Episode 2.7

The team heads to plains country to meet Métis archaeologist Kisha Supernant at Chimney Coulee in southern Saskatchewan. Straddling the continental divide, the site is home to diverse occupations stretching back at least 10,000 years. Kisha puts Jen and Jacob to work excavating the inside of a Métis cabin while Dr. Rudy uses ground penetrating radar (GPR) to map underground features as a digital 3D model.

The Buffalo

A Métis elder reflects on the decline of the buffalo. Narrated in Michif by Skyblue Morin, Alberta

Lay of the Land: Arriving at Chimney Coulee

Arriving at Chimney Coulee, the team finds themselves in a partially wooded ravine on the eastern slopes of the Cypress Hills. Several stone chimneys are visible, left standing from an early Métis settlement. Little of landscape has changed here since the 1800s, and the local environment appears much as it would have to its past inhabitants.

The team will be assisting Métis archaeologist Kisha Supernant with targeted excavations as well as precision GIS geo mapping and remote sensing of a Métis overwintering settlement. “Hivernants,” or Métis overwintering sites, are places near rivers, lakes, and sources of wood where Métis families would build cabins and spend October to April hunting bison.

During the 1870s as many as 60 Métis families likely wintered at Chimney Coulee on a seasonal basis, known then as “Hunter’s Settlement”. It is believed that the Métis largely abandoned Chimney Coulee by 1880 with the disappearance of bison from the area.

VR: Chimney Coulee & the Cypress Hills

Chimney Coulee is also home to precontact campsites, a Hudson’s Bay trading post, and a North-West Mounted Police post. Rudy reflects on how the Métis settlement at Chimney Coulee fits within the broader context of life in the Cypress Hills in the 1800s.

Digging In

Kisha’s methods should enable the team to find very tiny artifacts that might be missed in other archaeological excavations, such as very tiny beads that were an important part of Métis life. These beads would have decorated moccasins, jackets, bags, leggings, gloves, vests, and pouches. The Métis are famous for their floral beadwork, which was traded historically throughout North America and Europe and often incorrectly attributed to other indigenous nations.

“Were finding pieces of ceramic that would have been plates and bowls and over 1,200 seed  beads.”

– Kisha Supernant

VR: Approaching the Precontact Layer

As Jen and Jacob dig deeper, they find themselves beneath the floor of the Métis cabin, approaching the precontact layer. Digging here requires patience and precision, and the team has to go slowly as they search for more artifacts.

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Any artifacts Jen and Jacob find will be entered into the EMITA database (“Exploring Metis Identity Through Archaeology”) to provide comparative data for long term analysis.

“This is really remarkable, it’s so rare that we find beads in any kind of row. They are normally just loose.”

– Kisha Supernant

Remote Sensing & GIS Geomapping

Archaeological geophysics or remote sensing refers to a group of techniques that can be used to detect buried archaeological remains, including magnetometry, magnetic susceptibility mapping, resistivity and ground-penetrating radar. These techniques are rapid and noninvasive. Remote sensing techniques measure certain physical properties of soil at or just above the ground’s surface such as magnetism or electrical resistance to build a picture of the past, revealing walls, floors, and other subsurface structures. Other factors in the soil can affect these analyses, and they require careful interpretation.

Geophysical/remote sensing techniques are often paired with GIS – GIS surveying does not rely on landmarks which may change, move or be destroyed over time. Rather, data is triangulated by satellite to a specific, accurate location in the field.

Kisha’s team is using GPR (ground penetrating radar), magnetometry and drone photography to look for additional cabins. They are looking for what might have been the winter hunting cabins of specific Métis families who submitted a petition at Fort Walsh seeking recognition under Treaty #4.

Remote sensing techniques are often used to pinpoint sites for targeted excavations – They reveal subsurface features, but the hard and messy work of digging is still required to unearth small artifacts.

“This technology is really important because its a non-invasive technique to investigate sites.”

– Dr. Rudy Reimer

Coolest Find at Chimney Coulee

Graduate student Eric Tebby shows Jen and Jacob the coolest find at Chimney Coulee to date – a flower design consisting of over 400 colourful beads, which may have once decorated a turn of the century Métis moccasin. A remarkable example of Métis beadwork in situ, it was meticulously uncovered and carefully extracted intact.

Coolest Find

Mêtis Ancestry

Métis history at Chimney Coulee is difficult to trace, and even more so, the lives of Métis women. Historical archaeology provides important clues. Graduate student Eric Tebby shows Jen and Jacob a remarkable example of beadwork found in situ at Chimney Coulee, tracing census data to identify the families who once lived here, and the woman who may have originally created this extraordinary beadwork.