Trained as both an archaeologist and computer animator, Michael has spent his professional career immersed in the creative, technical and business roles of animation and visual effects (VFX) film and broadcast production. Returning to his archaeology roots twenty years later, Michael’s research focuses on the use of Virtual Archaeology (VA) to better inform archaeological and heritage research, dissemination, and mobilization. His interest is in VA epistemology, paradata and the experiential application of technology for archaeological knowledge construction.
Michael’s most recent completed research project explores the application of virtual reality in the (re)imagination of a 16th century Iroquoian Longhouse.
“What’s cool about Iroquoian longhouses in Ontario archaeology is that nothing survives of these once massive wooden structures except for the post hole stains in the ground, remains of fire hearths, storage pits or even burials within the disintegrated walls of these houses.” Using the archaeological evidence found in the ground, archaeologists make an educated guess as to how the longhouse once appeared as it stood. By coupling European historical accounts and Indigenous oral histories with archaeological data, Michael can stitch together a virtual 3D account of a typical longhouse.
This longhouse combines the interpretation of the cultural material available, modern methods of CGI and virtual reality production, and 3D scanned artifacts from the Lawson collections to provide visitors of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology a chance to explore the sights and sounds of what a potential longhouse might have looked and felt like within the 16th century in Southwestern Ontario.
In 2017, the museum plans to make this technology available for use to visitors to experience at the museum. Stay tuned for updates, stories, and new information relating to the use of virtual reality in the museum here through our notes, or on social media.
For more details on Michaels work check out A Day in Virtual reality here.
This past month, MOA was provided the opportunity to acquire a new artwork collection which includes two artworks by renowned artist Norval Morrisseau: Discipline and Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975).
Discipline, a colourful serigraph, depicts two larger than life faces in profile nose to nose, almost touching each other in an intense confrontation. Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975), an original acrylic painting, reveals a unique figure from the waist up filling the entire canvas. He is an intense, bright, and engaging presence.
Norval Morrisseau can be described as one of the most recognisable painters in Canada. Morrisseau is Anishinaabe and was born on the Sandy Point Ojibway reserve. He was the influential founder of the Woodland School of painting. The Woodland School courageously and controversially presented traditional Anishinaabe icons and legends through the Western media of easel painting and printmaking. Morrisseau painted for more than 50 years and inspired many to give a visual voice to their cultural images and stories.
Morrisseau learned the icons and images associated with his grandfather’s knowledge. His grandfather, Moses Potan Nanakonagos, was an Ojibwa shaman who taught him the teachings of the Midewiwin. Oral tradition is a key part of the passing of this knowledge, but Morrisseau became the first Eastern Woodland artist who depicted and presented his culture through art in painting and printmaking.
His artwork drew from several influences during the course of his life and reflected his self-development, culture and spiritual beliefs. His influences include: Indigenous cultures and tensions with Christianity; Anishinaabe decorative arts; Shamanism; Midewiwin scrolls; Rock paintings; Spirituality; The duality of the Soul and Body; Family; and the relationship between all living things.
Morrisseau produced acrylic and oil paintings, prints, and drawings. His artworks are found in numerous institutions and collections across Canada such as The National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario. His artwork combines intense colours, flowing lines and semi-abstract figures, which can be seen in the two works donated to MOA. He passed away in December 2007.
As mentioned earlier, Discipline is a serigraph, which means that Morrisseau screen-printed it in layers on paper. The bold yellow background would have been printed first, and then the colourful layers of the figures were printed on top. This work is from an edition of 93 prints, which gives a sense of the laborious working process, as well as the unique quality of print-making for distribution. The graphic images created by flat fields of colour is a quality of the print-making process, but is also part of Morrisseau’s own creative way of seeing the world.
The graphic quality of colour defined by shapes, often organic, is also felt in Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975). This acrylic painting’s bold and commanding figure is created by building bright colours between black outlines. Morrisseau signed his work with Cree syllabics on Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan, in the pen name for the Anishnaabe name he has been honoured with – Copper Thunderbird.
Morrisseau is an important and influential Anishinaabe painter who has made vibrant pieces about his cultural viewpoint and stories, and they remain filled with life and vitality today.
CBC Arts. “Iconic Canadian painter Norval Morrisseau dies at 75” CBC News, December 5, 2007. Accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/iconic-canadian-painter-norval-morrisseau-dies-at-75-1.648773.
