Calgary

Archeologists race to protect flood-exposed buffalo jump near Calgary

Archeologists are racing to excavate artifacts from a buffalo jump and adjoining 1,000-year-old First Nations campsite southeast of Calgary, to preserve artifacts exposed in the 2013 flood.

Archeologists asking public to report any additional discoveries to province

Archaeologists have known for over 60 years about a buffalo jump and camp site just southeast of Calgary. It took the flood of 2013 to show them just how important the site is. 2:06

Archeologists are racing to excavate artifacts from a buffalo jump and adjoining 1,000-year-old First Nations campsite southeast of Calgary, to preserve artifacts exposed in the 2013 flood.

The site at the FM Ranch site was first excavated privately in 1959 but work largely stopped after it received provincial designation. But the flood two years ago unearthed new treasures: archeologists have uncovered new fire pits, hide-drying areas and bison factories. 

"There was a silver lining in this case because what we realized with the new flood bank exposure is the site was much larger than we originally thought," said Darryl Bereziuk, director of the province's Archeological Survey Section.

"We are really racing to protect the site," said Bereziuk. "We're determining how big the site is so we can expand our protective boundaries."

Alberta archeologists are working feverishly to excavate the many artifacts that appeared at a buffalo jump site south of Calgary after the 2013 flood. (Alberta Culture and Tourism)

Bereziuk says the campsite next to the buffalo jump goes back 1,000 years and had at least nine separate occupants.

"It's a very detailed record of Calgary history."

Though many artifacts were washed away, it's been a boon for new discoveries that tell a story about Alberta's indigenous ancestors.

"What people were doing here is they were processing the bison kill and rendering the fat from the bones so they could use it in their food preparation," said Western Heritage archeologist Krista Gilliland.

The site could rival the importance of Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a World Heritage Site near Fort MacLeod, in part because the artifacts are less compacted, making them easier to study, said Trevor Peck, an archeologist with Alberta Culture and Tourism.

"If you are looking for an archological jewel in the province, that would be it," said Bereziuk.

The FM Ranch site was first excavated privately in 1959 but work largely stopped until the 2013 flood. (Alberta Culture and Tourism)

The goal is to explore the artifacts that are embedded at the site, but to largely leave them be, except in cases where experts fear they will be lost to future flooding.

"For the most part, archeologists prefer to preserve things in place," he said. 

If you happen to come across a bone, arrowhead or stone tool, Bereziuk says you should call the province's Report A Find hotline.

He says you shouldn't touch or disturb the artifact and if possible, record the GPS location where you found it.

Archeologists have uncovered evidence of fire pits, hide-drying areas and bison factories dating back perhaps 1,000 years. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

With files from Evelyne Asselin

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