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An Archaeologist’s week: From Bison butchery to nautical disasters

Life as an archaeologist is full of surprises, and a recent week I had on the job is a perfect example for the diverse types of projects I get involved with working as an archaeologist at Stantec.


Life as an archaeologist is full of surprises.

From digging up former bison farms to searching for sunken ships, Stantec’s archaeologists never have a dull day.

The week began with finally getting a crew out to dig a 6,000-year-old bison-butchering site near Saskatoon. I write “finally” because we had a three-month delay due to unprecedented rains this spring and summer. One of the many variables in an archaeologist’s schedule is the weather, and we’ve certainly had a lot of it lately.

Once the crew was settled in to the task, my colleague in Winnipeg, David McLeod, and I headed down to a little graveyard near Loreburn, Saskatchewan, to rediscover the location of unmarked graves on behalf of the descendants of those buried there. As is typical of so many country graveyards on the prairies, grass fires have swept through and burned off the wooden grave markers, leaving the number and location of graves a mystery.

McLeod, as he prefers to be called, uses an EM38 electrical conductivity metre to find conductivity anomalies in the subsurface that may indicate the presence of grave shafts. Meanwhile, I use a high-resolution, differential GPS to map the features of the graveyard and calibrate the grid that McLeod is using to do the EM38 survey. The final product will be a map of possible grave locations in the context of the existing grave markers and, hopefully, happy relatives of the Finnish homesteaders buried there. On a more practical note, our work on identifying unmarked graves helps to avoid accidental disturbances when new ones are dug.

Finally, to top off my week, I attended, with my family in tow, the world premiere of the documentary film “The Last Steamship: The Search for the SS City of Medicine Hat.” The feature-length film chronicles an underwater archaeology project I was involved with in the South Saskatchewan River, trying to recover evidence of “Saskatoon’s greatest nautical disaster.” 

This week it’s back to reality: coding invoices, writing proposals, and completing reports. But that’s OK because it’s raining—again.

Authored by Butch Amundson

The week began with finally getting a crew out to dig a 6,000-year-old bison-butchering site near Saskatoon.

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