Norval Morrisseau Entry. “Biography,” Wikipedia. Accessed November 25, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norval_Morrisseau.
“Teachers Resource Guide,” MacKenzie Art Gallery, p. 15-16, 2013, accessed July 26, 2016, http://www.mackenzieartgallery.ca/admin/aMediaBackend/original?slug=7-pniai-teacher-resource-guide&format=pdf.
Many objects in a museum collection require conservation treatment to extend their longevity and First Nations basketry is no exception. Treating baskets requires multiple steps, but the general philosophy is simple: reduce the effects of damage by using a controlled, documented, and reversible way.
The first step of conversation is documentation. Once this is complete, it is time to treat the basket. Conservators consider a lot during the treatment of an object including; fragility, materials, and the object’s continuing health. The first round of cleaning is usually ‘dry’ cleaning. This includes brushing surface dust and debris from the object, as well as using cosmetic sponges to remove adhered dirt or accretions from the surface. Dry cleaning is an effective way to gently remove most of the dirt and dust from an object without being aggressive or invasive (because causing extra damage to the object only means more work later). In my experience with the basketry collection at the MOA, most require dry cleaning only.
However, some objects may be broken or torn and require more intensive treatment. The severity of damage can vary. For example, minor breakage such as a small tear in the middle of a basket weave is not likely to weaken the structure enough to cause further damage. Some breakage can even be natural stress-relief from changing environmental conditions such as fluctuating relative humidity.
Significant breakage can weaken the structural stability of the basket or result in loss. For example, multiple breaks along the rim may leave the rim sagging, which then puts stress on the weave of the basket, and may lead to severe warping in the future.
To consolidate and repair more severe damage, I am using a Wheat Starch paste as an adhesive. This method of treatment is recommended by the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) for use with paper artifacts (both basketry and paper are cellulose-based). Wheat starch paste is chemically inert and stable, as well as strong, workable, and adaptable. Once prepared, it can be watered-down without losing strength or applied as a relatively thick gel.
Once treatment is complete, the baskets are wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and placed in archival-quality boxes. This protects them from dust, as well as light. Light and UV rays fade colours of both wood and paint. Baskets in storage should also be kept at a consistent temperature (below 25oC is best) and relative humidity (RH). Fluctuating RH can lead to splitting, and prolonged periods of high RH can cause mould.
It is important to consider all these factors before treatment, in order to make an informed decision. Any work that you do not feel comfortable completing yourself should be completed by a professional conservator.
Parents, the weather is slowly turning dark and grey. The opportunities for outdoor play, becoming harder to find. That’s why we’re sharing Archaeology Activities that you can do at home. Read on, download the tools and have fun with your adventurer.
Keeping kids entertained on rainy days can be difficult. Why not engage them in fun, educational activities, which can be done with only a few materials and simple instructions? Here are just two of the many activities you can do with your little ones that will keep them engaged and teach them about archaeology!
Stratigraphy studies the different layers of the earth and what we can find in them. Archaeologists use these layers to help develop a timeline for the area (the oldest items are usually found in the deepest layers). The artifacts found in the layers can also indicate who was living on the site at different points in time. This information is the context for each artifact.
Empty plastic water bottles
2 boxes of table salt
A small shell (or brachiopod fossils if available)
broken pieces of pottery or ceramic (edges can be sanded, if sharp)
1) Split salt into four containers, add a different colour food colouring to each, shake containers
2) Give each child a water bottle, a shell (or fossil), 5 marbles, and a pop tab
3) Place shell at the bottom of the bottle, add one colour of salt on to cover.
4) Add more layers of different coloured salt until about one-third of the bottle is filled
5) Add the pottery/ceramic, and then keep layering
6) place the pop tab on top of the final layer
Why This Archaeology Activity is Relevant
This activity gives us a visual of how stratigraphy works. Each layer of salt is a different colour, just as the different layers of sub-soil and top-soil are different colours depending on location and what created them. At the very bottom of our site, we have our oldest item – the shell/fossil. Next, we have some broken pottery representing a past human layer. Finally, at the top, we have the metal pop tab, a ‘new artifact’ of the present time.
