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A Journey to a New Land

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Dr. Jon Driver

Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University

Discoveries at Charlie Lake Cave

We have a saying in archaeology that it's not what you find; it's what you find out. So the objects that we found were in themselves perhaps not particularly exciting. Most of what we found consisted of stone tools and the animal bones, mainly the remains of meals left behind by prehistoric hunters and gatherers who visited the site. One of the unusual things about this site is that we have evidence of people visiting the site initially over 12,000 years ago, and then all the way up through the layers in the gully in front of the site, we were able to trace people who visited up until the time the Alaska Highway was built in the 1940s. It appears that most of the people who visited that site did so for the same reason. They were there to hunt primarily, some were there to fish, and we can also guess that there was some gathering of plant foods, particularly berries, because the hillside today has a large quantity of berry bushes growing along it.

So those occasional visits over more than 12,000 years have left this very long record of human use of that area. Most of what we found, simply animal bones and stone tools, can be interpreted using scientific analyses and interpretation based on what we know about the kinds of activities that the hunters and gatherers engage in. These can be interpreted to give us a picture of life around Charlie Lake Cave at different times over the last 12,000 years.

Some of the more interesting discoveries, I think, relate to the very earliest time period represented at the site, which is the end of the last glaciation and the transition from glacial climates and glacial environments to a more modern environment which, in that part of the world today, is a boreal forest. We have evidence from the artifacts that gives us information about where some of the earliest people came from and how they got to that site in the first place. Then we have evidence from the animal bones that tells us firstly about the environment in which they were living, and secondly about the kinds of animals they were hunting, in other words how they subsisted. We also have some information, which suggests something, although a very limited amount, about the spiritual beliefs of these early people in the Peace River area of British Columbia.