Uncovering Secrets – Ancient Hunting Site

We marvel at the secrets hidden in our backyard! In the fall of 2012, the exhibit “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in Southern Alberta” highlighted 15 sites and features telling human stories found under the soils and across the landscape of the area. We will share these sites in monthly installments, beginning with an archaeological excavation on grazing land east of Lethbridge, which has uncovered an ancient hunting site dating back circa 2500 years.

To help archaeologists determine the full story of artifacts, they need to study them where they were originally left and eventually buried. The site in question had previously been disturbed by human activity, making it critical for archaeologists to obtain a government permit in order to excavate undisturbed areas, before valuable information was lost forever.

Shawn Bubel, Archaeology Professor at the University of Lethbridge, along with U of L and Red Crow College students, discovered that a group of hunters had killed at least 65 bison at this site. Stone tools and projectile points, thousands of animal bones and teeth, debris from tool making processes, and fire-broken rock all indicated that the hunt would have taken place in the fall.

The shape of the Besant projectile points indicated hunters were using darts, a technological improvement over the spear. The shorter shafts, thrown with the aid of a throwing stick called an atlatl, made for a very efficient tool with increased accuracy and power. The majority of points were made from Knife River Flint quarried in North Dakota, and a few of Obsidian from the Yellowstone area, revealing travel to, or trade with, people in those areas.

The fire-broken rock shows that at least some of the meat was processed on site. Rocks heated in a fire were dropped into water boiling pits to extract grease from the animal bones. The grease was added to dried bison meat and possibly dried berries to make pemmican, easily stored for later consumption. Several unusual arrangements of bones were found placed vertically, in precise patterns, and are thought to have had a ceremonial function.

More information about this exhibit, including images, is available at www.galtmuseum.com.