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Digging up a lifetime of experience and memories


Connecting with the past can provide people with invaluable experiences. This is the case for Valley resident, Gary Wowchuk. Wowchuk has created a greater awareness and understanding of the archaeological heritage in the province. While Wowchuk attended Dickinson State University in North
Dakota, he had the remarkable opportunity to take part in the Southern Utah University Field School on
Little Creek Mountain.
“I was taking an Introduction to Archaeology course and one of my professors thought I might be interested in this field school that was being held in southern Utah,” said Wowchuk. “I was about 19-years-old and thought it looked really interesting. I looked into it further and by the end of the school year I was on my way to Utah to take part in the field school. It was worth credits towards my studies and basically, for me, it was just a win-win situation.” 
Wowchuk had never participated or been to the site of an archaeological dig before, and the experience 
left quite a lifelong lasting impression on him. “The experience gave me a hands on look at archaeology in southern Utah,” noted Wowchuk. “We were on a mesa top, which was about 5,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level and was an area of about eight miles by five miles.
From 700 to 900 A.D., the area was intentionally occupied by people who were farmers at the time. The
site we worked on was essentially a series of smaller storage structures like grain bins. The residents from that time were storing things like corn, squash and beans in these bins. As a participant of
the field school, our group did basic surveying of the site, learned basic excavation and mapping techniques.
Within this area, there was close to over 1000 archaeological sites, because it was very intensely
occupied. “The other remarkable thing was that I met a lot of fascinating people, from the professor to the other students involved. Many of them were from across the United States and I was the only Canadian involved. 
It gave me an opportunity to meet people close to my age from all over the country. It was just an incredible learning experience in that aspect as well.” This experience lingered with Wowchuk for several years. When the opportunity came for a reunion, he was more than eager to go, and share this experience with his son. 
“We had been talking about having a reunion for a number of years with a couple of the people I was
still in touch with down there,” explained Wowchuk. “The field school had operated for a number of years, it didn’t run only for the one year, when I attended; it was going for close to twenty years. Potentially there were hundreds of students who could have come back for a basic reunion.
“In 2016, we decided to have this reunion. We had tried to touch base with the students who had  participated back in 1982, but even with social media, it was still difficult to find a lot of them. We were able to track down a few but there was only three students that participated from the year I was at the
field school, who attended. “The trip from here is about a 2,500 kilometer journey,” noted Wowchuk.
“My son decided to join me, so we packed up and headed out. We decided to camp out along the way because we knew once we arrived at the field school; we would be camping there. On the way down, we
stopped at a bunch of really neat places, like the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It is an extremely spiritual
place for numerous groups of Indigenous peoples over the years. “Then we went to Vore Buffalo Jump, which was a site where buffalo was killed. It has been believed that up to 20,000 bison were on site. From there we travelled to the Keyhole Reservoir where the McKean Site was discovered. There were large quantities of lithic artifacts discovered here. “After that we stopped at a place called Colby Clovis
Mammoth Kill Site, which was were people hunted mammoths about 1,200 years ago,” noted Wowchuk. “From there we went on to a place called Cody, Wyoming, which was another famous archaeological dig over the years and was last excavated in the late 1970’s. The place called the Horner’s Site is an area where the people hunted extinct forms of mammoths and they were hunting there 10,000 years ago. I had the honour and opportunity over the last couple of summers to help a grad student from the University of Saskatchewan work on a site that is related to this one. They are getting some bison bones that run about 10,000 years ago. This would have been an interesting form of bison that was being hunted because they were a little bit larger than the ones that we see around today.
“From there we had a quick stop at Yellowstone National Park and took in all the sites there including the Mummy Cave Site. The Mummy Cave yielded a number of artifacts going back 9,000 years. Then it was on to Little Creek, which is a pretty good hike. Once we got there, it was great to visit with a number of the old crew and met some new friends who attended there years after I did.” Wowchuk along with the other former students had particularly fond memories associated with the professor from the field school.
