In today’s student blog contribution, Collette discusses what we can learn from excavation and other archaeological recording techniques like drawing elevations. — Kate
Today some of us were excavating, some were doing stage 3 pits and some were drawing and planning the walls that were exposed of the house we are looking at. I was drawing the east side of wall 1 which is where the construction of the house may have started. It is important for these walls to be drawn because it shows us the construction of the house. The plans and drawings are used for comparing other plans to other sites, the way the building was constructed and finding the purpose of the building.
The walls of this structure are made from stone which indicates potential social status of the people living in the house. Back when this house was built which was in the 19th century, it was a luxury to have houses made from concrete because it was expensive while most structures were made from stone. Therefore, the walls of this house indicates that this structure was a house and that this family may have been middle class in terms of status.
It is also important to understand how these walls were built in order to understand the logic behind the workers constructing the building. Different methods may be used for different buildings as well as certain materials are more expensive than others therefore, the workers may have been trying to construct a building safely while using the resources they had.
Houses that belonged to the more wealthy may have been made from concrete which demonstrates the differences in methods and materials when building homes and other structures. We also use these plans to see if we can construct buildings today using the same methods and materials they had back then.
It was a bright and warm day today, perfect for shifting gears on site. We started diversifying, with some students beginning their assessment units. These are 1x1m excavations that are very typical in contract archaeology work.
Our project on the structure is a block excavation, which means we are excavating large areas of the site in order to answer particular questions of interest to us such as the sequence of wall construction, or the timing of the use of the site.
In contract archaeology, an archaeologist is contracted to perform an archaeological assessment because of proposed development. The archaeological investigations are divided into different stages.
Stage 1 is a background study of a site to determine the archaeological potential. Stage 2 is a sampling of the proposed development area by digging 30cm test pits every five metres into subsoil and collecting any artifacts that are present. Depending on what is found, the archaeologist can either recommend that no further heritage concerns are present, or it is necessary to gain more information by a Stage 3 assessment.
Stage 3 generally involves test excavations of 1x1m units over a five metre grid spacing in order to discover the nature and extent of a site, and to see if the site has enough cultural value to warrant a Stage 4 designation. Stage 4 means that either development plans are altered to avoid impacting a site altogether, or, the site must be completely excavated.
So, part of the students’ portfolio in this field school is learning how to lay out and excavate Stage 3 units, because that is often what you spend the summer doing if you are hired by a company to be a field tech.
Back in the structure, we shifted some people over to drawing, in particular Stephanie and Collette were working diligently at drawing elevations for certain of our wall sections. James got in on the action as well and filled in some of the newly exposed walls in our master site plan.
That doesn’t mean that excavations had stopped completely, though!
Today’s artifact of the day was another coin (although it was a tie between that and a bone toothbrush so stay tuned for a special post on that because it deserves its own mention)!
Like the other 1852Half-Penny Tokens, this coin was made for the Bank of Upper Canada. It’s in coin alignment, which means it was minted at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham, UK. Like the Half-Penny, the face of this coin has St. George slaying a dragon. The 1854 coinage has two variants, one with a plain “4” and one with a crosslet “4”. Ours is the plain “4”!
If you want to know more about every tiny variation in these coins, please check out this 1934 work by Eugene Courteau, M.D.
As I mentioned previously, a compromise Currency Act was passed in 1853 and proclaimed on 1 August 1854. This act meant that dollars and cents could be used in provincial accounts as well as pounds, shillings, and pence, and were recognized as units of Canadian currency. The final coinage struck by the Bank of Upper Canada was in 1857, as by then they were more seriously discussing the total adoption of a decimal currency. By 1863 the Bank was complaining bitterly that they were not able to disburse their remaining stock of coins due to the shift to the new system. Post-1867, some were able to reach circulation, but the majority of them had been bought by the government and stored as copper bullion! They were melted down in 1873 under government supervision.
If you are interested in the development of Canadian coinage, please check out this excellent booklet published by the Bank of Canada.
Unfortunately, this coin was found in the basement, in a disturbed context. So, even though it is from 1854, which is the year that Charles Perry opened his Nassau Mill, it doesn’t tell us too much other than that.
Here’s Wayne’s impressions of the field school experience to date, and his insight into the relationship between the traces preserved in the archaeological record and how we can reconstruct past human behaviours and experiences. — Kate
This place doesn’t have an address, just a reference number. We, archaeology students, were introduced to it in pictures that were more than 100 years old. It wasn’t the focal point, just a bystander caught in the background of important buildings, in Nassau Mills.
As I first approached the fenced area, its remains simply displayed as low rows of organized stones. The previous work of other students had partially revealed some of its features, but there were missing pieces. A more careful observation showed these weren’t just neatly piled stones, but the work of skilled craftsmen. The walls ran straight, their thickness fairly uniform, their corners precisely perpendicular. One section was recessed with a large stone jutting out, as if it was a welcome mat. Could that be a doorway, into the former owner’s house? The visible walls seemed to be where my eyes and attention focused, but they created closed spaces that had provided shelter to its inhabitants. Somebody, or several somebodies, used these empty spaces. The obvious question is: How?
As archaeology students learning field techniques, it was going to be our task to help uncover more information about this place, and who called this home. After several hours of careful shoveling and scraping away soil, a new section of wall and a corner started to appear. This additional section gave shape to another part of the remains that had stayed hidden since the upper portion had withered away.
Mixed into those scrapings, retrieved with respect and care, were little pieces of people’s lives, hinting at how they lived. Square and round nails, a broken metal file, a few pieces of broken tableware, an 1852 coin, and bits of glass were uncovered or retrieved from the screened soil. Finally, parts of a child’s “tea set” surfaced.
It surprised me that in only a few days, I was starting to gain insight into some details of this house’s history. It causes me to wonder what I have similarly left behind in my existence that might reveal that I lived somewhere. I can only imagine that my lost or discarded items are less likely to become an archaeological puzzle, as this early settlement house in Nassau Mills, Ontario, is for us.
Is there someone reading this that had grandparents, familiar with the area, that could give a family’s name to this old home?