Student Blog — Excursion to Big Island

Here’s Anthony’s impressions of our visit to Big Island. — Kate

On May 23 and May 24 the Field School undertook an out-trip to Big Island. Big Island, also known as Boyd Island or Chiminis. The first day was quite chaotic. The group was split between two different marinas creating a logistical issue for ferrying everyone to the island. James patiently took us all in three trips meaning we started later then usual. Once we all arrived on the island and gathered ourselves we began preparations for a full-group transect survey. We intended to walk in straight lines across the entire 3km expanse of the island. This quickly became difficult due to differences in instruments, dense terrain and overall confusion. Quickly the group became fragmented and the survey was compromised. After much confusion, and a long time waiting in the centre of the island for stragglers, we decided to call it a day and head back to the boat landing.

Anthony and Emma on the boat.
Anthony and Emma on the boat.

Day two was much more productive and fulfilling. After only two ferry trips to Big Island instead of three, we hiked up to the centre of the island with mapping equipment such as total stations and theodolites. These were used to map out the positions of the many cairns (rock piles) and white pine stumps in the central island alvar area. About two thirds of our group stayed in this area for the day, mapping out the multiple features. My group consisted of myself, Emma, Raine, Danny and Nick. We completed the transect survey where Kate had left off, on the 900 easting, at 10 metre intervals. The five of us hiked through some extremely dense brush. I cannot begin to describe the types of plants and foliage we managed to get through but it was thick, sharp and a strange dusty pollen was constantly in the air. While staying as straight as possible in our transects we would record any cultural materials, namely large pine stumps.

Anthony on the boat.
Anthony on the boat.

These stumps are the remains of massive trees that were logged over 100 years ago and thus culturally significant. It was fascinating how the current forest on the island is actually quite new as most of the island was previously logged and then used for ranch land. The stumps were a glimpse into the historic landscape. It was fascinating to me how much an area can change in a relatively short time. The island is now protected by the Kawartha Land Trust and thus has been left to become wild again. Our small group finally reached the northern end of the island and after lunch and a refreshing dip we began to search for the rumoured remains of an old house. We did not have much time however, and had to abandon our search to complete our transect survey. We once again hiked through incredibly thick forest finding virtually nothing except stumps and cairns. Some of these cairns were located in such thick parts of forest that it was hard to believe they were put their by some rancher a century earlier. They seemed much older then that, which led us to believe that Ancient Aliens had to be responsible. All joking aside, it was actually mind-boggling to try and imagine the original landscape of the island. All that remains of the prior island industry are a few stumps, multiple rock piles and some clearings, where its assumed cattle grazing took place.

Interesting tree formations on the island.
Interesting tree formations on the island.

We eventually managed to bushwhack our way back to the rest of the group. They had a successful day mapping out the cairns in their area. However, countless other cairns exist on the island, and it could take weeks to properly map out each individual cairn, let alone find them all.

Overall, Big Island was a ton of fun and super interesting. I’ve never taken a boat to school for any other class I’ve had so that was thrilling in itself. It was also a great experience to get out in nature and apply skills we’ve learned on site or in the classroom.

How many times do you say you get to take a boat to get to class?
How many times do you say you get to take a boat to get to class?

Being outdoors and exploring new areas is one of the reasons I’m interested in pursuing archaeology, so needless to say I really enjoyed myself on the island. Especially on day two where we actually managed to document a fair amount of information. I would love to one day return to Big Island and simply enjoy its tranquility and relative isolation. As the Field School winds down I find myself reflecting on the time we’ve had together. No doubt the Big Island out-trip will definitely be one of the most memorable aspects of a very memorable month! As a non-Trent student I can say I’ve more then enjoyed my time at Trent University and hope to return one day very soon.
— Anthony Miller

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