Historical Landscapes and the Buried Past

by Matt Begg

As archeologists, we study prehistoric peoples and cultures by analyzing the things they left behind.

Around here, that means taking a particular perspective of the landscape around us to figure out where we might find archeological sites.

Or, more simply put, to find where people have done stuff that would create things for us to find. We spend as much time thinking about the landscape around us as we do studying anything you might see in a museum.

Archeological sites might be defined places on our landscape where archeologists have found stuff, but each site represents a much wider use of the lands around them.

When we start to connect the dots between all of these archeological sites, we can take another perspective.

From this perspective, we see a continuous cultural landscape that has evolved over many thousands of years with the Secwepemc peoples, who have lived here since time immemorial, through the historic era in Kamloops with fur traders, gold prospectors, railroads and ranchers, and into modern times as our city continues to grow and evolve.

You don’t need to be an archeologist to see our landscape from this perspective. Have you ever looked around a landscape and just felt the history around you? We have some great places to do just that.

For example, I like to walk my dog in Kenna Cartwright Park in the evenings. There’s a viewpoint at the top of a hill I like to stop at, where I can see the city spread out below. From there, I can see the confluence of the Thompson rivers, where fur traders pulled up their canoes.

If I squint toward downtown, I can make out the old train station that is nearly a century old and the tracks that have carried people to and from this city since the late 1800s.

Across the river, I can see the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, which includes a 2,000-year-old winter village. I also know where many of the other recorded prehistoric archeological sites are located and I can see dozens from this same viewpoint, including villages, campsites and hunting and fishing places.

Even if you don’t know these exact locations, you can be sure that, in the past, people occupied all the same places we use now.


Keep this cultural landscape perspective in mind when you replant your garden, level part of your yard for a new shed or even when you hike on the local trails. You may see evidence of this ancient cultural landscape.

It happens all the time, such as when I found a small scraping tool among the stones used to line my driveway, when I recognized the culturally modified tree that grew in my yard in Smithers and when I spotted a stone tool on a Kamloops hiking trail just last weekend.

If you spot these sorts of things when you’re out and about, consider yourself lucky and take a picture (but not the artifact).

Leave the site as you found it and call one of the local archeologists with your questions.