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17 October 2009
Edmonton archeological dig uncovers ancient campsite

An archeologist has discovered in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) an intact 2,000- year-old campsite with enough detail to even guess at the recipe the ancient people used for their soup. The black circle of ash, scattered bison bone fragments and chipped rock doesn't count as a major scientific discovery, said Gareth Spicer, principal archeologist with Calgary-based Turtle Island Cultural Resource Management. But the site has enough diverse elements to tell a story about the lives of a small group of people who camped by the river for several days.
     The five-day dig happened last May. Spicer said based on the evidence found at the site, a small family group likely camped at the spot for a couple of days before moving on. At the time, it was right on the edge of the river, and the pollen record shows it was surrounded by currant shrubs, chokecherry and roses.
He found a broken spear point and more than 150 small sandstone and quartzite fragments, each about the size of a fist, scattered around blackened earth. The fragments show signs of being heated in a fire, then cracking as they were dumped in cold water - a technique many cultures used to boil water before they had clay pottery or metal pans, says Spicer.
     If people were camping in one place for a longer time, they would dig a pit and line it to make a large bowl, then boil water and render the fat from bison bones to make pemmican. The cracked rocks were discarded if they were too small. Spicer sent several away for testing. Traces of pronghorn, rabbit, whitefish and trout, wild onion and sunflower were found on the rocks, but not in the soil around them, indicating the residue is likely from a soup.
     To find the age of the fire, Spicer turned to fragments of several buffalo ribs and a leg bone that were found nearby at the same depth in the soil. He sent them to a lab for radio carbon dating and got dates back of 2010 and 2030 before present.

Sources: Kelowna.com, Edmonton Journal (13 October 2009)

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