Archaeologist named newest Landrex Distinguished Professor

Jack Ives, executive director of the Institute of Prairie Archaeology, will hold the professorship for the next five years, during which time he plans to explore several projects of archaeological interest throughout the province and beyond

Carmen Rojas - 13 March 2012

Jack IvesSitting in his office in HUB Mall, tucked at the back of the Institute of Prairie Archaeology (IPA), Jack Ives is hundreds of kilometers from the oil sands - and thousands of years from the past he has devoted his career to exploring. But as the newest Landrex Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Arts, Ives plans to use the influx of funding that accompanies the position to close both distances.

"We're well aware of the environment- and water-related issues that go along with oil sands expansion, but another issue is that there is an archaeological heritage there," says Ives, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Executive Director of the IPA since its founding in 2008.

This heritage includes an almost 10,000-year-old record with some of the last vestiges of the ice age world. Ives conducted archaeological work in the region in the 1970s and 80s, but the rapid oil sands expansion in recent years has prompted a sense of urgency about revisiting the area.

"With my colleague Duane Froese in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, we have an interest in seeing what we can do about leading the way with applying cutting-edge techniques more routinely in regulatory practices for archaeological impact assessment and mitigation studies through which we try to understand that archaeological record- because the truth is, it's at significant risk. Very large areas of the oil sands are being consumed, and once we consume this resource, that record of the human past is just gone. We don't get a second chance."

The Landrex Professorship - a five-year position that grants an annual research fund of $50,000 to a senior faculty member whose research and teaching activities focus on community issues - makes it possible for Ives to resume this work, and to support his graduate students in projects that explore other areas of archaeological interest throughout the province and beyond.

Several of these projects stem from Ives' research into the migration of Apachean peoples from Canada to the American Southwest and southern Plains, which took place 1,200 years ago. This research recently led him to visit the Promontory Caves in the Great Salt Lake region with his colleague Sally Rice, linguistics professor and former Landrex Professor.

"[The caves] have a phenomenally rich record. Everything that was left behind was preserved. And I mean everything: feathers, porcupine quills, hundreds of moccasins, for example. It really broadens the range of material culture we can look at to see if these were Apachean people in transit."

Other graduate projects Ives is overseeing focus on what he refers to as "Legacy Research" - returning to sites in central and northern Alberta that were originally explored by the department's first generation of researchers.

Ives cites the example of emerita professor Ruth Gruhn, who excavated a site in central Alberta where a major bison kill took place 1,600 years ago. He hopes graduate student Reid Graham can further his research into Northern Plains pre-history by looking at that collection again, applying approaches that weren't available in the 1960s, and perhaps undertaking strategic new excavations.

Ives is also excited about the possibilities for the Department of Anthropology's field school, which he is leading from May 22 to June 22. This year, students will visit the Rangelands Research Institute, a ranch in southern Alberta that was donated to the University by alumni Edwin and Ruth Mattheis. "The chance to take our students to a setting like this, which has not been much explored, and have them learn how to look for tipi rings and other things that are typical of these undisturbed areas, is a phenomenal survey opportunity," he explains.

Ives' colleague Kisha Supernant will be on-hand to pass along her skills as a Geographic Information System mapping expert, as part of the field school's focus on providing students with the skills they need to prepare them for future employment opportunities. Ives also plans to work with the Archaeological Society chapters in Medicine Hat, Calgary and Lethbridge to coordinate outreach activities that will put students in contact with amateur collectors in the region.

The group will also spend time at a TransAlta site south of Lake Wabamun, where the field school was held in 2010. "Students will have an opportunity to do some structured digging," Ives says. "The beauty of this site is that it's very rich in stone stools and byproducts of making stone tools. We're assured that our students will have practical experience finding and recording things."

The Department of Anthropology has built a relationship with both TransAlta and the nearby Paul First Nation in order to conduct research at the 10,000 year-old site, and in the future Ives hopes to establish relationships with other Treaty 6 First Nations across central Alberta who have an interest in the activities of the field school.

With the support of the Landrex Professorship, Ives also hopes to fulfill a longer-term, deeper objective for the IPA. "We would really like to create a setting in the Institute where younger First Nations people can see choosing archaeology or anthropology as a meaningful career path. We're very interested in having these young people see value in archaeological work."

Related Links:

Institute of Prairie Archaeology
Department of Anthropology Field School