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.
Over several weeks in June, Archaeology staff at the Ontario Heritage Trust, an agency of the Government of Ontario, excavated a remarkable site in the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake: the Niagara Apothecary. Niagara-on-the-Lake played an important role in Canada’s early history as a center for economic, political, and military activity with notable events during the War of 1812. Today, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a popular tourist destination in the summer due to its proximity to Niagara Falls, its picturesque downtown core, and it’s placement in the heart of Ontario’s wine country.
The Niagara Apothecary was one of the earliest pharmacies established in the area and served the citizens of Niagara-on-the-Lake under various owners from approximately 1820-1964. However, the business was originally located on a different property, and moved to its current location in 1869. During the 19th century, pharmacies – or apothecaries- satisfied many of the needs of the local community. Not only a place where prescriptions were mixed and distributed, apothecaries also carried various merchandise items such as paints, candy, cleaning supplies, fabric dyes, soft drinks, train tickets and much more. Today, the Niagara Apothecary building maintains many of its original interior attributes, and while owned by the Trust, operates as a Museum by the Ontario College of Pharmacy.
This year’s archaeological excavations took place in the rear yard of the property, behind the apothecary building. Due to the location of the site, just off the main street of a flourishing tourist town in the height of summer, we had over 700 visitors stop by as excavations were being conducted. While a previous dig in 1988 yielded some excellent discoveries, nothing could have prepared this year’s crew for the incredible finds that were to come.
The first discovery this year was the remnant of a building foundation. From previous investigations and background research, it was known that several buildings on the property were constructed, demolished, and renovated before the Apothecary business moved into the building that still stands today. The brick foundation that we uncovered in our excavations may have originally been part of the existing building (similar to a semi-detached structure), as architectural evidence indicates that the rear portion of the building may have been larger at one point than it is presently. Built by 1834, it is possible that the building was altered to be a more reasonable size when it transitioned from a law office to an apothecary in 1869. Another possibility is that the foundation is the remaining evidence of a domestic structure that was once located in the center of the lot and was likely removed sometime in the 1860s. This possibility is based upon a map from 1857 that describes two residences on the property in addition to the building that remains today.
The second main area of note that was uncovered was a spectacular refuse pit which contained 60 intact glass pharmaceutical bottles, as well as thousands of additional fragments of broken glass containers. The extremely high yield of complete bottles was thrilling to excavate, as it allowed a look into the operation and procedures of the apothecary over the past 125 years. The bottles reflected many of the common items that would have been sold in the apothecary, such as Vaseline, Rose water, glycerine, Bromo Seltzer, malted milk, and Florida water. Also present were numerous containers for chemicals as well as prescription bottles. Another particularly exciting trait of many of the artifacts was that residue from unknown medicines were still preserved in the interior of approximately 12 bottles. Perhaps the most intriguing of these was a small glass phial, filled with dozens of pills! Residue analysis will be performed on these items by colleagues at the University of Idaho, and may yield interesting information about the ingredients used in the creation of medicines during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today, the Ontario Heritage Trust archaeology team is working to wash, sort, label, and analyze the thousands of artifacts unearthed during the Niagara Apothecary excavation. In addition to glass fragments, other types of artifacts such as nails, ceramics, pipe stems, faunal material, and a coin from 1820 were unearthed. As for the complete bottles, investigations are under way to learn as much as we can from these spectacular artifacts. Many of them are embossed which indicates where they were made and by whom, and their contents. Another interesting question is to determine why these bottles were discarded; particularly those that still contained drugs. We hypothesize that the refuse pit may be associated with a changeover in pharmacists that occurred in the early 20th century. As we analyze further, we are excited to see what other surprises the Niagara Apothecary has in store for us.
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.
The field season is over, the excavation is complete, the artifacts have been analyzed and the report has been all nicely written up. Now what? What are you supposed to do with all the stuff? This is a problem that has just about come to its breaking point in Ontario. Here, legislation dictates that the licensed archaeologist responsible for collecting the artifacts is also responsible for keeping the artifacts. Forever.
