Water stored in the St. Mary’s Reservoir, north of Cardston, Alberta, insures area farmer’s crops against drought, which is common in that part of the province. In 1998, when the reservoir was drained to build a new spillway, researchers discovered tools used by ancient Albertans, as well as bones and footprints of at least 20 species of long-extinct animals.

“If you had stood there 11,000 years ago, you could have seen mammoths, horses, camel, caribou, bison, wolves, ground squirrels, and birds—maybe all at once,” says Len Hills, professor emeritus of geology and geophysics at the University of Calgary, and one of the scientists studying the site. Joining him in the research are university archaeologist Brian Kooyman and students Paul McNeil and Shayne Tolman, the site’s discoverer. “We know from the way the trackways are intermingled that these animals were right there, together. And man was there, too—he was part of that environment.”

The site is a window on the end of the Ice Age in southern Alberta. By inventorying the animals that lives in the region and studying the role of early humans at the site, Hills and colleagues reconstruct the ancient environment.

About 12,000 years ago, the site was an island delta at the end of a glacier-fed lake. When the St. Mary’s River later drained the lake, it created a massive floodplain west of the island Within a period of days or maybe weeks, large numbers of diverse animals visited the area to feed on the delta’s lush vegetation and drink from the nearby river, trampling the gound with their hooves and feet. Thick layers of sand and dirt blew eastward from the floodplain to bury tracks, bones, and tools. A series of brief geological moments were preserved, recording the presence of animals and humans over a 300-year period about 11,000 years ago.

The oldest tools are Clovis points, flaked-stone implements used by the first North Americans. Not far from where the team was excavating the skeleton of a horse, the researchers found toold that may have been used to kill the animal. Laboratory tests reveal traces of ancient horse protein on two of the Clovis points.

“We’ve known from other sites in North America that they hunted mammoths,” says Hills. “But this is the first sold evidence that Clovis people actually hunted horses. Maybe early humans influenced the extinction of these animals—not just mammoths, but horses, too.”

What precisely caused the disappearance of so many Ice Age mammals 12,000 to 9,000 years ago is uncertain. Climates and environments were changing rapidly as the glacier receded from the continent. Those changes alone would stress animal populations. New species from Asia may have increased competition for food, or may have introduced diseases. Humans may have been another factor in the ecological reorganization.

When McNeil inventoried and analyzed the fossil trackways, comparing information about movement and size of the ancient animals with data from tracks made by modern elephant herds, he found some evidence that the herds visiting the reservoir site 11,000 years ago were stressed.
“The ratio of young animals to adults was far below what we would consider healthy levels in modern populations of similar animals,” he says. “This site captures this one brief moment in time and tells us something was definitely happening.”

The magnitude of the site is the way that it is letting us see how these animals interacted with their environment, with each other, and with early humans.

excerpted from: Reading the Rocks: A Biography of Ancient Alberta

Through an aquarium at Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Sidney, B.C. Photo © Herb Neufeld, via flickr & creative commons

Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Sidney, B.C. Photo © Herb Neufeld, via flickr & creative commons

Picture a community hall on a weekday evening. About 40 people sit in rows. Official-looking sorts look back over the audience.

The people have gathered at this fictitious meeting to discuss the fate of a nearby fictitious historic site/nature centre/community museum/natural or cultural heritage site. Like so many real sites in the region—Craigflower Manor and Schoolhouse, the Centre of the Universe, Undersea Gardens, Crystal Gardens, BC Experience, the Soviet Submarine, or Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, to name a few—is no longer open to the public.

For two hours, those gathered have spoken in support of the site. Government Gus has presented how the government, which owns the site, is looking for a new operator—even if it means repurposing the site.

Education Eli has spoken of the site’s value to the community, especially to its youngsters. “It’s the kind of vital enrichment that connects classroom learning to the community,” she says.

Others have spoken, too, suggesting new activities, new uses, new revenue sources. Everyone agrees the site is an important resource. It helps define and focus the community. It creates common identity and builds community spirit….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Undersea Gardens no longer operates in Victoria, B.C.'s Inner Harbour. Photo © Brian Chow, via flickr & creative commons

Undersea Gardens no longer operates in Victoria, B.C.’s Inner Harbour. Photo © Brian Chow, via flickr & creative commons

History Mystery: Serving Mallet quiz

From 2004–2010, I edited the Maritime Museum of B.C.’s member newsletter, Waterlines, and annual journal, Resolution. B.C. Magazine approached me at that time to submit a piece about any strange and unlikely artifact from the museum’s collection for the magazine’s History Mystery quiz column.

History Mystery solved: Serving Mallet quiz



Sample pages from Ornithomimus: Pursuing the Bird-Mimic Dinosaur, by Monique Keiran. Published by the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and Raincoast Books, 2002.

Trackways #19, Winter 1999–A nearly complete Cretaceous-aged turtle has found its way to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Not only are its skull, skeleton and shell intact, but its body cavity contains additional treasure: turtle eggs.

“The preservation of this specimen is remarkable,” says Museum palaeontologist Don Brinkman, who studies Cretaceous turtles. “Of all the turtle specimens found all over the world, there is only one other I’ve heard of that may also contain eggs.”

Found by Museum technician Wendy Sloboda in the remains of an ancient mud-filled channel, the turtle’s bones escaped reworking and scattering by scavengers and water currents. The specimen is Adocus, an extinct relative of today’s soft-shelled turtles. Seventy million years ago, it swam in freshwater streams and ponds, ate fish, frogs and salamanders, and likely came ashore to lay its eggs on warm, sandy beaches. However, this individual died before laying its eggs: its body is filled with dozens of eggs compressed by burial.

“We have more research to do before we learn all this specimen can tell us,” Brinkman says. “At the very least, we now know for sure that Adocus laid eggs and what Adocus eggshell looks like. This will help us identify in the future when we find shell fragments in the field.”

© Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology 1999

The Ice Ages Gallery

The Pleistocene Epoch
2 million years to present, at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller, Alberta

The Royal Tyrrell Museum opened the Ice Ages Gallery in 1999. A collaboration between curators, technical staff, the exhibits team and others, it tells the story of Alberta from two million years ago to the present—the time called the Pleistocene, when huge mammals roamed, great ice sheets came and went, and humans first arrived in North America.

I prepared the text for the panels and labels. Browse through the image gallery below for a view of gallery displays and signage. To read the signage, click on the image.

Compare these two interpretive display signs.

Staff at the Yale Peabody Museum wrote this sign for its traveling exhibit, China's Feathered Dinosaurs.

Staff at the Yale Peabody Museum wrote this sign for its traveling exhibit.

Monique Keiran wrote text for this sign for a Royal Tyrrell Museum specimen supplementing the Yale Peabody exhibit.

Monique Keiran wrote text for this sign for a Royal Tyrrell Museum display supplementing the licensed exhibit.















The license for the Yale Peabody Museum’s China’s Feathered Dinosaurs exhibit allowed host museums to add to the displays, but forbade them from changing any material provided by the Yale Peabody.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum faced a challenge: How to seamlessly fit its own specimens and interpretive panels and signs into the existing exhibit.