French colonial archaeology

250 Years of History: Images from St. Louis


250 Years of History: Excavating Colonial St. Louis

In 1763, a small group of French traders made their way up the Mississippi River and established a settlement that would become Saint Louis. This colonial village, unfortunately, has been lost to time and urban development, as the city of Saint Louis has grown around and over it. However, just in time for the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city, archaeologists with the Missouri Department of Transportation have found the first evidence of these earlier settlers. Now, let me welcome you to a day of archaeology at the Poplar Street Bridge project in the heart of Saint Louis, Missouri.

French ceramics

Eighteenth-century artifacts recovered from under the Poplar Street Bridge.

Since February 2012, we have been conducting archaeological investigations around the downtown area, preparing for a variety of road and highway construction project. Today (July 10, 2014), marks the end of the 27th week of fieldwork (including remote sensing, testing, and full data recovery) on what has quickly become two of the most significant archaeological sites we have ever identified.

Excavation of the Madam Haycraft Site.

Excavation of the Madam Haycraft Site.

Despite widely held belief, archaeological field work is showing that a surprisingly large amount of colonial Saint Louis remains buried and intact in the downtown area. Working in less-than-ideal conditions, we find that each new area that is exposed by our excavation is better than the last. As we carefully work by hand, with shovel and trowel, our work is juxtaposed with the heavy construction (and demolition) going on just a few meters away.

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Searching for Archaeological Sites on Oderin Island, Newfoundland, Canada

This was how I started my day as an archaeologist on July 20, 2011: Sitting in a kayak, paddling towards an island, where we would look for archaeological sites.

This was how I started my day as an archaeologist on July 20, 2011: Sitting in a kayak, paddling towards an island, where we would look for previously unknown archaeological sites.

On July 29, 2011, I found myself sitting in a kayak, paddling quietly off of Oderin Island,  in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. I couldn’t help but marvel at the good fortune that brought me to this beautiful place in the name of doing archaeology.

As a way of explaining how I came to be sitting in a kayak with archaeology gear stowed in the hatches and strapped to every available space on the boat’s deck, I suppose I ought to backtrack a little.

My name is Amanda Crompton, and I work and study in the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’m an almost (almost!) completed archaeology PhD candidate, a sometime undergraduate course instructor, and part-time co-ordinator for a large research project. My own research interests revolve around the European presence in Newfoundland—and Europeans have been coming to Newfoundland for a very  long   time—which means there’s lots of different kinds of archaeology to do in Newfoundland.

I’m particularly interested in the French presence in Newfoundland. The French have a long history in Newfoundland; since the early sixteenth century, French fishing ships sailed across the Atlantic to catch, process and dry codfish on Newfoundland’s shores. This was  a seasonal venture for a long time, so the French didn’t live here year round. That all changed in the mid-seventeenth century, the French founded an official colony at Plaisance (now the community of Placentia).

Map showing the location of Oderin Island, and other places mentioned in the text.

Map showing the location of Oderin Island, and other places mentioned in the text.

I  was fortunate enough to direct an archaeological project at Placentia that explored the remnants of the colony for four years, and the project continues on today. I’m now interested in the French settlement that occurred outside of the colony—the unofficial settlements that were established in Placentia Bay, on the Burin Peninsula, and off the south coast of the island of Newfoundland.

One of these settlements was established on Oderin Island. We know it as Oderin today, which is an English adaptation of its original French name, Audierne.  Oderin is located in western Placentia Bay, about 9 kilometers offshore from the Burin peninsula.   The first reference to permanent settlement on the island is by two families, one of whom was the Lafosse family. Only a handful of historic documents mention the Lafosse settlement, and most of those don’t contain much detail.  This means that most of what we’re going to learn about the settlement is going to come from archaeology. Still, what we know of the Lafosse family from these documents is fascinating, and their story was one of the main reasons behind my decision to do archaeology on Oderin Island.  I think their story would make a fantastic movie, actually. It’s a complicated story, which means it’s a long one, so bear with me.

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