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Public invited to archaeological expedition at Cluny

Donation from Golder Associates launches first year of university's Program for Public Archaeology


Archaeology professor Dale Walde guides students and public volunteers on the excavation and preservation of the Cluny Fortified Village. Dale Walde

By Heath McCoy

Members of the public have the opportunity to participate in an archaeological excavation this summer, working alongside the university’s Archaeology Field School at the Cluny Fortified Village — the only known prehistoric fortified village on the Canadian Plains.

The University of Calgary Program for Public Archaeology — which kicks off its first year thanks to a donation from Golder Associates — will give public participants the chance to gain new insights into the archaeological record of this unique historic site. Public volunteers will work alongside top researchers and graduate students, as well as members of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation.

“Golder is pleased to work with the University of Calgary as the main supporter of the Public Archaeology program,” says Sean Webster, principal and officer manager at Golder Associates Calgary. “Our funding will assist archaeology students in gaining field experience. We are also proud that as a company we can help encourage collaboration between the Siksika Nation and the public by opening the door to this unique archaeological excavation site.”

The program will train students, the public and First Nations people in excavation and preservation of the fortified village. It will also increase the national and international profile of the Cluny site, located near the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park and Interpretive Centre on the Siksika Nation.

An archaeological example of prehistoric migration

The Cluny Fortified Village — which is the subject of a proposed World Heritage Site application — was first excavated in 1960 by Dick Forbis, one of the founders of the Department of Archaeology. It represents one of the few clear archaeological examples of prehistoric migration and contact between cultures on the Canadian Plains.

Archaeological evidence suggests that approximately 300 years ago, a group or groups of people entered traditional Blackfoot territory, prior to the first direct contact between European fur traders and the local First Nations. It is believed these new entrants built the Cluny Fortified Village.

The nature of the relationship between these groups has intrigued both researchers and the Siksika Nation for years, notes archaeologist Dale Walde, an associate professor at the University of Calgary. Says Walde: “Who were these people and why did they migrate into southern Alberta? Why did they build the fortifications at Cluny? Why did they leave? What was the relationship between the people who built the village and those who lived in the same area at the same time? These are some of the questions we’re trying to answer.”

Unique public outreach

Inviting members of the public to participate in the archaeological excavation of the Cluny site is an important initiative, says Walde, in keeping with the University of Calgary’s ongoing commitment to community outreach.

“One of the roles we serve is public education, and educating people about the history of this province is an important part of that,” says Walde. “Participants in this program will be doing all the work our field school students do, excavating, digging, using the equipment, taking notes. They’re helping us preserve the area as a cultural resource.

“This is a unique opportunity.”

The University of Calgary is seeking multi-year funding for the field school and public program to ensure it meets the increasing demand for information about Alberta’s ancient history.

The program runs from July 10 to Aug. 14. Participants 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 pubarky@ucalgary.ca or phone 403-220-8537. Visit the public archaeology site for more information about the program.