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Digging deeper at the Cluny Fortified Village

Learning more about what makes the Cluny Fortified Village unique 


By Emily Aalbers
April 12, 2017

From tools to Indigenous hunting artifacts, Alberta is a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists. Although not all archaeological adventures have the high flying action of Indiana Jones, the University of Calgary is lucky to have archaeologist Dale Walde leading the charge. Walde is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, a 2016 Alumni Achievement Award winner and a leader in connecting the community to archaeology.

On Saturday May 27, Walde will be leading the  Alumni Archaeology Adventure an exclusive tour of both the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park Interpretive Centre and the Cluny Fortified Village dig site. Alumni and their families will have the opportunity to learn more about artifacts unearthed from the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation and visit an active archaeological excavation site. The dig site will be active from May 23 until June 23 as part of the Public Archaeology Program. At this site, graduate students and members of the public continue their search for answers of about the Cluny Fortified Village.

Since Walde began the Public Archaeology Program in 1998, hundreds of people have been introduced to Canadian Plains Archaeology and first nation’s traditions. Fast forward to 2008 when Walde began a partnership with the Siksika Nation that involved both education and community engagement at the Cluny Fortified Village site. The only one of its kind on the Canadian Plains, the Cluny Fortified Village is located in the valley of the Bow River in the Siksika First Nation and is part of the Blackfoot Crossing national Historical Park, east of Calgary.

The Siksika have used the Cluny Fortified Village site since about AD 1700, with Euro-Canadians exploring the area from 1875 to 1910. The site first became active in an archaeological capacity in 1960 when Richard Forbis, a co-founder of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calgary, first became aware of the area.

The Cluny Fortified Village is a unique site because the findings indicate that the settlement is not from the people of the Canadian Plains, but rather from relatives farther south. The people of the Canadian Plains were hunter-gatherers who did not build permanent habitation structures such as the defensive trenches, pits and walls that are found on the site today. Although the remnants of fortifications are evident across the site, Walde tells us that “the material culture we recover from the site includes many of the items we would expect to find in a peaceful village.” Some of these findings include shell beads, a tobacco bag, pottery and bone beads.

Over the years as researchers uncovered new findings, the question of who built and lived at the Cluny site remains a challenging one. Walde explains “this site represents a meeting place of different peoples with different lifeways during pre-contact time.” The completion of the Blackfoot Historical Crossing Interpretive Centre and the invitation from the Siksika Nation welcoming others to share their history represents a continuation of the tradition of people coming together at this site.

To learn more about the Cluny Fortified Village site, visit the Public Archaeology Program website or join the Alumni Archaeology Adventure on Saturday May 27, 2017.