This cookie excavation will help children understand the care that must be taken while excavating in order to not damage the fragile artifacts (in this case the chocolate chips). They will also appreciate how they have destroyed the cookie (archaeological site) in the process. However, by recording all their artifacts the information of their cookie will survive on.
Give each child a cookie, activity sheet, and two toothpicks.
Before starting the excavation, children should place their cookie on Grid A. Then draw the cookie, with all the visible artifacts (chocolate chips) included. This will be their record of the archaeological site.
Excavate cookies with the toothpicks, by carefully chipping away at the dirt (cookie) to slowly reveal any hidden artifacts. For an added challenge, remind them that they should not pick up their cookies because archaeologists cannot pick up sites!
For each “artifact” found add it to the drawing on grid B.
At the end each child should have a pile of back dirt (cookie crumbs) and artifacts (chocolate chips), and their drawing of what they looked like before.
Count artifacts; who has excavated the most?
Eat the destroyed cookie!
Why is this Relevant?
Archaeological excavations are a destructive process. When archaeologists have finished with a site, they have largely taken it apart piece by piece to discover its secrets. Unfortunately, this means a site, once excavated, can’t be excavated again. To fix this problem, archaeologists take lots of notes, drawings, photographs, take samples of soils, and write detailed reports so archaeologists in the future can come back to their excavations and learn even more. Without all these notes and reports all the context we learned about in the stratigraphy activity above will be lost forever.
We hope you enjoy this archaeology activities with your adventure.
As part of our programs, we encouraged University students to contribute to our blog, based on what they were learning. In this week’s guest blog, Elizabeth McConkey. then a student in Western’s ANTHRO 2261 – Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology, covered Kathleen Kenyon, an Archaeologist we would all benefit from knowing better.
Kathleen Kenyon, Archaeologist
Indiana Jones is one of the most well known movie franchises of all time. In the first installment of the series, with the Nazis hot on his trail, Indiana Jones equipped with his whip, shotgun, satchel and fedora sets out to uncover arguably the most significant archaeological find in all of history, the Ark of the Covenant. Despite having an affiliation with a museum and university, Indiana adds some unconventional aspects to the archaeologist’s job description. Such criteria include gun fighting and hand to hand combat. Despite the image that popular culture provides, the truth is that real archaeologists are quite different from Harrison Ford’s character. For example, British archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon could not seem further from this portrayal of an archaeologist. Kenyon was a significant British archaeologist in the 20th century, taking part in excavations all over the world. She might not have been involved in gun fighting and car chases, but her career was nothing short of extraordinary.
As a significant female archaeologist, Kenyon defies the masculine image and stereotype that the Indiana Jones franchise reflects. A graduate of Oxford University in London England, Kenyon pursued a career in archaeology with a special interest in stratigraphy (the distribution of different soil types in the ground) (3). She created the concept of the baulk, which is now a very significant part of stratigraphic analyses in modern archaeology (3). A baulk is the wall or edge of an excavated area, which reveals the different layers of soil in the ground (4). Baulks are significant because they allow archaeologists to identify the different layers of the soil and thereby to determine the age of a site and categorize the artifacts into time periods.
Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho
Though Kenyon never set out to find the Ark of the Covenant, she did take part in significant excavations with a biblical theme. For example, she was greatly involved with the excavations at Jericho, a site located in Palestine and associated with the ancient Israelite’s (1). This site is not only significant because it is thousands of years old, but evidence collected by Kenyon suggests that it is the only site that has been inhabited continuously from the beginnings of the first human agricultural settlements until the present (2). The evidence that she collected shed light on the lives of those who inhabited the site in more ancient times. Her research records the development of the people of Jericho from their nomadic beginnings to their use more sophisticated year round settlements (2.Pg 269). Though nothing supernatural came with her finds, she certainly contributed a great deal to knowledge about the site.
Kenyon’s career was not lacking in excitement. Through the development of new archaeological techniques like the use of the baulk and her excavation of sites at Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon clearly made a large mark on the field of archaeology. Despite their differences, Kenyon was more like Indiana Jones than we might have expected at first glance.
References and Additional Resources:
Kenyon, Kathleen. 1955 “Some Archaeological Sites and the Old Testament: Jericho,” The Expository Times 66(12). 355-358.
Come celebrate MOAs International Archaeological Day!
