Digging up Ancient History at Wanuskewin Heritage Park

With more than 6000 years of history hidden in its soil layers, Wanuskewin Heritage Park’s archaeological dig site has uncovered artifacts that are twice as old as the pyramids of Giza. Not typically known for its archaeological connection, this is a location in Saskatchewan you need to visit.
The archaeological dig site located in the Opimihaw Creek Valley at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
The archaeological dig site located in the Opimihaw Creek Valley at Wanuskewin Heritage Park.
Every May and June for a period of 6 weeks, you will find students from the University of Saskatchewan’s archeological field school participating in the dig. They put into practice meticulous digging methods while using it for credit towards their degree. The students use similar tools you might see around the house: a spade and brush to gently scrape the soil as well as a dustpan and pail to collect it. From there they also sift the soil to see if any artifacts can be found. IMG_5672_IMG_5673_                       Although I had the opportunity to dig in search of relics, I came up with nothing more than a few twigs, some rocks, and a pair of dirty hands. I was, however, able to watch as several students uncovered a variety of cultural artifacts such as shards of hand tools used by the Northern Plains peoples and multiple bison teeth and bones.
Searching for relics in the dirt. Photo credit: Andrew McDonald
Dr. Ernie Walker, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan, has been involved with the project since its beginning in 1982. He has mapped out 19 possible dig sites. Currently, nine of these locations have revealed artifacts. Walker still oversees the site, which also happens to be the longest, continuously run archaeological research project in Canadian history.
Dr. Ernie Walker examining a cultural artifact found by an archeology student from the University of Saskatchewan.
The dig site is considered multi-component, meaning it has more than one level. The two upper levels are approximately 500-1000 years old and the bottom level at our particular site, Wolf Willow, dates back about 5000 years. One of the most unique finds is a 500-year-old highly polished elk tooth that was an amulet worn by a woman. A site further north has relics from over 6000 years ago.
Although not an elk tooth necklace, it's a small cultural artifact found while I was at the dig site.
The archaeological dig is important not only because of the discovery of these artifacts, but because of the information and stories they help tell about the way of life of the indigenous peoples of the Northern Plains. These pieces of the past unveil a rich culture that accentuates the important history of Saskatchewan. Regardless of whether you want to learn more about the cultures of the Northern Plains indigenous peoples, experience a pow-wow and tipi sleepover, or view the most northern medicine wheel in the world, Wanuskewin is a National Historic Site that is the perfect escape from the city of Saskatoon. It’s a great day to spend out with family and friends. The dig site is open Monday to Friday from 9:30-2:30 until June 20. Visitors are welcome to walk down to the site and watch the students work.