This in itself is no bad thing – it ensures that collections are not simply discarded after excavation, in theory preserving them for the benefit of future generations. However, there are no rules or systems in place for ensuring that these collections are kept in appropriate storage conditions along with all of the accompanying information necessary for understanding what the artifacts are and where they came from. Unfortunately, it takes money, time, and training to ensure that a collection is properly cared for and made accessible to the public. As a result, due to the significant financial burden that securing decent storage space often requires, many collections are kept in poor conditions, are separated from their provenience information, and are completely inaccessible to the public and researchers.
Sustainable Archaeology is an initiative aimed at responding to this issue. With two locations (one at the University of Western Ontario and one at McMaster University), Sustainable Archaeology is an archaeological repository and research facility which specializes in the storage, preservation, and accessibility of Ontario’s archaeological collections. Here at the McMaster facility we have both a dry and wet lab available for use by researchers in addition to our collection storage space. Unlike many archaeologists, our “raison d’etre” is not to conduct our own research, but rather to make it possible for others to do so.
Most of our time is spent ensuring that collections are kept in good condition, and that material can be easily found and accessed within the collection. Typically this involves researching the background of the collections in our care, assessing their condition, and repackaging them when necessary. Many of the collections we’re currently working with were excavated in the early- to mid-twentieth century, and have been separated from their contextual information over time. This means that sometimes we open a box to find a bunch of mysteriously labelled artifact bags without any clues as to where they came from or what the labels mean. This is where the detective work begins, as we use whatever information we do have left to track down the rest of the collection’s context. Sometimes we are lucky and the archaeologist will have published a paper or left us a catalogue which clarifies everything — then again, sometimes we’re unlucky and those hopeful looking blank fields in our collection catalogue must remain empty for the time being.
Complementing our collections work, lab technician Samantha Atkins is also hard at work pioneering a thin sectioning protocol for use with our polarizing microscope. Slicing archaeological material (such as stone, ceramic, and teeth) into thin sections and viewing them under the polarizing microscope, it is often possible to determine from where a natural material was sourced, or the season during which an animal was killed. This information can be extremely valuable to an archaeologist, and as such Sustainable Archaeology has put an emphasis on creating thin sectioning protocols that can help provide archaeologists with as much information as possible. In order to do all of this, Sam’s days typically consist of a mix of research and experimentation. Because archaeological studies using thin sectioning rarely describe the process of creating thin sections, Sam has had to draw upon other fields (such as geology) to inform her techniques, and is also beginning to assemble a network of archaeological thin sectioning experts. In between bouts of research and experimentation, Sam is also responsible for photographing artifacts and editing images to be featured in our digital resources.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (www.heritageburlington.ca). 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.
In 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.
To 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!
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 www.pinterest.com/araarchaeology and www.pinterest.com/araheritage.
Last week marked the completion of the 2015 archaeology day camp called Adventures in Archaeology at the Spadina Museum in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust’s archaeology staff. Archaeology began in the 1980s at the Spadina Museum and this is the 13th public archaeology camp taken place on this site as of 2015. The continuous public archaeology program conducted by the Ontario Heritage Trust and the City of Toronto at Spadina received the Peggi Armstrong Public Archaeology Award from the Ontario Archaeological Society in 2004 for providing opportunities for public participation in archaeology.
The Spadina Museum is a site rich in history and archaeology. It was originally built by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1818, who named it “Spadina” originated from the aboriginal word ‘Ishaspadeena’ meaning “a hill or sudden rise in the Land”. This original house was destroyed by a fire in 1835 and a second house was constructed on the site on the original foundations. Spadina was owned by the Baldwins for three generations.
Upon Dr. William Warren Baldwin’s death, Robert Baldwin took over Spadina in 1844. Then it was inherited by his son William Willcocks Baldwin in 1858, who sold the property to James Austin in 1865. James Austin demolished the house and rebuilt it on its original foundations. Spadina was then passed down to Albert Austin in 1897 where further work was done to the building such as the two storey extension on the northern side. The third storey addition and numerous renovations were constructed in the early 20th century.
