Piikani elder Harley Bastien thinks pictograph represents important journey

Aboriginal elders and Parks Canada archaeologists have just completed a two-year project to photograph and interpret several ancient pictograph sites along the foothills and mountains in Alberta and B.C.

Many of the fading ochre paintings are barely recognizable, but thanks to some new camera technology, those paintings are teaching a new generation about the distant past.

On an outcrop near Okotoks, Alta., some orange smudges on a rock wall are the only faded hint of an ancient aboriginal pictograph.

'I'd like to see the youth ... have a real opportunity to have a look at these photographs because it's their legacy.' — Piikani First Nation elder Harley Bastien 

Painted hundreds, or thousands, of years ago its story has now re-emerged.

"That one on one connection to me is very powerful," said Harley Bastien from the Piikani First Nation.

He's one of four elders who worked with Parks Canada to record and understand several of these pictographs.

New technology helps preserve the past

Digitally enhanced images of those orange smudges at the Okotoks erratic site now show drawings of circles, arrows and people.

Bastien says it marks an important journey.

"I'd like to see the youth, especially the aboriginal youth, to have a real opportunity to have a look at these photographs because it's their legacy," he said.

Parks Canada archaeologists, including Brad Himour, used special camera and computer technology to create those enhanced images and a record of the past.

"We are looking for a non-intrusive way to be able to record them for posterity," said Himour.

The elders say the paintings and the sites are sacred and the knowledge just as valuable.

With files from CBC's Dave Gilson