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Work Study Profile: Vasanthi

Vasanthi profile picture

Hello! My name is Vasanthi Pendakur, and I just started working at the museum in September 2014.

As part of my program at Western, I will be working at the museum for the next year as an Education Assistant. I was drawn to this position because of all the new skills I could gain from it. I also have some background in First Nations history from when I worked for a private research company specializing in land claims and rights. This position seemed like the perfect place to combine this knowledge with the interpretation and educational programming skills I could learn.

So what do I do? I help run educational and cultural programming for school groups visiting the museum. This involves a lot of cool activities that include tours of the museum, archaeological and historical activities, and First Nations’ crafts. Currently I’m still learning many of the programs, but I’ve started to run a few by myself. One of the activities I’m involved with is artifact handling. This activity allows students to handle real artifacts from around Ontario, while attempting to guess what they were used for. I’ve also helped with various cultural and archaeological activities.

I’ve found that I enjoy working with the school groups who come to the museum. No matter what happens, I always have great stories from the tours and activities. It’s fun to work with the kids and see how much they know during the tours or what they create during workshops.

If I could say one thing about the museum, I would promote their educational programming. The museum’s tours and activities are a great way for students to learn all about the First Nations and pioneers who inhabited Southern Ontario.

Out of the museum, I am working on a Master’s of Public History at Western University. Aside from school, I love reading, I do embroidery, and I watch a lot of TV.

Agents of Deterioration

Agent deterioration

An agent of deterioration is a term used to identify the nine major active agents that threaten museum collections. These active agents can be sudden and catastrophic or gradual over a period of time. Museums have employed and refined different strategies over the years to help mitigate these nine agents. However, these agents aren’t just confined to museums; take a look around your home or neighbourhood. How many of the agents can you identify?

The Nine Agents:

Direct Physical Force (shock, vibration, abrasion, and gravity)
Physical forces can be sudden and catastrophic or gradual over a long period of time. Most artifacts are susceptible to this damage with the most common damage resulting from improper handling. The range of damage can vary from complete loss to minor fixes.

Results from: improper handing or support, earthquakes, war, floor collapse

Creates: Dents, scratches, breakage, and any sort of abrasion to all types of artifacts

Thieves and Vandals
This type of damage can result in total loss of the object if care is not taken. There are a lot of preventative methods in place to help prevent this type of loss both for staff and visitors. Graffiti and overall intentional damage to objects or areas are also part of this category.

Results from:     Intentional- Theft, Graffiti

Unintentional- When staff lose or misplace an object

Creates: Disfiguring or loss of artifacts

Fire poses a threat to all collections both inside and outside of the museum. The smoke of a fire can often be just as dangerous and destructive as the fire itself. Although this is not a common occurrence, the loss and destruction is often severe.

Results from: fire and smoke deposits

Creates: Destruction. Can destroy, scorch, or deposit smoke on artifacts, especially organic materials

Water damage to metal post causing rust
Water damage causing rust on outdoor sign posts

A major threat to collections because water agents can begin from something as simple as a leaky roof to something catastrophic such as a flood. Organic materials, metals, and composite (layered) materials are the most susceptible to this damage.

Results from: Burst/leaking plumbing, floods, and rain

Creates: efflorescence/ tide marks on porous materials, swelling of organic materials, corrosion, delamination, fractures, and shrinkage or textiles

Mouse chewed artifact
Evidence of mouse chewing an artifact

Pests are common in both museum and home. In this category we can include both the pests themselves and their deposits such as nests and homes. Organic materials are the most susceptible because pests consider them wither a food source or a barrier they want to cross. The damage becomes greater when pests set up home in and around the objects.

Results from: Insects, Vermin, Birds, Mould and Microbes

Creates: cuts, tunnels, excretion, and gnaw marks. Can weaken, disfigure, and displace artifacts. Moulds can stain or weaken both organic and inorganic materials. Many times create irreversible damage.

Term used to describe the chemical agents from both controlled and uncontrolled environments that can accelerate the deterioration process.

