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For International Women’s Day, MOA is celebrating women in archaeology!

Dr. Holly Martelle has had a wide and varied career in archaeology. She worked as a Heritage Planner with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, has taught in universities across Ontario, and served as President of the Ontario Archaeological Society. Dr. Martelle co-founded Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc. with Dr. Peter Timmins in 2003, which won the Ontario Archaeological Society’s award for Excellence in Cultural Resource Management in 2013. Dr. Martelle kindly agreed to share her knowledge and experiences in Ontario archaeology with us for this special International Women’s Day MOA Blog post!


How long have you worked in archaeology and how has the field changed over that time?

I started my undergraduate degree over 30 years ago. At that time, students were encouraged to go all the way through graduate school and complete a Ph.D. The push was that the first generation of professionally trained Ontario archaeologists would be retiring and there would be positions to fill! That never turned out to be the case. I only had a small cohort of archaeology majors and most of those were women! I was fortunate to have gone to Wilfrid Laurier University and to have been taught and mentored by an inspiring group of both male and female faculty, in archaeology, anthropology and biology. My grandfather owned a road construction company and I grew up in it. Coming from that background where there was a clear gender-divide in roles and less involvement of women directly, gender discrepancies in archaeology were not visible to me.  When I started in archaeology it was still very much research-based. As I sit here today, most archaeology done in Canada is cultural resource management and driven by land development. University archaeological courses are much larger than they were and departments much bigger. There are far more opportunities for people in archaeology today and folks make a decent living at it. Back in my early days you were just lucky to get a job in archaeology and you were usually paid minimum wage or less to do it.


What are your research interests? Why are you passionate about that particular topic?  

My passion drives everything I do as an archaeologist. Since before I began my Master’s research on “other ways of knowing and understanding,” I have been very much interested in the power of archaeology to tell the stories of people who are often written out of traditional historical narratives. This has generated my interest in the archaeology of women, of the working class, of African-Canadians and immigrants to Canada generally. I spent much of my career advocating for the inclusion of the voices of Indigenous and Descent community voices in archaeology and our shared responsibilities in managing, describing and interpreting archaeological sites.

My dissertation work and early cultural resource management experience also developed my interest in ceramics and ceramic technology, from Iroquoian pottery to the 19th century. I’m interested not just in how ceramics were made or used, but how they were perceived by their makers and users and integrated into all facets of daily life.


What significant projects/publications have you worked on and what impact do you hope they will have on the field?

There are many. Some of my biggest learning moments came during contentious projects where I was working directly with or for Indigenous communities. My experiences working with Indigenous communities have shaped my entire approach to doing archaeology and talking about our findings. Our recent work in downtown Toronto on St. John’s Ward, a multi-ethnic working class district, resulted in the book The Ward Uncovered: The Archaeology of Everyday Life. It is the publication of which I am most proud because it incorporated stories from authors of many disciplinary and ethnic backgrounds and was not about an archaeologist only telling their version of the past. I hope that it will encourage archaeologists to be more considerate and inclusive of multiple perspectives on the past.

What advice do you have for young archaeologists looking to break into the field?

I would say the best thing they can do is continue to learn. Every moment is a learning moment. Be receptive to multiple perspectives. Take every opportunity you can to listen to and spend time with the elders of Ontario archaeology. They have much to offer and provide the best perspective on how Ontario archaeology (and its issues) have evolved over time.