Prairie Institute finds a new home on campus
Millennia later, those at the University of Alberta who have devoted their research to piecing together the fragmented past of Alberta’s first inhabitants have also found a new home.
The Institute of Prairie Archaeology, formed in May of 2008 under the auspices of the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts, has recently taken over space formerly used by the Coulee Institute in HUB Mall.
“Cultural identities were created when people came out into the Plains region,” said Jack Ives, professor of Northern Plains archaeology and executive director of the institute. “I hope the institute can shine a light on this very rich prehistoric past, much of it created by our First Nation’s ancestors, and serve an outreach function with communities across the province and Western Canada.”
Complete with laboratory facilities for handling artifacts and an area to use for teaching purposes as well as some office space, Ives says the institute will be better able to achieve its mandate to enhance public, First Nations and rural engagement with the university in archaeological, anthropological and interdisciplinary research in the Northern Plains region of Western Canada and the northern United States.
Ives, whose own research looks into the split between Canada’s Dene people and Apache and Navajo people of the American southwest, says the institute is paramount in bringing together disciplines from across campus to search for answers about the past.
“You can find something in the archeological record, and we can tell you about what it is, how old it was and that sort of thing, but there is all sorts of contextual information that a linguist, for instance, can reveal,” said Ives, who has collaborated with linguistics professor Sally Rice to explore Apachean origins in Canada. “A linguist might be able to tell us what an object was called 2,000 years ago, and that has all these contextual meanings embedded in it.”
Ives says the institute wants to encourage students to get interested in this dynamic area of study. There are currently two graduate students doing work for the institute.
Peter Stewart is looking into the effects heat has on Swan River chert, a rock commonly used for making stone tools. Gabriel Yanicki, meanwhile, is in search of the Old Man’s Playing Field, a famed arrow and hoop game field used by the Blackfoot people in the Crowsnest Pass that was thought to have been eroded by the Old Man River.
Ives is also preparing for the launch of the institute’s field school at Lake Wabamun in mid-May. Here students will be working with TransAlta, excavating what appears to be a major residential site that was occupied from perhaps 8,000 or 9,000 years ago until about 3,000 years ago.
“We want to be at the edges of where our research overlaps to work with other highly specialized people at the university in order to round out the picture we have of the past,” said Ives. “For those who want to practice archeology here in Western Canada, we have a pretty strong scope.”