Results from: Indoor and Outdoor gases (eg.Pollutants, oxygen), Liquids (eg.Grease) , and solids (eg. Dust and salt)

Creates: Disintegration, discolouration, and corrosion of especially reactive or porous materials.

Basket radiation
Basket affected by radiation on exterior, fading the original colours

Light damage can result from natural lighting such as the sun to the lightbulb lighting a room. Light damage will not cause complete destruction of an object, but it can decrease its relevance and decrease value considerably. This type of damage cannot be repaired or reversed.

Results from: Ultraviolet light, Unnecessary light

Creates: Disintegration, Fading, yellowing of organic and coloured inorganic materials, and darkening of woods.

Incorrect Temperature
All artifacts decompose gradually at room temperature but can take decades to visually see temperature impacts. Here are circumstances that can quicken the disintegration process;

Too High: gradual disintegration or discolouration of organic materials especially photos, films, and acidic paper

Too low: Embrittlement which can result in fractures of paints

Fluctuations: Fractures and delamination of layered material, and Relative humidity fluctuations

Incorrect Relative Humidity(RH)
Incorrect RH and temperature often go hand in hand since they impact each other. Think of all those summer days when it is sticky outside, that’s humidity. Objects are also impacted by humidity and the severity and types of damage can vary.

Damp: Causes mould and corrosion, hydrate materials

Fluctuations: Shrink/ swell unconstrained organic materials, crush or fracture constrained organic materials, and cause layered organic materials to buckle, tent, or delaminate

Dry: Fracture materials

Nailing down Iron Artifacts

Iron is a common material used to create tools, weapons, and everyday equipment. It is distinguishable from other metals as it is magnetic and corrodes into rust. It is a very common find for archaeologists on historic sites in Ontario as it dates back to European contact. Iron was introduced to Europe in the 15th century and became more prevalent during the Middle Ages.

Iron nails

The most common iron artifact found on historical sites are nails. Nails have changed throughout the years as different processes have become available. By looking for different features, archaeologists are able to tell how old a building might be.

Forming iron: 

Blast Furnace

Without the use of a blast furnace, it was only possible to heat iron to a point where it became soft enough to work with tools (creating wrought iron objects). These objects were filled with impurities and were generally weak in comparison to purer iron objects.

Blast furnaces work by inserting iron rocks into the top of the furnace and adding fuel for the fire (wood charcoal and other flammables). Once temperatures reach an excess of 1,538 degrees Celcius, the iron ore melts and flows to the bottom of the furnace. The impurities (slag) separate from the pure iron as they are of a lighter composition.  Slag is made up of glass-like substance due to the silica within the melting rocks. Once melted, the molten iron can be extracted and poured into a mould of any shape or size, creating cast iron.

Types of Iron:

Wrought Iron is created from low carbon iron and contains a lot of silica, making it the weak. It was common in early history as it was easier to produce than cast iron. Its popularity declined as steel became more available. It is no longer produced commercially (wrought iron gates for example are now made from a mild steel).

Cast Iron is made by melting iron in a blast furnace and separating the silica from the pure iron. The iron is then poured into a mould to form an object. As a result, the process creates cast lines, a noted feature of any casting process.

Steel is simply a more carbon rich iron, making it more rigid and stronger.

Wrought Iron horseshoe
Wrought Iron horseshoe
Cast Iron cauldron
Cast Iron Cauldron

Programs for Teachers

Education at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology puts history directly in the hands of students.  With access to almost two million artifacts, over a century of archaeological research, and a full size Iroquoian long house, students will enjoy a truly immersive learning environment while exploring over 13,000 years of human heritage in Ontario.

A traditional pottery making workshop
A traditional pottery making workshop

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology’s education programs have been developed with teachers in mind; emphasizing a multi-disciplinary approach relating directly to Ontario’s Curriculum. Students explore our archaeological heritage and discover Ontario’s First Nations’ history, culture and traditions through hands-on and interactive activities, crafts and games. They discover how archaeologists formulate questions to study and learn from the artifacts they excavate, by using the inquiry process.

