NEWS

Alberta floods of 2013 still revealing new archeological finds

06/19/2015 11:00 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
The slow methodical scrape of a shovel picks up one thin layer of dirt after another. 

A metal trowel scrapes the edge of a stone, revealing more of its shape with every pass. Excavating this archeological site at Fish Creek Park in Calgary is painstaking work by any measure. 

But even the tiniest discovery can be significant.

What makes it even more remarkable is that the team of six archeologists probably would not have been here if not for a natural disaster.  

"The flood washed some things away forever and yet exposed some things we didn't know about previously," senior project archeologist Daniel Meyer says.  

On June 21, 2013, the waters thundered down from the Rocky Mountains, changing the landscape of southern Alberta forever. 

As the floodwaters raged, the banks of the province's largest rivers were carved out, up to 50 metres in some spots. 

Archeologically rich deposits were swept away in the floodwaters.

The scars left from those two days are still easily spotted along steep and unstable riverbanks. 

But even as they've recorded what was lost, archeologists in Alberta found something else. "There has been somewhat of a silver lining with our new exploratory survey activity," said Daryl Bereziuk, director of archeological heritage for Alberta Culture and Tourism. 

"We have found over 50 new sites that have been uncovered by the flooding."

Archeologists have been aware of the Fish Creek Park site since the early 1970s.  But it wasn't until they started digging recently that they realized just what they'd come across.  

Eighty centimetres beneath the ground was a buried teepee ring, estimated to be 2,000 years old.  It's a partial circle of stones that marked an ancestral First Nations campsite, preserved because it had been covered by the silt and debris from another flood.  

"There are only a few other sites in the Calgary region with buried teepee rings, so it's a relatively rare find," Meyers said.    

The Fish Creek Park site is part of a three-year flood recovery program for archeological and paleontological resources.  "There's been significant sites of dinosaur fossils found over the last two years," says Bereziuk, "Last year, a brand new dinosaur was found by fishermen in the Castle River."

The site at Fish Creek is far too young to net any dinosaur fossils, but the artifacts are fascinating nonetheless.   They've filled countless plastic baggies with bone fragments, pottery and even simple tools to split wood and cut meat. 

But the artifact that has Dan Meyer most excited is a Bracken projectile point. 

"It would have been the tip of a small spear and it would have been used probably among other things to kill bison."  

That spear tip will form part of the evidence to prove the site is indeed 2,000 years old.

But there is little time to celebrate what was found at the Fish Creek site or any other.  The race is on to identify and excavate as many of these newly revealed archeological and paleontological treasure troves as possible over the next two years.  Many of the sites are awaiting construction to fix and secure flood damage. 

"Time is of the essence because there are construction projects that are imminent," Bereziuk said. "But also many of the banks are starting to crumble, vegetation is starting to grow, so it's becoming more difficult as time goes to identify these sites."   

So it's essential to unearth what they can before these sites disappear again. 

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