Student finds rare fossil at Wanuskewin

Wanuskewin, just north of Saskatoon, is known for archaeological finds relating to Indigenous peoples.

Fossil was used by the Blackfoot people to carve Iniskim

Archeaology student Lauren Rooney made the discovery of the fossil shown above while digging at Wanuskewin Heritage Park near Saskatoon. (University of Saskatchewan)

Lauren Rooney didn't realize at first the magnitude of what she discovered at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

"At first I thought it was just a rock," said Rooney, a second-year archaeology student at the University of Saskatchewan, in an interview with CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

Wanuskewin, just north of Saskatoon, is known for archaeological finds relating to Indigenous peoples.

Rooney was working her trowel at a depth of about 28 centimetres below the surface when she came into contact with the suspected rock. Rooney's notion of what she had uncovered quickly changed when she lifted the "rock" out of the ground.

"I knew it was something different," she said.

It's going to be a mystery.- Ernie Walker, U of S archaeology professor

Ernie Walker, a faculty member in the U of S department of archaeology and anthropology, knew right away it was an ammonite fossil and could be 65,000,000 years old. 

The ammonite, according to the U of S, is a piece of fossilized bone from the tentacle of the create shown on the right. The Blackfoot people carved the fossils into little buffalo. (University of Saskatchewan)

He said the Blackfoot people would carve ammonite fossils into buffalo figures called Iniskim. Legend suggests the ammonite stone helped call buffalo to the people during a time of hunger.

"If you use your imagination it looks like two hind legs, two front legs and then the fifth one is where the head should be," Walker said.

Walker said the fossil is a groundbreaking discovery that's important not only archaeologically but culturally too.

"We've never seen anything like that in 40 years at Wanuskewin, and these would be rare, even in Saskatchewan archaeology, so it is pretty unique," Walker said.

How did it get there?

The discovery was made in a cultural area of Wanuskewin, near artifacts with roots in southern Alberta, where ammonite fossils and buffalo stones are more common. It could have been dropped there hundreds of year ago by a visitor, but because it is not carved, it's possible the fossil was brought to the area by pre-Contact Indigenous peoples.

"It's going to be a mystery. It's always going to be a little bit of speculation," said Walker.

At some point the fossil will become part of the collection at Wanuskewin, but for now it's headed to the U of S. Rooney now has to write a paper on it.

Despite the hard work ahead of her, Rooney said she will never forget the find and that it will likely stand as one of the great highlights in her career as an archeologist. 

with files from Saskatoon Morning