The Long Creek Site is another important excavation in the history of archaeology in Saskatchewan. It is the second site excavated by professional archaeologists in the province with a report written up and published through the Department of Natural Resources for the Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History (SNMH), Anthropological Series No. 2, 1960. This was long before the museum was renamed as the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) in 1993 and it is an important part of the history of the museum and the beginnings of a scientific approach to archaeological excavations in the province (see my first blog on the Mortlach Site).
The site was found through an archaeological survey of the Long Creek Valley, south of Estevan, in the summer of 1957. The Boundary Dam was going to be built for energy for coal recovery and ten miles of the Long Creek valley would eventually be filled with water. The Saskatchewan Power Corporation engaged the services of Dr. William Meyer-Oakes as the first professional archaeologist on the project and with help of four staff members of the museum, twenty-seven sites were found in the survey of the river valley. Only the Long Creek Site was slated for excavation. Dr. Meyer-Oakes started the excavation project but Boyd Wettlauffer took over at the halfway point, completed the fieldwork and compiled the final report. The records from this early work are on file at the RSM today.
Long Creek was a deeply stratified site on the river floodplain. Project A went to a depth of at least 8 feet and Project B went down to at least 14 feet below the surface. Six radio-carbon dates were derived from materials recovered from the site and were processed at the University of Saskatchewan. The archaeological culture history of the site began with a proposed Gros Ventre (Hidatsa) occupation at around 1500-1600 AD at the top, moving down to Avonlea Culture at around 1000-1500 AD, and on to Besant, Late Pelican Lake, Thunder Creek, Wood-End, Oxbow, and finally Long Creek Culture at around 5000 years ago. The excavations could have gone deeper but they hit the water table. Who knows what further culture history might have been discovered below?
The sediments of the site were studied and a series of paleosols were identified—former surfaces that were covered by other sediments through time and yet retained some of their original surface characteristics. This work was completed by J. Clayton and W. Janzen from the Saskatchewan Soil Survey in 1958 and a fairly thorough summary by them is included in the Long Creek report. A pollen analysis was undertaken on a series of sediment samples extracted from Project B at the site but they proved to be contaminated and the analysis was not completed. Thus, Wettlaufer’s discussion of climate change through time is general and based on the changes observed in the stratigraphy of the site. A faunal analysis on bone materials was completed by Bruce McCorquodale who noted that bones were being recognized as important components of such sites and could yield evidence of diet, hunting and butchering techniques, vegetation and climate, just to name a few ideas. In past decades, archaeologists threw away the bones at sites, not realizing that they can provide an incredible amount of information/data about the past. They just had to ask the right questions and re-think why the bones were in the sediments of sites to begin with—that maybe it was because people had, in most cases, introduced the bones into the site while they occupied the land. In today’s world of archaeology, pretty much everything with potential for analysis is kept and carefully catalogued.
The approach to the Long Creek Site was comprehensive. Many avenues of investigation to understand the place of this site within the context of the northern plains were utilized—bear in mind that this was a 1957 investigation. The site was compared to others in Canada and the USA. It was a place that people camped at through the millennia because it was a good location. There was a spring close by, in addition to the river, likely there was wood for fuel and it was not a feature site where a major activity took place, like a bison jump. The location drew people to camp on the same spot, hundreds of years apart. Interesting.