Winter Archaeology…it’s a thing

It certainly wasn’t what I would have expected after watching Indiana Jones as a kid, poring over my grandparents’ National Geographics, or even after numerous archaeology classes of various types during my university years. In the North of British Columbia, Canada, CRM archaeology is driven by the requirement of oil and gas companies to have archaeological assessments done prior to all developments. They are conducted by privately owned companies complying with government regulations, and this  happens year round.

Winter archaeology. Yes, it is a thing. (more…)

A Day of Virtual Archaeology!

Hi, my name is Michael and I’m a Salvage Archaeologist who became a Computer Animator 20 years ago and now I’m using both my archaeology and computer animation skills to reimagine archaeological landscapes in virtual reality! Most of my days are now spent in front of a computer working in Autodesk Maya, Unity or Unreal game engines, but today we are with our friends at ASI | Archaeological and Cultural Heritage Services to see what archaeologists think about our recent virtual reality (VR) (re)imagination of a 16th century Wendat (Iroquoian) Longhouse.


135 Years in the Life of Ontario Archaeology

There is a long history of digging the past. Farmers who have made accidental finds whilst plowing their fields, builders cutting through historical remains as they dig foundations, cellars, privies or basements. There are private collectors and looters who seek out sites to dig. At the same time, many First Nations communities protested this looting and robbing of sites of heritage and burial. And entangled in these histories of digging, the profession of archaeology developed.

At Sustainable Archaeology, we are dealing with all of these histories of digging, but also innovations in storage, preservation and access to build a better future for collections that were assembled through these various acts of digging. Ontario, like many parts of the world, has been feeling increasing pressure from the ever growing archaeological collections amassed through development, research, and donations from private collectors. It takes a lot of time, money and training to care for these collections, not to mention make them accessible to the public.

Last year we narrated a Day in the Life of An Archaeological Repository, detailing how collections are processed, conserved and accessed in our repository and how research is undertaken in our labs. This year we have decided to be even more ambitious, and narrate 135 years in the life of Ontario Archaeology, to capture how the practice of digging and collecting objects from the past has changed over time and how this impacts facilities like Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster.

Explore our Timeline: 135 Years in the Life of Ontario Archaeology below:

For more information on the history of Ontario Archaeology, visit our blog and follow our progress at Sustainable Archaeology.

You can also follow us on Twitter (SustArchMIP) and on Facebook!


2015 SAMcMaster Logo


Starting Over in Alberta

The Alberta weather is sometimes cold

The Alberta weather is sometimes cold

This year, the Day of Archaeology actually fell upon the first day of a four day weekend. Having moved to Alberta from Wisconsin in late-2014, I’m currently working a 10-day on/four-day off shift as a field tech for a Canadian Cultural Resource Management company. Actually, they constantly remind me that I’m not a field tech, if only because they don’t use that particular title. Officially, I’m a staff archaeologist working for this particular firm for a limited time. The job duties are essentially the same, though. I basically accompany a higher ranking archaeologist and help them by doing the basics: dig, walk a lot, look for historic properties, and take notes. I’m pretty removed from any decision-making, which after 15 years of being in a supervisory role, is both incredibly relaxing and somewhat boring. It’s nice to be free of the stress and obligations of being a boss. At the same time, I really enjoy performing a lot of the boss-type duties.

In Alberta, you need to be issued a permit in order to conduct archaeological excavation. I’ve been approved to apply for one, with certain reasonable restrictions. This means that I could theoretically work for a firm as a permit-holder, and run my own projects. Unfortunately, I chose pretty much the worst time to move to Alberta. With the price of oil in the tank, development has all but stopped. There just aren’t very many archaeology positions, this year, so I feel lucky to have the job I do. The only other place that seems to be hiring is apparently working their staff for long shifts comprised of 12-hour days. That just sounds like burn out city to me. I can’t imagine how someone could consistently produce quality work with that sort of schedule and I wonder how many will still want to do archaeology in five-years time.