On October 15th, over 100 organisations across the world will be holding workshops, fairs, and lectures for International Archaeology Day. With only five years under its belt, this once National day held by theArchaeological Institute of Americastarted from humble beginnings with only 14 participating institutions in the United States. You may be thinking why is this important to me?
“International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organisations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.”
For the past year, the city of London has been working on reviewing their Archaeological Master Plan with a focus on updating the modeling for predicting the location of Indigenous sites and better modeling the urban core of the City. Overall, the four goals of the Master Plan review are:
1. To update the archaeological site database and associated mapping for known archaeological sites in London
2. Review the existing archaeological site potential model and make recommendations for potential improvements/compliance
3. Review current federal, provincial, and municipal planning and management guidelines
4. Develop an implementation framework for responsible municipal stewardship and management of archaeological resources in the city.
This year’s International Archaeology Day features collaboration between the City of London, Archaeological Services Inc. (ASI) and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. ASI’s Dr. Ron Williamson (also the Museum Board Chair) and Jonas Fernandez will present Something Old and Something New: Archaeological Management Plans in a City Building Context. You have the opportunity to attend this free lecture to learn about modern ways municipalities are managing their cultural resources and how this updated Archaeological Master Plan will help preserve our city’s rich archaeological heritage. See our website for additional fun activities.
In 1992, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology carried out a Stage 1/2 assessment of a proposed subdivision in Simcoe County that led to the discovery of a previously unknown Huron-Wendat village. This village was subsequently subject to Stage 3 and limited Stage 4 excavations carried out by another consultant, revealing an undisturbed fifteenth century village, which is now known as the Chase-Wesson site. Nineteenth and early twentieth century research by people such as archaeologist A.F Hunter.and more recent investigations by cultural resource management firms have resulted in the documentation of hundreds of Huron-Wendat villages in Simcoe County (Williamson 2014). The founder of the museum, Wilfrid Jury, carried out exploratory excavations at a number of these sites in the 1940s through early 60s (see Stories of Pre-History: The Jury Family Legacies by Robert Pearce, our former Executive Director). Copies may be ordered from the Museum, where they are also on sale in our store.
Chase Wesson Methodology
At the time of the museum’s 1992 assessment, 30% of the property was clear of vegetation and was being actively farmed while the balance was forested. It seems the closest water source for the village was one or more natural springs just south-southeast of the village.
MOA’s team of archaeologists began their assessment by completing a visual pedestrian survey of the active farmland. The heavily wooded area was test-pitted. The test pits were 30cm in diameter or greater and excavated to the subsoil. The team tested all areas of high archaeological potential at five metre intervals or less while areas with low potential were assessed at intervals of 10 to 20 meters. It was confirmed that the site extended to the north and northwest edges of the property.
Results of the test pits:
The results of the test pits revealed a large settlement that was mostly undisturbed. The first sign of the site was the many ceramic sherds being unearthed. Subsequent excavations revealed a total site area of about two hectares.
A total of 308 artifacts were found at the site by the Museum, ceramics being the majority. There were 11 rim sherds, 20 fragmentary rim sherds, 26 neck/shoulder sherds, 145 body sherds, and 93 fragmentary sherds (for a total of 295 pieces or 95.8% of the collection). The other artifacts found included one piece of chert debitage, two pieces of ground stone, and six animal bone fragments.
Analysis of Chase Wessen
The Museum team working on the site reported that it was difficult to determine a precise chronological placement for the site since only a few diagnostic artifacts were found. Based on the ceramic traits evident in the limited assemblage, they suggested it was an assemblage similar to other fifteenth century (AD 1450-1500) pre-contact Huron-Wendat sites in the area such as Lalonde, Copeland, Baumann, and Ellesmere-Morison. The work conducted after the Museum yielded a similar but larger artifact assemblage; neither the Museum’s nor subsequent work on the village yielded European trade items. In the absence of radiocarbon dating of maize from the site, the Museum’s original estimate of the site’s age will have to suffice.
Chase Wessen – A site protected
The discovery of the Chase-Wesson site in 1992 was significant in its demonstration that there were undisturbed Wendat villages yet to be documented in Wendake, the Wendat homeland in northern Simcoe County. The site is registered with Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport and efforts are underway to protect the site permanently.
