Unearthing a Culture’s Past

Gillian Farnell is spending her summer collecting 2,000-year-old “trash”.

As an archeology assistant through STEP (Student Training and Employment Program), she’s seen countless arrowheads, projectile points and micro-blades. These hunting tools and knick-knacks, thrown away by the Yukon’s First Peoples, are essential links to the territory’s past.

“I couldn’t believe that these things had been used,” she says. “They’re kind of like garbage. We’re finding their “garbage” thousands of years later. It’s pretty cool to think that someone made that.”

Farnell, 20, has one year left in an undergraduate degree in anthropology and geography at UNBC in Prince George. Her fascination with artifacts started when she visited ice patches with her father who is a biologist.

After taking an archaeology course at school, she switched out of the forestry program she had originally enrolled in.

“I thought it was so important for us to learn our past,” she beams as she sorts through trays of shiny, black, pointed stones and mangled bones from someone’s ancient dinner. She works with all sorts of artifacts, everything from beads, from old trading routes, to heavy chunks of stone brought to the Yukon from parts of B.C.

Farnell’s job takes her to all parts of the territory, sometimes for weeks at a time.

She works with a development archeologist from the Yukon Government’s Department of Tourism and Culture, inspecting land applications for pieces of the past. This is her second summer working this STEP position.

“We get stuck places because we go places people wouldn’t expect us to go,” she says.

Apart from the bugs and unpredictable weather, Farnell says she loves working outside where she learns something new everyday. Her job training was intense and included safety courses for helicopters, ATVs and boats.

Archeologists only work with man-made artifacts. Farnell’s speciality is stone tools.

She says people often confuse her work with paleontology, a field dedicated to the study of prehistoric animals. The paleontology branch is in the same building as archeology.

For Farnell, a day at the office includes walking through a warehouse-sized room filled with massive mammoth bones, 3,000-year-old horse remains and dinosaur footprints, to get to her desk. The archeology workspace, a smaller but equally awe-inspiring room, holds collections of human-made artifacts that span centuries.

“There is always something interesting; it’s never mundane work.”

Her summer STEP position is replacing a mandatory field position for her degree. It’s teaching her valuable skills she’ll need for her future.

Farnell hopes to pursue a master’s degree in archeology at the University of Alberta and plans on eventually returning to the Yukon and continuing her work as an archeologist. As a member of the Liard First Nation, she hopes to one day give back to her community by helping research her cultural heritage.

She says archeology is especially important to the First Nations of the Yukon. It helps with the land claims process by showing how long people have lived in a certain area, and it helps create heritage centres.

“We’re always finding out things about the human past,” she says. “That is really our main objective doing cultural resource management. We’re trying to protect these resources.”

This column is courtesy of the Department of Education. Robyn Farrow is employed under the Student Training and Employment Program. Her column features other

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