Various archaeological excavations were done to further our understanding of Spadina. Most of the initial excavations occurred in the basement, across the property and near the house. Recent archaeology camp excavations yielded memorable artifacts such as a sleeve cufflink inlaid with turquoise, lapis lazuli, and mother of pearl found in the year 2010, a pre-contact Nettling projectile point uncovered during the 2011 excavation, and this year a Union Jack pin was recovered during camp. The recent focus of the study has shifted to locating the surrounding outbuildings originally present around the first Spadina house built during the Baldwin occupation.
Adventures in Archaeology is a summer camp giving children between the ages 10 to 14 a chance to learn and experience archaeology for two weeks. The children were not only taught how to dig, identify, and wash artifacts, but they were given the opportunity to understand what being an archaeologist is all about and how to learn from an archaeological site.
Though the Adventures in Archaeology summer camp came to a close for this year, archaeology does not end at Spadina. Any unfinished units dug by the children at the Spadina camp have to be excavated and completed according to the standards and guidelines established by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. These were completed by Trusts staff late last week.
Any of the excavated artifacts left unprocessed from the camp are currently being washed and sorted by the archaeology staff at the Trust’s archaeology lab in downtown Toronto. Washing entails the removal of soil from the artifacts to prevent further destructive effects of the natural acids within the soil. This ensures that the artifacts can be kept in the optimal condition to be preserved for research and future generations.
On this 2015 Day of Archaeology, archaeology staff is completing the washing, sorting, labelling and re-housing of the artifacts recovered this year as well as reviewing the field records in order to begin writing the report. In August, cataloguing these artifacts will further our understanding of Spadina through time and link our finds this year to the archaeology done in the past field seasons.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) is a Canadian-owned company that was founded in 1980 in response to increasing public awareness of the importance of Ontario’s heritage. With offices in Toronto and Burlington, we are the largest archaeological consulting firm in Ontario. Archaeological Services Inc. provides a variety of services including both archaeological and built heritage resource/cultural landscape pre-development assessments, large-scale heritage planning studies for municipalities, as well as Stage 4 salvage excavation of archaeological sites.
Below you’ll find a photo essay showing what we are up to on this Day of Archaeology 2014. Enjoy, and from all of us at ASI, happy digging!
It’s a beautiful FRIDAY, JULY 11, 2014 at Archaeological Services Inc. in Toronto and Burlington, Ontario, Canada.
One of the ASI Partners, Robert Pihl, examining some incredible pipes from the famous Charles Garrad collection (from sites near Collingwood, Ontario).
Great work on that unit, Sarah! It’s a beauty!
It’s hard for Dr. Katie Hull (Manager of Historical Archaeology) to keep her adorable Irish Wolfhound puppy – appropriately named “Indy” – out of the artifact box.
Here is a photo taken by one of the crane operators of part of the New Fort site at Exhibition Place, which an ASI crew is currently working on. The foundations are of the northern half of the East Enlisted Men’s Barracks – a mid-nineteenth-century barracks built by the British to compliment the garrison at Old Fort York Garrison Common. What you are seeing in this photo will eventually be covered in a glass floor leading up to the front entrance of a brand new hotel: guests of the hotel will be able to see the original foundations of the barracks!
The crane was about 80-100 feet high when the photo was taken, and the foundations shown are approximately 110 feet (30 metres) by 40 feet (12 metres). For a scale you can see the ASI crew in the lower right corner!
The foundations of the northern half of the building (far right of the photo) are quite intact: the brick walled room (left of centre) is a coal cellar and the brick structures just above and below the foundations are what is left of two brick-lined box drains. There is also a remnant brick pipe drain (immediate right of the stone foundations), however, it is currently underneath a nice thick layer of mud.
If you want to read more information on the New Fort site, which has been actively excavated by ASI for the last 6 years, visit the Featured Project section of our website: http://ow.ly/z0szT
Wes’ downtown Toronto crew hard at work excavating the New Fort site!
Nobody puts Wes’ crew in a corner… unless of course they are profiling the barracks’ walls.
Manager of Stage 1 and 2 Planning Division Projects, Bev Garner, on the phone with one of her many clients…
Senior Archaeologist and Manager of Western Environmental Assessment Projects, Dr. Andrew Riddle, answering emails on his phone. He is also the Manager of IT, so we suppose it’s quite fitting for him to be surrounded by two computers and a smartphone.