The typical day starts with a safety meeting, which is called a tailgate meeting despite the fact that most of them don’t occur at the tailgate of our truck. After that, the bosses knock out any coordination with the client that might remain. Then, we head out to the project site, where we drive around looking for sites and historic structures. We follow a judgemental survey strategy, which means we dig shovel tests in places where we think there’s a good chance of finding a site. This targeted approach is different than the systematic survey methods that I’m used to. For that, we shovel test along regular intervals in order to get broader coverage. There can be some down time while bosses do boss stuff. Flexibility is an essential skill for a (not a-) field tech.

During all of this, we talk. In addition to the usual discussions about our interests in pop culture, we discuss archaeology. As a result of the judgemental method of surveying, we debate about where sites might be located and how that differs between the boreal forest, the northern plains, the alpine portion of the Rockies, and any other places that we know about. We talk about possible interpretations of the sites that we’re currently working on. We compare the differences in the compliance process between Alberta, the other Canadian provinces, and the United States, which has strong federal legislation. We talk about the job market and the potential for work after the project ends. This all helps me calibrate my reasoning to the Albertan way of doing things, as well as the local variations of cultural property that we might encounter.

This job is sort of a restart for me. In addition to just getting the local experience that employers want to see, it lets me see the local archaeological properties, methods, and processes first hand so I can relate it back to what I already know. I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunities to discuss our work with my coworkers and that will hopefully lead to more (and longterm!) employment in the future. The bottom line for many of the archaeologists that you might have seen in other Day of Archaeology posts is that archaeology isn’t just something we love, it’s something we do to (hopefully) pay the bills. Trying to make that profession fit with the rest of our lives can sometimes be a challenge. In my case, moving has required me to restart my career in a number of ways.

Pacific Archaeologies

In my last Day of Archaeology posting, I seemed to spend a lot of time waxing lyrical about the rhythms of academic administration.

This year has involved personal introspection, unexpected auto-archaeology and thinking about the various ways in which, yes, I still count as an archaeologist.

Today, for a number of reasons, I decided to stack work activities into the early morning and to meet friends – a former MA in Archaeology for Screen Media student and a Geographer – in a municipality of Metro Vancouver called White Rock. One of the benefits of being a knowledge worker is that wherever my laptop rests, I can work. So, I can be just as productive in my University of Bristol job working from a formica table in Vancouver as I can be from my university desk. Before we went to White Rock, I found this film for us to watch, to remind us of the halcyon days of the seaside resort. I wonder if the woman in the orange coat, third from the left, is my mother:

My friend spent her teen years in White Rock. I frequently visited, from the time I was very small with both of my parents through to visiting my father, when he owned a Spanish rancher styled home in the area, complete with stalactite plaster ceiling plaster, circular living room, gold-veined mirrored bar and a stunning collection of louche lamps, the kind with the nude girl in the middle, surrounded by dripping oil threads. This particular domestic collection was troubling, and didn’t sit easily with my idea of ‘normal’ families. It was an interesting material performance alongside the archival records of my father: an Italian from post-war Friuili who, in 1956, stepped off the Saturnia at the Pier 21 immigration processing building in Halifax (cf. Monteyne 2015); who quickly gave up his Italian citizenship; who worked his entire life (apart from a few years laying railroad ties and in the pulp and paper mill) as a waiter in cocktail bars, including the infamous Inquisition; who has managed somehow not to gain a criminal record, despite stop-and-search police harassment in the ’50s and a healthy interest in running bootleg grappa from the Okanagan; who has a very full medical paper trail despite his rude health at 80. All that is to say that I have a personal connection to this place and I continue to try to think through how archaeology differs from history.

So I arrived on the 351 White Rock Centre bus at 12.30pm. I’d caught the bus at Bridgeport Skytrain Station in Richmond, having travelled from Cambie and Broadway on the Canada Line, the newest transit line, constructed for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. While the discourse may focus on ‘Super Natural’ Vancouver, if you look you see not a city of glass, but a city of concrete. Lots and lots of concrete. A civic love affair that links to Italian immigration, a resource-based economy and shady property market, to which Rudyard Kipling fell victim, writing about it in From Sea to Sea (1899). I’d not been to White Rock in years. Outside the first thrift shop I passed on my way down to the pier I saw the pram.

