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?
— Wayne Hingston