Here is our British star, Greg Pugh, working on a report when he is not out in the field on one of the richest properties we have ever worked on.
ASI’s Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscape Planning Division (phew!) work so well as a team that they find it hard to do anything without one another. They all wear glasses and read historical architecture books. It’s their thing.
The perfect juxtaposition of old & new on analyst Miranda’s desk. What a tea-riffic combination!
We are pleased to announce we have hired a new faunal analyst! Jackson also takes a lot of pride when selecting his office wear.
The lab was busy today sorting through a new historical site — looks like they’ve “nailed” it.
Here are Huron-Wendat representatives Melanie Vincent and Louis Lesage examining their material culture heritage at our offices in Toronto today.
Senior Archaeologist, Dr. Bruce Welsh, can’t get enough of history. He spends his lunch hour buried in a book.
ASI often has the privilege of working on a single site for multiple decades, such as the one pictured here. A quick glance through our records of this site produced this gem of a photo of Martin Cooper test-pitting the site in 1989. Years later, following in his footsteps, are Andrea Carnevale and Zeeshan Abedin, directing the salvage excavation of the site along with David Robertson and Robert Pihl. Stefan Jovanovich and Andreas Vatistas, pictured here, rounded off the rest of their team. Artifact analysis and the final report for the recent work are now in the process of being completed.
This is a great, albeit humorous, example of the roles and opportunities women have in the world of archaeology– not only to learn from but to also work alongside their mentors.
Ladies, keep digging!
Cleo LOVES maps just as much as her owner, Jonas; an ASI Geomatics Specialist.
Staff archaeologist Jenna hit the 3 pm wall. Thank goodness for her comically large Toblerone. Must. Have. Chocolate. Now!
Assistant Manager of Urban Archaeology, Thanos Webb, often spends his day on the bike surveying sites downtown. He’s gotten so good at it that he can bike, review maps, make notes and drink coffee all at the same time!
It’s a home office day for Staff Archaeologist Caitlin! Great slippers.
Our crews have a good time together. It’s pretty obvious.
A pretty great panoramic view of Amy and Erika’s historic site excavation.
Lithic Specialist Doug Todd’s sorting table. He’s got a primitive process.
Middle Archaic points that Doug has recently photographed. A lot of the material he has been looking at as of late comes from sites in Southwestern Ontario.
Check out that detail!
Chief Archaeologist and Managing Partner, Dr. Ron Williamson, examining an amputation from our excavations of the early nineteenth-century site of the first Toronto General Hospital.
Well, that was a busy day! Thanks for dropping by to see what we’ve been up to!
During the Day of Archaeology, our crew was carrying out a Stage 4 consulting excavation at Dundurn Castle National Historic Site in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The manor house was the 19th century home of politician and railway magnate Sir Alan MacNab, and the entire parkland surrounding the manor is a registered archaeological site, representing almost 9,000 years of human occupation. The site is also part of Burlington Heights, defended by the British military during the War of 1812. Our work is part of the ongoing management of this important archaeological and historical resource.
Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) is one of the largest archaeological consulting firms in Canada with over thirty years experience in the production and dissemination of knowledge concerning our past. We have over 100 full-time and seasonal staff members and three offices – two in Toronto and one in Burlington. Our company is divided into separate divisions and here you will find little snapshots about what each field director or division at ASI is doing at the moment. Enjoy!
From Field Director Robb B:
Today I was stripping on site. Now that’s not what you think it means. We began stripping/removing the topsoil from our site today in hopes to uncover settlement patterns. We started roughly 20m away from outside the limit of the previously mapped extent of artifacts (as determined by surface artifact scatter or test unit artifact drop-off). As we move northward and closer to the main concentration of artifacts, hopefully we’ll find some sort of settlement pattern!
The Gradall machine stripping the topsoil off Robb’s site.
Built Heritage and Cultural Heritage Landscapes is busy this week with projects that are taking place in Downtown Toronto, in the farming communities near Toronto and in a very old and historic area near Niagara Falls. The cultural heritage assessments that we do are a form of archaeology that takes place ‘above ground’. Right now, one staff member is working on cultural heritage evaluation of bridges in Eastern Ontario and even managed to find an old bridge in the middle of the bush! Another member of the team is developing a plan for salvaging architectural material from nineteenth-century properties that are slated for removal. Meanwhile, the team near Niagara Falls is exploring ways in which modern infrastructure projects can fit into a landscape that is associated with Canadian heroine Laura Secord and which still contains a number of important historic sites. And, in downtown Toronto a team is looking at how the built heritage of the city can be best preserved; their work will contribute to the establishment of three new heritage conservation districts in the city.
The incredibly talented (and good-looking) Built Heritage team.
From The Geomatics Team:
Today Blake is overlaying historical maps of Fort York dating back to 1815 and digitizing the buildings and features in Geographic Information System (GIS). This will allow researchers to examine the changes that have occurred at the Fort overtime. It will also aid officials to better protect their hidden archaeological resources should improvements within the fort be planned. Shady is working with CAD files provided by clients in GIS and he is mapping built heritage features and areas that have archaeological potential that could be impacted by different alternates of transit projects. The clients can take Shady’s graphics and avoid archaeologically sensitive areas and they can try to ensure that built heritage features are not negatively impacted by future development.
From Field Director Jes:
My crew and I are currently working on a stage three historic site being impacted by a service line associated with a wind turbine. The view is quite nice, with 7 foot corn on one side and a farm with animals on the other. Unfortunately, excavating here is like trying to dig through a rubber tire, but my team is tough and knows how to get things done! Below is a a shot of the crew as well as our monitors from Caldwell, Walpole Island, and Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
Jes’s crew on site beside the cornfields.
From the Special Projects Division:
ASI is also conducting excavations at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto at the site of the East Enlisted Men’s Barracks of the New Fort York. Eventually, the exposed foundation of the barracks will be placed under glass and featured in an entranceway to a new hotel.
In south-western Ontario, ASI is investigating dozens of new sites dating to between six and three thousand years ago in cooperation with Six Nations of the Grand. ASI is also currently documenting the artifact assemblages recovered over the last century from a number of Huron-Wendat ossuaries prior to their return to the earth as part of a large repatriation project planned for later this fall. The Huron-Wendat Nation, the University of Toronto, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority and the Ontario Heritage Trust are jointly participating in the project.
From Field Director Wes:
Our crew (Wes, Nina, Chris, and Kristen) have been excavating the remains of three outbuildings located behind the East Enlisted Mens Barracks at the New Fort Site in Toronto. The foundations of the buildings are partially intact, as are numerous brick and clay drains associated with the buildings. The first photo shows the remains of a brick and limestone structure built overtop of an earlier limestone privy building. It also shows that we are constantly having to battle ground and rain water! The second photo shows the remains of a brick sewer drain later replaced by a clay drain, both of which are beneath the limestone foundation of what was known as a Cleaning Shed.
The foundations and drain from Wes’s site.
From one of the Material Culture Analysts:
I come into our box filled office that I share with two other historic analysts and pull out the collection that I’m currently working on. Each bag full of artifacts is labelled according to its provenience and I work provenience by provenience to lay out each bag’s contents and assign a catalogue number to every artifact, and slowly my database grows!
Typical desk of an ASI material culture analyst.
From Field Director Stacey:
We have been working on a stage three pre-contact settlement. So we have been digging a 1x1m unit every 10m in order to determine how large the site is and create a grid of units across the site. When we find a unit with over 100 artifacts we will dig four more units one on each side, 5m away from it. So far we have found lots of pottery, fragments of chert (flint) and animal bone. We have also found evidence of the walls of the houses in the site from post moulds in the ground. Once we finish determining how large the site is, we will begin stage four, block excavation.
Stacey resting in one of her (very deep) 1×1 units!
From the Environmental Assessment Division:
Work continues along the expansion corridor of a major east-west highway north-east of the City of Toronto. Five separate crews are working on everything from test-pitting tree-covered and bug-infested lots to preliminary excavation of pre-contact villages.
One of five crews working on the transportation project east of Toronto.