The inquiry process, in which students are encourage to ask, research and analyze, and then answer their own questions, is an integral part of the new Ontario Social Studies curriculum. Museums have a unique ability to incorporate meaningful object and place based learning, while archaeology has a strong science based structure; the two combined, therefore, are an excellent tool for exploring the inquiry process. Students will discover how archaeologists use the inquiry process to draw information about past peoples from the artifacts they find. Students also have the opportunity to ask their own questions, and come to their own conclusions using real artifacts and simulated archaeological activities.

MOA lends itself most obviously to the Ontario Social Studies and History curriculum, and our programming introduces students to Ontario’s First Peoples and explores their interaction with the early European explorers and settler populations. But why stop there? We also incorporate the Science and Technology curriculum, most especially in the primary grades. Through our interactive tours students discover how Ontario’s environment and resources changed over time, how early First Nations populations interacted with their environment, and how they adjusted their methods of hunting, farming and tool production to meet these changes. We also incorporate a variety of 2D and 3D visual arts, blended into our programs, which compliment the cultural and archaeological content.

Student using a hand drill to make a hole in a soapstone pendant.
Student using a hand drill to make a hole in a soapstone pendant.

Museums are an asset to the learning process; we create engaging hands-on and interactive components to enhance content, through experiential learning. At MOA we have activities ranging from artifact handling/identification and archaeological excavation to woodland painting, soapstone pendants, and games; all designed to bring history to life in students’ hands.

Our education programs are created to meet Ontario curriculum needs and give teachers a choice of activities – extending their students’ experience beyond the classroom and bringing the curriculum to life. School programs follow a well-paced schedule designed to keep students moving, motivated, and engaged. Contact MOA today to create an immersive educational experience and open your students’ minds to the grandeur of Ontario’s heritage.

View our available programs: 2014-15 MOA Education brochure

Ceramic Identification

Ceramics artifacts have a long human history, dating back 27,000 years. Ceramics are a useful artifacts for archaeologist as they are hand made, durable, and can last thousands of years without changing from their original state.

Clay, in its natural form, is white in colour. impurities such as iron make it a different colour. When clay is heated, water evaporates and the minerals fuse to become a ceramic. This process is irreversible once the ceramic has been created, and is similar to making glass.

Identifying qualities of Historic Ontario Ceramics:

Types: There are four major groups of ceramic; coarse earthenware, fine earthenware, stoneware and porcelain. These types have different densities and are heated to different temperatures when made.

Ceramic types
Ceramic firing temperatures


Glazes colour, decorate, waterproof, and strengthen ceramics. Glazes are comprised of a layer of glass fused to the clay through firing. They are particularly important as waterproofing earthenware as it is a very porous material.

Glazes react differently when heated depending on what they are made of. Salt
glazes, which combine silica, sodium and/or potassium with calcium (as a stabilizer), are commonly used on stoneware.
The glaze forms a thin, orange-peel like texture. Lead glazes, which contain lead and other metals tend to melt at lower temperatures making them easier to use and produce brilliant effects. Adding tin to a lead glaze creates an opaque white glaze, known as majolica, delft, or faience. Luster can be added to the glaze, by using silver or copper.

Makers marks: 

In order to determine its date, archaeologists can use both the style of a ceramic vessel, as well as the technique used to make it. One of the best ways to determine a vessel’s age is
to use its ‘Maker’s Mark’, or the mark found typically on the bottom of the object. Maker’s Marks are applied using different methods depending on the manufacturer.

Archaeologists are able to date ceramic artifacts using the maker’s mark by determining when a particular style was used. For instance, we know that printing ‘England’ was used after 1891. It became compulsory for English ceramics to be marked as a result of the McKinley Tariff Act in the United States. The bill, designed to encourage American industries, required articles imported into the USA to be clearly marked with the name of the country where it was manufactured.

registration mark
Registration Identifiers

The origin of moccasins

Although the word “moccasin” is synonymous with the First Nation shoe, the origin of the word refers to footwear which includes the sandals, boots, and leggings that First Nation peoples wore.

