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Thread: Archaeologists find treasure in aftermath of giant forest fire

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    Archaeologists find treasure in aftermath of giant forest fire

    Scorched earth in Waterton National Park reveals centuries-old signs
    of Blackfoot activity

    An arrowhead unearthed during excavation of Blackfoot camp sites that were revealed after
    the Kenow Fire of 2017 in Alberta's Waterton National Park.

    Archeologist Bill Perry hops out of a Parks Canada pickup truck and lifts one of the gates keeping the public out of much of Waterton Lakes National Park.

    Since a wildfire swept through this iconic mountain park in southern Alberta last September, it's just too dangerous for tourists to go tromping around on most of the trails.

    Thousands upon thousands of blackened, dead trees pepper the mountainous landscape.

    The damage is clear and devastating.

    But CBC News was given exclusive access to see one of the positive side effects of a fire that burns hot and long.

    Hundreds of camps

    "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Perry marvels. "What the fire has done for us is it's eliminated all that vegetation on top and, wow, can we see stuff."

    Suddenly, the size and scope of more than 250 Blackfoot camps are visible.

    Archeologists knew most of them were here, but have never had such clear and direct access to what the Blackfoot people left behind at these camps within the last 300 years.

    The massive fire burned up to 50 per cent of the park's ground cover, revealing large swathes
    of Blackfoot camps previously unknown to researchers.

    "We're finding so much that we're starting to rewrite what we thought we knew about Waterton history and Indigenous camp history," Perry says.

    At a hearth of one the sites, Perry's team of archeologists make a grid and start scraping with trowels, digging up dirt and putting it into plastic buckets.

    When they pour those buckets of dirt through wire screens, what looks like random pieces of rock to an untrained eye are carefully bagged.

    It turns out they're debitage, the remnants left from making stone tools.

    A Parks Canada archaeologist shows off 'debitage,' flakes and debris from the production of
    stone tools, uncovered at a Blackfoot camp site.

    And they are just the beginning of what this team has found since they started working sites in Waterton.

    There are a host of arrowheads and projectile points, undoubtedly used to hunt bison that used to roam free and were a staple of the nomadic Blackfoot people. There is skeletal evidence of bison right in the camps.

    A projectile point or arrowhead excavated from a camp by Parks Canada archaeologists.

    They've also found artifacts, like glass trading beads from the first contact period between Blackfoot and European fur traders, which would prove devastating to the former's health and prosperity.

    Glass trading beads found at a Blackfoot camp, from the first contact period between
    with European fur traders.

    The fire also revealed something much older — archeologists have the best view they've ever had of trails that were used by the Blackfoot people up to 7,000 years ago.

    Archeologist Kevin Black Plume steps over charred trees that have fallen on the ground.

    Every step is not just a highlight in his professional career, it is part of a deeply personal journey.

    "I guess to walk where your ancestors walked has been very enlightening. I'm very blessed to do it."

    Black Plume is a member of the Kainai Nation, Blackfoot people who ended up on the Blood reserve, about 60 kilometres from Waterton.

    To honour his ancestors and what the excavation sites have provided, Black Plume makes a tobacco offering at each one.

    He digs a small hole in the ground and buries loose tobacco in it in a silent, spiritual ceremony.

    "I feel very strongly connected to most of the pre-historic sites we're seeing today."

    And Black Plume is excited about the idea of bringing a fuller picture of the Indigenous history of Waterton Park to all of Canada.

    "The coolest thing I've found is projectile points. The first projectile point I found was at this site," Black Plume recalls, "I was just yelling and screaming. To see what they hunted bison with, it's just very uplifting."


    ~~ One foot in the Ancient World and the other in the Now ~~
    ~~ 'cuse me while I kiss the sky... Jimi Hendrix ~~
    ~~ Never stop looking for what's not there ~~
    ~~ Our past is just a story we tell ourselves ~~

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