Hanging out at the 2017 Canadian Archaeological Association Conference

Well, it happened.  The 2017 Canadian Archaeological Association conference, which also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the CAA.  This year it was being held in Ottawa/Gatineau, which is convenient for me since I live in Ottawa.  And since I’ve wrapped up my time in the lab at U of T, I actually happen to physically be in Ottawa.  It was my first time presenting at/attending the CAA conference, and I had a great time!  I love going to conferences, whether I’m presenting or not! I thought I would summarize here my personal highlights of CAA2017.

The shíshálh Facial Reconstructions

The incredible reconstructions (which are actually animated).  The two young men on either end are believed to have been twins, around 20 yrs old, and were buried together.  The woman was also believed to be about 20 yrs old.  And the eldest male was believed to have been around 50 yrs old and was buried with approximately 350,000 stone and shell disc beads.  We think they were worn as a robe/cape, which would have been fairly heavy and represented incredible wealth.
As part of a permanent exhibit installed in the new Canada History Hall opening at the Canadian Museum of History on July 1st, facial reconstructions were performed on the shíshálh ancestors who were excavated nearly ten years ago from the corner of Salmon Inlet and Sechelt Inlet.  These four individuals are 4000 years old and were buried with almost 400,000 stone and shell disc beads.  The oldest of the four, a male who was around 50 years old at the time of death, was buried with 350,000 of these beads.  These individuals are believed to have been the wealthiest people in North America 4000 years ago, and the discovery of the beads and their burials are highly significant not only for British Columbia archaeology, but North American archaeology as a whole.  The shíshálh worked closely together with the Canadian Museum of History and the University of Toronto from the very beginning to develop this incredible exhibit, and the facial reconstructions are the first of their kind in North America.  As I’m a member of the shíshálh Archaeological Research Project, I was invited to join Chief Warren Paul and some members of the shíshálh council for a special ceremony honouring the exhibit, the ancestors, and the close collaboration between the community and research institutions over the past many, many years.  A duplicate exhibit is being installed in the shíshálh‘s own museum in Sechelt, BC, also opening July 1st. Accompanying the reconstructions is a short, 3-minute documentary we spent last summer filming.  I was surprised to see I was featured quite a bit in the video, and I actually looked like I knew what I was doing.  Keep your eyes open for me in the green shirt and my amazingly well-painted nails (shameless self-promotion).  I have fun painting my nails for field work (a small way of celebrating my femininity in the field), which nobody ever believes will last longer than a day.  All I’ll say is that I have my ways and have now erased much of that doubt in my colleagues.

Here’s a still shot from the video (I’m in the green shirt). At this moment Sammy (one of our amazing students last summer) was passing me a bone point she had just found in our unit.
I was surprised and excited to see all the media attention this story received.  The collaboration between the shishalh Nation, the University of Toronto/University of Saskatchewan (the project has moved with Terry [Clark] to the U of Sask), and the Canadian Museum of History is incredible and such a fantastic example of how collaboration should work.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a member of the research project and to be able to work with such an incredible community (both as a member of the project and as a CRM bioarchaeologist).  The Nation is excited to put their story out there so it was really exciting to see such a positive media response, both in print and on TV.  Check out the CBC National story, starting at 15:38.  You’ll see footage of the exhibit and from the little documentary video.  And after July 1st if you happen to be in Ottawa or Sechelt, come and see the exhibit for yourself!

My Presentation and the BC Session

Here I am, looking somewhat professional (rarely happens) and presenting my research on blown-glass beads to a room which included both the new and the old generation of BC archaeologists (Photo courtesy of Robyn Lacy, @robyn_la)
This wasn’t my first time attending/presenting at a conference, but it was my first time at the Canadian Archaeological Association conference.  There was a whole session this year dedicated to BC archaeology, entitled “Current Research in BC Archaeology”.  10 presentations were on the schedule covering a wide range of topics and regions.  From the work of the Hakai scholars doing sea-level modelling and site-prediction modelling on Quadra Island to us sARPers (my friend and colleague Leah (@anthrophoto_) and I represented sARP) talking about our work with the shíshálh Nation, it was

Look, I’m wearing real pants that aren’t sweatpants!
awesome having a chance to hear about what everyone is working on.  Equally awesome was the fact that it was a good mix of the old and the new generations of BC archaeology.  The majority of the presentations were given by students and in the audience were some of the heavy-hitters of BC archaeology, names us students are very familiar with through our studies.  It was a fantastic opportunity for me to not only present my research on the glass beads (which I’ll be blogging about soon), but to put my name out there among old and future colleagues.  Sure, there’s always an element of risk assumed with presenting original research (the familiar “what will people think?” feelings), but I think it’s always a risk worth taking!  In the end I had some very positive feedback and was happy to see that the room full of audience members (and it was actually quite a full room) seemed to have taken some interest in my glass bead research!  I think it definitely helped that I loaded my slides with pretty pictures and colours.


Glass Beads
Some of the pretty charts and colours I included in my presentation, which generated some positive comments on Twitter!

The Other Presentations and Being Social




My friend and sARP colleague Leah Iselmoe (@anthrophoto_) presenting her preliminary research on Salish puberty rites

It wasn’t just my own presentation I was concerned with at the conference.  There were many other talks I was interested in seeing and plenty (5 others) involving projects I’m either currently on or have worked on in the past (spanning BC, AB, and ON).  There were also other presentations involving methods and/or research I was interested in, either for personal interest or possible application to my work.  The digital archaeology session was particularly fantastic for future applications.  Especially since my friend/colleague/fearless leader of sARP Dr. Terry Clark (who once dropped a tree on me, I definitely won’t let him live that one down) happens to be in the know-how of many of these digital techniques and can help me learn how to use them.  I’m now hoping to do something cool with a poster presentation at the SAA’s in 2018.  I was also really excited to see such a large CRM presence.  Many CRM companies are engaged in exciting and important research and I love seeing more and more of it being presented at conferences.  I love research and intend to continue working in some form of CRM once I’m finished with school, so I’m excited to see more opportunities for CRM research to be shared.


I was speaking to one of the conference organizers at one point who remarked that archaeology conferences were unique for the tendency of people to jump from session to session.  She said at other conferences people sit through one session entirely, but in archaeology conferences we’re always hopping from room to room and talk to talk.  It was certainly true of the CAA, archaeologists were constantly moving in and out of rooms between presentations.  Which I think speaks to just how diverse our field is, from our research interests to the technologies and methodologies we hope to employ in our work.  Personally, I love that diverse range of interests and knowledge and I loved seeing people explore those interests by moving between presentations!

Finally, no conference would be complete without the networking and social events.  I

Hanging out at the CAA pub night in Byward Market
had a great time going to the opening reception and pub night, as well as joining others on the special tour of the new Canada History Hall.  It was a great chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues and to meet new people.  Especially for putting names to the Twitter handles I regularly chat with!

All in all, I had a great time at CAA2017.  I flexed my research muscles by putting my glass bead research out there, learned a lot from other presentations, and met a lot of really great people.  I also took home a lot of really great messages, such as the importance of productive failure.  I’m certainly looking forward to the next set of conferences!

Tl;dr Summary

I had a lot of fun meeting new people and presenting my research to the archaeological community!  Stay tuned for a near-future post summing up my presentation and research into blown glass beads!

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