Bring on the Boreal: Site formation processes and archaeological interpretation in northern Alberta, Canada

Author(s): Robin Woywitka; Krista Gilliland

Year: 2015


Archaeological sites in Canada’s boreal forest are frequently difficult to interpret due to several factors, including (1) shallow archaeological stratigraphies, (2) non-diagnostic lithics dominate artifact assemblages, (3) low abundances of preserved organic materials, and (4) high potential for disturbance (cryoturbation and bioturbation). These difficulties can contribute to interpretations based on insufficient understandings of site formation processes, producing conclusions that undervalue boreal archaeological sites. In areas under high developmental pressure, such as Alberta’s northern Oil Sands region, this can be devastating, resulting in irrevocable information loss.

However, in some areas of the boreal forest, the depositional context of archaeological sites appears to be largely intact, representing an under-utilized data source with which to better evaluate their cultural, archaeological, and/or palaeoenvironmental significance. Here, we present the results from a case study in northern Alberta, employing geomorphology, stratigraphy, portable and formal optically-stimulated luminescence measurements, and soil micromorphology. We demonstrate that a formerly de-valued (i.e. "written off") site is actually largely undisturbed and represents two chronologically distinct occupations that likely pre-date the middle Holocene period. Our work has wider resonance in the fields of cultural resource management and regulating resource development in regions of rapid growth, particularly the north.

SAA 2015 abstracts made available in tDAR courtesy of the Society for American Archaeology and Center for Digital Antiquity Collaborative Program to improve digital data in archaeology. If you are the author of this presentation you may upload your paper, poster, presentation, or associated data (up to 3 files/30MB) for free. Please visit for instructions and more information.

Cite this Record

Bring on the Boreal: Site formation processes and archaeological interpretation in northern Alberta, Canada. Krista Gilliland, Robin Woywitka. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396464)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -142.471; min lat: 42.033 ; max long: -47.725; max lat: 74.402 ;