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Inaugural year for public archaeology program a great success

Initiative earns national award from Canadian Archaeological Association

Dale Walde (centre), an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, and Margaret Patyton (right), a doctoral student, collect an award on behalf of the University of Calgary's Program for Public Archaeology from Adrian Burke (left) of the Canadian Archaeological Association.

By Heath McCoy
May 21, 2015

On May 2, in St. John’s, Nfld, at a ceremony for the Canadian Archaeological Association, archaeologist Dale Walde picked up the prestigious Public Communication Award on behalf of the University of Calgary’s Program for Public Archaeology.

It was a proud moment for Walde, an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, who led in launching the program only a year ago, thanks to a generous donation from Golder Associates.

“A national award is very special to me and it’s special to our whole team,” says Walde.

In fact, the award is the latest in a string of achievements for the Public Archaeology Program in its inaugural year, all of which indicate that the community outreach initiative has been a remarkable success. Since launching, the program has also received an award from the Archaeological Society of Alberta. In addition there came high kudos, alongside Golder Associates, at the Consulting Engineers of Alberta Showcase Awards.

Participants work alongside top researchers

To be sure, the program is well worthy of the praise. The Program for Public Archaeology gives public participants the unique opportunity to work alongside top researchers and graduate students – as well as members of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation – taking part in the university’s Archaeology Field School at the Cluny Fortified Village.

Located near the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park and Interpretive Centre on the Siksika Nation, the Cluny site is the only known fortified village on the Canadian Plains, representing one of the few archaeological examples of prehistoric migration and contact between cultures in the area.

Participants in the program take part in the excavation of the site, planned this year from May 20 to June 23. There are further opportunities for public participants throughout the year, with much work to be done in the lab. Last March, Walde notes, a couple came all the way from Seattle to work in the lab for a week.

Last summer the program saw 87 members of the public put in 97 work days at the Cluny site. There was an additional 39 participants in the lab (who put in 993 work hours) throughout the year.

“There are, of course, other public archaeology programs,” says Walde. “I think ours stands out because it’s located on this special site, at the Cluny Fortified Village. The First Nations participation there is important and it helps too that we’re near a very large population centre. That the program runs year round with the lab based opportunities is also a factor in our success.”

Team works to uncover mysteries of Cluny Fortified Village

Archaeological evidence suggests that approximately 300 years ago a group of people entered traditional Blackfoot territory, prior to the first direct contact between European fur traders and the local First Nations. It is believed that these new entrants built the Cluny Fortified Village. Who were these people and why did they build fortifications at Cluny? What was their relationship to those who lived in the same area at the time? These are some of the mysteries of the Cluny site that Walde and his team are working to uncover, with the help of Program for Public Archaeology.

Meanwhile, a new discovery at the Cluny site is offering fresh insights into what life was like in the fortified village. “We have discovered the remains of at least one relatively large timber frame structure,” says Walde. “We’re finding double rows of hearths and specialized work areas for making beads and breaking up bones. We initially thought these residents might have been living in teepees, but it looks like they were living in a very formally built structure.”

Further evidence indicates that there may be a series of large structures like this one, going around the inside perimeter of the fortification.

Public offered once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

It’s an exciting discovery for Walde and his team, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public participants who will be able to take part in the excavation.

“Golder is very proud in 2015 to once again, be the sole donor for the University of Calgary’s Public Archaeology Program,” says Brent Murphy, Senior Archaeologist & Aboriginal Engagement Specialist with Golder Associates. “Last year’s program was overwhelmingly successful in terms of public awareness and participation in the excavation at the Cluny Fortified Village, an important site to Canadian Aboriginal history. As a company we are guided by our core values which are reflected in our collaborative partnership with the University of Calgary and the Siksika Nation on this program.”

Participants in the Program for Public Archaeology must be at least 12 years old and those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. There is a maximum of six volunteers per day. To reserve your day and spot, email or phone 403-220-8537. Visit the public archaeology site online for more information about the program.