1967 Lewis Collin pram

1967 Lewis Collin pram

I instantly knew it, having spent important years in it as a baby and more memorable time as a young child with my best friend Carmen playing ‘family’ with the bassinet section. I think I always made Carmen be the dad and I was either the baby or Carmen’s wife. Encountering this pram for the first time in over 40 years, I was immediately struck by its familiarity. I knew how the brakes worked and how to detach the bassinet from the frame. And I was hit by an odd yearning when I saw how the backrest was set. I could feel the textured pattern of the vinyl interior covering. Although it’s highly unlikely, I immediately projected my past into this pram, imagining that yes, really, this was mine. That it was infused with my baby oil and my mother’s cigarette smoke. The paper tag on the main handle, proudly proclaiming that the pram was ’48 years old!’ added to its magic. Manufactured in 1967 and I was born in Spring 1968. And it was a very rainy day filled with odd events and so, according to the laws of correlation and serendipity that rule some archaeologists’ lives (despite invocations of empiricism), I decided that it might as well have been my pram.

In this choice, based on feeling and desire rather than fact, I was then oriented quite carefully to the built environment through which I walked to access the pier.

White Rock Pier

White Rock Pier

They say that the big rock was white with guano in the past. Today, it is kept white through regular applications of (Cloverdale?) paint. On a grey day like today, I could be at Clevedon, near Bristol, UK or near any British seaside resort. The innocuous pier, colonial imposition on the waters and territory of the Semiahmoo First Nation. And I wonder if what gives away my lingering archaeological disposition is my wondering about the make and make-up of the paint on the rock (and how many layers?); the different states of wood rot along the pier; the changes in the tarmac as 16th Avenue descends from White Rock Centre to the sea; the few remaining early 20th-century beach houses; the locating of the White Rock Archives on the beach front; and the lines of train track, road, hedging, street furniture and how they organise movement.

And these meanderings do not constitute a rigorous archaeology, but they help me to think about the other projects I’m involved in that do constitute my professional work. My Day of Archaeology helped me to think again about the Know your Bristol on the Move project, which links film and photographic archives to place via a participatory mapping interface. It helped me to reflect on the work that some of us have been doing to contribute archaeological methods and thinking to the ‘media archaeologies’ generated by media and technology scholars. And it helped me to focus on what I need to do in September as part of the Archaeo-Cube project, an archaeology of Cube Microplex, a volunteer-run arts-and-media space in Bristol. In advance of a significant building project, a small group of archaeologists and Cube volunteers are producing diverse archaeological responses to the site and thinking through the possible futures of the Cube following the build project and what might be worth ‘preserving’ and how.  And these things remind me of archaeology’s links to the modern individual and, in addition to the collaborative work in the field and within communities, how central lone practices of attention are to the archaeological project.


Kipling, R. 1899. From Sea to Sea.

Monteyne, D. 2015. Pier 21 and the Production of Canadian Immigration. In C. Loeb and A. Luescher (eds). The Design of Frontier Spaces: Control and Ambiguity. Farnham: Ashgate, pp 109-28

Uncovering Ontario’s History since 1972

Archaeological Research Associates Ltd. (ARA) is Ontario’s oldest archaeological and heritage consulting firm, uncovering Ontario’s history since 1972.

Over the past 43 years, ARA has completed hundreds of contracts for clients in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors across Ontario. With strong ties to Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario, ARA has consistently been staffed with the best and brightest archaeologists and heritage specialists in Ontario.

Stage 4

At ARA, we approach the landscape in a holistic way, offering services in both Archaeology and  Heritage. We have a strong commitment and Education and Outreach, sharing our knowledge with the public and engaging them in learning about their local and greater community.


ARA’s Archaeology Department is responsible for conducting all 4 Stages of archaeological assessments as regulated by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTCS).

Stage 1 investigations consist of an archival search of any known historical, environmental and archaeological data for the study area. The information obtained in this search may be used to determine the archaeological potential of the study area. Sources in Stage 1 investigations may include, but are not limited to, historical maps and archives, oral histories, geophysical mapping, and Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport site records.


During Stage 2 assessments, field crews are dispatched to the study area to examine it directly for the presence of archaeological and heritage resources. Visual inspection or subsurface-testing techniques are employed depending on field conditions. Significant archaeological finds are noted on large-scale field maps, and diagnostic artifacts (i.e. buttons, coins, pottery, bone, stone tools) are retained for analysis. At this point, MTCS guidelines are employed to determine whether or not a site requires further investigation.