Moccasins are protective footwear, often to keep feet from freezing. They were designed for the environment that the person lived in. For example, hard-soled moccasins of the Plains groups were made for rocky terrain while the Apache moccasins were characterized by turned-up toes to prevent sharp objects from piercing into the foot.

Moccasins are made from the hide of moose, deer, elk, or buffalo. Brain-tanned hide is similar to commercial leather today and is softer and easier to sew than buckskin (although not as durable).To create moccasins, patterns are made with the grain of the leather since they stretch when worn and are sewn with sinew. To punch through the leather for sewing, bone awls were traditionally employed whereas leather punches are now used.

The most basic moccasin is made from a single piece of leather with a central seam running up the top of the foot. Amongst different tribes, there were variations and additions made to the moccasin structure such as cuffs, differing heels and vamps as well as distinct beading and quill decorations. Woodland moccasins were decorated with floral or animal design on the instep and cuffs whereas Plains moccasins had unadorned cuffs with geometric patterns on the instep or around the sole.

Make your own pair of custom moccasins in the style shown below at the Moccasin Workshop Nov 16 2014! Register by calling at 519-473-1360.

Moccasin and Longhouse

Site consulted:

Jury’s Life on the Farm

Excerpt of Annual Cycle of Life on the Farm as a Boy

Written by Wilfrid Jury February 24, 1967

I remember potato digging, in fact all the fall work, as father used to go out west on the harvester excursion.

Wilf Child
Wilfrid Jury and his sister Irene as children in Lobo, Ontario.

When I was fourteen he left mother and I to cope with it. Looking back I wonder how we did it. That finished my schooling but it gave me confidence. There was no time to get into mischief. Up at the break of day work until sundown. Mother and I carried on. When dad returned everything was in ship shape and we were proud of the words of praise. I usually had a day off to go squirrel shooting before Dad went up to Port Franks duck shooting for two weeks. Later he went deer hunting. The drive to the Port in the democrat was a long one, leaving home at 5am and getting there before dinner at George Hurdon’s, the proprietor of Waverly Hotel. After the horse had a good feed I’d start home. The horse knew the way; I didn’t. I got home in time to help milk. Then on a Saturday, two weeks later, I went up and got dad and his friend Jim. They had shot a barrel of ducks. We had wild duck off and on all winter.

Each year Dad would come home with one or two Indian relics that he had picked up in the sand hills around Port Franks. On his return from shooting, I’d usually have the fall ploughing started. We always summer-fallowed a large field. Other fields had to be ridged so they would dry out early in the spring, enabling us to have an early seeding. There was a long open ditch that ran through the pasture field to the swamp, this ditch carried off the water from all the drains of the entire farm. Through the spring and summer the cattle drank out of it. They also tramped on the side wall. It was a fall job to open this with rubber boots, a long handled shovel and a lot of hard work. This annual job was completed.

Amos on Binder machine
Amos Jury on a Binder in the “school house field of wheat” 1930

Each fall a general check was made of the farm buildings and house, broken window panes replaced, loose siding renailed, storm windows put up, and the chimneys cleaned. A long ladder reached to the peak of the roof; a rope with a logging chain tied to the end was pulled up and down the chimney flue. This was my job. Father had taken down the stove pipes. He removed the soot that fell down. Then the cook stove was thoroughly cleaned and the box stove put up in the front room. Pulling up the stove pipes often lead to harsh words. The only time I remember my father really cursing was the time they all fell down after he had struggled with them and thought the job was completed.

