Penultimate Day!

It’s hard to believe that today was the second last day of the 2023 field school. The time truly has flown by, and I know that James, Michael, and I will miss seeing everyone’s faces next week!

Today was the last full day of excavation and we had several goals to accomplish.

At the Indigenous site, open units in the butterfly monitoring area needed to be finished and backfilled, and some new units were opened and finished in another part of the site outside the butterfly area. These have told us that the site is quite extensive and we look forward to working there in upcoming seasons (despite the horrendous poison ivy).

We had several visitors today, Tom Meulendyk from University of Toronto Scarborough came with some GPR equipment to see if we could determine the extent of the drain and maybe get a sense where a possible structure is located in the unexcavated areas of our site!

Dr Lisa Janz (UTSC) came to site with one of her PhD students Adiyasuren Molor (McMaster). Chief Mowat from Alderville First Nation visited our sites today as well as gave a presentation to the Archaeological Liaison trainees on wampum belts. Dr Laure Dubreuil from Trent’s Department of Anthropology came (bearing cake!) with Yumi Pedoe, our Trent Anthropology Graduate Program Academic Administrative Assistant.

Tom explaining how the GPR unit works. Note the unit he is standing on is the one we opened this morning!

Our big goal at BcGn-17 was to finish the open units and get the new 2×2 completed in one day. It was a bit challenging at first but then everything started to come together and we had a nice system in place to deal with screening the excavated material.

Like a well-oiled machine we had the coordination of shovellers, bucket transport and screeners!

By the end of the day we had finished the open units (apart from some paperwork), and confirmed that the rock pile did extend into the new unit, and not only that, it still continued to widen. Sheet metal, ceramic, animal bone, glass, nails, charcoal, bricks, and mortar are all pushed onto and into these rocks, which is maybe answering one question but posing several more!

We even managed to get to the point where we could do some trowelling back to expose the rock feature.

How many archaeologists can a 2×2 hold?

We didn’t quite finish it completely, but I am so proud of the crew today, they really came together and had a chance to demonstrate everything they have learned over the last four weeks.

Tomorrow morning we will focus on tidying any loose ends and then it will be time to close up the sites for the season!

Student Blog — Field School Reflections

Here are some words from Tim, who has been on a few of our past projects! — Kate

The past three weeks have been packed full of learning and experience from the Trent University archaeological field school, and it’s been great. All course participants seem to be enthusiastic about participating which makes the experience enjoyable for all. The field school has taught me a lot about the standards and guidelines for archaeology in Ontario as well as refreshed some of the knowledge I had already gained through other archaeological excavations.

The field school provides experience and the required knowledge to partake in archaeological excavation. For the most part, the course has been excavating site BcGn-17, an historic settler site, which is now known to contain an historic drain feature in addition to a well. Site BcGn-17 is situated alongside Pioneer Road, Peterborough, east of Trent University, Symons Campus. The site is on fertile land that had been clearcut, allowing for expansive farming opportunities. A new Indigenous archaeology site BcGn-28 has been opened as part of the field course, located on Trent University property on the Lakefield Road, on the northwest side of the Otonabee River. Both sites reveal evidence of past habitation and the habitability of the region. There was access to water, lumber, and fertile soils.

Excavating the units at these sites has been time consuming but enjoyable. Excavation is not for the faint-hearted nor the weak-limbed. Shovels are our best friends. The field we are working in on BcGn-17 contains, at least, 30-40 cm of fill soil. The top 10 cm of topsoil is outright disposed of before we reach a level at which the soil begins to be screened for artifacts. The number of artifacts which show up is high, especially since there is still not any clear idea of what the area might have been historically. The site continues to produce brick and mortar as well as what looks like planked cedar, but no foundations have been found.

The features that prove there was once construction on the site are the drain, the well on the edge of the farm field, and a post hole for a telephone pole installation. The drain itself is known to stretch on for quite a distance under the field, but what it was draining is unknown. Comprised of fieldstone, the drain also seems to have a segment in which brick and mortar is appearing. For the most part though, the drain is just stacked field rocks that have been reburied. It was most likely built to drain some form of building or cellar.

The smaller artifacts that have turned up are various objects that could be found in a garbage dumping zone and on a working farm. Various nails and spikes have been uncovered, including horseshoe nails which suggest the site made use of horses at some point. Glass, ceramics including large sherds of transferwear from dishes, pipe stems and bowls, and buttons have been unearthed.

As the field school draws to its inevitable close, I am still looking forwards to finishing as much work that we have planned as possible, including opening up a new unit. The drain continues to be a puzzle, although perhaps the planned new unit will answer most of the remaining questions. Otherwise, I think I need to come back and audit more field courses next summer.