“All of us had very similar experiences at the field school and it all tied together with professor, Richard Thompson, who was hosting the school,” said Wowchuk. “He passed away in 1995, however one of my fondest memories of him was about how big of a Canadian Football League (CFL) fan he was. Here is a man living in southern Utah, in a country where the National Football League (NFL) was being played, yet he was watching the CFL instead. I thought that was interesting to hear of.” Wowchuk and the group
were unable to get to spend a lot of time at the exact spot where the field school took place in Little Creek, however he did spend time at the same camp spot where he had stayed previously.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to go out and visit that site,” noted Wowchuk. “We did stay at the same base camp I had last time. The thing that blew me away was how much of the vegetation that had grown since I was last there. Despite the temperatures being around 38 to 40 degrees without the humidex, and a much drier heat, things grew back.” Wowchuk and his son took advantage of their time together and  visited a few other places in the area. “We travelled to Zion National Park, and it’s definitely become more commercialized since I last saw it,” said Wowchuk. “We stopped at a little town called Grafton, which is  basically a ghost town. It is famous for a few things, such as being an early Mormon town and for being the location for the certain parts of the movie ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. A lot of the town has been restored recently to its original state in the 1900’s. “The river that carves the side of Zion National
Park is called the Virgin River. It has carved this absolutely breathtaking canyon over the years, exposing
layers of multicoloured rock. My son and I took a walk up to the canyon. For a few miles we were just walking through the river and at some points it was so narrow, we could reach both sides of the canyon by stretching out our arms. It was a little claustrophobic at times, but overall a really cool place.
“The next day we took a quick trip down to Utah, and a good friend of mine, is an archaeologist who still works in the area known as the Arizona Strip. This area is from the Arizona border to the Grand Canyon. He took us on a tour by a reservoir where there is a manmade lake and rock walks just covered with rock art. These were incredible images that people put there telling a story or a replica of a sort of a map.
“Then he took us to an archaeological site in an urban area that was in danger of being developed. From there we took a little drive down to St. George, Utah, which is right on the border of Arizona and Utah. Right along the highway, there is a sign leading to this incredible archaeological site that had some excavations being done and now has been turned into a tourist attraction. “We visited a little museum
and what was really captivating was there were artifacts there from a number of sites that this field school had actually worked on over the years. There were items like pottery, which was from  different time periods over the last 15,000 years. Along with that, there were other items that one wouldn’t normally find at archaeological sites.
Due to the dry conditions, the elements preserved some of the items really well, for example sandals that were made of fibre or baskets.” Wowchuk skills as a flintknapper led to him producing replicas of ancient
stone tools. While on the trip, he was able to put those skills to use to gather some more materials. “We were going to start heading back, but we stopped at a source of obsidian,” explained Wowchuk. “Obsidian is a volcanic glass. We stopped at a gravel pit that had a source of obsidian and took some samples.”
The ride home led to lots of little adventures on the way. A flat tire caused from driving on obsidian, happened in the middle of nowhere with the nearest tire shop being over 100 kilometers in either direction and the heat was an uncomfortable factor in this situation. The drive between Denver, Colorado, with the Rocky Mountains and southern Utah, had some amazing scenery for Wowchuk and his son to take in.
On their journey back, they travelled up Highway 83 and just missed a tornado touching down in  Nebraska area by 15 minutes. They stopped in North Dakota to take in a site that had an abundance of nitro glyceride, which is a brown coloured stone, which is solidified peat moss. It is great to work with and
make stone tools like arrowheads, projectile points and knives. “I knew a guy down there that had a gravel pit full of nitro glyceride,” said Wowchuk. “We decided to stop there and drop off a frame for him
with a number of pieces I had made for him, to thank him for allowing me to take some materials from the pit to work with.”
This journey has prompted Wowchuk to give a presentation called ‘To Little Creek Mountain and Back Again (The Fellowship of the Trowel) for the Saskatoon Archaeological Society on Zoom this past Thursday. Despite Wowchuk’s passion for archaeology, he has not only learned about the history
of artifacts, flintknapping, or archaeology in general, but has created some wonderful lifelong memories in the process. 
“A good portion of my presentation was about the  people I met along the way and the lasting friendships
that have occurred because of it,” concluded Wowchuk. “These memories and friendships have lasted a lifetime.”