarrying in the Misty Hills

October 16, 2013. Don Hanna, Lifeways of Canada Limited.

During the course of investigations in support of the Hanna Region Transmission Development for Atco Electric Ltd, a hitherto unknown complex of Precontact era sites was encountered in an area southeast of Consort known as the “Misty Hills”.  We have identified an extensive group of sites, consisting of at least one large quarry area with pebble chert and pebble quartzite deposits where toolstone was tested and gathered, together with a number of associated workshop/lookouts and workshop/campsites.  A unique aspect of the Misty Hills quarry is that both high quality chert and quartzite pebbles can be found here, and both were apparently used by ancient peoples.  Assemblages are characterized by high densities of un-tried and tried quartzite and chert pebbles, with scattered anvils and hammerstones.  The Misty Hills are a relatively dense nexus of extremely well-preserved examples of different types of sites that reflect on different aspects of ancient life.  The significance of the quarry, workshops and campsites in the Misty Hills is greater than the sum of its parts.  In recognition of this significance, ATCO engaged in project re-design in a commendable effort to avoid impacts to these significant sites.

On ’til Ragnarok: Underwater Excavations at the Viking Settlement of Birka 2013

September 18, 2013. Mike Moloney, University of Calgary.

The Viking Age settlement at the site of Birka, Sweden, is touted as the first major city of Sweden. This UNESCO world heritage site was uniquely placed at a crossroads of international trade and enjoyed prominence from approximately 650-900 AD. Excavations at Birka 2013 focused on excavating and recording piling timbers deposited in the bay, which formed the Viking age harbour, in an attempt to better understand the harbour structure and shipping industry. The project comprised the systematic excavation of a 3m by 2m trench, removal and recording of piling timbers with constructional features, sampling of the timbers for dendrochronology, and underwater core sampling of the bay. The project was conducted by Sjöhistoriska (Swedish Maritime Museum) with an international crew of maritime archaeologists from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, USA, and Canada. The 21 day excavation revealed a clearer picture of the harbour structures and unearthed a number of domestic artifacts as well as high status jewellery. The nature of submerged sites allows for the preservation of organic material that would not survive on land and so the artifacts found during this excavation have contributed to an understanding of Birka that would have been lost on land. This presentation will explore the history of Viking age Birka and present the findings of the 2013 excavation, as well as discuss the methodologies associated with conducting archaeological investigations underwater.