Digging into the Past Across the Country, Part 3: Ontario

Pic: Ontario stratigraphy in the right insert.

Here it is.  The third and final installment in my show-and-tell of archaeology across Canada.  Keep in mind that these are all based on my own experiences, and these photos and explanations certainly don’t apply to archaeology everywhere in the provinces I’ve been talking about.  Everyone has had their own experiences on the sites and locations they’ve worked in, which may or may not be similar to mine!

So, all that being said, this is my look at Ontario archaeology.  Ontario archaeology is pretty cool, in my opinion, because it covers pre-contact sites, post-contact sites, and historic European settlement sites. I had never worked on any sort of historical site (excluding the site in BC with the glass trade beads I keep alluding to, but that’s complicated so it doesn’t count in my mind…not yet, at least) before coming to Ontario, and now I’ve had opportunities to work on a few.  And they’re all pretty cool!  I think it’s neat to find stone ruins of old buildings, or wood-lined privies (despite their smell), or wooden railway roundhouses.  Especially since there’s such a rich history of mapping out here, which makes it especially cool when you can match your building or roundhouse to that on a map from the 1700’s or 1800’s.  So, without further ado, here is my look inside Ontario archaeology.

Pic: Sometimes we work on pre-contact sites, like this one I volunteered on in Lac Leamy Park. Which is actually in Quebec and technically not Ontario, but it’s literally right across the river from Ottawa and beside the Museum of Canadian History, so I’m counting it in this discussion.  Top: (Left) a lovely Kitchissippi chert biface I found when I saw down for lunch (it was literally right between my feet on the beach surface); (right): two lovely pieces of pottery, which were also the very first pieces of pre-contact pottery I’ve ever excavated; Bottom: a rock post-hole in my unit

Pic: Sometimes we work on sites with both pre-contact and historic components, like this site in Gananoque.  Originally looking for a historic home site, we ended up finding a pre-contact site beneath it (and never actually found the ruins of the house we were looking for). Top: (pic from Jessalyn), a lovely ceramic pipe bowl. Bottom: (left, pic from Jessalyn, and middle) two different projectile points uncovered, (right), some of the pottery we uncovered.

Pic: Sometimes we work on historic sites, like this large site in downtown Kingston.  These pictures were taken in December (2015), if you can believe that lovely warm weather!  For those of you who attended the Ontario Archaeological Symposium 2016, this is the site that Nick Gromoff was talking about.  It was a big site, taking up about a quarter of a city block, and was essentially kitty-corner from Fort Frontenac.  I was on site for the month of December, and many of my colleagues from both the company I work for and Nick’s company had been there for months prior, to give you an idea of the size of this site.  We found some amazing stone foundations from several buildings and historic artifacts to last a lifetime (my company counted about 35,000 artifacts from the 1/5 of the site that we excavated).  We even found a lovely little arrowhead underneath a drain, which the builders likely didn’t know they had collected when they built that drain 200 years ago. Top: (left) we found many privies, but this one was amazingly still wood-lined; (right) two drains intersecting each other; Bottom: some of the foundations for buildings we uncovered.

Pic: For months following the end of the Kingston excavation, the lab was full of the Kingston artifacts.  It took me about a week just to get our boxes organized and sorted.  From there the counting, cleaning, and cataloging began.  Four months later we were still at it until the funding unfortunately dried up.  Nobody expected this project to be on the scale, which the funding reflected.  Top: trays of artifacts waiting to be catalogued, post-cleaning; Bottom: (left) a cat skull and partial mandible; (middle) some lovely ceramic shards with a Canadian theme; (right) some of the military artifacts recovered, such as a couple of buttons and a gun flint.

Pic: These are some pics of the early stages of our railway project in Ottawa (and also the site where the stratigraphy in my main image comes from), which I linked to in my intro blurbs to this post.  CBC also wrote an article on this project, but it was a horrible article (they called archaeologists “the workers” – really?!), so you can go right ahead and ignore their article.  The one I linked to was written by a friend of my boss Jeff, who was actually invited onto site.  Anyway, I unfortunately missed the grand finale of this project because I had left for the shishalh Archaeological Research Project in BC, but I thought you would be interested in a few early pics.  We had been on this project since early December, 2015, when we first started putting in test trenches.  We went back in June to complete the test trenches and ended up finding a lovely early 20th century brick service bay, as well as a second, smaller roundhouse.  And finally in August we found and uncovered the wooden roundhouse we had originally been looking for. Left: (top) corner of the building around the smaller roundhouse; (middle) the brick service bay; (bottom) part of the large roundhouse; right: another wall from the building around the smaller roundhouse.

Pic: As is the case with all archaeology, sometimes you find things you weren’t expecting.  Sometimes you’re surveying through the woods and you stumble into a clearing with creepy long-abandoned murder shacks.  Other times you and your colleagues are excavating an old house when your colleague suddenly hits a huge, unexploded, First World War-era shell with his shovel.  And then after taking a moment to calm our racing hearts, he hits another one.  And then after taking a moment to change our pants, he hits a third. Top: (left) one of 4 creepy murder shacks we found in a forest near Kingston; (right) a creepy murder tree-shack we found in Bancroft; Bottom: (left and right) the first of the 3 unexploded shells we found on a historic home site in Kingston.



Pic: Ontario archaeology also provides some spectacular views.  Top: We spent four days surveying in a forest outside of Bancroft; Bottom: the view across the river to Ottawa from Lac Leamy (we’re basically looking at the back of 24 Sussex)

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