MOA is pleased to announce the launch of six new and improved Edukits (for more detailed information on each portion of the Edukit, read our previous post). Teachers and other educators can now rent one or more of these kits designed to offer classroom teachers activities and hands-on materials they can use when developing their Social Studies lesson plans. Each kit has been developed to meet the specific Ontario Curriculum points for grades 1 – 6.
Materials included in each kit are:
Support Booklet for the specific grade
Curriculum Connections Pages
Activity Descriptions and Outcomes
Genuine archaeological artifacts and identification guide
List of additional books, recommended resources, and websites
Kits must be picked up and dropped off at the Museum and can be rented for $50/2-week period. For more information, please call 519-473-1360 or email Katie at email@example.com.
We would like to acknowledge the contributions of our key volunteers who helped update and improve the Edukit; without their efforts, this would not have happened.
Linda Imrie, retired TVDSB teacher:
“I appreciate everything I learned and contributed during my thirty-five year teaching career with the Thames Valley District School Board. I taught students at the primary, junior and intermediate level in the classroom, in special education at W. D. Sutton School in a treatment facility, then as a Learning Support Teacher and finally in a self-contained classroom with Autistic students. In my new life as a volunteer, I have been involved with different associations and groups. Then in April of 2016 after a conversation with the Educational Consultant at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, an opportunity came up to refurbish the existing Edukit. The kit truly needed to be brought up to date and made applicable to meet the needs of today’s student. As a life-long learner, I could not refuse the task of creating six individual Edukits for grades one through six. First I had to weed through the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum and sort out points of relevance for teachers. The next task was to condense the curriculum into words that would make sense in the classroom. Creating the activities and descriptors for each grade level was a task in itself because the content had to coincide with the curriculum. In the final stages of creating the Edukits collaboration took place with a local artist to modernize my logo and with a young expert in sorting and cataloguing artifacts. I believe we came up with an Edukit for teachers and students making Social Studies interactive, educational and fun for use in the classroom. A large focus in the kits is on the First Nations People, but the activities try to go beyond that with many cross-curricular opportunities. It is my hope that the activities will spark an interest in students and teachers to come and visit the Museum. There is a lot to explore at the MOA and a day away makes a wonderful field trip!
It has been my pleasure to work on the Edukits and to hopefully inspire young students to be curious about the world around them, to encourage them to continue asking questions, and most of all to help motivate the learning process.
Yours in education,
Linda Margaret Imrie, M.Ed, Retired Teacher, Thames Valley District School Board (1977-2012)
Christopher Dupon-Martinez, Graphic Design Volunteer:
“Christopher Dupon-Martinez is an illustrator, cartoonist, and designer. He offers solutions for visual problems in the industry of editorial periodicals and publications. Christopher is completing his fourth year at OCAD University studying design and majoring in illustration. In his free time, he enjoys volunteering at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, it allows him the opportunity to continue learning and collaborate in meaningful projects. Learn more about him at his website.”
Madison Keller, Archaeological Interpreter:
We were fortunate to have Madison join us and have her contribute on this project. Madison, a University of Western student, joined us at the Lawson Site Field school this spring and then spent her summer working at the museum.
As is tradition at MOA, we turn our blog internally to introduce staff profiles, meet Angela and Andrew, our newest team members. Both have come to the museum on a contract from now until the end of March 2017 and will be focused on enhancing both our volunteer and membership programs.
Angela “Angie” Piccinin, Volunteer Coordinator
Angela joins the museum with extensive experience in volunteer management at London Health Sciences and business in banking and administration. Angie, will be responsible for the further development of and care of our volunteer program. With our Annual Harvest Festival and Pow Wow, just a week ahead. Angie will be delving right in. There are still some volunteer needs for next Saturday and Sunday and we certain that Angie and the Museum would love to hear from you. If you’r interested in helping the Museum make our visitors experiences great, please get in touch.
Andrew Fratepietro, Membership Coordinator
Andrew joins the museum with extensive experience in customer relations and management experience in the restaurant industry, including event organization. Andrew will be responsible for enhancing and driving the museum’s membership program forward over the next six months. Did you know that the museum offered a membership program and the benefits that members receive? If not, read more Andrew joins the museum with extensive experience in customer relations and management experience in the restaurant industry, including event here and then give Andrew a call to learn more about what you would receive and how your membership helps to support the work and mandate of the museum. Andrew’s responsibilities are not only to maintain the museum membership database, but to develop the program that meets the mission of the museum and the needs of our members. If you have any suggestions that you feel would make the program better, Andrew would love to hear from you.
