Ancient Seeds Recovered in Southern Alberta

In the fall of 2012, the exhibit “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in Southern Alberta” highlighted 15 sites and features telling human and other stories found under the soils and across the landscape of the area, including the Fletcher site near Taber.

In the early 1960s, archaeological enthusiast Armin Dyck of Coaldale discovered stone projectile points in debris piles left during construction of a water dugout near Taber. The landowners gave archaeologists permission to excavate the site in the 1960s and 1980s. Archaeological teams dug through the thin layer of topsoil and down almost two metres of sandy sediment to a deeply buried layer of clay. Two types of ancient spear points were recovered: the Alberta style, which is about 10,700 years old, and Scottsbluff style which is about 10,200 years old.

At the bottom of one excavation, archaeologist found deposits of whole and partial bison bones in clay-rich pond deposits. The clay was carefully bagged and sent to the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. There Dr. Alwynne Beaudoin, Head Curator of Earth Sciences and Curator of Quaternary Environments (the study of the environment during the most recent geologic time period when humans existed) painstakingly extracted thousands of seeds and snail shells, as well as plant pollen, bird’s eggshell, plant, mammal, and insect remains from the clay. Testing indicated they were between 10,200 and 11,000 years old.

Among the seeds, Beaudoin identified Bulrush (Scirpus sp.) and Cattail (Typha sp.) among many others. She compared them with modern examples from the RAM’s extensive reference collection and was able to find enough information remaining in the ancient seeds to positively identify them. This helps scientists determine the climate of past eras.

Using a very precise and intricate photographic technique Beaudoin then created 3-dimensional images which showed extraordinary microscopic details. These photographs, along with the scientific data, will be compiled into a valuable manual of ancient plants of western Canada.

Meanwhile, another manual of plants, the Ethnobotany Garden of Native Prairie Plants to be specific, is available at the Galt Museum. This 163-page book describes the plants in the garden, along with their uses by First Nations people. It is free for downloading and designed for double-sided printing, but can also be found at the Galt for perusal. For more information, visit