Archaeological Activities at the Ekati Diamond Mine

Jean Bussey (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2007-007)

Jean Bussey of Points West Heritage Consulting Ltd. (Points West) has conducted archaeological investigations for BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc. (BHP Billiton) in its claim block north of Lac de Gras since 1994. Each year, she has undertaken to provide archaeological potential assessments, complete archaeological inventories, assess and mitigate sites, or conduct tours of archaeological resources for interested groups. Selected archaeological sites located near development areas have been tested and/or mitigated through subsurface excavation and/or surface collection, while sites well removed from activity areas have been recorded and are periodically revisited, but are otherwise avoided.

The majority of the recorded sites near the Ekati Diamond Mine are associated with eskers, but sites are also found on other terrain types, usually near the larger lakes. There are still many portions of the claim block that have not been inventoried because no development or exploration activity has been identified in the vicinity. The majority of the sites are best described as lithic scatters; sites that are characterized by unworked flakes of stone and may include an occasional tool. The most common lithic or stone material is quartz, which is found naturally as veins in the bedrock of the Lac de Gras area. Quartz cobbles are also found naturally in the numerous eskers in the claim block and it is suggested that both sources of quartz were used prehistorically for stone tool manufacture.

A number of the sites in the BHP Billiton claim block have yielded small chert tools suggestive of the Arctic Small Tool tradition, which may date to 2500 to 3500 years before present, but the majority of the archaeological sites probably relate to activities conducted in the last 2500 years. Although most sites are associated with the prehistoric period, a number of traditional use sites have also been identified with the assistance of interested First Nations.

Brian Apland, of Points West, and Darcy Ross, of the North Slave Metis Alliance, assisted with the archaeological field work conducted in early July. These investigations were limited to the examination of 14 proposed advanced exploration locations. Archaeological investigations involved a combination of aerial examination and ground reconnaissance. Areas with moderate or greater archaeological potential were traversed on foot and exposures and bedrock outcrops within the development areas were closely examined. One new archaeological site was discovered and there are now 200 archaeological sites recorded in the claim block.

Three archaeological tours for community representatives were conducted in September 2007. Two tours were held concurrently and because of weather conditions, it was not possible to visit archaeological sites. Albert Boucher and Bertha Catholique attended on behalf of the Lutselk’e First Nation and Michel Eyakfwo, Michel Rabesca and Peter Huskey were representatives of the Tli Cho Government. The third tour was attended by Nora McSwain, Ed Mercredi and Shannon Hayden of the North Slave Metis Alliance. Improved weather conditions permitted aerial reconnaissance of the entire study area and ground visits at selected recorded sites.

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)