How archaeology can reveal missing voices in Alberta’s history
Historical records often reflect white, male settler perspectives, researcher says
History is selective in what is passed down orally or through documentary evidence. Even the relatively recent history of Prairie settlements from the past century is often dominated by white settler men.
An Athabasca University (AU) researcher says archaeology plays an important role filling in historical gaps. That means including the voices of women, but also of Indigenous People and children.
“Archaeology complements documentary history in that it allows us to capture missing voices from the historical record,” said Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, an associate professor of archaeology. “This is where archaeology can come in.”
“Archaeology complements documentary history in that it allows us to capture missing voices from the historical record.”– Dr. Meaghan Peuramaki-Brown, associate professor of archaeology
Archaeology digs into recent history
Peuramaki-Brown and her husband, Dr. Shawn Morton of Northwestern Polytechnic, are co-leading an archaeological dig in Alberta’s Peace Region. The duo is uncovering Old Bezanson, a former boomtown southeast of Grande Prairie.
Peuramaki-Brown specializes in household archaeology and community abandonment. By studying household activity and objects, scientists can learn about how a culture or society lived.
She and Morton are co-directors of 2 projects: 1 in Belize focused on the ancient Maya at a town site called Alabama; the other at Old Bezanson, which went from boomtown to ghost town in the span of a quarter-century. The last resident left in 1926, but even people from the area don’t know for certain how many people lived at the site.
Related: Archaeology helps uncover history of former Alberta boomtown
Complementing written records, oral histories
Excavation started in 2022, focusing on the home of the town’s founder, A.M. Bezanson. Peuramaki-Brown said their work has not only improved their understanding of how settlers lived, but also reinforced oral histories of Indigenous people in the area.
“This adds another layer of evidence to established oral histories that in fact, Indigenous Peoples were living in this region since time immemorial.”
Old Bezanson is a community-based archaeology project. Local volunteers have helped at every stage, from excavation to sharing family histories and oral stories, Peuramaki-Brown said.
“As an archaeologist, I don’t take for granted what I do because I’m often helping to tell stories that aren’t my own.”