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Archaeological excavation at Calgary park reveals ancient Blackfoot artifacts

May 26, 2024

Dig site centred around a Blackfoot stone circle

People gather around an area where dirt and rocks have been exposed in a field.
The excavation at Nose Hill Park in North Calgary is expected to last three weeks. (Terri Trembath/CBC)\

Toronto Star: Beside a gravel footpath that winds along the top of a hill on the east side of Nose Hill Park in Calgary, lies a circle of stones. 

Until recently, only parts of the circle were visible to passersby, many of whom unknowingly walked straight through a site that is now the subject of an archaeological excavation aimed at uncovering more about the life of the Blackfoot people.

The University of Calgary’s archaeology field school and public archaeology program, in partnership with Calgary Parks and Open Spaces, broke ground on the project on May 13. Over the next few weeks, students, university staff, and volunteers will work together to retrieve fragments of history hidden beneath the soil. 

The stone circle itself is a remnant of a Blackfoot camp, a place where a lodge would have once been erected.

A hand holds pieces of light colored shell.
Shell fragments found at the excavation site would have been carried up the hill to the camp, says excavation head Lindsay Amundsen-Meyer. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Lindsay Amundsen-Meyer, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary who’s heading up the excavation, says the circle is one of about a dozen in the area. 

“The site itself is not confined to where we’re digging. It actually extends quite a ways over the top of Nose Hill here, kind of over to [that] break and slope,” she says, gesturing over the open park fields.

A glimpse of daily life

Amundsen-Meyer said this specific site was chosen, in part, to protect it — the city rerouted the nearby footpath in 2006 to give the stone circle a wider berth, but park-goers have continued to walk over it, which was leading to its gradual erosion.

It also presents a unique learning opportunity. 

“We dig a lot of places where there’s really dense material, like a bison kill or processing site because they’re so dense, those are archaeologically rich,” said Amundsen-Meyer.

“But those are actually activities that occur for like a few weeks every year, right? That is not the daily life of the people of the past.” 

What was life like for pre-contact Blackfoot people? This archaeology project in Calgary is looking to answer that question

WATCH | Nose Hill Park means a lot to Calgarians, but it has meant a lot to many for thousands of years:

2 days ago, Duration 2:10

By comparison, a stone circle, while not always offering the same quantity of artifacts, can provide insight into what individuals were doing on a regular basis. 

Click on the following link to view the video;

So far, the dig has been fruitful. Pieces of stone tools, and even shells have been discovered, which Amundsen-Meyer says were used to make beads and other decorative objects.

Taryn Healy Crowchief, who’s from Siksika Nation south of Calgary, has worked with Amundsen-Meyer as her assistant for three years. 

It’s his first time working on Nose Hill, and he said that before this excavation, he didn’t know that Blackfoot lodges existed in this location. 

“It’s much more different than on the reserve … as soon as I saw them I was really shocked and honestly it was pretty awesome. It’s cool to see.”

Crowchief said he was a bit discouraged when he didn’t find anything on his first layer, which was five centimetres down. But then, he got to the 10-centimetre mark. 

“As soon as I hit that, I start hitting the sweet spot.”

A long-loved place

While the date of the site is unknown at this point, it is likely from the pre-contact period, said Amundsen-Meyer. She suspects it would have been part of a seasonal camp for the Blackfoot people in the warmer months, given the area’s exposure.

According to a 2019 report by the City of Calgary, evidence from a nearby excavation carried out in the late 1970s in an area called the Hawkwood site showed that people hunted and cooked bison on Nose Hill. 

“Based on the tried and tested combination of radiocarbon dates and the distinctive shapes of stone artifacts used to tip spears, darts, and arrows, we know people used the area of the Hawkwood site many times,” reads the report. 

Remains from the Hawkwood site have been dated as far back as 8,250 years ago, and as recent as 500 years ago. 

Laureen Bryant, with the city, said an important aspect of the excavation has been creating public awareness about the long history of Nose Hill Park.

A man stands above a large tool.
Taryn Healy Crowchief sifts through material at the site on Nose Hill Park in Calgary. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

“Our mandate is to identify, conserve and celebrate historic resources, and we do that really well with the historic pieces, but not so much the pre-contact pieces,” said Bryant.

“And so this was a huge opportunity to have the students learn, [and] to provide public involvement.” 

Bryant said the materials that are found will be cleaned and catalogued at the University of Calgary, before ending up at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. 

When the project is over, the stone circle will remain in place, and the area around it will be reseeded with a short native grass mix, she added. One day, signage may be put in place to point out the significance of the site.

“This is at one of our natural park lands and so we want to make sure that we’re returning it to nature, but we also want to look at, in the future, creating an interpretive element of this location,” said Bryant. 

Amundsen-Meyer said opening the excavation up to volunteers has also played a role in making the past relatable.

“We really have the opportunity to educate the general public and kind of give the sense of the really long-term history of this place, right? We think about Calgary, OK, the late 1800s, but the history here goes a lot farther back than that.”

Before the project began, Amundsen-Meyer said a ceremony was held to bless the work they were about to undertake. 

For Crowchief, the mixture of his professional training and his people’s traditions are all part of the learning process. 

“This is pretty new so I’m trying to get as much knowledge as I can, but culturally it’s very native,” he said.

“There’s a lot of evidence that shows that it’s got a lot of history up here.”


Kylee Pedersen

Kylee is a reporter/editor with CBC Calgary. You can reach her at

With files from Terri Trembath