Quaternary Environments: Research & Projects
Postglacial Palaeoenvironments of Alberta
Palaeoenvironmental work at the Royal Alberta Museum focusses on the investigation of landscape and vegetation changes during the last 12,000 years or so, especially as these relate to the human history of the Province. Several substantial projects are under way, on various sites from different parts of Alberta.
These investigations usually involve examination of plant remains, especially seeds and pollen, that may be preserved in lake muds and peats. These remains can often be identified according to the plants that produced them. Knowing the types of plants that were growing on the landscape in the past can provide information on past climates and climate change. This information is of value to archaeologists trying to piece together a picture of the landscape around their site. In addition, palaeoenvironmental data provide analogues for what conditions in the Province may be like if, as most experts predict, climate warming continues.
Fletcher Site (DjOw-1) macrofossil analysis
The Fletcher archaeological site is located near Taber in southern Alberta and is the subject of the Bison Kill diorama in the Syncrude Gallery of Aboriginal Culture at the Royal Alberta Museum. In addition to bison bone, the sediments at about 250 - 300 cm depth in the site, dated around 9300 years ago, contain plant remains, most of which are seeds. So far, about 33 different plant types have been identified from these seeds. The plants are mostly wetland or aquatic plants, such as bulrushes and pondweeds. Besides the seeds, the mud also contains many shells from pond snails. About 33,000 seeds and about 79,000 snail shells have been counted and identified for this project. Together, the plant and snail remains show that around 9300 years ago, the site was a permanent wetland or small lake. This indicates that there has been considerable change in the environment of the area during the last 9000 years because today there are very few surface water sources in this area, especially in the summer.
Wood Bog, Grande Prairie
Some years ago, a landowner east of Grande Prairie started finding buried wood during excavation of a dugout. When this wood was radiocarbon dated, it was found to be about 9000 years old. Some of the wood had tooth-marks showing that it had been cut down by beaver. Subsequent investigation has shown that the sediments at the dugout preserve a continuous record of environments during the last 9000 years. Besides wood, the sediments have yielded rich and abundant plant remains, mainly seeds, and also shells from freshwater snails and insect remains.
The seeds show that the site was originally a pond, perhaps dammed by the beavers, which slowly filled in. Archaeological investigations at the nearby Saskatoon Mountain site (GhQt-4), west of Grande Prairie, have shown that people have been living in this area for at least 9500 years. The information on the changing environments obtained from the "Wood Bog" site provides valuable data which allows archaeologists to compile a more complete picture of the landscape seen by the people who once occupied the Saskatoon Mountain site.
Beaudoin, A. B. (1993) Seeds, Shells and Sediments: 9,000 Years of Environmental History Near Grande Prairie. Alberta Past 9(3):6-7.
Beaudoin, A. B., M. Wright and B. Ronaghan (1996) Late Quaternary Landscape History and Archaeology in the 'Ice-Free Corridor': Some Recent Results from Alberta. Quaternary International 32:113-126. DOI: 10.1016/1040-6182(95)00058-5
Wright, M. (1992) Saskatoon Mountain: 9500 Years of Human Occupation in the Grande Prairie Region. Alberta Past 7(3) (Winter 1991-1992), pp. 8-9.
Other Related Research Projects
Since 1995, many graduate students, researchers, and visiting scholars have worked in the Quaternary Environments Laboratory and used the Reference Collections, carrying out many different projects. Here is a selection of the projects, reports, and publications that have resulted from that work.
Tirlea, Diana (2011) Evaluating terrestrial-aquatic linkages in the Canadian Rocky Mountains: Eiffel Lake and Sentinel Lake, Banff National Park. Unpublished M.Sc. dissertation, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. 207 pages.
[Used the Pollen Reference Collection to count and identify pollen samples from two lake cores and from a transect of surface samples]
Gaglioti, Benjamin V. (2010) The Flora in Fossil and Modern Arctic Ground Squirrel (Urocitellus parryii) Burrows. Unpublished M.Sc thesis. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. x + 102 pages.
[Used the Seed Reference Collection to identify seeds from plant material found in modern and subfossil Ground Squirrel burrows]
Gaglioti, Benjamin V., Brian M. Barnes, Grant D. Zazula, Alwynne B. Beaudoin and Matthew J. Wooller (2011)
Late Pleistocene paleoecology of arctic ground squirrel (Urocitellus parryii) caches and nests from Interior Alaska's mammoth steppe ecosystem, USA. Quaternary Research 76(3):373-382. DOI: 10.1016/j.yqres.2011.08.004
Robinson, Simon (2007) Late Pleistocene - Early Holocene Plant Macrofossils and Pollen from the Yukon Flats, Central Alaska. Unpublished M.Sc.dissertation. Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. 98 pages.
[Wet-screened and processed macrofossil samples, counted and identified macrofossils, using Seed Reference Collection, and consulting Herbarium specimens]
- Robinson, Simon, Alwynne B. Beaudoin, Duane G. Froese, Jennifer Doubt and John J. Clague (2007) Plant Macrofossils Associated with an Early Holocene Beaver Dam in Interior Alaska. Arctic 60(4):430-438.
