Features, features everywhere, and Artifact of the Day for May 16th, 2023

We are starting to run out of excavation time, just when things are starting to get interesting. We are rotating crew over to BcGn-28 to excavate with the Archaeological Liaison trainees, so the burden has fallen on those who are remaining!

We have many units down below the plough zone into subsoil where we can see features. Features are evidence of activity, and in our case are popping up as linear arrangements of rocks, cedar planking, dark stains in the soil, and concentrations of mortar or other artifactual material. In a Stage 3 excavation, which was conducted at this site during the 2009 field school, once you locate a feature, you basically describe it and then stop excavating.

Now we are doing a Stage 4 excavation, which not only has excavation units four times as large as the 1x1s of a Stage 3, but also has more elaborate instructions for how to handle features. Ideally we would be opening up all the units in a 2m buffer around each feature, but we won’t have time for that this season. So, some of the features might have to wait until we return and can do a proper job of understanding them. In the meantime though, that means we have lots of documentation going on site including unit forms, planning, and photography.

Lots of excavation and drawing plans on site today!
All the units with blue tarps in them are paused as they have features that need to be dealt with, and the unit to the lower right has a feature that might be a continuation of our drain possibly?

We ended the day a bit early as rain was threatening. It’s looking like tomorrow will be back to the cool temps like our first week!

Today’s artifact of the day was a bit of an old friend, and the first coin found on BcGn-17 this season! Mel and Jada found an 1852 Half-Penny token in their unit. I won’t go over all the details again of this artifact, as there are two blog posts already here and here from when we found two at our 2017 and 2018 field schools.

At the time these tokens were used for currency, Ontario was known as “Canada West”.

Quick pic in the field
And a picture with a scale in the lab.

The obverse of this coin has the coat of arms for Upper Canada, which was in use from 1792 to 1840, already obsolete by the time these tokens were issued!

The Great Seal of Upper Canada (1896 depiction from Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto with some idiosyncratic spelling!)

Upon the creation of Upper Canada a seal for the province was authorized by royal warrant dated 28 March 1792. The obverse was described as ‘the Calumet [North American Indigenous pipe] of Peace with the Anchor and Sword of State encircled by a Crown of Olives’. Above this is a representation of the royal crown. In the upper right hand was the Union Jack, on the seal of 1817 replaced by the new Union Jack of 1801 with the St. Patrick’s Cross. Below are two cornucopia in saltire.

Motto: IMPERI . PORRECTA . MAJESTAS . CVSTODE . RERVM . CAESARE (The greatness of the empire is extended under the guardianship of the Sovereign)

Legend: SIGIL . PROV . NOS . CAN . SUP (Seal of Our province of Upper Canada).

Our coin came from the unit where the possible cedar planking is, perhaps we are getting ever closer to locating a structure. It is in medallic alignment, so we know from this it had to have been struck at the Royal Mint in London instead of at Heaton’s Mint in Birmingham. 1 500 000 were minted in 1852, and we know where three of them are now!

Student Blog — Features and Creatures

Here’s another dispatch from Fraser! — Kate

This archaeological field school continues to be bountiful! As students, we carry on learning the complicated and detailed components of good archaeological research. Techniques for shining the soil, or best practice for shaping a unit wall are invaluable skills for us to learn, among countless other best practices.

Those with considerably more experience are applying their knowledge to enhance our endeavour, and our experience is the richer for it (thanks Michael and Grant!). The other leaders too are committed to their own learning, and foster an environment of respect and mutual support (Kudos to Kate, Dan, and James).

Tired and dirty, we dig on with a sparkle in our eyes. Part treasure hunter, part scholar, a good archaeologist maintains their fascination with our world, and its history. As we uncover features in our excavations, we hope to better understand what (and maybe who) was here so long ago. The features will (hopefully) unravel the mystery of BcGn-17. The curious and dedicated archaeologist could find herself checking her unit in the dark with a headlamp, if only in her dreams!

The Dedicated Archaeologist. Slaying all day, every day.
The Leadership Team at the End of Day briefing
Kate and Dan Supervising and Smiling!

The quest for the story of our site continues, unabated. Our somewhat nature(ish) location has also brought us closer to some curious local animals. The groundhog perhaps wondered why we were digging so inefficiently, and the ground-burrowing bird was protecting her nest from our steps. This group of dedicated diggers all seemed to have soft hearts for animals, vowing to leave them undisturbed (no quarter given to mosquitoes though).

Groundhog: “Shovels to dig? Amateurs.”
Killdeer: “Stay back from my nest, humans!”

— Fraser Williston

Student Blog — An experience like no other

Here’s a student blog post by Alyssa, who has some reflections on her field school experience so far! — Kate

I can hardly believe it, but we’re already at the halfway mark of the field school. The days have been going by so incredibly fast, I’m now convinced that the next time I blink, it’ll be time to say goodbye. And so, before that happens and this course becomes a distant memory, I would like to take the time to reflect on and discuss with you a few things that I have found to be most rewarding during the past two weeks:

1. The people I’ve met

I have always had the opinion that a course is nothing if it is not taught properly. Well, I can say with absolute certainty that this course is not lacking in that department. Not only are the professors extremely knowledgeable, but everyone else involved with both teaching and supervising us is also very approachable and delivers the content in engaging and interesting ways. This has made the experience so far not only highly informative but hugely enjoyable. In addition to the professors, I have also loved meeting the fellow students in my class. I find myself learning a lot from them as well, and it’s a joy to hear about their different backgrounds and career aspirations.

2. Working outside

While this may seem like a small thing, for me it’s possibly my favourite aspect of this course. Spending my days working in a beautiful field and then coming home tired in the best way possible is so rewarding but unfortunately not something that I get to do very often in my usual day-to-day life.

3. Learning archaeology and finding artifacts!!

Last but definitely not least, I think the content learned in this course is very valuable. I believe the in-class learning about dating practices for different artifacts coupled with hands-on learning about field methods offer a fantastic, well-rounded knowledge base to use in a future career in archaeology.

As for artifacts, every single discovery has been very exciting for me. It’s so interesting and rewarding when I’m able to find artifacts that help explain the history of the site, such as the sewing scissors pictured below, and I still do an inner happy dance whenever we find even the smallest piece of ceramic.

I’m now on a mission to find the second half of these scissors.
A head of a spoon that I found.
Here is a piece of ceramic with a lovely design!

While these are the things that have stood out to me the most from the experience so far, I have no doubt that my list will grow as the remaining weeks pass.

I want to finish this by saying that if you have an interest in or are studying archaeology, I highly recommend you consider participating in a field school. I have a feeling you wouldn’t regret it!

— Alyssa Fleury