— Tim Stumpf

Student Blog — Relationships with responsibilities: the role of the political in archaeological practice.

Teika introduces an important concept of responsibility that we must keep in mind as archaeologists. — Kate

Archaeology is a relationship between the present and the past; we are given a responsibility when we excavate, to tell the story of the material we discover honestly and completely. Archaeologists have and continue to betray this relationship often in CRM (Cultural Resource Management, ie. commercial archaeology) when the desires are to cut costs and approve development activities. As such, it has become clear that in the presence of a profit motive at least some archaeologists cannot be trusted to uphold their professional responsibility. Indigenous monitoring is the framework under which we attempt to keep the CRM industry honest.

At BcGn-28 we have been working alongside monitoring students from Curve Lake, Hiawatha, and Scugog Island First Nations. These students have been diligent, curious, and clearly well suited to the roles that they will take on after they graduate from this course. I will be incredibly lucky when in the future I get to work alongside them again. I came to field school on a leave from my commercial archaeology job; the goal simply to acquire my last half credit and get graduated. The relationships I can cultivate allow me to be both a better archaeologist and a better colleague.

We all have a role to play in the betterment of archaeological practice: as archaeologists by speaking up when we see dishonest activity by our colleagues or bosses, and as the public by making it clear to our politicians that changing the laws to permit the damage of sensitive material or sites are unacceptable. Archaeological material are a non- renewable resource and anti-indigenous political forces benefit from the destruction of this record. We must remember that when you are in conversation with a grandmother it is transformative to have a conversation with her granddaughter. Archaeology is political and must be viewed through this lens else we will as archaeologists perpetuate the systems who desire to harm both the decedents of and those we are in active conversation with.

— Teika Viducis

Student Blog — Notes from Mel

As I consider everything that I have learned in the past month I feel amazed, fortunate, humbled and enriched. I am very sad that this is the last week! I think that we have had such fun, that digging has not been a chore. I may go home filthy and exhausted, but I’m happy! I could not have asked for better team mates and instructors. As a mature student I felt nervous, but I have never met such welcoming people, sincerely!  I have more confidence now to pursue a career as a field tech. Furthermore, any mistakes made, were given extra consideration that evening so as not to be repeated.

Artifacts bagged
Washed artifacts ready for bagging
Animal tooth
Heavy residue sorting

Today, as the weather focused on rejuvenating nature, we had an opportunity to sort and clean artifacts and learn the tremendous potential of GIS. I feel so inspired. I took pages of notes in order to research more as time permits. To each member of this field school, I will miss seeing you each day! I hope to see you in a professional capacity in the future. A friend told me that everyone remembers their field school. I will certainly remember mine. I’ve loved it!

— Melissa Plavins

Student Blog — Notes from Michelle

Here are some thoughts from Michelle on the field school experience so far. — Kate

Today is day two of the final week in the field school run by Trent. Unlike a few of the students in the field school, I had no experience in the archaeological field. This experience has been amazing, and I got to learn things I couldn’t wait to do. The whole field school the weather was amazing, so we were outside as often as possible to excavate different units. We found in one of the units what appears to be either a wall or a drain, but we have yet to determine what it actually is.

The 6×6 unit with a line of rocks running through it. Two extra units dug out by different people.   

When we were excavating we were usually working in teams on the BcGn-17 site. 6 students were sent over to BcGn-31 site to work on 1x1s. Me and Abigail partnered up to work on the unit together. It was a fun experience to be able to work on our own units. We unfortunately never found any artifacts in our unit, but we did find a feature. However, because it was an assessment we just excavated and then back filled.

Michelle next to the 1×1
Abigail next to the 1×1
The 1×1 with a feature in the middle with a rock in it

I got to work with two different instruments when we were working on mapping artifacts on the field as well. It was very fun getting to look through the tools and try them out during my second and third week on the field. We got to use a Total Station and a Theodolite.

Looking at the coordinates of a flag
The TotalStation ready for mapping

One of my favourite parts of the field school was today working in the lab. We were all split into two groups, and we swapped at break. I was a part of the first group to be in the lab and working with the artifacts. We bagged already washed artifacts; I did two trays worth of artifacts. One of the trays ended up being artifacts that me, Kyla, and Kelsey excavated. After bagging them our group was divided once again. One group washed artifacts and the other looking through a tray full rocks and artifacts that needed to be sorted. I got to sort the artifacts out from the tray.

Tray of artifacts
Artifacts bagged
Tray of rocks and artifacts
Some of the artifacts from the tray

Overall, it has been an amazing experience and a joy to be able to be a part of this field school. I cannot wait to find work with CRM companies to be able to gain more experience and memories within archeological work. Thank you James and Kate for this amazing time.