Rhonda Bathurst, our incoming Executive Director added “We are delighted to welcome both of them to the MOA team and we anticipate that their depth and breadth of experience will benefit us greatly”.
Welcome Angela and Andrew – we’re looking forward to working with you!
Long before the creation of this blog, and before the digital Palisade E-Post, the museum sent out paper newsletters. First published in February 1979 each Palisade Post issue is a snapshot of what was happening in Ontario archaeology during this time, and is the basis of our Look Back series.
Underwater Archaeology in Ontario: An Overview
April 1982 Vol 4. No. 2 Author: Scarlett Janusas (ed note: Ms. Janusas was an intern at the museum at the time).
Underwater archaeologists share a common goal with treasure hunters and salvagers. Each wants to bring to the surface that which the sea and other bodies of water have claimed. In all other respects, the similarities between these groups disappear.
Treasure hunters, as the label implies, occupy themselves with the removal of items for which monetary gains may be made. Occasionally, they may complete maps denoting positions of artifacts and other items of worth, but these maps at best, are just sketches employed for relocating the site for the sole purpose of continuing the pillage. Salvagers are even less concerned with recording and mapping. Their purpose is to haul up items which can later be sold for scrap metal. There is a time and profit incentive for both the treasure hunter and the salvager. Greater profits can be realized by spending less actual time on the site.
This attitude of ‘ultimate greed’ is totally irreconcilable to anyone concerned with heritage conservation. Removal and deconstruction of information is a by-product of the occupation of the treasure hunter and salvager. It is this information that is of primary importance to the underwater archaeologist, for it can lead to the disclosure of details concerning the shipboard activity, vessel type, shipbuilding technology, vessel dimensions, cargo, cause of wreck, and much, much more.
Underwater archaeology creates an aura of adventure and excitement. The adventure exists, but the reality is that almost ninety percent of the excavation involves lifting and hauling, which can be monotonous. Cold, deep, fresh water presents the opportunity for archaeologists to discover sites (prehistoric and historic) in an almost perfect state of preservation. But these same conditions which make a site so attractive and culturally valuable, also create specific problems for the underwater archaeologist.
Cold water dictates that some protection for the diver be made available. Exposure suits can protect the diver for hours at a time, but they also reduce mobility and dexterity. Thick neoprene restricts the divers’ movement and the use of three-fingered gloves involves a new method of manipulating pen and tools. Working at great depths reduces the amount of allowable bottom time without having the diver risk decompression sickness, better know as the ‘bends’.
Breathing compressed air at depth produces another complication for the underwater archaeologist called nitrogen narcosis or ‘rapture of the deep’. As the phrase implies, the diver experiences an euphoria not unlike drinking one to two martinis on an empty stomach. This not only impedes work but creates a danger to the diver.
Many of the tools that the underwater archaeologist uses are modified versions of the tools of the terrestrial archaeologist. The tape measure, mallet, sketch pad, grid system, and camera are all employed underwater, but, the trowel, shovel and the traditional stake-grid system are absent from the underwater archaeologist’s tool assemblage.
Another problem in excavating an underwater site is the reduced visibility that can be caused by the diver stirring up bottom sediment. Two methods can be used to resolve this difficulty. The first involves a simple weight adjustment by the diver so that he is literally suspended above the bottom and is thus prevented from kicking up sediment with his fins. The second method involves actual removal of the sediment by means of an air suction hose which deposits the sediment far enough from the site to prevent reduced visibility. Unfortunately, the two methods are not always sufficient. In many areas of Ontario, visibility will remain poor to nil at all times. Rivers with mud bottoms, such as the Thames (ed. note – in Southwestern Ontario) River, create difficulties in even locating sites by vision alone.
Another visibility-related problem occurs at deep water sites. Less sunlight is able to filter through to deeper regions, thus creating a dark working environment. This problem can in part be alleviated by dive lights. A case in point is the H.M.S. Breadalbane, a 428-tonne supply ship that sank in 1853, off Beechey Island in the Northwest Territories. Seven lights, the type employed on a Boeing 747 aircraft, will be used in the near future to illuminate the British barque for photographic purposes.
