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Slave Lake, Alberta

Archaeology around Lesser Slave Lake

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Ray Le Blanc spent parts of seven field seasons scouring the perimeter of Lesser Slave Lake for evidence of pre-historic human activity. He found plenty, and the results are all down on paper, in the University of Alberta professor’s 2004 book, ‘Archaeological Research in the Lesser Slave Lake Region; a Contribution to the Pre-Contact History of the Boreal Forest of Alberta.’
Between 1979 and 1990, Le Blanc and his crews excavated numerous sites - mostly around the west end of the lake, but also north shore, south shore and east end - and found an abundance of stone implements or stone flakes associated with tool-making. Additionally, he noted several fine local collections of stone implements around the lake.
“I met some farmers with some very nice collections while I was working along the lake,” he says. “Frank Madsen (of Faust) was one. (He had) a very nice jadeite adze and a steatite pipe.”
One of the richest sites Le Blanc identified and excavated was located in Hilliard’s Bay Provincial Park on a ledge above the lake shore. Called ‘the slump site’, it served up hundreds of bits of stone evidence of toolmaking, as well as various projectile points and plenty of tools, such as scrapers, anvils and choppers. The site also included hundreds of pieces of fire-cracked rock.
The material Le Blanc pulled out of the slump site and others like it around the lake was not uncommon - it didn’t turn any theories on their heads. But there were oddities. One was the shattered remains of a piece of obsidian, a type of rock quite alien to the area.
“The material came from the Anahim Lake are in east-central B.C.,” says Le Blanc. “That’s 1,000 kilometres by air.”
The obsidian was all the more puzzling because it did not appear to have been a tool - the presence of which (through trade) might have made sense.
“This was just a little pebble that was smashed up into small flakes,” says Le Blanc, who asked himself, “”Why is that out here.”
It remains a mystery, but such mysteries “is what I like about what I do,” he says.
The general story that such artifacts tell about the pre-history of human presence around the lake seems to suggest that there were plenty of influences. The type of projectile points found, Le Blanc says, point to heavy influence from the Athabaskan cultures to the north and east, from what is identified as an ancestral culture going back as far as 200 B.C. But there are other arrowheads that suggest a plains culture.
“There were a lot of influences back and forth,” Le Blanc says.
Le Blanc’s book on his Lesser Slave research is pretty technical - it seems to have been written with other archaeologists in mind. But there’s plenty of good information about the findings and how they relate to the known historical data about the area.
The book is published by the Canadian Museum of Civilization (e-mail publications@civilization.ca ). It is also in the Northern Lakes College library.

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