Ancient Giants

There is a special place in southwestern Alberta where evidence of ancient animals is found, including bones and tracks of mammoth, camel, early horse, ancient bison, caribou, predatory cats, and muskoxen. Man-made lithics, or stone points and scrapers, have been found with animal bones, suggesting that humans hunted these animals. The site produced the first bones of ancient North American camel and horse associated with human activity.

Camel bones were found with marks indicating the meat was cut off the bone. The bones of the first horses that lived in North America were found in large numbers. This valley was a prime watering hole which attracted the large animals and hunters who preyed on them for food, hides and tools. Bones from this site radiocarbon dated at over 11,000 years Before Present (BP). Historic metal trade items were also uncovered, indicating thousands of years of human use.

Bones buried for thousands of years are very fragile and must be stabilized before complete removal from the site. A jacket of burlap and plaster is applied to the find and allowed to dry before extraction. In a laboratory, the jacket is removed carefully and slowly the bones re-emerge. Plaster casts were used by local archaeology enthusiast Shayne Tolman and a group of Cardston high school students. They captured the impressions of mammoth and camel tracks left by animals walking in soft mud long ago, before the wind could erase them.

Many other sites of the same age have also been found. The partial skeleton of a giant male bison (Bison occidentalis Lucas) was excavated by geologists L. A. Bayrock and J. F. Jones in 1957. The distance between the tips of the horn cores was an impressive 762 mm, or 30 inches. Again, a stone tool was found with the bones.

The recent special exhibit “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in southern Alberta” highlighted the first of these finds, as well as others dating to a more recent time period, including the coal mining town of Lille in the Crowsnest Pass, and Fort Whoop-Up. Learn more about the history of southwestern Alberta in the Galt’s Discovery Hall exhibits, and take in “Woven in Time: Celebrating 65 Years with Lethbridge Weavers” on through September 1. Details at