In this photo our Field Technicians are completing a Test Pit survey to identify any new archaeological resources in the study area. This particular survey required some creative transportation in the middle of the assessment!


Peter and Crew 2

We always gain permission to enter the property where we are working, here Field Director Sarah has made a new friend in this pygmy goat while checking in with some property owners before beginning their assessment.

Sarah and Goat

After Stage 2, our crews may continue to excavate an archaeological site at the Stage 3 level. A Stage 3 assessment is conducted if a potentially culturally-significant deposit is encountered during Stage 2 investigation. The site is subject to a controlled surface pickup (CSP) in which all artifacts visible on the surface are individually plotted using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device. All of our surface artifacts here are marked by red and white straws.

Rock GPS

In Stage 3, a series of 1×1 m test excavation units are placed in a grid formation, and the resulting artifacts and soil features are used to determine age, cultural affiliation, density, and extent. A determination is made, in consultation with the MTCS, regarding the need for further investigation in the form of full (Stage 4) excavation.


Filling a Unit

Being responsible archaeologists means back-filling all of the units that we excavate…but sometimes the soil just doesn’t want to fit back in the same space! Here we see crew member Owen doing his best high-jumps to pack the soil back in!

In the below photo we are excavating a Euro-Canadian site at the Stage 4 level. In this final phase of the process, a site which is endangered and cannot be preserved is subjected to excavation. Stage 4 excavations are carried out according to MTCS guidelines and industry-accepted standards and practices. At ARA, we endeavour to collect research-grade data. Our collections are effectively curated and are made available to qualified scholars and researchers.


Pam HiVis

Field work can be dirty but we do have fun! We rock the most enviable styles… #fashion

Mikes Goodbye

And sometimes you just want to rule from a throne of dirt! Did we mention our Game of Thrones obsession might have run a little wild? #MustLoveDirt

Unlike archaeology in the movies, the work is seldom glamorous. Archaeological work is physically demanding. Working out-of-doors means exposure to the elements and biting insects; frequently in isolated and sometimes challenging conditions.

Tick Garter 2


At the same time the archaeologist occasionally has an opportunity unavailable to others – to be the first to discover and retrieve artifacts last used by people that came before us hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. It is through these artifacts and other evidence preserved in the record of the past, that their experiences come to life once again.



In addition to looking at cultural heritage resources below the ground in the archaeology department, ARA’s Heritage Department also looks at built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscapes. Our job is to help piece together the history of individual properties and landscapes.

Most of our jobs start in the field doing site visits (rain, shine, sleet or snow!). We get to get up close and personal with lots of different types of buildings and structures. We document their layout, location and condition through floor plans, photographs and even measured drawings.

Kayla and Sarah - Tower in Kingston

These investigations can take you to some very interesting places, like this former military tower!


Here we are taking a close look at some wood flooring to determine if it is original to the structure


We’re testing the pH level of a gravestone to assist with a condition assessment.

Research at local archives is like a treasure hunt. One newspaper clipping may make the whole history of a building fall into place. We find all kinds of interesting articles, from an ad in a 1820s newspaper for a circus held behind a subject building advertising “Grand Entrée by six horses which will go through many pleasing maneuvers” or a fur company catalogue showing stylish men and women. By reading through a record of land transactions we can determine who owned the land and how long they lived there. By examining historic photos or maps we can see the progression of a building over time.

Map 15 Building Footprints

Our work helps to tell the stories of the buildings that were witness to incredible moments in history, ordinary lives lived, and the growth of our cities and towns. We dig deep to describe the people who once lived, worked and played in these buildings, and their importance to the community both past and present.

Outreach and Education

ARA is also very involved in numerous Outreach and Education initiatives. Our Heritage Department recently worked with the City of Burlington and Heritage Burlington to draft stories for 30 themes and 30 properties in the City for their new website ( The research for this involved detailed investigations of many interesting local legends. This website’s goal is to engage the community in learning about their history, and sharing their own stories.

