Manitoba

​Anthropology students digging at Lockport site for connections to Aboriginal agriculture

Nine anthropology students from the University of Manitoba have spent the past month digging at a heritage site on the Red River looking to unearth more artifacts that would shed light on the first farmers in the Red River valley.

5-week excavation project looks to unearth clues to first farmers in the Red River valley

Nine anthropology students from the University of Manitoba have spent the past month digging at a heritage site on the Red River looking to unearth more artifacts that could shed light on the first farmers in the Red River valley. 1:04

Nine anthropology students from the University of Manitoba have spent the past month digging at a heritage site on the Red River looking to unearth more artifacts that could shed light on the first farmers in the Red River valley.

The project spearheaded by Dr. E. Leigh Syms of the Manitoba Museum, is only the fourth time there has been any archaeological excavating on the banks of the Red River beside the St. Andrews Dam and Lock in Lockport. 
University of Manitoba anthropology student Candace Corroll sifts through dirt from the banks of the Red River looking for aboriginal artifacts connected to farming in the area almost 400 years ago. (Brett Purdy)

Syms says the public may not realize how important farming was in the region, even before settlers moved into the area.

"This site is certainly the most dramatic site, in terms of native cultivation and planting in Western Canada," said Syms.

Syms says the heritage site has provided unique materials such as corn particles, evidence of storage pits, remnants of farming tool such as a bison's shoulder blade — that would have been used to till the soil. 

"Right where we are standing right now, we're standing in the area, at the edge of the area where they were cultivating this material."

The Manitoba Museum reached out to the University of Manitoba to enlist the help of anthropology students. The group will finish working on the five-week excavating project later this week, as course credit towards a field study class. The university runs the field study class every two years and has done field work most recently at Upper Fort Garry and Bonnycastle Park in downtown Winnipeg.
University of Manitoba anthropology students excavate a site at the Lockport Provincial Heritage Park, looking for clues to the first farmers in the Red River valley. (Brett Purdy)

Syms says the discoveries made on site are changing the way academics look at the history of First Nations in the area. 

"Now all of a sudden we are saying, Plains society isn't just about men hunting big game and woman doing the cooking. It's now about woman doing the gardening and teaching their daughters and sisters how to plant gardens. How to look after it. How to store materials and it's very important," said Syms.

Syms believes that the knowledge drawn from the finds and the resulting research will raise the importance of this period of time for First Nations activities and the role woman played in those activities.