NorthWord Archaeology

Layer 1: snow.  Layer 2: littermat.

Layer 1: snow. Layer 2: littermat.

I just found a pretty good article from NorthWord, a community newspaper that covers northern BC’s coast and interior.  Nice quotes and insights from Rick Budwha, Farid Rahemtulla and David Archer – but what caught my eye was the surreal photo used to illustrate the piece.  Is that a light dusting of snow on the clipboard?  Is that wind down the plumber-butt?  Is that a marginally insane unit location right in the root mat of a huge tree?  Is this winter impact assessment under Oil and Gas Commission guidelines? How did they establish the glorious sidelight?   Is there snow on the soles of their boots?  Could this be a painting?  I want to know more about this picture, dammit!

9 responses to “NorthWord Archaeology

  1. This is a photo of Archer CRM Partnership archaeologists at work at the Simon Fraser Bridge twinning project in Prince George, BC, 2007


  2. Q, you don’t get out enough anymore. Winter archaeology is now very common. Were’nt you with us (Daryl Fedje, myself, a couple of others – thought you were there but it might have been your brother Richard) on the delightful Devil’s Gorge Quarry excavation on the Liard in 1981 or so. No sheltering trees there, and the wind howled along the canyon.

    My guess is that the yellowish side lighting is actually from construction lighting running off a generator. Gets dark early in winter, you know!

    The ‘shovel bum’ needs to get a long-tailed Stanfields!


  3. You’re right, Morley, though the Ivory Tower (well Cornett is more like the Cinderblock Tower) has its hardships ya know: why just the other day the Club was clear out of the 14yr Port. Hrumph.

    Though I do well remember digging at the Bill Boyes site at Three Valley Gap in November – a cool site with its gigantic end scraper and general Upper Palaeolithic look, but, it was in a frickin’ chicken coop with the shrieking wind from Revelstoke running right up your backside, meaning S.O.P. to put half and half rum/coffee in the thermos. We would take the frozen soil back to thaw out each night: it being a chicken coop, this had a downside.

    Once in a while Bill would wipe the condensation off his cozy cottage windows and push his craggy face up against the glass to check it all out. I swear he would revel in slowly raising a huge cup of grog to his wormlips while desperately trying to make triumphant eye contact.

    I know this is all very normal for the tough consultants of today, but then I hear through the CBC they are getting $80/hour so that’ll pay for some good undies and a thaw-out in Baja, say.

    W. Slavica: thans fr the photo i.d. I still think it is a remarkable photo – maybe photoshopped or something to get that painterly effect.


  4. “wormlips”? Nice turn of phrase.

    What year was that? Sounds like a pioneering effort for winter work in BC – you should be taking credit. Too bad Worksafe BC disapproves of the administration of that kind of antifreeze these days.


    • Hmm, it was about 1985 or so. I would take credit, but it wasn’t my %$#@& good idea.

      From what I hear, and I hope it isn’t just making a virtue of a necessity, some of the winter impact assessment in the NE has some advantages. I think UVIC’s own Binky was describing cutting excavation units out of the frozen ground with a concrete saw, then thawing these out back in the lab – which enables fine screening and very high quality recovery not always possible with more expedient shovel tests. (Meaning ?more sites were found, or maybe different sites were found).


  5. The BC NE archaeologists say that they are finding as many sites in winter work, some think maybe more. Certainly better idea of lithics at a site as screening conditions are much better and microdebitage can be recovered. Since the vast majority of sites in the NE have no stratigraphy and very shallow soils, there is no real loss of data from cutting the pieces out and taking them to a lab. It is expensive as a wharehouse for drying and screening is needed.

    Fly in the ointment is the depth of snow; if it is too deep then it can obscure the microtopography which drives much of site discovery in the area. The Archaeology Branch likes to have limits on the depth of snow in winter methods for that reason. Also, snow obscures surface features such as cache pits and the like. For that reason the method is limited to use in the NE where cache pit and most other surface feature sites are virtually unknown.

    It is also limited to Oil and Gas projects which have very short planning cycles, as opposed to Forestry or Highways or subdivisions where development planning is done over years and there is no need to do field work in the winter if things are planned properly.

    Winter mitigation excavations are possible anywhere in BC according to Branch rules, but tend to involve tents and thawed ground and normal excavation techniques from there on.


  6. This photo is haunting me – it is actually one of mine, and has found its way into the brochure of at least one competing consulting firm (without credit or my approval) who took it off the Northword webpage (without credit .. sigh). I asked Northword to update the photo with a watermark, obviously wasn’t done.

    Quentin, I can send you the original if you want to post it – as Morley guesses correctly, we had lights running off a genset. And no, the photo was never altered in any manner … sheesh !

    The scene captured the end of that day, when we’d frankly had had enough and I needed to demonstrate why we stopped early. I would not qualify our excavations at SFB that year as ‘winter work’ in the NE BC sense – the project consisted primarily of excavations, not testing, and we did not use cement saws at all – just good ol’ fashion heat to thaw the ground. We actually completed our first ‘frozen ground’ excavation in 2000 on the Beatton River in NE BC. I had three 8-hour shifts going for four days so that we could excavate 24 hours/day. I learned that this was the only way to tackle that particular site after the first night, when we left our heating system unattended and the thawing process had to start all over again (gave me time to teach people to differentiate between empty and full propane bottles). By the time SFB rolled around in the fall of 2006 things were a little more sophisticated.


    • Correction – we did use cement saws to cut the edges of new units prior to thawing – makes for great shadow-free profile photos as your near-surface roots are all nicely trimmed flush with the walls (and keeps people honest & true to the vertical as they go down).


    • Remi – I’d love to see the original. I wasn’t thinking that it being photoshopped would have been a bad thing. I think the painterly aspect of it is remarkable, and the dusting of snow on the soles; of the boots is an almost surreal touch. I noticed this picture has some of the same qualities though its a bit sharper:

      But maybe the NorthWord picture has been unintentionally altered by downsampling for the web — that is, the slightly softened character could be jpeg artifacting or something. Or maybe I am overthinking what it looks like in wintertime northern BC. In principle, I would like to see that for myself, but in practice I am usually too busy doing daffodil counts at that time of year.


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