Heritage Burlington WebsiteIn honour of Aboriginal Month (June) in Canada, our Heritage Cartographer worked on a joint project with the Kitchener Public Library to produce the “Local Aboriginal History and Culture Bike Tour”. The Library made this guide available online and in it’s main branch, and held guided tours through out the month.

Large Map Design May 26 2015 v2To view and print the brochure:

We also speak and lecture at various venues. From opening the Mississauga’s of the New Credit First Nation Annual Gathering, to jetting off to Alberta to talk about social media, we are always excited to talk about our passions!


Our Heritage Manager talking about “Heritage is #trending” at the Municipal Heritage Forum in Alberta, Canada.

Speaking of social media, for more behind-the-scenes photos, interesting cultural heritage news, and all things ARA please check out our Facebook Page (ArchaeologicalResearchAssociates); Twitter profiles @ArchResearch and @ARAHeritage and to further fuel your Pinterest obsession you can find us at and


One Word Archaeology

ASI is the largest archaeological and cultural heritage consulting company in Ontario, Canada, with over 35 years experience in the production & dissemination of knowledge concerning our past.

We could write a long post detailing all of the various projects we are working on, the sites we have completed and our day-to-day experiences working in heritage, but we decided to keep it simple this year. Below are some images we compiled from our staff over the past few days that we think accurately reflect our lives at ASI.

They say a picture is a worth a thousand words. Or, in this case, only one…





































Zack Selfie



























Follow ASI on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.


The Ikaahuk Archaeology Project!

Hello from Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories, Canada! I am here conducting research as part of the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project, headed by Dr. Lisa Hodgetts. This project aims to use archaeological knowledge and Inuvialuit knowledge to better understand the history of Banks Island. We are currently working towards making this project a community-based project. We are now in our third year and we have a lot on the go!

The fabulous crew for 2014 is made up of Lisa Hodgetts (Associate Professor, UWO), Colleen Haukaas (recent MA grad, UWO! Woot woot!), Jordan Munizzi (PhD student, UWO), Katie Kotar (MA student, UWO), Mariah Lucas (Sachs Harbour resident), Alex Kudlak (Sachs Harbour/Inuvik resident) and me, Laura Kelvin (PhD candidate, UWO). This year I am staying in Sachs Harbour conducting research for my dissertation while the rest of the crew is camping near Emegak Lake (about 30 km SE of town). My work in town involves using an archaeological ethnographic approach to explore how perceptions of the past and archaeological research vary within the community to determine how archaeology can complement Inuvialuit understandings of the past. This mostly involves interviewing community members, getting to know people and what their lives are like in Sachs Harbour, and hanging out in town (I have been playing a lot of volley ball!).

This year the crew is excavating a Thule Inuit whalebone house. In addition to excavation they are also using a magnetometer to help find the location of middens, and using photogrammetry to make 3D models of features and artifacts. I recently received word that they are currently excavating and they are getting close to the architecture of the house. They have found tons of animal bones­ – muskox, seal, fox, caribou, goose, fish. Whoever lived there was eating well! They have also found bone and antler points, a harpoon head, and beads! I am not sure exactly what they are up to today, but I imagine they are cold. It is 2° C (feels like -2°C) and rainy, and I was told that they have ran out of hot chocolate!

Today is a bit of a slower day for me. I put in a food order for the crew this morning (they really need that hot chocolate!) and I am just taking a break from transcribing an interview. The interview I am working on was with two Elders from town, Edith Haogak and Lena Wolki. Last week my supervisor was able to get some time with a helicopter for her research. She went out to a few sites in the southern part of the island to collect water and animal bone samples. Not only was I lucky enough to go sampling with her, one afternoon she let me use the helicopter to take these wonderful ladies and Edith’s son, Charlton, to Haogak Lake to do a place-based interview! This was my first trip in a helicopter and despite feeling a little queasy at times it was really cool! I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to fly over top of than Banks Island.

