Archeology of Riverbend

Who’s been camping in my backyard: the Archaeology of Riverbend

By Laura Roskowski-Nuttall (published in Riverbend Review in May 2017)

Those of us living in Riverbend are likely familiar with Carburn Park and the gravel mined from there in the 1980s. But who lived there before Senator Patrick Burn’s owned the land, and what did they do while they were here? Archaeologists, people who study the past by looking for remains of campsites and other debris left by humans, have the answer to these questions.

Calgary is home to over 1,500 archaeological sites dating from 10,000 years ago to the historic period when this city was still a wild west frontier. In Alberta archaeological assessments are conducted prior to any disturbances such as oil and gas, infrastructure, highway, or housing development projects. During these archaeological assessments 22 archaeological and historic sites were identified in our neighbourhood!

Most of the sites were observed along the Bow River, as pre-European contact (precontact) groups would have used this waterway as a travel corridor, a place to hunt, to gather edible plants and berries, collect firewood, and to obtain rocks from which to make stone tools such as projectile points (spear points, atltal darts or arrowheads), hide scrapers, drills, and knives.

To date 14 precontact sites, seven historic sites and one combination precontact/historic site have been recorded in Riverbend. Of these sites, 11 are precontact campsites, three are surface scatters and seven are historic sites. The campsites consist of tipi rings, hearth features (campfires), burned bone from bison and deer, and stone tools. The surface scatters are evidence of precontact flintknappers (stone tool makers) sharpening tools for hunting and butchering animals, as well as woodworking and other day to day tasks.

The oldest precontact site in the neighbourhood dates to approximately 4,500 years ago and is believed to have been occupied by travelers moving into Alberta from the Great Basin area of the United States. A shell bead, rarely preserved in Alberta, was recovered from a different site, as was obsidian (volcanic glass). This site was occupied approximately 3,500 years ago, and then people camped at the same location again around 1,250 years ago. The closest sources of obsidian are located in Montana and British Columbia, suggesting that this stone was traded into the area. That’s right, Calgary has been a popular place for thousands of years.

The historic sites yielded artifacts related to the original homesteads in Riverbend, the Canadian Northern Railway line, and previous industrial use of the area.

Think you’ve found something? Report a find by contacting Alberta Culture and Tourism: 1-780-438-8506. Want to get involved in local archaeology? Join the Archaeological Society of Alberta