Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Express Pipeline, SE Alberta 1996

A meeting over the screen
I took these photos in the summer of 1996, while I was working on an archaeology project that was excavating sites along a pipeline right of way running through southeastern Alberta and into Montana.  I posted a photo from this project a couple weeks ago and some friends who I worked with that summer got in touch with me asking for a few more.  Here are some of my favourites.

Southeastern Alberta still has miles and miles of unbroken prairie.  

The pipeline was a 30 m right of way, running for several hundred kilometres from Hardisty in the north to the Montana border.  We were responsible for mapping, photographing and excavating all of the archaeological sites along that right of way.

Most of the sites were tipi rings.  We'd put a 2 x 1 m unit in the middle of the ring in the hope of hitting a hearth and maybe finding something diagnostic.  George is taking a photo of a hearth in the wall of the unit.  This was in the days when everyone had two cameras - one loaded with colour slide film and one with black and white print film.

We used a "Tipi-Quick" to map the rings.  You set it  up in the middle of the ring and stretch out the tape to each rock.  The mapper reads the degrees off the board and the person holding the tape gives you the distance and dimensions of each ring rock.  We could map and dig a couple rings a day.  I've tried using the Tipi-Quick in the arctic and it doesn't work as well.  I think its partly the lack of soil to pin it to the ground easily, and the tents in the north are a lot smaller than Plains' tipis, so there are easier ways to map them.

Pronghorn Antelope

Me; younger and more gullible.  My boss on this project knew I was moving to Newfoundland to go to school at the end of the summer.  She told me that she had family there and the most unusual thing about Newfoundland was that they don't have any KFC restaurants.  I was so worried that I found one of those full page  Newfoundland Tourism Ads on the back of a Canadian Geographic Magazine and called the 1-800 number.   I asked the operator if it was true about the KFCs and she laughed and said they have lots - she could see one from her office.  She asked if I wanted her to mail me a brochure about the province and I said "No, I was just worried about the KFCs."  

My crew.  There were two crews working on different parts of the project.  There was  a big crew of 10 or so people who were excavating the bigger sites at the river crossings and the crew that I was on with George, Barb, Rob, Jay, and my boss, Allison.  In this photo we'd stopped into Fort Walsh just over the border in Saskatchewan to get in out of the rain.
A little bird.

We found some kind of feature.  Occasionally we'd have small rock cairns to excavate, instead of tipi rings.  I think that may be what's going on here.

Most of the sites were big stone circles, like this one.  Before we'd map them, we'd pry out all the surface rocks and probe below the surface for buried ones.  In this part of the country, almost every hilltop that the pipeline right of way crossed had tipi rings on top of it.

There were six of us on my crew, but we split up into pairs.  Each pair had a truck and power screen.   Most mornings would start with Allison handing out maps of the sites we'd be heading to that day.  I seem to have wandered away from the meeting here to take a picture.  I still do that.

This was one of the more interesting finds from the summer.  Its an Iniskim, or Buffalo Stone.  These are fossils (Ammonites, if I recall correctly) that naturally resemble buffalo.  This one was about the size of a golf ball and I think we found it buried under a rock cairn.  Again, if my memory serves, there were a couple deer teeth in this same cairn, which had us worried for a while, because they can look a lot like human incisors.  No one wants to find human remains on a project like this.

The wide open prairie was something to see.  It continued all the way to the US border.  The difference between the US and Canada was like night and day, the prairie stopped at the 49th parallel and Montana was all plowed fields.

For a few days at the end of the season, the two crews came together to tackle some big sites.   I think this is the site that was just across the road from the Canadian Forces Base Suffield.

In the four rolls of film I found from the summer, this quartzite flake and the iniskim are the only artifact  photos that I have.  We really didn't find much and what we did find was not very photogenic.  It was mostly quartzite cobbles and flakes.  There really wasn't any good fine grained material available to knap anywhere close by.  I left directly from this project to drive to Newfoundland and when I had the first meeting with my MA supervisor at MUN, she pulled open a drawer of Palaeoeskimo artifacts from Port au Choix and I knew then that I wouldn't be leaving here anytime soon.

You can make out two rings in this photo, one with all the activity in it and a finished one behind the truck.

This is Jay - my roommate for the summer.  I don't remember him being camera shy so I'm not sure what the face is about.
I think this might have been my last day on the job.  It was a dark photo and the harder I worked at cleaning it up the weirder it got. I'm the one sitting on the ground and for some reason I have a goldfish in a bowl.  I think it might have been a fish that I had in Calgary and I brought it to give to Jay when I left for Newfoundland?  I have no idea.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. You bought the goldfish to keep in your hotel room because you wanted a pet. I can't remember who you gave it to after, though.

  2. Aaaah the days of film - thank goodness they're gone! Digital photography seems to have a way of making things look so much better (or at least affording us the luxury of taking enough photos that some turn out the way we wanted them to).

  3. Hmm, That sounds like something I'd do; I guess me and the fish never really bonded.

    I'm probably a lazier photographer now than when it was film. I rely way more on quantity and photoshop than I do on composure and camera settings these days.

  4. These are fantastic!

    Ya, the fish were named Rex and Piglet (and for the record, I think it was you who named them) We had them on the TV in the hotel room during our 21 day shifts and we'd take them home for the 4 days each month we got off. Because we'd normally work a half day before returning to Calgary, we had to bring the fish out to the site with us for the morning. I can't find my photos, but I know I have a few pics of the fishbowl in tipi rings. After you went MUN and I went to Western, the fish lived for many happy years at my parents place.

    This was a really fun crew and project. I still think about the pancakes from the hotel restaurant, our experiments with the solar hotdog cooker, and you walking around the room with bloody toes because you decided to flintknapp on the balcony in barefeet. I'm pretty happy however that I'll never have to use a powerscreen again!

  5. I forgot about the goldfish, I remembered the failed solar hotdog cooker, the pancakes at the Imperial Inn breakfast and watching people change their flat tires in the morning after we spent the night flintknapping and drinking beer on the balcony above the parking lot the night before.
    I also remember Jay singing/humming the "Mortal Combat" theme when we were getting closer to days off when he could go home to Dee. I also remember the look of rapture on Tim's face when he realized he could get sausage gravey for breakfast at the Perkins Restaurant. And finally I can remember Tim offering to roll my cigarettes from the back seat and him and Jay giggling like school girls when they told me how many mosquitoes they had rolled in with the tobacco. (I will get you back for that one day Rast!)


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