Besant Midden Protected Area
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Besant Midden Protected Area comprises 15.3 ha of land bordering Sandy Creek in the Besant Valley west of the City of Moose Jaw. The property features the remains of precontact First Nations campsites that extend intermittently for 800 m along the valley bottom. Archaeological excavations conducted in the 1950s revealed thirteen buried occupation layers that represent over 3,000 years of use by six different archaeological cultures.
The heritage value of the Besant Midden Protected Area lies in its association with the development of archaeology in Saskatchewan. The 1954 excavation of the “Mortlach Site,” as the Protected Area’s sites were then collectively known, was the first professional archaeological excavation in Saskatchewan and one of the earliest in the prairie provinces. Boyd Wettlaufer, Saskatchewan’s first provincial archaeologist, conducted the investigations using then state-of-the-art methodology that incorporated careful in situ recording of cultural remains; data from soil science, geology and climatology; and one of the earliest archaeological applications of radiocarbon dating. His results showed that this section of the valley was repeatedly used as a camping spot for over 3,000 years.
There is further heritage value in the property’s contribution to our understanding of Northern Plains culture history. Several archaeological cultures (Pelican Lake, Sandy Creek, Besant, Mortlach) that are now recognized throughout much of the region were first identified at the Besant sites. Because the archaeological remains were found in superimposed, clearly separated soil layers, it was possible to order the cultures in time. Radiocarbon dating provided the actual ages for some of the cultures. Using this information, Wettlaufer constructed one of the region’s first precontact cultural chronologies, much of which remains valid to this day.
Province of Saskatchewan, The Parks Act, May 26, 1986.
The heritage value of the Besant Midden Protected Area resides in the following character-defining elements:
-elements that reflect precontact use of the property and contribute to its interpretation, including stone artifacts, bone, pottery, cache pits, hearths or other cultural features; the spatial relationships and environmental context of the cultural remains; the sequence of soil layers and their contained cultural and organic remains; and the property’s native vegetation and undisturbed landforms.
Government of Saskatchewan
Parks Act, s. 5
Theme - Category and Type
- Peopling the Land
- Canada's Earliest Inhabitants
Function - Category and Type
- Undetermined (archaeological site)
- Buried Site
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
Heritage Conservation Branch,
Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport,
3211 Albert Street,
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 5W6
Cross-Reference to Collection