Brandon University and the Manitoba Archaeological Society (MAS) have received Manitoba Heritage Grant funding to support an archaeological program at the Olson site, south of Melita.

The site was discovered in 2018 by Mr. Eric Olson, who found modified bison scapulae along a creek bank. The shoulder blades had been modified into farming tools used some 200 years ago. 

Brandon University Department of Anthropology Professor Dr. Mary Malainey says the tools were used by Indigenous people as hoe blades.

“These bison scapula hoes are the best archaeological evidence of Indigenous maize, or corn, cultivation prior to European contact ever found in southwestern Manitoba.”

The joint research project by BU and the MAS will tell more about the way Indigenous people lived in southwestern Manitoba before the arrival of Europeans, believed to date back as early as the late 1400’s. Brandon University states the initial testing of the site began in 2019, and a short research and public archaeology program is planned for this summer.

‘Excavation will be conducted around a workshop for making bone tools.’

‘Several professional archaeologists will work at the site as volunteers.’

‘Dr. Sara Halwas will collect soil cores from the site and plans to study the remains of domesticated crops and other plants recovered from them as a post-doctoral research project at the University of Manitoba. In addition, the surrounding prairie will be examined using ground-penetrating radar (GPR).’

“We hope the GPR survey will help us locate the former village of the pre-contact Indigenous farmers,” Malainey says. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, but we’re developing a short program for this year that will fall in line with physical distancing protocols and produce some exciting results.”

The public have been invited to join the public archaeology activities held on the Saturdays and Sundays now in July: July 18 and 19, 25 and 26. Presentations and site tours will be given; interested individuals will have the opportunity to help professional archaeologists excavate the site located approximately 15 km south of Melita on Highway 83, weather permitting.

“People can come out and actually see what we’re doing and if you’re game, help us dig! We’ll have people paired up with professional archaeologists and show everybody what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it,” explains Malainey.

Malainey says the excavation site can be explained from the highway, but for those who want to trek down into the valley and get a closer look they’re welcome to venture deeper, but she warns they need to wear their ‘play clothes’ as they will get dirty. 

She adds BU and the MAS have a long history of trying to make archaeology accessible to the public. 

“By having archaeology events we can make archaeology more relevant. And making archaeology relevant is really important because then people will care about the heritage resources.”

BU’s News Release states, ‘The Manitoba Heritage Grants Program is providing $8,000 to Dr. Malainey and $7,500 to the Manitoba Archaeological Society to carry out the research. The MAS ($6,300) and Brandon University ($5,000), through a BU Research Committee grant to Dr. Malainey, are also funding the project. In addition, funding from the Canada Summer Jobs program will enable Dr. Malainey to hire a student field and lab assistant for six weeks.’

“This project is one example of the excellent collaborative research that Brandon University carries out with community partners,” says Lisa Robson, Acting Dean of Arts at BU. “Through her work, Dr. Malainey provides great research opportunities to students, while also cultivating a greater understanding of the history of this region by showing us how people here once lived.”

For more information, email Dr. Malainey at or simply drive out on Highway 83 approximately 15 km and stop where you see vehicles parked on the side of the highway.