Although not in Ontario, the Breadalbane Project is of great historical value and interest. The vessel was on a rescue mission, searching for the explorer Sir John Franklin, when it was holed by ice. The ship sank in a short fifteen minute span in 325 feet of water. These cold Arctic waters have done much to preserve the wreck, even to the point where remains of her sails are still present. Further work on the Breadalbane is contingent upon the ice thickness which affects equipment transport.
Grid systems employed in underwater archaeology must fulfill several criteria. These systems must be compact, portable, flexible and be heavy enough or have securing devices to be anchored above a site and withstand strong currents to avoid displacement. Mr. Stan McCellan of the Ministry of Natural Resources, employed an aluminium grid system (ed note – image can be seen in original publication, unsuitable for reprinting here), which was embedded in the sediment to conduct some shallow water work during his Griffon Cove Project.
The aim of this two year study, conducted during 1978 – 1979, was to identify a vessel which had been purchased by Fathom Five Provincial Park in Tobermory, to collect any additional data about the area in which the wreck was originally found. The vessel was reputed to be the “Griffon” which is thought to be the first sailing vessel to cruise the Great Lakes. The “Griffon” was constructed by La Salle in the 17th century near Fort Erie, to carry furs during the fur trade back to Montreal. La Salle sailed her from Fort Erie to Green Bay and through the Straits of Mackinaw. The “Griffon” disappeared on her return voyage and the vessel purchased by Fathom Five Provincial Park was originally thought to be the one and the same. Mr. McClellan was able to ascertain that the wreck was a mid-19th century vessel and establish that it was not, in fact, the “Griffon”.
Other careful and well-conducted work is being carried out elsewhere in Ontario in the field of underwater archaeology. For example, Mr. William Fox, of the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, investigated a wreck discovered in 1981 in the Thames River in Chatham, Ontario. The hull of a 50 foot vessel was lifted from the river this past year, and, while local interested parties believed the vessel to be of 1812 vintage, Mr. Fox was able to correctly date the vessel to the turn of the twentieth century. Although not verified as yet, this wreck may well have been the “Morning Light”. Plans for the wreck include a graphical documentation in the spring of 1982. It is not surprising to discover a wreck of this nature in Chatham since this city was a major port in the early 19th century and also supported a ship-building industry.
There are numerous other small projects being undertaken by concerned individuals and groups who are collaborating with heritage resource management people and the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture to accurately record and excavate both historic and prehistoric sites. Fathom Five Provincial Park conducts a continuing program of mapping all the wrecks in the park. The Park prohibits any destruction or removal of underwater sites, and thus provides a veritable ‘diving mecca’ for sport divers.
Mr. Michael Verbrugge obtained assistance from the Ontario Heritage Foundation to investigate a mid-19th century merchant vessel in Lake Erie. The project was initiated in 1978, but was delayed almost a full year due to a faulty reading from the Loran system which had been employed to pinpoint the wreck. The vessel was found by fishermen who had repeatedly lost or damaged their nets on the wreck’s rigging. This project involves examination of a virtually intact vessel and will continue this summer.
A major project that has recently received considerable press coverage, centres on the U.S.S. Hamilton and the U.S.S. Scourge. During the War of 1812, the United States found their navy in short supply of armed vessels. An immediate solution to the problem was to commandeer 13 merchant schooners and outfit them as war schooners. Two of these vessels were the Hamilton, originally called the U.S.S. Diana and the Scourge, originally named the H.M.S. Lord Nelson. On August 7, 1813, the British fleet lay in waters near Grimsby when a storm developed out of Port Credit. The U.S. fleet was hit broadside, and the already unstable Hamilton and Scourge sank. The storm had been so violent that the two ships were not reported missing until the following morning.
Dr. Dan Nelson, head of the Hamilton-Scourge Foundation, assisted in the search for these two vessels. The logbook of a British flagship was employed for rough locational data and, on the basis of the information derived from this book, a 90 square kilometre search area was defined. This area was surveyed in 1972-73 in 50 meter strips employing magnetometers, side-scan sonar and depth sounders, but without success. After moving the search area to the west, the project finally met with some success when an image at last appeared on the side-scan sonar! No further work could be conducted on these wrecks since the find was made on the last day of the project and the crew of the search vessels had a previous commitment – a stag party.
