Tatichek-site-dig

Artefacts reveal new insights to history

A new Canadian research project aims to resolve “unfinished business”


Last updated: 30 September 2022

Deep in the idyllic forests of British Columbia in Canada, archaeologists have unearthed artefacts that could shed light on how and when humans migrated and settled across the Americas.

They believe that Tatichek Lake was located on one of three major migration routes that brought humans all the way from Alaska to the southwest of the United States.

A new project, led by the Cheslatta Carrier Nation with our funding support, will recover and preserve sites near the lake that were revealed after wildfires spread through the area in 2018.

The research team has already found thousands of artefacts, village sites, and traditional resources – including arrowheads, spear points and other stone tools that suggest a long-term occupation.

Tatichek artefacts

Resuming research to resolve “unfinished business”

To the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, this project is “unfinished business”.

In 1951, Alcan began constructing Kenney Dam, a project that displaced many of the Cheslatta community. At the time, Alcan provided $5,000 for the University of British Columbia to conduct an emergency expedition to document areas in the dam project’s flood zone.

But the team’s work was cut short just a year later when the dam flooded the area. Cheslatta Carrier Nation estimates that more than 95% of the sites that they mapped were lost forever when they were inundated.

Although we can never replace the resources and records that were lost then, this project is one small step towards documenting the sites that remain, and learning as much as we can about their history and cultural significance.

“The former Tatichek village sites are the most significant archaeology sites remaining after the Nechako Reservoir was created in 1952,” said Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween.

“With this support from Rio Tinto, the Cheslatta Carrier Nation is now able to expand their knowledge of our ancestors and of the ancient human use occupation within the Cheslatta Territory.”

Sponsoring vital discoveries

When the Cheslatta Carrier Nation approached us to co-fund this major project, we were eager to support their work.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation is leading the research, which we are contributing CA$2.8 million towards – the first archaeological project of this magnitude that we have sponsored in North America.

Through sharing generational stories, Cheslatta Carrier Nation believes that the ancient villages and their peoples may have suffered from a widespread disease that swept through the region – even the name “Tatichek Lake” means “sick water”. The project team hopes that the dig will offer evidence for when and how this may have happened.

They’ve identified more than 100 sites so far, and some objects dating to more than 10,000 years old.

“We are proud to work alongside the Cheslatta Carrier Nation to support this valuable, Indigenous-led cultural research project,” said Rio Tinto Aluminium Chief Executive Ivan Vella.

“This archaeological endeavour has the potential to enhance our understanding of the history of human occupation in the Nechako Watershed and beyond. We believe it will benefit not only the Cheslatta community, but all local Indigenous communities, and support our reconciliation efforts.”

Supporting archaeological research

We are working with Indigenous communities around the world to contribute to their cultural preservation.

The Tatichek Lake project is our biggest archaeological sponsorship in North America to date. But in 2021, we also supported another archaeological project in Saskatchewan, led by a Metis historian and archaeologist on the site of an historic mission founded by Indigenous priest Henry Budd.

In Australia, we're working with Indigenous communities on several archaeological projects, such as our five-year funding arrangement for Aboriginal rock art research, initiated in 2019 as an extension of our longstanding rock art research partnership with the University of Western Australia.

Last year, we worked with Traditional Owners in the Pilbara on an archaeological excavation at Yirra rock shelter on Yinhawangka Country, uncovering remarkable new evidence indicating the presence of Yinhawangka people in the Pilbara beyond 50,000 years ago.

The ten-day, Yinhawangka led excavation at the highly significant site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, uncovered stone artefacts, charcoal and other materials.

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