Archaeological dig commences at Morton Pit

An aerial map view provided by Stantec of the latest dig site with its results. The company found several sites where aboriginal people from before European settlement times would use the area as a place for skinning meat after tools were found along the edges of the site. (Seen in Red). ECA Review/Stantec
Written by Terri Huxley

An aerial map view provided by Stantec of the latest dig site with its results. The company found several sites where aboriginal people from before European settlement times would use the area as a place for skinning meat after tools were found along the edges of the site. (Seen in Red). ECA Review/Stantec

2020 seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.

Starland County has been finding this out the hard way after a presentation was made regarding recent archaeological discoveries at the Morton gravel pit, a development within Starland.

Meaghan Porter, Senior Archaeologist with Stantec Consulting, was welcomed to the virtual council meeting on Wed. June 24 where she shared in detail what the project may look like now that items have been found in the development area.

She anticipates that the scope of the project could be between $50,000 and $500,000 as a high mark depending on what is found, how long it will take to uncover the artifacts and requirements set out by the province but she also said it was too early to tell of a rough estimate at this time.

The county has a requirement to conduct these types of surveys before any real construction can happen.

A few weeks ago, the company came to the archaeological site mapped out.

“Quite quickly on in their survey, they found a site and they continued on their way and found that it was extending all along the eastern edge of your footprint. They were unable to finish the assessment on the first day so they did a second day and continued to find materials at the site,” said Porter.

Alberta Culture is the regulator. The regional archaeologist said it was best to continue digging and spend more time.

They have found pre-contact materials from before Europeans came.

This includes lithic materials like stones and remains of stones used for making tools as well as tools themselves used for cutting and skinning meat and what is known as a ‘projectile point’ arrowhead tip with the base broken off, remains of cooking fires, animal bone pieces and more.

Porter noted this unique situation is not found that often as the company normally never finds this much in one location including surface things like teepee rings and below-surface items like more lithic stones.

So far they are required to finish the shovel testing which will take two additional days as well as a final report which will be given to Alberta Culture and Starland County for comment.

“What we are finding is that the archaeological materials are rich, they are across the area and rather than just wasting a lot of time and your guy’s money, we wanted to pick out what approach we should be taking to give adequate testing and assessments of the area,” said Porter.

Although they have found lots of materials, they are not secluded to one area which means they will most likely be looking at more of the west portion of the Morton Pit to ensure there is nothing in that area as well as part of their next steps.

Council asked Porter if the community was allowed to possibly keep some of these items found for display purposes as everything will most likely be cataloged and stored in the Royal Alberta Museum warehouse in Edmonton.

She said it was a definite possibility as long as items are kept safe and would be documented first.

It was recommended by Porter that they complete the initial assessment to see how broad and wide the area is to discover and if it does not extend where they found they can contain the area.

If they do, they will have to continue. If council chooses to not move forward, the Morton Pit project will not be approved as they would say the required assessment has not been completed.

Council agreed to the initial cost of $55,114.08 and will circle back to this topic depending on the results of the next round of assessment.

If the west side has nothing they can tighten up the footprint, having done their due diligence.

“We’ve rented this much, we might as well see where it goes from here,” said Coun. Bob Sargent.

Administration did add this was not budgeted for and there are no reserves for this unexpected cost so far.

“I feel we seem to be tacking on more and more stuff and it is not budgeted for,” said assistant Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Matthew Kreke.

Peace officer review 

A review of Starland County’s current peace officer services was completed in February by the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General ministry.

Peace officer program auditors Greg Irvine and Edward Kuzikowski performed the audit to determine compliance.

They sent a letter saying that all necessary documentation was sent and that they are in compliance.

“It’s a good feeling because we know how picky these guys are,” said CAO Bremer.

CAO report

CAO Shirley Bremer updated council on a few things happening within the county.

First was the completion of their audit which was done virtually due to COVID-19.

Secondly, she spoke of the ATB branch within the county’s temporary office. Tara Lutz, Starland’s agency representative from the Drumheller branch, and Pierre from the ATB Agency Network of Central Alberta sat down with Bremer on June 15.

Pierre told Bremer they will most likely be pulling out of the community with the nearest services only in Drumheller, Hanna or Three Hills.

Bremer explained to council Lutz was ‘blindsided’ as well.

She went to bat for the community saying it was convenient to have in the village, especially since Mountain View Financial left.

They explained that most people have switched to online banking but Bremer did tell him that this was only the case because of the virus disrupting everything including banking behaviours and the fact the agency was closed for some time already.

“I know the volume declined but I also mentioned that they never did get Sherry trained or up and running on the ATB equipment they installed so many services couldn’t be provided as they expected.

Council asked if Mountain View may be interested in having a satellite agency in the county building which administration agreed to look into as well as canvassing the community to see if they would still like the service available.

A few people have reported to the county that the cemeteries, especially Morrin Cemetery, was not pristine but Bremer added that on the day of the call, public works was attending the area for lawn maintenance.

“We’ve had so much rainfall lately everything has been growing like crazy,” she said.

Ag society request

Coun. Jackie Watts had a request from Larry Anderson of the Rumsey- Rowley Agricultural Society asking about having the county place two historical markers for long-gone schools in the area as a form of acknowledgement of the past.

The society has purchased two markers; one for Rumsey and one for Thompson School north of Rumsey near Scollard Road.

Public works manager Ken Menage readily accepted the request.


Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.