|16 February 2015
Canadian dam will flood 12,000 years of human history
More than 30 years ago archaeologist Jonathan Driver was part of the team that uncovered one of the rarest finds in Canadian history - evidence of human occupation in northern British Columbia dating to the end of the last ice age.
Charlie Lake cave contained some of the oldest human remains in western Canada, as well as specialised weapons used to hunt large mammals, and animal skeletons suggesting ceremonial practices. The cave itself is not threatened by the planned construction of a dam and 83 kilometre long reservoir on the Peace River, starting in the summer of 2015, however hundreds of other sites will be flooded.
Dr Driver, a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University, says: "The Peace River was a well-travelled route between the lowlands and the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains. It goes down deep, so you can follow the history of people in the Peace River just as the ice age is ending and the first animals and plants and then people are moving into a brand new land, and at this site you can follow that for 12,000 years."
Field work to create a heritage inventory in 2010 found 26 Class 1 palaeontology finds - rare or especially well-preserved and diverse fossils - as well as almost 300 archaeological sites, plus heritage sites of the earliest European settlers. Sites and artefacts which cannot be saved will be studied.
The prehistory of the area is still being pieced together. Recently, a local farmer donated boxes of artefacts including 8,000-year-old pieces of obsidian from faraway quarries, indicating a vast trading network.
The province has approved construction knowing that what it terms 'heritage resources' will disappear. With construction set to begin in June, there is little time left to preserve this part of British Columbia's history.
Edited from The Globe and Mail (1 February 2015)
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