Community helps Galt design Southern Alberta archaeology exhibit


The Galt looked to the community for direction digging into the past for its new exhibit, “Uncovering Secrets: Archaeology in southern Alberta.”

The museum surveyed the public last year to ask what they wanted to see in an exhibit that focuses on southern Alberta archaeology.
“The Galt Museum is part of the community, so we wanted to do something the community wanted us to do,” said curator Wendy Aitkens.Galt museum curator Wendy Aitkens helps visitors examine ‘artifacts’ form the ’50s. Photo by Richard Amery
“It is important for us to respond to their interests and their needs.”

With help from the Archaeology Society of Southern Alberta and a couple enthusiastic students, they pinpointed 15 local and area sites for a series of display cases that take visitors back as far as 11,000 years ago and as late as the beginning of the 1900s.

Some are well known to local and area residents and visitors, and others more obscure, including Cluny Fortified Village, Fincastle Bison Kill and Processing Site, Fletcher Bison Kill Site, Fort Macleod NWMP Barracks, Fort Whoop-Up, Indian Battle Park, Kajewski Métis Cabins, Lille Coal Mine Town, Massacre Butte, New Oxley Ranche, Old North Trail, Stone Features including the Majorville Medicine Wheel and Noble Point effigy, Wally's Beach, and Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi National Historic Site.

In addition to arrowheads, old tools and other fascinating items, the exhibit includes items extracted from trash piles of some of the early settlers, which is an important part of how archaeologists find historical items.

The Galt also implemented the public’s suggestion for a couple interactive exhibits. One has visitors go through a garbage can of items from the 1950s to determine the items and their purpose. Another has visitors put together pieces of a broken pot and prowl through a box full of buffalo bones and match them to a poster on the wall.

“It’s a great opportunity for the public to see about the past and where southern Alberta’s archaeological sites are,” said Jim McMurchy, president of the Archaeology Society of Southern Alberta.

He added society members are well aware of the sites featured in the exhibit.
“I think it tells people about the past. Obviously, the information that has been collected fills in the broad picture of life in southern Alberta.”

In addition to providing an overview ofthe past 12,000 years in southern Alberta, Aitkens believes the exhibit gives an accurate portrayal of what archaeologists do.
“Blackfoot oral tradition preserves ancient stories of their people; written records tell us stories of native and non-native inhabitants from the last 200 years,” Aitkens said.

“But to discover unknown or forgotten stories, or to add to known stories, archaeologists dig under layers of soil sometimes to a depth of several metres, study artifacts stored in museums, analyze artwork created on stone, and compile previous research. Their findings enrich our knowledge of people who lived in southern Alberta.”

 University of Lethbridge graduate Bethany Gustafson designed the backdrops and artwork for the display while she was interning at the Galt Museum.

“I did a number of paintings to try to visualize my idea of what I think the landscape looked like back then,” said Gustafson, who graduated with an art history and museum studies degree in April.

 She spent 30 hours creating the paintings, which were used as backdrops for each display as well as used for a map of where all of the sites were located.

“I read a lot about what the archaeologists found, the items they found and their meaning for the people and looked at old pictures,” she said adding she also visited the sites as they are now and imagined what they looked like back then.

 The idea came about  through discussions with curator Wendy Aitkens,who suggested she take on the project.
 Gustafson was interning at the Galt Museum, because it was the opportunity that appealed to her the most for an internship.
“I’d really like to do book illustrations, ” she said.
“But I haven’t done a lot of it yet.” she continued adding  this exhibit was a good start.
The exhibit officially opened on Oct. 21. It runs until Jan. 13, 2013.

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 24,2012 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor