10 Weeks of Excavation: Masters Research & Negative Results

This post could have been written ahead of time, since I was pretty aware of what we were going to do on site today, but I was delighted when I realized that the 2017 Day of Archaeology fell on the last day of my excavation in Ferryland, Newfoundland. Not only the last day of the dig, but the last day of the second (and final) season of fieldwork for my Masters degree!

Sitting at the top of a new trench with my Death Positive shirt. Photo by Ian Petty, 2017.

I’m Robyn Lacy, and I am an MA candidate in Archaeology at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. I am a historic mortuary archaeologist, and sometimes something of a landscape / geo-ish archaeologist as well. Basically, I rarely examine material culture in my research unless it comes in the form of a burial carving or sculpture (gravestones) and spend most of my time looking at maps, aerial images, and stratigraphy. My MA research explores the spatial relationship between 17th-century colonial burial grounds in British settlements in North America, looking at how the burials were situated with relation to the settlement area itself, and structures and spaces that it might be associated with. I used that information build a statistical frequency analysis model to look for patterns in the placement of burials in similar settlements, and applied that information to Ferryland, Newfoundland to aid in the search for the early 17th-century burial ground at the enclosed settlement. The so-called ‘Colony of Avalon’ was founded in 1621 by George Calvert, the First Lord Baltimore, and my project was to be the first systematic attempt to locate the burial ground from that first group of settlers.

In 2016, I ran an excavation at Ferryland for 6 weeks over the summer. The excavation locations were guided by the statistical analysis, archaeological evidence from the past decades of research at the site, and a 3 day GPR survey to narrow down areas to put our trenches. While we tested a load of the site, covered much unexplored ground, and learned a lot about how Ferryland was constructed, we didn’t manage to locate any evidence of human burials to the east or the south of the settlement. I resolved to return in 2017, as we didn’t have a chance in 2016 to excavate in the most highly-probable location, according to the statistical model: Inside the fortified settlement itself!

Map made by Robyn Lacy and Bryn Tapper, 2017. Excavation area for 2017 indicated by the circle. Excavation also extended directly south.

This year I once again called for the aid of volunteers, and readied myself for the additional 4 weeks of excavation! This was a big choice to make, since waiting to do another season of fieldwork would delay when I could finish my thesis and push back when I could submit to reviewers by several months. Doing this means I’ll also have to pay continuance fees this fall (which is the really unfortunate part), but I just couldn’t leave those areas untested!!

View from the bastion at the Colony of Avalon, Ferryland, Newfoundland. Photo by author, 2017.

Within the first two weeks of the dig this year, we had already covered all of the areas that I’d planned for the entirety of the 4-week excavation, and with no sight of burial shafts in the subsoil, I was left scratching my head for a while. It would be a long shot, but it was decided that we would sink two trenches into the side of the bastion, the large artificial mound in the southeast of the settlement that once held cannons to defend the area from marauding pirates! This was very exciting, since the bastion itself had never been excavated other than a small portion on one side so we had no idea how it was constructed. What we did know, however, was that stacked up layers of sod were in some way part of the construction. The reasoning was this: If the mound was built from sods and loose soil, it would be easier to bury the bodies of people we know died in the winter in a freshly thawing previously-dug mound than into the hard, rocky ground that Newfoundland has become famous for, right? Fingers crossed??

South wall of unit E88 S23, showing very pronounced layer of sorted stones. Photo by author, 2017.

The trenches we dug were very soft to begin with, nearly no rocks to be found…but that quickly changed. Within a few cm from the surface, my volunteers in the trench west of my unit were coming down on a layer of well sorted, quickly deposited cobbles and boulders. It was a quick deposition, with next to no sediment between the rocks leaving spaces large enough to sink your hand into! This was either part of the fill for the bastion, in which case there wouldn’t be burials in it by a long shot, or something was made of a pile of rock on top of the mound that had later been pushed over, in which case there might be burials underneath it…either way we’d have to dig through to find out!

Yesterday, we reached the bottom of the rock layer and in the unit pictured here, E88 S23, we were met with a layer of clay, with black decomposed sod underneath it. And guess what? There was a piece of wood in the middle of the layer too, burned on one end and nearly decomposed, but wood none the less! This was amazing, organic material doesn’t survive well at all in this region because of the acidic soil! That was the highlight of yesterday as we finished up the trenches an prepared them for photography.

Day of Archaeology:
It’s Friday at the dig, and the very last day of my Masters excavation. The trenches on the bastion had gone down as deep at 1.5m in several places with no sign of subsoil beneath the fill; instead we only found layers upon layers of sod and clay, with loose-packed stones between them going endlessly down. It would have been unsafe to keep digging down with such loose walls, and I resolved that we should call it on Thursday afternoon. While this tells us a lot about how the handful of settlers built this massive earthwork in the 1620s, it doesn’t tell us where they were burying their fellow settlers’ corpses. Yes, the bastion was negative for human burials…

Trench 7 refilled. This was the deepest of the trenches dug during my project! Photo (and replaced sods) by author, 2017

Today was spent, instead of madly recording a last-minute find as is often the case in archaeology, by back-filling the trenches on the earthwork in the morning sunshine. This is always the worst part of an excavation. Not only is back-fill pretty physically demanding, but you have to slowly watch all of your progress vanish before you very eyes. I find back-fill a bitter-sweet end to an excavation, but there is definitely a feeling of satisfaction when you did good job (or a mediocre job) getting all of the sods back in place.

With the help of my amazing volunteer team and a few extra hands from around the site, we had the trenches back-filled by lunchtime and after surveying our work with a sigh of relief that it didn’t take any longer than a few hours, headed off to Ferryland’s ‘Tetley Tearoom by the Sea’ for a much deserved Friday lunch!

After lunch, I had some paperwork to do, which isn’t very exciting so I didn’t actually end up taking a photo of it for this post, and my team measured some of the backlog of artifacts from the excavation. There really weren’t very many artifacts to measure though, considering we’d found nearly nothing over the last two weeks. This was due to the bastion itself having been built so early in the European occupation of the area that there weren’t any historic artifacts to find! If we’d found the old ground surface, there may have been potential for very early indigenous artifacts, but we didn’t have that luck!

With that, my 10 cumulative weeks of excavation at Ferryland were finished. While I didn’t location the 17th-century burials, we know so much more about where they are not buried which has removed the questioning of ‘is there a burial ground here?’ from a lot of different places at the site. While of course I’d love this post to be photos of beautifully preserved graveshafts, my results are very useful to our understanding of the site and I’ve learned the true value of the phrase “Negative Results are Still Results” over my time at Ferryland and throughout my MA program!

If you are interested in reading more about my excavation, check out my research blog ‘Spade & the Grave‘ and follow me on twitter @robyn_la

-Robyn Lt

Day of Archaeology meets Digital Humanities

Hello.  My name is Megan and I used to be an archaeologist.

Now I am a digital humanist.  Only, I am not really a digital humanist.  I am a fully paid up member of the only academic career path to rightfully start with a hastag – #alt-ac. Or alt-arc? Ac-ac?


I now exist in a central research IT department supporting archaeology, digital humanities, computational social science, HPC, and odd mixtures of all those things.  How does this have anything to do with the Day of Archaeology? Well, I hope today to contribute to the blog to demonstrate what is possible ‘after’ archaeology.  What type of work you can do from the outside of archaeology, which still supports the discipline and the goals of studying and protecting our past.

I was a founding member of the Day of DH blogging team and always started those blogs with an “I do DH, but I am not really a DH person”. So now, tables turned, I am starting a Day of Archaeology day admitting to not being an archaeologist, but a DH interloper.  Outside the fold, inside the lines, carry on, carry on.

Canada > Colombia #worldinterview #16

Canada > Colombia

Interviewee: Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas

Has the designation of UNESCO World Heritage sites affected the recent development of Colombian archaeology?

This designation has served to make archaeological sites visible, to give them an official status and in the majority of cases, it has had a positive impact on them. In Colombia, two archaeological sites have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites: San Agustín and Tierradentro. They also hold the category of archaeological parks and are under the protection and administration of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, ICANH. Thanks to Unesco’s designation they have received more attention from the state, which has meant a greater number of public funds for protection, outreach and research programs. In addition, there are specific archaeological management plans for each of these sites, that is, norms and regulations of what can be done and in what way.

On the other hand, many archaeological sites lie under urban centers that have also been declared Unesco World Heritage sites. Unfortunately, they have not received the attention and treatment they deserve. The historic center of Cartagena de Indias, for example, is itself an archaeological site. In this city, projects on conservation and restoration of building heritage have largely ignored the importance of the archaeological work.

Does the public have a different appreciation of the importance of pre-Colombian and colonial era archaeological sites?

To some extent archaeology in Colombia is synonymus with pre-Columbian while colonial archaeological sites are not clearly recognized. Archaeology in Colombia has traditionally concentrated its efforts on pre-Columbian sites, therefore, the importance given to historical archaeological sites is little when compared to pre-Columbian. On the other hand, legislation is stronger when it comes to pre-Columbian findings. Colonial era archaeological sites are under recognized, even if they fall within UNESCO World Heritage sites.

How do archaeologists work with indigenous and minority groups/communities when examining sensitive sites/material culture?

Human groups (whether indigenous or minority groups/communities) that inhabit archaeological sites or their areas of influence often tend to participate in archaeological projects as volunteers.In many cases, locals assist and engage in the excavation phase.According to legislation, archaeologists have to include as part of their research project a heritage management plan. Such plan must include an outreach program involving the participation of the local community. Archaeologists must raise awareness and provide information to the local community about the archaeological site, its importance, and how to protect it. Sometimes archaeologists offer training sessions to locals on issues related to protection of archaeological sites.

How does Colombia build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums?

Little efforts are being made on this regard. As mentioned in the previous response, archaeologists usually get locals to participate in archaeological projects. But, there is a lack of institutional programs to build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums. However, there are initiatives such as the Ministry of Culture, which, through the Directorate of Heritage, created the Cultural Heritage Watchers Program as a voluntary participation strategy seeking to integrate the communities interested in Cultural Heritage. Cultural Heritage Watchers are sometimes involved in archaeological projects and look after archaeological sites.

In addition, there are isolated cases of minority groups doing archaeology. I refer to the case of the Guambiano indigenous group, south of Colombia. A couple of decades ago, this group decided to do archaeology and use the results as useful tools for recognition and vindication of their identity and the territory they inhabit. Efforts are isolated but they do exist. I think there is a clear consciousness in archaeologists to make communities aware of the importance of archaeological sites but at the same time, there is a scarce or null governmental purpose of redirecting efforts towards this end.

About Jimena:

I am a Historical Archaeologist. My research interests focus on the study of material culture from late pre-Columbian and early colonial periods, particularly in Colombia (South America). I draw on theories from material culture studies and the archaeology of colonialism to explore, analyze and interpret the interaction amongst indigenous people, Africans and Europeansand the multiple cultural responses to contact encounters expressed through material culture. I have a particular interest in metals. I have experience working in Museums and enjoy exploring the different ways people can engage in the interpretation and preservation of cultural heritage. Currently, I’m working on an archaeological project, which aims at examining an exceptional collection of artifactual and biological data recently recovered in the Jesuit church of San Ignacio, a jewel of Spanish colonial art set in the historical district of Bogotá, Colombia. I received my PhD in Archaeology and Anthropology from University of Bristol (UK). I hold a MA in History from University of Los Andes (Colombia) and a BA in Anthropology and a BA in History from the same university.

Questions from William Moss in Canada.

Click the worldinterview tag for more interviews in this series.

Bermuda > Canada #worldinterview #15

Bermuda > Canada

Interviewee: William Moss

What is the biggest problem facing archaeology in Canada?

Canada is a federated country, similar to Australia. It is thus difficult to give a “Canadian” reply to each of the following questions as the situation varies from one province or territory to the next. There is no federal legislation specifically addressing archaeological questions though the Canadian Environmental Protection Act does include heritage resources in environmental impact assessments coming under its jurisdiction and Parks Canada has developed national guidelines. Canada has no equivalent of the European Charter for the Protection and Management of the Archaeological Heritage (commonly called the Valetta Convention) or the National Historic Preservation Act in the USA. Each province or territory has its own legislation, thus giving a diversity of approaches with varying levels of control, which, on a general level, I would consider as the biggest problem facing archaeology in Canada. On a more personal note, I would consider the lack of formal recognition for archaeologists – similar to that of England’s Chartered Institute for Archaeologists – as an important handicap for professional practice. This, however, is far from being unique to Canada.

What role do archaeologists play in holding those in power accountable?

This is a difficult question. “Those in power” is a very large and loose term! It can refer to political power, economic power, or even cultural hegemony though these are oft-times intertwined. It can also address relations at any scale of social organization from the neighbourhood to the nation. Finally, one has to ask: “Accountable to whom and for what”? Given these caveats, I would like to examine one example, that of the management of archaeological collections by one of the country’s few national bodies that has a heritage remit and that manages territory – and consequently archaeological sites –, Parks Canada Agency. Following the growth of Parks Canada’s network of historic sites and parks in the 1970s and 1980s, a series of regional collections repositories was created to support operations in regional facilities in the Maritime provinces, in Québec, in Ontario, in the West and in Ottawa for central operations such as the underwater archaeology program. Cuts to the Agencies budgets in 2012 forced the immediate closure of some regional facilities and planned on the centralization of all collections in a single repository in the National Capital Region. There was considerable resistance to this, particularly in Québec, from the archaeological community and citizens’ groups ( Opposition to this project was renewed following the election of a new government in 2015. Archaeologists and First Nations in the Maritime provinces have been particularly alarmed at the impending closure of the state-of-the art collections repositories and laboratories and the subsequent removal of artefacts nearly 1500 km away ( The provincial legislature in Québec, the Assemblée nationale, voted an extremely rare unanimous motion in February of 2017 ( Actions by concerned archaeologists at the grass roots level have shown that collections, research and heritage are first and foremost community assets before being considered as national treasures. The final outcome of this situation is yet to be known…

How do archaeologists work with indigenous and minority groups/communities when examining sensitive sites/material culture?

Once again, the differences in provincial legislation lead to differing actions and responses. The only pan-Canadian reply to this lies with the Canadian Archaeological Association’s “Statement of Principles for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Peoples” ( Each province or territory has its own approach. For example, in Ontario, individual archaeologists have a legal obligation to consult and involve Indigenous groups having a cultural affiliation with a site under investigation and guidelines have been prepared for consulting archaeologists ( In neighbouring Québec, the provincial government determines where and when consultation of Indigenous groups is required and does so on the basis of nation to nation discussions. Some institutions are very proactive. Sustainable Archaeology, at Ontario’s Western University and McMaster University, has an advisory committee comprised of practicing archaeologists and Indigenous representatives who take under advisement all requests for the consultation of collections held in this state-of-the-art repository and research centre. Many First Nations have created their own archaeological programs. In Quebec, the Avataq Cultural Institute – the Inuit cultural organization of Nunavik in Northern Quebec ( and the Cree Cultural Institute, or Aanischaaukamikw ( – are good examples among many more. Some governments are adopting programs to deal with repatriation issues. British Columbia recently allocated two million dollars to the Royal B.C. Museum to develop a repatriation program with First Nation partners, helping to bring back items that were taken without permission, confiscated from potlatch ceremonies or stolen from graves, as early archaeological programmes sometimes did (

How does Canada build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums?

The archaeological community is well aware of this need. The CAA created the “Weetaluktuk Student Prize”in 1983 in honour of an early Inuit archaeologist ( The Canadian Museum of History has administered since 1993“The RBC Aboriginal Training Program in Museum Practices” which offers professional and technical training for First Nations, Métis and Inuit participants. It is the only program of its kind in Canada and its goal is to develop ways for Aboriginal Nations across Canada to represent their own history and culture in concert with cultural institutions. ( First Nations’ archaeologists, such as Carrie Dan, are cited as role models by British Columbia’s First Nations Education Steering Committee for her exemplary career as field archaeologist and museum curator ( A resounding example of First Nations capacity is the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network award-winning series “Wild Archaeology”, co-hosted by Rudy Reimer of Simon Fraser University and Skwxwu7mesh Uxwumixw, Jenifer Brousseau and Jacob Pratt (

About William:

I have been Chief Archæologist for the City of Québec since 1985. Before that, I worked in England and, in Québec, for Parks Canada and the provincial Culture and Communications Department. A sessional lecturer at Laval University and a regularly-invited lecturer in Québec and abroad, I am active in several learned societies, such as the Society of Antiquaries of London, ICOMOS’s International Committee on Archæological Heritage Management or the Society for American Archæology’s Committee on International Government Affairs. The Society for Historical Archæology presented me the Carol V. Ruppé Distinguished Service Award in 2016. Locally, I have received awards from the tourist industry for organizing international scientific conferences. Laval University awarded mean honorary Ph.D. in 2014 for my contribution to the knowledge of, the protection and the development of Québec City’s archæological heritage.

Questions from Deborah Anne Atwood in Bermuda.

Click the worldinterview tag for more interviews in this series.

A Day in the Life with TRCA Archaeology

The Archaeology Team at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority is excited to participate in our first Day of Archaeology and share our unique experiences in the daily life of an archaeologist at the TRCA! The TRCA is currently the only Conservation Authority in Ontario to have its own in-house archaeology team, where we provide archaeological assessment services to all of the other business units at the TRCA. We hold an important duty as cultural heritage stewards to ensure that all cultural heritage resources, which includes built heritage, cultural heritage landscapes and archaeological resources, throughout our watersheds’ urban and rural landscapes are being responsibly managed and protected.  Our focus on preservation and avoidance of cultural heritage resources encourages the sustainability of local heritage and maintains past, present and future human connections to the land.

Our days start at the office, the beautiful Swan Lake Outdoor Education Centre and Centre for Innovation in Conservation, which we share with the Outdoor Educators from the York District School Board. Check out that view!

Our field crew will then set out to various parts of the GTA to conduct Stage 2 archaeological assessments for projects like erosion and restoration works or trail and park installations. These projects take us into great urban green spaces like the Don or Humber River Valleys, where it is very easy to forget that you are still in the middle of the City of Toronto and not up north in cottage country.

When we’re not out surveying in the field, our staff are busy processing all of the collected data and recovered artifacts, and maintaining field equipment.

Our Equipment Manager always makes sure we are never unprepared for our surveys and keeps the equipment in tip top shape!

The Geomatics team creates all of our mapping and figures, maintains our GIS database which records all of the projects we have done, and most especially, maintains the archaeological sites data within the TRCA’s jurisdiction.

We are very lucky to have many talented staff with their own specializations, who analyze and catalog each artifact that goes into our collections database.

Sometimes we need some more intensive background research, which means a trip to the Archives of Ontario or a local municipal archive! Here, our research specialist views all sorts of interesting data, such as geneology, census records, historic maps and photographs, and other information related to the past land use and owners of a property.

Our Report Writers then take all of these different components and bring them together to disseminate a clear narrative of our findings. The information must be compiled into a formal report for documentation and filing with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, who ensures that all of the provincial archaeological licensing requirements have been fulfilled.

During lunch breaks at the office, some of our staff staff volunteer their time to work on our “Historic Garden Project”, a new staff initiative/experiment implemented this year where we put our green thumbs to the test! We are trying to grow the same kind crops that the earliest inhabitants of what is now the GTA once cultivated, such as the “Three Sisters” consisting of corn, beans and squash by early Indigenous groups, and imported crops such as radishes and turnips that were brought over by European settlers when they began to immigrate to the GTA in the 1800s.

In addition to cultural resource management, we also run the Boyd Archaeological Field School, the only credited archaeological field school for high school students in Canada, as well as engage local communities during public outreach events, where we try to connect people to their local environment and the past. This year, the field school is running during the Day of Archaeology! As a bonus, you can read about what a Day in the Life at the Boyd Archaeological Field School is like here!

Want to see even more TRCA Archaeology? Visit our website and Like the TRCA Archaeology Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to see what we’re up to all year long!

Archaeological Analytics for American Archaeology

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Making North American Archaeology Googleable … 
and Shareable…. and Tweetable… and Pinable!


What is Archaeological Analytics?

Archaeological Analytics promotes public outreach on the web and social media for Archaeologists in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to turn our experiences into trending topics and shareable content. Hey- if a cute dog can have over a million Instagram followers,  SO CAN ARCHAEOLOGISTS!

Turning Archaeology into a Social Phenomenon

That’s easy… sort of! We know that managing websites, blogs, and a Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest page is a lot work… IF YOU WANT IT TO WORK FOR YOU. Web platforms are great tools for archaeologists to interact with the public at large. For example, a single post can reach thousands of people within a few hours. But, getting that kind of traffic depends on what your post, how often you post, when you post, etc.

You Photograph It, We’ll Make it “Googleable”

Archaeological Analytics created platforms for Archaeologists to share IMAGES of artifacts!  Images, in contrast to reports or academic articles, have higher ranking in Google searches and are one of the most shared formats in social media. Follow American Artifacts Blog for daily features of recently excavated artifacts. If you’re a professional, student or researcher, subscribe to Open Artifact and learn more about North American material culture through open access collections, forums and analysis guides.

Support North American Archaeology

Click the images below to learn more about our work at Archaeological Analytics. FOLLOW US on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
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Ontario Heritage Work: A Day in the Life of ASI

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 offer an array of services, including research, planning, design and management of all types of cultural resources.

We put together a photo essay showing the wide variety of work we get up to on a daily basis, and what we love about doing heritage work in Ontario!


First Comes the Fieldwork, Then Comes the Cleaning

My Day of Archaeology was spent following up on some recent fieldwork I conducted on the south coast of British Columbia.  Fieldwork is only one part of archaeological work.  The second and equally important part is lab work.  Lab work gives us the chance to clean up what we’ve just found in the field and look for all the little details we hadn’t noticed before.  Sometimes we end up finding another artifact in our muddy faunal collection.  Sometimes an artifact becomes just another piece of faunal bone.  You never know until you get those collections clean!

Me (brown hair) conducting the fieldwork that brought me to my Day of Archaeology

I recently spent some time in southern British Columbia as part of a large field project I’ve been a member of for a few years.  This year was different, however, because some of my own grad school research was also tied into our field season.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter or have read my blog, you’ve probably heard me talking about glass beads.  A lot of talking.  And a lot of glass beads.  This year in the field I wanted to do a little bit of follow up work by putting in a small excavation unit to try to better determine the stratigraphy of the area where the glass beads were found.  Or find out of there was any noticeable stratigraphy at all.  Research spoiler: there was, but it wasn’t the most noticeable.

During the course of this small excavation, archaeological finds were inevitable, given the rich history of the site and surrounding area.  Plus our excavation was going through shell midden.  In BC archaeology, shell midden plays a significant role and where we find shell midden we find artifacts and other archaeological materials.  One of the wonderful things about shell midden is that it preserves bone beautifully, so we often find a lot of fauna.  This small excavation was no exception to that.  In addition to the faunal bones, we also found one bone point, several small pieces of slate (which has no nearby source, so by default its presence is because someone brought it to that site), one more glass bead, and several small glass bead fragments.

My little cleaning station

These collections were brought back to Ontario with me (with full permission of the Indigenous nation we closely work with) and were in need of some cleaning.  Which brings me to my Day of Archaeology.  I started my day by pulling out my trusty cleaning tools and setting up a little cleaning station.  Some people go high-tech.  I like to stay low-tech.  All I needed was an Ikea clothes drying rack, a screen with some window mesh, a small plastic bin, a tooth brush, a toothpick, a small sieve, and water.

I started with the fauna first, seeing as how it takes the longest amount of time to dry.  Fauna can be a little tricky to clean.  If the cancellous bone (that spongey stuff inside of bones) is exposed it tends to be easily destroyed by toothbrush and water.  Other bones are simply too small and fragile to clean super thoroughly.  I put some of the bones into the small sieve and dipped them in the water to start.  Then, one at a time, I used a toothbrush to gently brush away the first from the bones large and sturdy enough to do so.  Following the fauna I turned my attention to the small slate pieces first, paying close attention to any sort of striations I might see on the surface of the slate (which indicates it was worked beyond simply being brought to the site).  My final bit of cleaning time was spent on the glass bead and bead fragments.  Using the toothpick, I carefully cleaned the dirt out from inside of the fragile, hollow bead.  I then carefully used the toothbrush on the small fragments.  Several hours later (you’d be surprised

The red fox mandible – notice the straight cut on the left side?

by how long cleaning can take), I had everything clean!

While nothing has been analyzed in depth yet, what I have I learned from the newly cleaned collections?

  1. We have a partial mandible of a red fox (which was determined to be red fox after consultation with several people online and via email)!  While red foxes are found in BC, they’re uncommon in coastal regions.  This mandible was also intentionally cut, which is something we might want to look into later!
  2.  There was a good variety of fish consumed, and species we’re all used to in BC – herring, salmon, and dogfish
  3. A juvenile seal was also consumed at some point (we found one of its vertebrae)
  4. We actually collected two artifacts!  The first was a very obvious bone point.  The second was a piece of bone that had been ground down as though it was en route to becoming a tool, but broke before it could be finished.
  5. The bone point had a neat, but unimportant feature to it.  The bone had been broken along the nutrient foramen (a small hole in bones for blood vessels that allow nutrients to be supplied to the bone marrow inside).  Because of this break I could clearly see the canal that the blood vessel rested in.  For a bioarchaeologist like myself, this was nerdishly fun to see.
  6. None of the slate pieces had any striations on them.  They were probably leftover pieces from whatever the slate was actually being used for.
  7. The glass bead was clear – no metallic interior coating like many of the other beads I had previously found.  That doesn’t mean the metallic coating was never there, it just means it didn’t preserve in the acidic BC soils.

And there you have it!  My Day of Archaeology!  It wasn’t the most glamorous or exciting of days, but not every day of archaeology is!  Sometimes days are a little more quiet than others.  It was the necessary step two of a three step archaeological process.  Step one, the fieldwork, is done.  Step two, the cleaning, is now finished (and drying).  Coming up next will be step three – writing up the research.  Which will require more than just one day of archaeology.

Do you see the nutrient canal on the side of this bone point? It’s that groove in the middle, moving towards the right from the top to the bottom!

This is not your Indiana’s Archaeology

Here we are, or some of us at least, finishing up our winter season. Yes, we know the photo is blurry. That’s typical, finally get the group together and the shot’s no good. This year ARA’s Day of Archaeology post is dedicated to those unexpected, unusual and unheard of moments in a field archaeologist’s day.

Let’s start with winter archaeology in Canada. You might think that’s impossible. Well, it’s tough, requires long hours of planning and ice cleats (but we did it!). The group photo shows the crew on the final day of excavation. You can’t tell exactly but there were many happy faces. Take a look at some of the photos below of the crew at work and rest during our winter season.

Archaeologists are experts at getting comfy in odd and dirt filled places.

Alanna shows us that sometimes getting that corner out takes a little flexibility.

Below, Steve is rocking some sweet twist tie fashion and using a rare sunny day to help screen for artifacts. Believe it or not, it was fairly warm in the tent at times.


When you move a lot of dirt it tends to accumulate in large piles and that makes screening a bit tricky but Marissa and Colleen have found a way to make it work.


Archaeologists will eat lunch anywhere, especially a free pizza lunch!

The next photos document our days long toil getting our site backfilled. When you screen for artifacts on blue tarps and then have to remove the dirt from them at the end everyone goes a little crazy.


At the end of all that you might need a friend to get you home after a long back breaking day, or at least Eric did.

When Spring finally arrived we found ourselves back in our normal outdoor setting. And of course working through a new set of challenges.  Jordan seems to be handling his rock filled unit with aplomb.

Dean on the other hand looks a little frazzled…












Meanwhile Andrew and company are having a tough time getting the grid established in the woods, but I’m sure they enjoy the challenge.

Finally, here’s another shot of Andrew’s crew. What happens when fog rolls in during a Pedestrian Survey? You take an awesome picture of the spooky setting, of course.

That’s it for our Day of Archaeology post!

Check us out at:, and of course @ArchResearch on Twitter.


A Day in the Life at Boyd Archaeological Field School

The 40th season of the Boyd Archaeological Field School (BAFS) is almost coming to a close and we wanted to share the experiences of the field school for Day of Archaeology 2017!

BAFS is Canada’s only high school credit course where students have the opportunity to participate in real archaeological fieldwork and earn an Interdisciplinary Studies University Preparatory (IDC4U) credit during this two-week long program, offered by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) in cooperation with the York Region District School Board. Since 1975, more than 1,200 Canadian and international students have experienced archaeology through BAFS.

We have found more than one million artifacts, and documented past settlement and activity patterns at several Ontario archaeological sites over the years. This year, students are investigating the Sebastien site in Pickering, Ontario, which was once occupied by the ancestors of the Huron-Wendat First Nations.

During the field school, the students’ days alternate between excavating at the site and classroom studies. While on site, students are taught basic excavation techniques and fieldwork methodologies by TRCA Archaeology staff members, several of whom are alumni of the BAFS program themselves! Over the course of the two weeks, students are then responsible for the excavation of two one-metre by one-metre square units, where they are able to practice and apply their newfound skills under the (very close) supervision of staff and volunteers. In addition to learning about the practical aspects of “How-to-Do” archaeological fieldwork, they are also taught “How-To-Think” like an archaeologist. Students are encouraged to apply their critical thinking abilities to make inferences and exercise their interpretive skills by thinking about how objects may find their way into the ground, consider the people who left them behind, and how their lives were integrated with the artifacts themselves. This allows students to achieve a holistic perspective and interpretation of the site.

When they aren’t working on site, students engage in experiential learning projects that appeal to both academic and applied learners.  Classroom instruction includes lectures by Indigenous speakers and leading professionals, workshops and seminars, as well as hands-on experience in ancient technologies.  The students gain an understanding of the culture and contributions of Canada’s First Peoples, including current Indigenous issues and concerns.

One of the most popular components of the program are the two days spent practicing Archaic skills. Students try their hand at creating tools with only resources that were available over 5,000 years ago. For example, students can make a hunting spear, which requires them to flintknap a spearhead, cut down a small ash tree and debark it with only a stone scraper. They must also create twine and collect pine pitch for hafting the spearhead. Other fun projects include:

  • Basketry with cattails or grass and basswood
  • Fish traps and weirs
  • Collecting food and medicine
  • Fire starting kits
  • Bolas

Students who loved the course and are interested in pursuing archaeology as a career are invited to come back for a second year at BAFS as volunteers, where they have the opportunity to further their archaeological skills, continue gaining valuable field experience, and advance their cultural material education. In addition to participating in the excavation, volunteers help the staff check students’ screens to ensure no artifacts are missed, and assist students in mapping and documenting their units. On classroom days, the volunteers get to work in the lab and process the recovered artifacts. Here, they can then examine artifacts more closely and prepare them for final analysis by the staff.

BAFS has had an invaluable impact on archaeology in Ontario. Over the years, many BAFS alumni have gone on to pursue post-secondary studies, advanced degrees, and careers in archaeology, anthropology, and related fields. In 2005, BAFS was the proud recipient of the Peggi Armstrong Public Archaeology Award from the Ontario Archaeological Society.

Thanks for stopping by! If you, a friend, or know anyone who may be interested in participating in this amazing program,  Like the Boyd Archaeological Field School Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter and Instagram so you don’t miss out on registration for the 2018 session!

Curious to know what A Day in the Life is like for a TRCA Archaeologist? Read all about it here as we celebrate a Day of Archaeology!