Archaeological investigation of pre-contact Indigenous farmers continues near Melita

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BRANDON – Archaeologists from Brandon University (BU) and the Manitoba Archaeological Society (MAS) are continuing their multi-year investigation of how Indigenous people lived in southwestern Manitoba before the arrival of Europeans.

The research project involves archaeological sites in the Pierson Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on Treaty 2 lands, which are the traditional homelands of the Dakota, Anishanabek, Ojibway-Cree, Cree, Dene and Métis peoples. Ms. Amber Flett, the team’s Indigenous Engagement Liaison, has contacted First Nations communities in the region about the project.

In 2018, Mr. Eric Olson found scapula hoes (made from bison shoulder blades) along a creek bank in the Pierson WMA south of Melita. This type of bone tool was used to cultivate maize crops. Brandon University Department of Anthropology Professor Dr. Mary Malainey, Dr. Sara Halwas (MAS and Anthropology, University of Manitoba), Ms. Alicia Gooden (MAS President), other professional archaeologists from the MAS and archaeology students from BU and the U of M have worked in the area since 2019.

Excavations from 2019 to 2021 at the Olson site uncovered a workshop where pre-contact activities included the making of tools from the bones of bison, deer, wolf, beaver and goose. In 2021, a residential area where people made stone tools and used pottery, designated site DgMg-40c, was found on the west side of the valley. Excavations on the east prairie level began earlier this month at site DgMg-168. A hearth with a thick layer of ash indicates that dwellings also occur on the east side of Gainsborough Creek. Pottery found on the east prairie level carries the same decoration as pottery from the Olson site in the valley.

“Our work shows that the pre-contact Indigenous farmers made tools and grew crops in the valley but built their homes on the prairie level,” Dr. Malainey said.

“This residential pattern was common among pre-contact Indigenous farmers. On hot days, cool breezes on the prairie level offer welcome relief from the sweltering heat of the valley.”

The Manitoba Heritage Grants Program is providing $10,000 to Dr. Malainey and $9,000 to the Manitoba Archaeological Society to carry out the research. The MAS ($6,300) is also funding the project. A BU/Brandon University Students’ Union Work Study Grant and funds from the Canada Summer Jobs program have enabled Dr. Malainey to hire student field and lab assistants.

Public archaeology site tours will be held from July 22 to July 25 at 10 a.m., and noon. Interested individuals will have the opportunity to help archaeologists excavate the site. Information will be posted on the Manitoba Archaeological Society website (, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages in the coming days.


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