Pruss, Shelley D. (2002) Ecology of Coyotes (Canis latrans) in Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada. Unpublished PhD thesis, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. 162 pages.
[Used the Seed Reference Collection to identify seeds in coyote scat]
Zazula, Grant D. (2002) Full-glacial Macrofossils, Paleoecology and Stratigraphy of the Bluefish Exposure, Northern Yukon. Unpublished M.A. dissertation. Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. 191 pages.
[Wet-screened and processed macrofossil samples from Bluefish Basin, counted and identified macrofossils, using Seed Reference Collection, and consulting Herbarium specimens]
- Zazula, G. D., D. G. Froese, C. E. Schweger, R. W. Mathewes, A. B. Beaudoin, A. M. Telka, C. R. Harington, and J. A. Westgate (2003) Ice-age Steppe Vegetation in East Beringia. Nature 423:603.
- Zazula, G. D., C. E. Schweger, A. B. Beaudoin and G. H. McCourt (2006) Macrofossil and Pollen Evidence for Full-glacial Steppe Within an Ecological Mosaic along the Bluefish River, Eastern Beringia. Quaternary International 142-143:2-19. Special Issue: Third International Mammoth Conference, Dawson, Yukon, 24-29 May 2003, edited by J. E. Storer. [Note: Published in 2005]
Bouchet-Bert, Luc (2002) When Humans Entered the Northern Forests: A Paleoenvironmental and Archaeological Perspective. Unpublished M.A. dissertation, Archaeology Department, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, xi + 166 pages.
[Counted pollen from Kearl Lake, using the Pollen Reference Collection]
Siegfried, Evelyn V. (2002) Paleoethnobotany on the northern plains: the Tuscany archaeological site (EgPn-377), Calgary. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Archaeology Department, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta. xviii + 445 pages
[Used the Seed Reference Collection to verify identifications of macroremains from Tuscany site]
Funston, S. L. K. (2001) Historicizing the Biological: Physical Data, Disease History and New World Aboriginal People. Unpublished M.A. dissertation. Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 84 pages.
[Processed samples for endoparasites from features tentatively identified as latrine pits at three archaeological sites in Alberta, including Fort George, a Fur Trade site dating to the late 18th century.]
Walshaw, Sara C. (1999) Reconstruction of Environment in Early Bronze Age Syria Through Phytolith Analysis on Human Dental Calculus. Unpublished M.A. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. 101 pages.
[Pilot project work with bison teeth to develop a method for processing dental calculus]
Hallett, Douglas J. (1996) Paleoecological Investigation into the Montane Ecoregion of the Kootenay Valley and Its Implications for Ecosystem Management. Unpublished M.E.D. dissertation, Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta. 85 pages + Appendices.
[Counted pollen from Dog Lake and Cobb Lake, using the Pollen Reference Collection]
- Hallett, D. J., and L. V. Hills (2006) Holocene Vegetation Dynamics, Fire History, Lake Level and Climate Change in the Kootenay Valley, Southeastern British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Paleolimnology 35:351-371.
- Hallett, D. J., R. W. Mathewes, and R. C. Walker (2003) A 1000-Year Record of Forest Fire, Drought and Lake-level Change in Southeastern British Columbia, Canada. The Holocene 13(5):751-761.
- Hallett, D. J., and R. C. Walker (2000) Paleoecology and Its Application to Fire and Vegetation Management in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia. Journal of Paleolimnology 24:401-414.
- Hallett, D. J. (1995) Holocene Vegetation Dynamics in the Kootenay Valley, British Columbia. CAP Newsletter 18(2):12.
Yansa, C. H. (1995) An Early Postglacial Record of Vegetation Change in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Unpublished M.Sc. dissertation. Department of Geological Sciences, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. xiii + 273 pages.
[Used the Seed Reference Collection to verify identifications of macroremains from Andrews site, southern Saskatchewan]
- Yansa, C. H. (1998) Holocene Paleovegetation and Paleohydrology of a Prairie Pothole in Southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Journal of Paleolimnology 19:429-441.
- Yansa, C. H. (1996) Stop 32: Missouri Coteau. In: Landscapes of the Palliser Triangle, edited by D. S. Lemmen, pp. 80-81. Guidebook for the Canadian Geomorphology Research Group Field Trip, Canadian Association of Geographers 1996 Annual Meeting, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
- Yansa, C. H. (1995) A Postglacial Record of Vegetative Change in Southern Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan Archaeological Society Newsletter 16(2):38.
- Yansa, C. H., and J. F. Basinger (1999) A Postglacial Plant Macrofossil Record of Vegetation and Climate Change in Southern Saskatchewan. In: Holocene Climate and Environmental Change in the Palliser Triangle: A Geoscientific Context for Evaluating the Impacts of Climate Change in the Southern Canadian Prairies, edited by D. S. Lemmen and R. E. Vance, pp. 139-172. Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 534. Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.