The woodshed was cleaned out on a crisp, dry day in early November. The wood that had been cut the winter before was hauled from the woods and neatly piled up to the rafters. The large knots were kept separate for the box stove. Mother always complained that the wood was cut to long, especially in the summer when a quick fire for dinner was all that was necessary. The CPR railway ran through the farm and we were always on the lookout for discarded cedar fence posts or broken telephone poles to cut and split for the kindling that was piled in a separate place near the chopping block. A hand axe hung nearby and the morning supply of kindling was placed under the stove to dry or sometimes placed in the oven for half an hour or so.

Jury Homestead
The Jury family Homestead. Pictured are Amos & Julia Jury.

I recall that one late fall the old sow had a litter of twelve pigs, three were small and weak. They were brought into the house, wrapped in old woolen pieces of underwear, and placed in the oven after mother had given each one a drop of whisky in milk. Their little mouths were pried open and the milk squeezed out of a wet rag. Later they sucked a baby bottle with a nipple. In two weeks the little pigs were strong enough to take their place with the rest of the large family. They always remembered us and were pets.

The fall was a busy time in the house. The snow apples were carefully picked over and two bushels were rolled in paper. An apple peeling machine was used to peel apples, then they were quartered and dried on racks made of sieves out of the fanning mill. Dad made a frame and suspended it above the cook stove. This same device was used to dry sweet corn after it was boiled on the cob and cut off. We grew a lot of cabbages and made a large keg of sauerkraut. That operation took place in the root cellar. The cabbages were shredded, put in a keg and pounded. Salt was added. The trick was to put in the right amount. After it was made, the keg was placed back of the cook stove to aid in fermentation. The whole house smelt of it and it was judged to be cured. It was set out in the shed with a plank on top. A heavy stone was placed on the plank that filled the keg to weigh it down and keep the brine on top.

Late in November two pigs that dressed from 225 pounds to 450 pounds were killed, hung for a week, then cut up. If it was cold, some pieces were frozen but the most was put in the brine barrel until it was cured. It was then taken out, sometime in the early spring and smoked. There was always a treat of spare ribs. One year we made sausages. I turned the hand meat grinder all day, and packed the cut meat in the casings. An old German hired man mixed the spices and helped. They were the best we ever made.

Of course, the garden, where lettuce, radishes and cucumbers were raised, had to be dug with a spade in late fall. As it was small and at the back of the house it would not be ploughed. Mothers flower garden also had to be dug. Each year mother supervised this job as I was accused of digging up tulip bulbs and some perennial plants.

Around our place the fallen leaves were raked up and burned on the gravel driveway. Although the same chore had to be repeated in the spring. There so many leaves came from during the fall and winter always amazed me.

By this time we were looking for out fur caps, mits and winter clothes. Mother used to knit our mits. We bought a leather pullover to protect the mits, adding extra warmth. Long Johns were put on, last years socks and rubbers put on. For years I had a red taffacon cap with a tassel that was my pride. At last the cattle were tied on the stable and the sheep locked in their pen. The cat hung around the kitchen, sneaked in and crept under the stove. The squirrels were coming up from the woods and eating the apples. The chick-a-dees returned to the suet box. Flocks of snow birds were seen. The sleighs were put together and the wagon packed away.

All the corn had been husked and put into the corn crib. The stacks stood up around the mow and the rhubarb covered with light, strawy manure. There was talk of who would be the school trustee as the school meeting was soon to be held. The cord wood piles at the school could be seen from the house, donated by the neighbors, mostly by us.

Winter would soon be here. Wood had to be cut, preparations made for Christmas. The years rolled around.

After the coming of the automobile, rural life in Ontario changed. The beginning of the mechanical age has altered the way of life. The horse and buggy days have gone. They are but a memory.

Mammoths & Mastodons


One of the largest mammals known to man is the elephant. What most people don’t know is that the elephant is a descendant from the mammoth and mastodon. After the dinosaurs died off, the mammoth roamed Asia, Europe as well as North America. They were known to be alive up until about 4,000 years ago. Unlike the dinosaurs, the mammoth lived amongst the humans. We know that the mammoth lived because of the drawings that were found in caves of the humans hunting the mammoth or simply drawings of the mammoths themselves.

