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16 September 2006
Canadian quarry full of ancient artifacts

Oilsands activity in Edmonton (Canada) has uncovered vast wealth of a different kind - a 10,000-year-old quarry rich with tools and weapons from some of the first Albertans, including a pristine spearpoint still smeared with the blood of a woolly mammoth. "There's quite a rich concentration of artifacts," said Jack Ives, Alberta's provincial archeologist.
     The so-called Quarry of the Ancestors, which scientists suspect may be one of the first places where humans put down roots in northern Alberta after the retreat of the glaciers, is found on an outcrop of hard, fine-grained sandstone adjacent to the Albian Sands oilsands lease about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.
     The quarry was discovered in 2003 and the site's importance was evident almost immediately, said Nancy Saxberg, who conducted the field work. Spearpoints, knives, scrapers, stone flakes and tiny micro-blades that would have been fastened to a wood or bone handle all began to emerge from the boreal loam. "People were prying this stuff out of the ground in chunks," Saxberg said. One investigator turned up a spearpoint still sharp enough to penetrate flesh.
     As well as offering beautifully preserved examples of fine ancient craftsmanship, the Quarry of the Ancestors will provide vital clues to North America's human history. The soil at the site is unusually deep for the area, said Ives, allowing archaeologists to separate material from different time periods. Tools fashioned from rock known as Beaver River Sandstone have also turned up at hundreds of sites in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Until now, the source of the stone has been mysterious. It came from the Quarry of the Ancestors.
     Ives has assembled what he believes to be the outline of the area's history. People first started coming into the area about 12,000 years ago, as the glaciers gradually retreated north into what is now the Northwest Territories. People followed their retreat, passing through the quarry area as part of their nomadic rounds, stocking up on the excellent stone and hunting when game presented itself. Human occupation was interrupted about 10,000 years ago when a massive flood from Glacial Lake Agassiz inundated the area. People returned as the floodwaters abated, this time sticking around instead of just passing through. The quarry was a centre of occupation for thousands of years.
     In an area where land access is increasingly complicated by oilsands leases, Lisa Schaldemose of the Fort MacKay band wants the quarry to be permanently available to its community for use as a gathering place.
Everyone agrees the quarry, which is surrounded by oilsands leases, should be preserved. Birch Hills Resources, which owns the quarry rights, will expand elsewhere, said owner Don Dabbs. And Ives's department is asking Community Development Minister Denis Ducharme to declare the site a provincial historic resource, which would preserve it.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator (15 September 2006)

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