Edith and Lena were born on Victoria Island, near Ulukhaktok (Holman). They grew up on the land moving between Banks Island and Victoria Island with their mother Susie Tiktalkik. Haogak Lake is named after Edith’s family. She first came to the lake with her mother to hunt caribou and fish. She later established a trap line there with her husband and continued to trap there after he passed away. Her son Charlie also used the trap line. Her family still goes there to fish. Place-based interviews are awesome because they really help to establish and understand peoples’ connections to particular places. I have posted a short clip from my interview with this post. Edith and Lena are extremely charismatic and have done many interviews (check out Inuvialuit Television on youtube!

One thing that really comes across in this interview, as well as most of the interviews I have done with people from Sachs, is their awesome sense of humor! But that afternoon was far from all work. We also got in some fishing! This was my first time fishing and I loved it! With the help of our awesome pilot, Steffan, I caught a fish on my first try, which I can only assume makes me the best fisherman in the world. We’ll just ignore the fact that it was the only one I got. As I am transcribing this interview I just keep thinking how lucky I am that this family was willing to spend the afternoon sharing this wonderful place with me.

Later today I will get my second sewing lesson from Kim. Although my grandmother taught me the basics when I was younger, I did not keep with it and I have never been all that good. Kim is an awesome artist who makes mukluks, mittens, purses… well just about everything! She has shared a slipper pattern with me. I finished beading the uppers and today she is going to show me how to finish sewing them together. For many people in Sachs sewing is a big part of life. They learned how to sew from their mothers, grandmothers and Elders. Sewing is seen by some people as an important way to teach youth about their heritage and about the past. Although it is mostly women who sew to make clothing for their families, for income, or for fun, it is important for both women and men to know how to sew, as it is an essential skill when you go out on the land. Betty Raddi-Haogak explained to me that there are many different styles of Inuvialuit sewing and clothing. She said that this could be important for archaeologists because you can tell what region people are from by their sewing style. I’m looking forward to learning more about sewing and Inuvialuit heritage!

I hope this post has sparked some interest in the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project, my project, and Inuvialuit history! If you want to learn more about my research you can check out my blog Summer Time in the Arctic, and of course follow the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project on Facebook! I hope everyone had an awesome Day of Archaeology!

A Day of Archaeology at Ontario Heritage Trust

During the past week, the Trust’s archaeology crew has been running an archaeology day camp called “Adventures in Archaeology” at the Spadina Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The archaeology at this site has been ongoing since the early 1980s, and is in its thirteenth year of a public archaeology camp program.  In 2004, The Ontario Heritage Trust and the City of Toronto were awarded the Peggi Armstrong Public Archaeology Award for providing opportunities for community involvement at the Spadina Museum by the Ontario Archaeological Society.

Spadina House (Built 1866)

Spadina House (Built 1866)

The Spadina Museum is a site that is ripe for archaeological investigation. The first house on this property was built by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1818. Baldwin named his new home “Spadina” after the aboriginal term “Ishaspadeena”, which means “a hill or sudden rise in the land.  This first house burnt down in 1835 for reasons unknown and was rebuilt on the foundations of the first Spadina. The Baldwins held Spadina for three generations, being passed to Robert Baldwin in 1844, then to his son, William Willcocks Baldwin in 1858. In 1865, however, William Willcocks Baldwin decided to sell Spadina to James Austin, who in turn tore down and rebuilt Spadina  using the existing foundations for his new house. Spadina was inherited by Albert Austin in 1897, and it was that year that a two-storey addition added to the rear of Spadina. The early twentieth century saw additional construction projects by the Austins including the addition of a third storey.

Earlier archaeological projects at Spadina Museum were performed within the basement and around the existing structure. Recently, the archaeology conducted at this site has been focused around locating the outbuildings and structures which surrounded Spadina during the Baldwin family’s occupation. Some of the more memorable finds include silver inlaid cufflinks made with turquoise, lapis lazuli and mother-of-pearl found in 2010, as well as a pre-contact Nettling point found during the 2011 season.

The kids enrolled in this camp are aged 10-14 years old. They are given instruction on how to dig carefully, analyze, and record in an archaeological fashion.


Spadina Archaeology camper digging in the field

Spadina Archaeology camper digging in the field

The day begins by greeting the kids in the morning. The children are separated into two groups who rotate being on the field and in the lab. The names of the groups they are separated into have to do with the occupational history of the site – as one team are the “Baldwins,” the founders of the property and original occupants of the site. The second team are referred to as the “Austins,” after the builder and occupants of the structure which still stands today.

