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That's a Wrap: Sugar Cane Arch 2020 Year in Review!

Updated: Dec 18, 2020


ABOVE: A late fall expedition to inventory archaeology sites on Quesnel Lake in 2020 made for some spectacular images, and some chilly boat rides.

Photo: Solos Productions


It has been an interesting 2020 for Sugar Cane Archaeology, and not just because of the wild ride that COVD-19 delivered worldwide.


Despite the challenges, Sugar Cane Archaeology (SCA) worked on some big projects, located and/or repatriated huge numbers of artifacts, built new partnerships, rediscovered newly identified archaeological sites, and so much more.


With year-end being the time many of us reflect back on what lays behind, while we simultaneously look ahead to the coming year, Sugar Cane Archaeology figured: “Let’s do that too!”


ABOVE: Get cozy with a cuppa and let's reflect on what an epic year 2020 was, like Sugar Cane Arch's Brittany Cleminson was doing during the Quesnel Lake expedition.

Photo: Solos Productions


But how to summarize so much in an easily digestible piece of reading --a nutshell if you will...?


Let's see, so much happened, it all feels hard to remember (and not only because this article's author was actually only hired on later on in 2020).


First of all, there was a whole lot of preparation for the field season, working to secure funding for projects, gearing up the equipment, and signing with new clients.


Of course, when COVID-19 hit early on in the spring, a good portion of that planning was out the window and it was a reboot on the schedule.


Like everyone, SCA had to adapt on the fly with adjustments. Even having enough vehicles (or in some cases, simply having to say no or recheduling some work) for COVID-adapted crew transport to the field kept the staff on their toes.


At the same time, Williams Lake was experiencing an epic year of flooding in 2020, with a major sewage leak in the Williams Lake River Valley and massive erosion and bank collapses of the valley creating problems for the City of Williams Lake's sewage treatment infrastructure, which sends treated sewage through the valley to the Fraser River.


The Williams Lake River Valley connects to the Fraser, and the surrounding benches of these two watersheds also happen to contain a large amount of known archaeological sites. An unprecedented amount of emergency and salvage archaeology was completed in order to save whatever was possible under these challenging circumstances.


It was 0-100 km/h for the whole team. Revisiting sites, assessing ahead of construction work, and monitoring the excavation that was ongoing during repairs added up to a lot of people and time above and beyond what had been planned for the year.

With fall rains and warm temperatures impacting the Cariboo region, the River Valley benches, already destabilized by the 2017 wildfire deforestation, continued to erode and slough away. A series of landslides has further impacted the River Valley, and the work continues to grind on.

In a normal year, archaeologists would be moving inside to begin the monumental task of reporting on a season of field work by November or December. This year there is still field work ongoing in the River Valley.

Sugar Cane Archaeology is maintaining a monitoring presence to ensure archaeological sites and/or associated artifacts are not lost forever. That means there are people raking and screening through dirt which was moved from an area with archaeological potential, to make sure no artifacts are lost.

Despite the big wrench that was the River Valley thrown into the works, much of the planned work for 2020 also got done.

There was work with BC Parks on some really interesting spots around Quesnel, BC, including Pinnacles Provincial Park and Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park, where accessibility improvements to facilities meant archaeological assessments to ensure archaeological values are understood prior to work being done.


These areas are nice spots today, and they were also areas First Nations would have used as they moved across the land, something made evident by the culturally modified trees and archaeological sites located during survey work. SCA was also working with First Nations in the area -building partnerships with their businesses and through it, studying the regional archaeology.


There were research teams sent into the Bowron Lakes and Quesnel Lake, where artifacts and archaeological sites were rediscovered and the crew experienced walking in the footsteps of T'exelcemc (Williams Lake First Nation people) and X’atśūll (Soda Creek band people). The crew members ruminated that the ancient cedars around them were the same trees which had watched over the ancestors as they used these sites.


ABOVE: A slideshow of shots from research expeditions to conduct archaeology across the region.

Photos: Solos Productions


This was actually a continuation of the largest ever First Nations-driven archaeological survey in the Cariboo Region, carried out on behalf of the four bands of the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ), the findings from this ongoing project continue to be exciting and ground-breaking.


There was some interesting work with the Williams Lake Community Forest, including measuring previously located cultural depressions to update the provincial database according to more current archaeology standards and using modern GPS technology.


There was survey work with forestry companies, the bread and butter of many archaeology companies, identifying areas of archaeological potential or traditional use sites -where ancestors perhaps stripped bark from trees or started small warming fires on a large tree- prior to forestry development work like cut blocks and road construction.


There was more community focused work: digitizing information on Title and Rights and Traditional Use information; working with school classes (when COVID allowed); and cultural wellness programs, helping to teach area youth about the rich archaeological area we live in.


School class visits included learning about fieldwork, the use of x-ray technology to determine where artifacts may have been transported and/or traded from, and getting to see actual artifacts recovered through fieldwork and repatriation.


ABOVE: Some artifacts rediscovered during 2020 fieldwork.

Cultural wellness initiatives with Nenqayni Centre included presentations, round table discussions and participation of First Nation youth in an actual excavation on Sugar Cane Reserve.


ABOVE: Senior Archaeologist Whitney Spearing uses the pXRF machine in the field during Quesnel Lake survey work in order to get a baseline for local rock geochemistry. Photo: Solos Productions


It was the first year Sugar Cane Archaeology had a hand-held x-ray fluorescence machine (pXRF), and it was put to use in the field and in the office in order to analyze the chemical composition of source rocks and artifacts made of stone - a.k.a. lithics.


There was also major excavation work associated with the highway construction in the area. While Sugar Cane Archaeology has done excavation work on smaller scales, the systematic data recovery project work they had been working on at the southern end of Williams Lake is next-level, and one of the largest ever in the Cariboo Region.


"We've done scads and scads of units (a smaller excavation) ... and even some burials, but never ever systematic data recovery," said long-time SCA employee Leo Michel.

The meticulousness and academic nature of the work was something he appreciated getting to see and do, with the excavation creating a three-dimensional map of where the artifacts were recovered in the unit.


This study included excavation of a house floor, which has been proposed as a virtual museum exhibit (stay tuned for more!).


Michel said he also found working with the very expensive but efficient power screen machine a really interesting experience during a road construction project.



ABOVE: SCA workers search through huge piles of topsoil from an archaeology site relocated during road construction with the help of a power screen.

Video: Solos Productions


"Working with a big screen kind of opened my eyes," he said. "Instead of buckets of dirt, let's do bushels of dirt."


Now comes the fun part. As field season is winding down, the reporting work begins, processing artifacts and submitting reports. For every hour of work in the field, it is estimated there are four more hours required to report on that work. Organizing and archiving all of the information is very time-consuming!



Sounds like fun, right? A job well done is satisfying, and it isn't done until the report is filed!


Oh, and we also started this little thing right here, our blog, and have been working to get it out there to help share information about archaeology, specifically the archaeology of this amazing area we live... the unceded territory of the T'exelcemc, Tsilqhot'in, Secwepemc and Dakelh peoples.


Feel free to comment below to suggest future blog topics or any questions you have about what we do or how we do it.


As for the year ahead, while SCA does not have a crystal ball, there are plans to continue to build on the many relationships and projects of 2020 and to continue to work hard to promote our mission of: upholding integrated views of resource and heritage management, within the framework of Indigenous stewardship.


ABOVE: SCA is walking into a fresh 2021 like...

Photo: Solos Productions


Phew, I don't know about you, but I feel like it was a full year, and I'm ready for a break -see you in 2021!




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