Proposed Mackenzie Highway – Tulita District

Gabriella Prager (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2010-017)

In September, 2010, a team of environmental specialists from EBA Consulting Ltd. that included an archaeologist (Gabriella Prager of Points West Heritage Consulting Ltd.) completed an overview assessment of a corridor for a 270km long section of proposed all season highway in the Mackenzie Valley. This is within the Tulita District of the Sahtu Settlement Area and extends north of Norman Wells and south of Tulita.

The archaeological overview assessment of the proposed road route plus alternative sections and selected borrow sources had two goals: 1. to assess terrain within the project area in order to rate archaeological potential; and, 2. to determine if any previously recorded sites are located in the immediate vicinity of the proposed developments.

The proposed alignment was identified by GPS coordinates and plotted on topographic maps. Terrain potential for archaeological resources was rated by visual assessment from low and slow helicopter overflights of the entire route. Some of the possible gravel sources were also overflown, with the boundaries roughly approximated using topographic features. Coordinates of previously recorded sites were compared to the locations of the alignment and borrow sources. Segments of the road routes and borrow sources were rated as low, moderate or high archaeological potential, and the ratings were recorded on the topographic maps.

Most of the all season highway route is proposed to follow the existing winter road alignment within this region. Virtually all of the creek and river crossings already have installed bridges, thus, ground disturbance has already occurred at the terrain features that would have the highest archaeological potential, that is, drainage terraces. Due to considerable past archaeological study of much of the Mackenzie drainage system near the main river, the majority of the tributaries have previously recorded archaeological sites, most situated near the mouths. Approximately 46 of the known archaeological sites are on or in close proximity to the proposed road. These include prehistoric lithic scatters, recently abandoned cabins and several graves. Some of these have been mitigated as part of previous winter road and bridge building projects. At least some of the remainder will likely require some consideration during final project design and/or application of mitigation measures.

The data gathered during this overview assessment will be used to determine the specific portions of project components that may require ground reconnaissance during the next phase of study (that is, areas of new ground disturbance on terrain rated moderate to high archaeological potential) and to identify where small realignment or relocation of project component boundaries may serve to avoid sites. Additional sites are likely to be found during subsequent intensive ground surveys.

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