The image on the side-scan sonar showed that most of the Hamilton was still standing. The Scourge lies in waters not too distant from the Hamilton. Both ships rest at a depth of 290 feet with a visibility of 1 to 1.5 meters. The ships are extremely well preserved owing largely to their present environment of a constant four degree Celsius temperature in almost total darkness.
The project recently completed a photogrammetry survey of both ships using equipment donated by the National Geographic Society (ed note: images in link above). Further plans for these two vessels, under the direction of Mr. Ken Cassovoy, include compiling a complete visual reference, conducting conservation studies by examining core samples of the hull, and geotechnical studies of bottom sediments.
Final plans are being prepared to raise the ships and duplicate their present environment for purposes of storage and exhibition. The last phase is being carefully researched before actual implementation since other raised ships have demonstrated that the traditional treatment with polyethelene glycol – which forces moisture out and thus prevents shrinkage and decay – is not sufficient for good conservation.
One example of the problem in using this polyethelene glycol treatment is the soft cheesy texture of the wood of the Swedish warship, “Vasa”. The “Vasa“, a 1400 ton galleon which sank in 110 feet of water on its maiden voyage in 1628, is under serious threat of suffering irreparable damage. The Hamilton-Scourge Project, wishing to avoid this consequence, plans to raise the ships and place them in a large bath solution to duplicate their present environment.
Multiple factors contribute to the condition in which an underwater archaeologist finds a wreck. The state of a vessel before it went down may contribute to a quicker deterioration in its watery grave. The actual event of the wreckage will dictate whether the archaeologist will be dealing with a semi-intact vessel or miscellaneous planking spread far and wide. Currents, surf and the tide aid in the deterioration of a vessel. Burial of the wreck in sediment may protect it from attack from aerobic organisms. Shifting sands may subject the vessel to undue stress and present difficulty for the underwater archaeologist in locating and excavating the wreck. Depth and water temperatures are critical to the state of the site. Greater depth disallows light from penetrating, and also restricts organism growth. Cold water, discussed elsewhere, also aids in the preservation of the wrecks. Fresh water versus salt water environments determine the type of organisms present and hence their involvement in the destruction of the materials. Pollution is yet another factor to consider. And, perhaps, most hazardous of all to a sites’ preservation, is man himself.
Sport diving has become very popular within the last decade. A diver descends into a world of weightlessness and his curiosity to explore is aroused. The reasons for diving vary but, one class of diver, the ‘wreck’ diver presents many problems for the underwater archaeologist. What better way in which to commemorate a dive than for a wreck diver to claim a souvenir by prying off a dead-eye or bronze porthole, hauling it back to shore and proudly displaying his new found treasure. The prize is taken home, and all too often, the artifact becomes a center for a coffee table or finds a new home in a dingy back closet. Stripping wrecks or prehistoric sites is illegal and should not be condoned by anyone.
We have laws to protect our heritage against such pillage, but such laws are difficult to enforce. Three privately organized groups have recently taken steps against the continued desecration of wrecks and sites. One organization is called S.O.S. (Save our Shipwrecks), another is called P.O.W. (Preserve our Wrecks) and the third is the Ontario Marine Heritage Committee. S.O.S. and P.O.W. base their objectives in the education of divers through various certifying agencies, by promoting shipwreck conservation, and by organizing volunteer activities where needed. They have made a beginning, and with growing awareness comes growing concern. Ultimately, heritage awareness and preservation will result.
Editors Note to Underwater Archaeology in Ontario.
We contacted Ms. Janusas to let her know we were reprinting this article from her early days. Ms. Janusas also offered the following:
You can say….that MTCS has indicated that they will not address marine archaeology until they “clean up” land archaeology (Finnerty, DM, personal communication to S. Janusas when Pres. of APA). I continue to work in the business, and new technologies make things much easier than before. Ontario is still the only province in Canada that does not have more “lenient” laws regarding scientific diving, meaning that we are required to follow Min. of Labour regulations when it comes to diving (i.e. putting people in the water). We have many shipwrecks that predate those of the Erebus in the Arctic but marine archaeology remains a neglected part of our heritage….
Ms. Janusas has also indicated that she may give us all an update to this piece in the near future. What has changed, what technology has meant to underwater archaeology, and others. In the meantime, if you have anything to add to this piece, we’d love to hear from you.