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Quaternary Environments: Collections

<p>This pollen grain of alder (<em>Alnus</em> sp.) is about 0.025 mm across. It was photographed using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The grain has a distinctive pentagonal shape, with five pores, each located at a corner of the grain. Alder pollen is very common in many postglacial sediment samples from Alberta.</p>
			<p><em>Source: Image was produced on the SEM at Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta. Used with permission of Dr C. E. Schweger, Anthropology Department, University of Alberta.</em></p>

The collections in the Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory focus on two main areas, Reference Collections and Working Collections. The Pollen Reference Collection consists of 952 samples representing more than 86 plant families. These are mainly from native plants of Alberta, like this pollen grain from alder (Alnus). A single pollen sample may consist of many thousand individual grains, providing examples of morphological variation within each taxon.

The Seed and Macrofossil Reference Collection consists of 2357 catalogued samples. These specimens are mainly from Alberta plants, such as this seed from low-bush cranberry (Viburnum edule). Each sample consists of a minimum of thirty seeds, thus allowing generation of size statistics for comparative purposes. A particular focus of collecting over the last few years has been wetland taxa.

Both of these are Comparative Collections. They are used primarily for identification and confirmation of materials recovered from Late Quaternary (that is, the last 12,000 years) contexts. These materials include samples from lake cores and bogs that preserve a record of climate, environmental and vegetation change in Alberta since the last glaciation.

<p>This seed or stone from low-bush cranberry (<em>Viburnum edule</span>) was photographed using a dissecting microscope. It is about 5 mm across.</em>

The Seed Reference Collection is also used to identify seeds recovered from archaeological sites, such as those recovered from a 9300 year old hearth at the Saskatoon Mountain site near Grande Prairie. These seeds included raspberry (Rubus sp.), kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), cherry (Prunus sp.), and strawberry (Fragaria sp.). All these plants are known to have been used by Aboriginal people in the recent past and it seems certain that the occupants of the Saskatoon Mountain over 9000 years ago were gathering and using similar plant foods from the surrounding area.

There is no reference manual for seeds of western Canadian plants and so one focus of curatorial activity over the last few years has been documenting the collection (photographs, drawings, size measurements etc.) and compiling a database which can be used as the basis for a manual.

The Working Collections consist of an extensive series of samples from at least twelve archaeological sites, lake and bog cores, and sediment samples. These are in various stages of processing. A recently completed project looking at the vegetation history of a 9500 year old record from Wood Bog, near Grande Prairie, involved processing fifty peat/sediment samples for macrofossils, and the counting and identification of over 21,000 seeds and 12,000 molluscs.

The Palynology Laboratory includes facilities for processing macrofossil and pollen samples and microscopes for analysis.

The Reference Collections are available for researchers from other institutions to consult. For more information or to arrange access to the Collections, please contact the Curator, Quaternary Environments.