Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Close to Home Edition

First off, Happy New Year to everyone!

Now, down to business! We've had archaeological happenings right here in Edmonton over the past few days! The city is in the midst of extending the LRT (that's the subway, in case anyone's wondering, although the current stretch is above ground) into the south side of Edmonton, and the other day the construction crews managed to turn up human remains. These were quickly deemed to be "historical," and the anthropologists have been called in.

Yet unidentified human remains

The city has since decided to do exactly the right thing, and proceed with great care and caution in the area involved:

City halts LRT work
Archeologist called in after human remains unearthed

Native activists breathed a sigh of relief after the city halted construction on a controversial stretch of the south LRT extension until an archeologist can be hired to supervise the work.

City hall announced the move yesterday, four days after human remains were discovered by excavation crews working near 111 Street and 43 Avenue.

Now, the main question revolves around the identity of the body found. Chances are quite good that is a member of the group of Cree who settled in the area under Chief Papaschase in the 1850s. For awhile, they lived on a reservation of about 40 square miles in what is now the southern section of the City of Edmonton, but, in the later years of the 19th century, a combination of famine and bureaucratic slight-of-hand saw them removed from that land and merged rather abruptly with the Enoch Cree to the west (they were actually treated quite shabbily by various levels of government, and there has been recent litigation over this). Interestingly, one of the major inciters of the removal of the Papaschase Cree was Frank Oliver, one of Edmonton's early movers and shakers, and a man who now has an entire neighbourhood named after him. There is a great deal more information about the Papaschase Cree here.

One other issue has been raised by the discovery of these remains, and it's the problem of what to do when development and archaeology butt heads. Edmonton is not, for example, Rome, where long experience has led to the creation of laws and guidelines that allow development to proceed and archaeology to be done properly. It's a bit tricky; the laws must protect archaeology without tempting the developers to conceal, or worse, destroy archaeological sites (I should point out here that I'm not accusing all developers of being prone to that sort of thing; a recent development near where my father lives in Ontario turned up archaeological remains, and the developer immediately halted work, called in archaeologists, redrew the plans for the development to protect the site, and generally carried on as though he found the archaeological finds far more interesting than he did the construction of his building). No such laws exist in Edmonton, and it would be a good idea for City Council to sit down and draw some up, particularly as this particular Council seems very eager to embark on large construction projects!

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