The next generation of archaeologists was given an opportunity to dig up a little piece of history and a big pile of fun.
Heritage North Consulting took a day off from performing archaeological assessments for companies operating in the local oil and gas industry to set up a pair of sites where Peace Region schoolchildren could search for buried treasures typical of an old First Nations campsite.
The pits contained bones as well as small flakes of rock and other similar artifacts that the students found by shaking the soil that they excavated from the sites through wire screens.
“It gives them an idea of what we do in reconstructing old campsites when we’re in the bush,” said Keary Walde of Heritage North.
“If we find scrapers and whatnot, we can interpret what they’re doing there,” he added.
Tom Ouellette, executive director of regional operations and First Nations relations with the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission (OGC), who was enjoying the day’s festivities along with the other visitors, also remarked on the connections between the traditional activities on display and the archaeological dig.
“Chunks of blades that they would have been using to cook or skin their hides,” said Ouellette, describing the artifacts that could be found. “Or spears and arrowheads, as well as other tools. And pieces of tools. So, it’s not always necessarily whole artifacts. It’s chunks and pieces.
“All that stuff is recorded,” he added. “It’s all part of the history of B.C.”
Discussing the importance of teaching schoolchildren about the archaeological side of oil and gas industry activity in the region, Ouellette said that the work that has been done in the province has provided solid confirmation of the extent to which First Nations people have been using the land for thousands of years.
“They find evidence of human use all over the place,” he said. “In the muskeg areas. On the rivers.
“It just confirms what the people have told us when we’re out talking to them,” he continued. “That they use the land today and have used it in the past and [will] continue to use it in the future. So, that’s an important component to ensuring that important sites are noted and recorded.
“There’s some science behind what they’re doing.”
Ouellette mentioned an archaeological site that was researched extensively by Heritage North and the Doig River First Nation, research that was supported by the OGC through the Science and Community Environmental Knowledge Fund (SCEK).
“We do see the value in the recording of the culture,” he said, also noting the value of providing students a firsthand glimpse of that culture as well as the work that unearths these bits of its past and traditions.
The pretend excavation does have an impact on the students.
“They love the archaeological dig,” said Deborah Petuh, a Grade 4 teacher at Duncan Cran Elementary in Fort St. John, who has brought her students to the even for a number of years.
“I think it lets them get in touch with the earth instead of all the electronics that they have and all that kind of stuff,” she added.
“It’s fun to be an archaeologist because you get to find bones and spearheads and basically a lot of fossils,” said one of Petuh’s students, Ryan Hicks.
“But it’s hard to be an archaeologist because you’re always outside in the sun or in the snow,” he continued, adding that he actually enjoys working outside and that he doesn’t mind getting a little dirty.
He said that he wants to be an archaeologist now that he has participated in the dig, an urge that is well known by Tim Sanderson, one of the archaeologists at Heritage North.
“I did the same thing when I was there age,” said Sanderson. “And I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I’m an archaeologist. It’s just fun digging and finding stuff.”
Ouellette felt that showing children a career path that people might not always consider when they think about the energy sector was valuable, too.
“There’s a lot of different industries that support the oil and gas industry, and archaeology’s a good one,” said Ouellette, commenting that environmental assessments are another big part of industry activity in the region.
“Hopefully, it gives them some respect of the past and preserving the past,” said Walde. “And having the opportunity to get their fingernails dirty.
“It’s like opening Christmas presents every day.”