Environmental Assessment teams are completing work on the sites of future wind turbines. First archaeology, then clean energy!
One of the crews excavating an area for the wind turbine project.
We are also currently excavating a portion of a fourteenth century ancestral Huron-Wendat village north of Toronto. Previously disturbed by road construction, ASI crews will be on site this summer salvaging data resulting from proposed road improvements.
From the TPOK Organizers:
On Thursday, July 25th, ASI hosted its bi-monthly lecture series, Two Pints of Knowledge (TPOK). TPOK started at ASI two years ago and has been a resounding success in drawing large groups of ASI employees out to its bi-monthly lectures. By covering a broad range of topics from lithics and pre-contact ceramics to present-day garbology and historic beer tasting, in an informal, company-sanctioned space, and often lubricated by a beer (or two), TPOK has created a space of learning and socialization within a corporate, CRM environment.
ASI staff and TPOK regulars listening to one of the Thursday evening talks.
The existence of such spaces is paramount to the well-being and sustained ethicacy of the CRM industry at a time when the deadlines placed upon the industry by their clients are making the existence of such events harder and harder to host. As the last line of defense in the daily battle to preserve cultural heritage, it is critical for contract archaeologists to keep up with the developing methodological and theoretical trends happening within the discipline. While life and bills and a full work schedule get in the way with much of the reading that goes along with the work conducted by our colleagues in university and public sector-based academia, facilitating a lecture series like TPOK allows contract archaeologists to spread much of the research work along them while bringing fellow-minded archaeologists together for open discussion. Thus, not only does TPOK allow for training and education in a socially-friendly format, it creates an open environment so that new conceptions on how best to approach cultural heritage management can emerge. It is our hope that TPOK continues to be a thriving success and that similar venues spring up in other CRM companies to advance the cause of heritage conservation around the world.
From Laboratory Services:
The lab is the entry point for all artifacts that are coming in from the field. We wash, sort, organize and keep track of all the artifacts excavated by ASI crews. Every day is different since we receive such a wide range of artifacts, everything from precontact lithic scatters to nineteenth century urban sites. Being in the lab we have the privilege of seeing the best finds come in from the field as well as discover the secrets of seemingly mundane artifacts. Today we received four bags of artifacts from the New Fort site, more specifically from privies associated with the enlisted men’s barracks (see Wes above).
We also worked on washing, sorting, and cataloguing some artifacts that came from various sites associated with a major east-west highway northeast of the city of Toronto. Two of these sites are villages from the pre-contact era, which include beautiful decorated pottery, pipes and stone tools. We also washed a small 19th century historic surface collection which had some nice decorated ceramics, a pipe stem, some bottle finishes and machine made nails. This surface collection will be analysed and catalogued in the lab, to determine if this site needs to be excavated further.
In order to keep up with all the artifacts that arrive from our 10 field crews we have a partnership with the University of Toronto’s Archaeology Centre where we rent a space in their building as well as hire archaeology students to wash artifacts. Right now they’re washing a collection from a redware pottery. Because the site includes all the refuse, misfires, and other cast-offs there’s a lot to wash!
A collection of pictures taken yesterday in the ASI lab and the U of T lab.
From the Toronto Survey Division:
The Toronto Survey division has recently completed the assessment of a project at the crossroads of two former concession roads in the Region of Peel. The subject property was comprised of a portion of a former landfill site and recently ploughed lands adjacent to a water course along the west perimeter. The former landfill portion of the site was deemed to have no remaining archaeological potential, while the ploughed lands were subject to a pedestrian survey at five metre intervals. Despite careful scrutiny no archaeological finds were discovered.
From Field Director Rob W:
Today our group is focusing on some rolling landscape. We were all thankful for the break in the heat and the rise in the windspeed as we searched for artifacts on the hills and valleys of our long-standing project. More field crews working on site together meant time for catching up on projects from across Ontario. Nothing improves the work day like running into old friends in a familiar place.
Rob W’s crew, Kiara’s crew and Jes’ crew working together on a slope!
If you would like to learn more about our most famous projects and artifacts, visit our website here.
Thanks for stopping by!