Two Spadina Archaeology campers working in their unit

Two Spadina Archaeology campers working in their unit

The children participate in digging in one by one units with a partner. They are thrilled at every find, and it is not uncommon to have more rocks than real artifacts bagged on site. When they are not digging they are actively involved in artifact processing- learning how to wash, sort, and organize artifacts that they themselves found. Earlier in the camp, the children additionally learnt how to record and map in the field: their agility with the tape-measure and Munsell over time has much improved! The assistant archaeologists who supervise them have been taking detailed notes to supplement anything the children may have missed or failed to record.

Spadina Archaeology campers washing artifacts in lab

Spadina Archaeology campers washing artifacts in lab


Camp participant measuring or determining Munsell soil color

Camp participant measuring or determining Munsell soil color

Field notes

Field notes

The children also participate in archaeological activities and workshops. Today on Archaeology Day, the children leave an artifact assemblage for future archaeologists by making a time capsule that will be buried at the end of the dig. Of course, the children have dug up quite the appetite by this point in the camp and are rewarded with dirt (Chocolate) and Gummy worm cupcakes as their final reward at the end of the dig.

Spadina Archaeology campers participating in artifact reconstruction workshop

Spadina Archaeology campers participating in artifact reconstruction workshop

This was the final day of the “Adventures in Archaeology,” camp in 2014. What the kids couldn’t finish, the field crew will finish next week.


Day of Archaeology at Sustainable Archaeology

Hi! I am Dr. Rhonda Bathurst, Facility Manager here at Sustainable Archaeology: Western. Kira Westby is our Administrative Assistant. Together we’ll be sharing what a general day is like here at our state-of-the-art research and curation facility!

Left to right: Rhonda, chained to her desk for the day (Halloween 2013), and Kira, celebrating a delivery of packing foam at the facility (winter 2014)

Left to right: Rhonda, chained to her desk for the day (Halloween 2013), and Kira, celebrating a delivery of packing foam at the facility (winter 2014)

Sustainable Archaeology: Western is an off-campus facility of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada under the Direction of Dr. Neal Ferris. Together with our partners at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, we consolidate archaeological collections from across Ontario both physically in our two repositories, and (perhaps more importantly) digitally, in our web-based database. To learn more about the particulars of Sustainable Archaeology – our funding bodies, mandate, policies, and more, be sure to visit our website.

As a relatively new facility (we have existed as an actual building for only three years this September), there are still a number of daily challenges to meet, from administering the grant that funds the project, to purchasing and maintaining equipment for our labs. We are also developing policies and protocol for managing over 80,000 boxes of artifacts that our project will physically curate between both facilities. One of our current areas of focus is the development of our informational platform. We have four staff members on site on any given day, three of who spend most of their day on database development – including Kira, who wears several hats around here! We also have four work study students and a broad array of researchers, grad students and others who filter through our doors on a daily basis – we’ll introduce you as they drop in!


As an Archaeologist, my background informs decisions that are made here in regards to equipment, space utilization, and research opportunities. But Administration is my day-to-day. I start each day by going over the daily and weekly calendar with Kira – we discuss what appointments to expect and what our goals are for the week. Today we’ve got a lot on the agenda! First we’ll need to go through our email, and then prepare for a work study orientation session. We’ll have to watch for a grad student who will be coming in to do some research on the microCT scanner. Our 3D scanning & printing Lab Technician, Nelson, will be in today as well working on setting up mounting methods for the white-light laser scanners up in our Research Mezzanine. We’ll need to keep an eye out for Western Facilities Management and Western ITS, both of whom will be in to install an additional power outlet and network connection in our Collaboration Room in preparation for our new Videoconferencing equipment that will be delivered in a few weeks. I have a Purchase Order I need to submit today for some new computer furnishings and a vendor I need to speak to about setting up a proactive pest monitoring system for the storage area. There are two meetings I have to schedule with other Administrators in the Western Support Services Building to discuss the ongoing administration of our grant funds. Kira will likely squeeze in some temperature and humidity readings, as she does every other week, to monitor the conditions of our storage room. I’ll need to remind the cleaning service that we are due for our quarterly window cleaning. And at some point, I will need to finish up some vacuuming around the facility. If we’re lucky, we’ll spy some deer in the ravine from our Collaboration Room. Those are some of the things we are aware of as we start the day, but each day brings new developments. On the surface, it all seems to have little to do with archaeology, but without these tasks, this facility would cease to be or to function.

