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

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

Student Blog — My experience and tips

Sebastian shares his experiences and lessons learned during the field school to date. — Kate

Since Nassau Mills was the first archaeological site I’ve ever worked on, I had no idea how I would manage, and what to expect from the work. After three weeks I am glad to say that fieldwork is rather rewarding work. The main project I have been working on is digging up a tarp that contained a feature that was originally excavated in Stage 3 back in 2009 with my friend Josh. 

Tarp appearing during excavation.

To our surprise, the feature was originally thought to be a wall, but turned out it was a drain! Removing the rocks to see the inside of the structure showed that there was no mortar binding the rocks together and they were placed loosely. The reason that the rocks were placed loosely in the subsoils is so that water could easily flow in between the rocks. 

Sebastian sitting beside the top of the drain.
Drain after top layer of rocks removed.

The drain has been discussed at length, but the common opinion is that it was a basement drain, built to prevent flooding. Right now Josh and I have the feature down at least 60 cm and the rocks continue to go down. Kate told us that drains at this time could be 3 to 4 feet in length. Regardless I hope that our last week of field school shows just how deep the structure goes, and perhaps where the drain connects to. 

In conclusion, I wanted to give some point-form tips on things I’ve learned that helped with productivity and techniques to do while digging and screening units.

Learn how to draw at least the basics: I had a professional archaeologist tell me once that if I wanted to be an archaeologist I needed to learn how to draw, and they were so right. A significant part of archaeology is drawing plans of the units, features within the unit and artefacts of significance. While there is a saying that a picture can describe 1000 words, it cannot provide as many required details as a drawing possibly could. An example is this unit here, the right side is 30 cm deeper from the left, but the picture could never tell you that. 

Bisecting excavation unit and isolating the drain feature.

Trowel using your elbow and not your wrist: hours can be spent within a unit troweling away which can put significant strain on the wrist. Using the elbow to trowel relieves the stress on the wrist, and improves overall work performance. 

Get a keen eye for the smallest details: especially while screening some of the artefacts are quite small and can be encapsulated by dirt and mud. Especially nails, that are quite small and often blend right into the dirt. 

Work like a scientist, not a labourer: Archaeology is a science through and through. The reason we dig units is to gain as much information as we possibly can about the periods we aim to learn about. This means slower, very methodical digging of units, with shovel shining removing 1 cm at a time and screening every centimetre of dirt being excavated. Digging units is not about getting down to 30 cm deep as fast as possible to get the job done. If units are dug too fast or with little care, stratigraphies can be lost, artefacts displaced and potential critical historical information destroyed without proper documentation. 

Have fun: Let’s be honest, Archaeology has to be one of the most interesting and fun jobs in the world. We get paid to find, learn and share history with the world. Everyone that I have worked with has been wonderful and all have similar interests. Never in my life have I been so enthralled with work, and I recommend anyone interested in history to try archaeology. 

— Sebastian Smith

Student Blog — Connecting to the past

Janet shares a moment that really brought the past to life for her. — Kate

I began working on the pre-contact Indigenous site the week of May 15. One day I heard some of the members of the Indigenous group who were also working there, discussing what the site might have been used for. One speculated that it might have been a hunting camp. His friend agreed that it would be a good place to hunt deer and that one could build a blind. The first one said that with the slope in the ground, one wouldn’t need a blind, but could simply lie in wait for deer to come and drink at the creek at the bottom of the slope.

Listening to them talk and looking at the terrain, the site “came alive” as I imagined people there.

— Janet Ruderman

Student Blog — Field School Reflections

Here’s a post from Kelsey, where she shares some of her field school experiences so far. — Kate

As we are about halfway through our dig I thought I would reflect on some of my favourite elements of this site and its people. Firstly I wanted to touch on just how much I have learned from this course. I have some (limited) archaeological experience on a site in Ferns, Ireland. It was more of a -throwing you into the deep end and hope for the best- kind of dig, with loosened guidelines and less standardization. Although It did help me hone my archeologist’s eye, I was at a loss for the absolute organization and standardization of Ontario archaeology. The BcGn-17 site has helped me learn these standards like the back of my hand. 

I was nervous about all the elements that come along with Ontario archaeology at first but through practice and our amazing supervisors, I feel ready for anything. Mapping was something specifically intimidating to me at first but with the help of my group members we crushed it, I would say.

Our site <3

Much of my time lately has been devoted to the new 2×2 unit Adam and I opened up. This unit was under several piles of spoil soil, towards the northern end of the site. After shovel after shovel, we reached the ground level and began to measure out our unit, with the help of Kate. This unit began in a bit of a negative light, with compacted, rocky and root-filled soil. But after we reached the subsoil the unit began to prove itself. The highlight finds we have collected so far include a mother-of-pearl button, a (possibly young Queen Victoria penny) coin, and an abundance of nails and ceramics.

The finds of pit E7039 N4938 last Friday
The coin found May 17

Much of the success of this pic is due to my dig partner Adam. We sieve and dig in turns while playing 20 questions and listening to ABBA to pass the time. Sometimes the whole site even joins in on the guessing games. Befriending the members of this dig is one of the main elements that has made this course so special. We have such a wider variety of people from many different walks of life, all united by one passion.

Flower crowns with Kyla
Mapping with Adam

— Kelsey Counter

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