Charlie Lake Cave (Tse’KWa)

Charlie Lake Cave (Tse’KWa) is associated with one historic theme of relevance to the Alaska Highway Corridor nomination:

♦  Ten thousand years of human presence

Description of the Site

Charlie Lake Cave (Tse’KWa) is an archaeological site located south of Charlie Lake, within the traditional territory of the Dane-zaa, Tse’Kene and Cree peoples; more particularly, the Halfway River, Blueberry River, Doig River, Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations. The site dates to 10,500 years ago, and is one of only a few known archaeological sites in northern North America with a well-preserved stratigraphic record of human activity.


Traditionally, the terrain surrounding Charlie Lake was seasonally important to local First Nations. The nearby Charlie Lake was originally known as Fish Lake; it was renamed Charlie Lake in recognition of Charlie Yahey and his ancestors.

Archaeology was first conducted by Dr. Knut Fladmark in 1983, and by Dr. Jon Driver and Dr. Fladmark in 1990 and 1991. Most of the work focused on the area in front of the cave mouth. The 1983 excavations reached 4 metres below the surface and revealed a complex sequence of cultural and natural deposits. The earliest cultural component, c 10,500 BP, provides evidence of Paleo-Indian activity including a fluted point, six retouched flakes, and a stone bead. The site also revealed signs that the earliest inhabitants were butchering a species of large bison that was likely killed nearby, making it the only archaeological site in Canada at which tools and associated animal remains were found in an undisturbed context. A fragment of a human mandible dated to 7360 BP was also found at the site and is among the oldest human skeletal material from arctic and subarctic North America. The cave also exposed the remains of two types of bison, showing that people in the area moved south and north to hunt.

One of the most unusual finds at the site included signs of two bird burials dating to 12,000 years ago and approximately 1,000 years ago. In both cases, the birds were ravens which are often seen as special birds and associated with hunting. This suggests that, unlike other archaeological sites that are more often excavated kill sites, Tse’KWa was likely a campsite, a place where people stopped for a few days as part of their seasonal round.

The land on which the cave is located was purchased by three Treaty 8 First Nations – Doig River, Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations – in 2012 with the intent to restore, preserve and enhance the site. The three First Nation communities see Tse’KWa as a cultural and heritage resource for Treaty 8 and the general public, and have proposed developing a museum and/or interpretive center at the site. The Peace River Regional District also supports the site’s development as a park.

More information on Charlie Lake Cave (Tse’KWa) is available through the Simon Fraser University’s Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology here and here.

Existing Heritage Recognition

The archaeological site, which is only a portion of the property, is designated a Provincial Heritage Site (OIC 1712, 15 September 1988). The site is also automatically protected under Section 13(2)(d) of the HCA as it is “…a site that contains artifacts, features, materials or other physical evidence of human habituation or use before 1846.”

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Charlie Lake Cave (Tse'KWa) British Columbia