— Michelle Rubin

Student Blog — Moving around the sites

Here’s Kyla to tell you about what it was like working on two very different sites during the field school — Kate

As we start the last week of excavation there is a building sense of anticipation for what else we will find as we open finish up our final units. Throughout the field school we have changed excavation placements. This has had a significant effect on our findings and our spirits. We have been finding so many interesting artifacts.

My first unit was abandoned due to the placement and I was moved closer to the center of the artifact distribution last week. The difference was immediately noticeable. It was the most artifacts that I have ever found to date.

For many of us this is our first field school dealing with historical artifacts and for others it is their first field school ever. So every find is exciting, throughout the day you will hear shouts from all over the site about something cool that has been found. A new exciting instance from last week was the discovery of some copper artifacts on the site.

I was moved to the new site today to do my evaluation. We have to walk into the site from the road. Unlike our other site we are off the road surrounded by woods.

This is a middle-late woodland site. At first I wasn’t hopeful of finding anything but as we dug down to 20cm we started to get larger and larger pieces of pottery, faunal remains, charcoal and some lithics. I am so sad that the field school is coming to a close.

— Kyla Richer

A rainy morning

We had some rain this morning, so we decided to split the team into two groups, one beginning with James learning about the applications of GIS and archaeology, and how all the archaeological information we have collected including maps, plans, artifact counts and spatial location are used in interpreting a site. The other group was with me, and we tackled some finds processing including provisionally tagging and counting washed material and washing some of the artifacts we have collected this season.

At break we swapped groups and that took us until lunch time.

Half of the crew washing artifacts!

After lunch, the sun had come out so we split the party again, with some going to the Indigenous site, and the rest with me to the historical site.

Work continued on open units this afternoon. Susannah, Justyna and Tim finished the unit they have been working on, and Adam and Kelsey jumped back into their unit (they had been at the other site). There is a dark middeny stain quite visible in the unit, where most of the artifacts are concentrated. This continues into the unit to the south which sadly will remain unexcavated this season!

Kelsey standing on the dark organic soil in their unit.

Alyssa worked on cleaning back her unit and drawing a plan and profile. Tomorrow she will be able to section the feature in the unit and draw the profile for that.

Sebastian profiled the wall of the drain in his unit, and tried to excavate deeper to see the bottom of the drain but alas the drain just keeps filling everything with water!

Abigail and Melissa worked hard on getting their unit cleaned up and down to the equivalent level of Sebastian. Abigail found water right at the end of day so that means that unit is done too.

Dramatic reenactment of Abigail hitting the water table

We were hemming and hawing about opening that new 2×2 since we had lost half a day of excavation time, but we decided to go for it. It will be all hands on deck tomorrow to get that unit exposed!

Tomorrow will be a busy day, as it is our last full day of excavation. Michael and his crew need to place a couple more test units tomorrow at the Indigenous site which need to be finished and backfilled by end of day. We also have some loose ends to wrap up before we are finished (most notably this new 2×2!), but I am pretty confident the crew can apply the skills they have learned and practiced over the past four weeks to get it done.

Student Blog — Reflecting on my time at field school

Here is a nice piece from Josh sharing some of his thoughts and experiences about the field school. — Kate

My experience with archaeological field school has been one of the most incredible months of my life, and for good reason! Since I was just a little kid, I’ve dreamt about becoming an archaeologist, and with this field school, I finally got to live that dream and see firsthand what it entails. Even though I come from a long working background doing remote work in all environments and weather, the experiences I’ve had in this journey have been incredible, and honestly, I am a bit sad it is coming to an end.

I started field school with a hefty amount of archaeological theory in my back pocket, but no hands-on experience to speak of. On the first day, while doing a historical tour around campus, I bent down to tie my shoelace and ripped my pants pretty bad right down the middle! Needless to say, not a good start. On the other hand, right from the get-go I started making friends who were all interested in the same stuff I was. In addition to that, I found that I got to know some amazing people and had an great time just talking about whatever came to mind and getting into the flow of what can be a fairly strenuous manual labour job at times.

During this field school, my primary focus was the central unit, and as it turns out, the deepest on site at 65cm in depth. I got to work with an incredible guy named Sebastian, and together we became fast friends and became equally attached to our unit as it sat right on top of a section of the stone feature that characterised the site. From laying down spikes to mark the corners of our unit, to actually doing the work of shovelling through topsoil and screening, and finally reaching the stone feature was all an interesting and thought-provoking experience. By the end, we even got to dismantle a small section of our feature, and see inside of it, which was a bit of a mind-boggling experience, as Sebastian pointed out that we were the first to see into this stonework for over 150 years.

