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Tracking the Old North Trail


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October 17, 2011

Vanier-winning archaeology student studies Blackfoot land use

By Caitlyn Spencer

Anyone who’s tried to operate a friend’s phone knows that while technology evolves at ever faster paces, we can’t always keep up with it. So too with the Archaeological Survey of Alberta.

PhD student Lindsay Amundsen-Meyer has spent the past two years using the survey’s data in her analysis of settlement patterning by the Late Precontact Blackfoot peoples in southern Alberta and Montana along the Old North Trail. However, she discovered that many of the records – originally recorded in 1968, before GPS technology – weren’t entirely accurate.

“I’ve relocated a lot of them,” she says. “As part of my archaeological permit, I have to submit site forms with their location and description.” Future archaeologists will be able to access Amundsen-Meyer’s data through the survey database.

Amundsen-Meyer received the prestigious Vanier scholarship this year for her doctorate work, which compares competing models of land use. One model emphasizes ecology, and the influence of nature on human behavior, positing bison migration and the availability of water and wood as the key factors in settlement. The other is based more on human perception, arguing for symbolic significance as the major influence. Amundsen-Meyer believes both ecological and cultural variables played a role.

“In Blackfoot culture, everything in the world is alive,” she says. “Everything has a spirit, and everything has its story.” So, many places in Alberta and Montana have Blackfoot names corresponding to stories. Amundsen-Meyer consulted historic maps to find some of these spots, and will cross-reference symbolic significance and natural resources in her analysis of Old North Trail sites.

Her focus on Late Precontact Blackfoot communities came from a concern for accuracy. “Any time you take ethnographic data of a modern living group and project it onto the past, you can’t tell how far back it applies,” she says. “With the Late Precontact, we know these are the Blackfoot communities we have now.” Amundsen-Meyer will speak to members of contemporary Blackfoot communities for insight into stories along the Old North Trail.

While Amundsen-Meyer is grateful for the financial pressure that was lifted by her winning the Vanier, she’s also aware of the flipside of recognition. “It definitely adds pressure, having your research recognized as valuable,” she says.

To find out more about the Vanier scholarship, click here. To contact Amundsen-Meyer about her research, email lmamunds@ucalgary.ca.