Database Development

For over 2 years, the database crew have started their day working on code. As we enter our final stages of beta testing, the focus now is on tweaking the small things such as the layout of the online data entry forms, wording, even colours. We have a number of volunteers working with the database crew to test functionality and work-flow both in-house and externally. Today the focus of attention is on developing a tagging system for boxes in our inventory management, and solving coding bugs that have appeared in our data entry sections. Later in the day, our Facility Director, Dr. Neal Ferris will meet with the database development team to go over issues and questions arising over the last week. On the agenda – user interface, managing loans, and edits to the variables recorded for artifacts.

Work Study Students

With the end of summer classes, we have an influx of four new Western work-study students joining our ranks for the next couple of months. This morning, Kira and I will be providing an orientation for them that will outline everything from what to do in the event of a fire drill to how to pack boxes, recognize artifacts and enter data into the database. We will explain to them how we plan to inventory and track over 80,000 boxes of artifacts, and we will demonstrate how we’re utilizing 2D barcodes to aid with organization, tracking and data entry.

Work Study student at SA: Western in the collections repository.

Work Study student at SA: Western in the collections repository.

Research at Sustainable Archaeology

Our micro-CT scanner and its water-cooling unit are humming mechanically in the background of the Ancient Images Laboratory as Amy St. John, a PhD student in Anthropology at Western, works on scanning pieces of First People’s pottery that are several hundred years old. Amy’s thesis aims to differentiate different types of pottery temper used in the construction of these vessels. This will inform her about 1) different methods of pottery construction and 2) different styles of construction that may, in turn, allow her to hypothesize about who was making different styles of pottery and how wide spread they were throughout the region.

PhD Student Amy working on the microCT scanner

PhD Student Amy working on the microCT scanner

Meanwhile across the pond, Dr. Andrew Nelson, an affiliate of the SA and primary user of the microCT and digital x-ray, is on holiday in the other London, in England. Today he is visiting the company that built our microCT scanner. For the past few days he’s been spending time at the British Museum, working on a collaborative project with the Art Gallery of Ontario to scan medieval prayer beads. You can follow Andrew’s progress on our Twitter feed or on our blog, where we’ll be highlighting his adventures!

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology

Located adjacent to our new facility is the well-established Museum of Ontario Archaeology, which has been here since the early 1980’s. Staff from the Museum pass by with a cart full of boxes formerly housed in their offsite storage, now cleaned and repackaged to our standards and ready to be housed in the SA repository.

Wrap Up

It’s been a full day and we’re starting to wrap things up here. Our work study students survived their orientation relatively unscathed, and are wiser about how archaeology is done here in the province as well as how we aim to care for those collections over the long term here at Sustainable Archaeology. Dr. Ferris and the database team had a productive meeting this afternoon, and it’s exciting to see the database coming into shape – we’ll soon be entering data! The mCT scanner was humming all day as Amy worked through some trouble-spots she was experiencing as she learns to scan this particular material, while Nelson was busy calibrating scans and software on the 3D scanners in the mezzanine all afternoon. Dr. Nelson, over in the UK, reports he had a great visit with Andrew Ramsey at Nikon Metrology, and will be bringing home some valuable new tips and tricks on how to use our microCT XTH225 XT unit (not a bad way to spend a birthday  – enjoy a pint for us – Happy Birthday Andrew!).

Microscopic view of a whipworm egg

Microscopic view of a whipworm egg

I managed to get enough administrative tasks done today that I even managed to squeeze in a bit of training on our new Nikon SMZ25 digital microscope, to flex some of my analytical research muscles! Kira and I have gone over our preliminary calendar for next week, so that we are prepared and know what to expect when we return to work first thing on Monday morning. Thanks to all our fellow Archaeologists for sharing their day’s activities – there is so much more to archaeology than digging!

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