Additionally, I was able to test my skills in various other ways, from making a separate 1x1m unit, to helping to clear an old well, to simply enjoying the beautiful days outdoors. These are the kind of experiences that I personally will never forget, and having James, Kate, Dan, and Michael as our supervisors was so much fun. It was nice to joke around with them and be able to ask questions regarding archaeology in a very practical way which has helped me gain a clearer understanding of the state of Ontario archaeology more-so than any class I’ve been in so far.

Besides these incredible experiences, it has really driven home that this is exactly what I want to do, and while not every day will be easy or even enjoyable, the nature of the work resonates with me in a way nothing else has before. I can’t wait to further my academic career, and eventually my working career in a field that so far has brought me so much joy. And if the people along the way are even half as fun as this group, I know it’s going to be an amazing journey.

–Josh Hesse

Student Blog — Field School Reflections: The Beginning of the End

Susannah has some moments and photos to share about her field school experience. James, Michael and I weren’t able to make it to laser tag, looks like we missed out! — Kate

Today marks the first day of the last week of our field school.

At the beginning of the course, most of us had never met and many of us had yet to experience archaeology in the field. In our first week, we were introduced to one another, and the BcGn-17 site. We walked the freshly ploughed field and flagged the artifacts at the surface, excited for each person who called out a ‘find’. Later on in that first week, I worked with Justyna, Cierra, and Alyssa to map and collect some of the artifacts we had found during our pedestrian survey. Even though it was raining and overcast, we still had a great time learning to use the theodolite and getting to know each other.

Cierra, Alyssa, Susannah and Justyna mapping in surface finds.

Over the next two weeks, we opened up a number of 2m x 2m units, which we excavated in groups of two or three. I teamed with Tim and Justyna to excavate a 2×2 and we were excited by the many artifacts we uncovered! My favourite artifact I found was a fragment of a pipe bowl that had an anchor on it.

The first 2×2.
Pipe bowl with anchor.
BcGn-17 site

During the third week, I had the pleasure of helping out at the Middle Woodland site along with some of my fellow field school mates, and the Indigenous Liaison trainees. Not only were the people lovely (I especially appreciated Rob’s great laugh!) but the material culture was fascinating.

Photo of Janet, Justyna, and Susannah working on a 1m x 1m at the Middle Woodland site.

Later on in the third week, I returned to the historic BcGn-17 site to further excavate the drain (originally thought to be a wall) with Grant and to learn how to use the Total Station. Mel, Michelle, Tim, Alyssa, and I were assigned a mapping assignment where we were asked to map a simulated lithic scatter. We used the Total Station to get the coordinates of each marked ‘artifact’ and then drew out a to-scale map of the scatter. While it was tedious work at times, we managed to have lots of laughs! The mapping exercise was good practice because Tim and I later had to use the Total Station to map the uppermost stones making up part of the drain.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a wall … no it’s a drain!
Grant and Susannah’s progress excavating a portion of the drain.
Michelle, Susannah, Mel, and Tim posing for a photo mid-mapping exercise.
Total Station coordinates for each stone making up the drain (Feature 2) plotted in QGIS.

Now, nearly four weeks later, we have transformed from a group of strangers, uneasy in the field into a friend group of confident, early-career archaeologists.

The gang having a blast at laser tag!

While I’m sad this experience is coming to an end, I’m looking forward to what we’ll learn about the site in the final days of the field school and to keep in touch with the great group of people in it. 

— Susannah Clinker

Preantepenultimate Excavation update

We are down to the last few days of the field school, specifically, the fourth last day!

We had quite a lot of rain on Saturday, and we arrived this morning to BcGn-17 to find the drain is continuing to do its work, even though we have punched some holes in it! A little bailing was necessary to continue some recording but over the course of the day it filled back up with water.

The lovely water feature!

It was a very small crew here at BcGn-17 today, as we had a lot of people over at the Indigenous site helping to finish and backfill open units and shifting the excavation grid to open new units outside of a monarch butterfly monitoring zone. We have a little time before the monarchs fly up here, but the field school time is running out!

Our tasks today were to continue open excavation units, clean and trowel back the drain excavations, and do any feature profiling that was ready. We had a visit after lunch by Dr Leigh Symonds (who sometimes teaches for us in the Department of Anthropology) and some students from the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, it was nice to see how interested they were in archaeology and they had some good questions for our crew.

We poked a bit at the wood and have decided it is large planks with mortar between and underneath. Perhaps part of a structure wall?

We have also decided to open up another 2×2 since we are so intrigued by how the top end of the drain seems to turn and expand into a larger rock pile with brick and mortar. This may be flying a little too close to the sun but we can’t resist squeezing in one final unit and getting a peek to the west.

This will mean all hands on deck tomorrow and Thursday but we are confident we can do it!