Mammoths were large; they stood up to about 11 feet and weighed as much as 12,000 pounds. 6 million years ago the first elephants were found in Africa. After a while they split up into 3 groups, one group stayed in Africa and they are now known as the African elephant, the second group moved onto Asia where they are now known as the Asian elephant. The third group were the mammoths and moved onto Europe. At first the mammoths only had a bit of hair and looked a lot like their African relatives. When they first arrived in Europe, the temperatures were gradually getting colder and by the time the ice came the sparse-haired mammoths had turned into thick coated-mammoths. The mammoth had huge tusks, unlike current day elephants; the mammoth’s tusks were long and curved inwards.

The mastodon on the other hand is much like the present day elephant. They weren’t as large as today’s elephants but they had some of the same features, different from the mammoth. The mastodon’s body was about 8 feet in height and weighed about 10,000 pounds. Their tusks were about the same size as present day elephants, they were also straighter unlike the mammoth with its large curved tusks. The mastodon had short stocky legs and was covered in long thick hair just like the mammoth. The remains and fossils of the mastodon have been found all over North America and now can be found in museums all over the continent.

-Heather : Co-op student, March 23, 2011

What is a longhouse

longhouse MOA

Longhouses were built with a frame of saplings supported by large posts in the house interior, typical longhouses were covered with sheets of bark such as elm bark and birch. Openings at either end were used as doors, while openings in the roof acted like chimneys, letting the smoke from the fires out. Fireplaces or hearths were spaced down the length of a central corridor in the house (an average of 1-6 fires), and were flanked with two platforms: the lower for sleeping, and the upper for food and storage.

The historic record shows that each hearth was shared by two families; one family lived on either side of the longhouse. On average, families had six to eight members. A medium sized longhouse like the one reconstructed at the Lawson site, would have been occupied by 38-40 people, all related through the female line. When a couple got married, the husband would move into his wife’s family longhouse.


What is a Longhouse display
What is a Longhouse display, MOA permanent gallery
longhouse interior

A very large portion of the longhouse was used for storage. The upper platforms would have been filled with personal possessions and a variety of food supplies such as strings of corn, dried and/or smoked fish and meat. As well, there were cubicles at the ends of the houses for storage of firewood and large pits were dug under the bunk lines for further storage of foodstuffs.

In the winter months, the longhouse was the focal point of village life. Tools and other personal items were made and repaired; stories and folklore were passed on from one generation to the next and numerous social and ritual events were held. In the summer months a large portion of the inhabitants lived away from the village itself, maintaining nearby fields of corn, beans and squash.

How did archaeologists know where a longhouse used to be? Small dark brown circles or stains in the ground, called post moulds indicated where the large structural poles were erected. Archaeologists look for these signs to determine the size and location of villages (such as the one found on the Lawson Site at MOA).

As part of your visit to the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, you can go into the reconstructed longhouse to experience life in a longhouse 500 years ago. Our educational programming is further hands on with storytelling, legends, bannock over the fire, and even cooking Three Sisters soup in the longhouse.

Dream Catchers


Dream catchers originated in Ojibwa culture. In the mid 1800s, early explorers recorded dream catchers being used to protect infants from illness and evil spirits. A dream catcher is a handmade object that consists of a willow hoop with a woven sinew net or web on the inside of the hoop. Within the webbing, beads, charms, and found objects may be woven in. Anthropologists recorded the use of dream catcher charms amongst the Ojibwa, however it has also been found that Crees and Naskapi also employed charms for protection.

How dream catchers work:
Dream catchers filter dreams, allowing only good dreams to pass through while bad dreams are caught in the net, beads, or charms until the first rays of sun struck them. The feathers send the good dreams to  Dream catchers were mostly given to the children, which would hang above their beds. Since dream catchers are traditionally made of willow and sinew, they aren’t meant to last forever. They are intended to dry out and break down once the child enters the age of “wonderment”.

The legend of the dream catcher:
The legend of the dream catcher began long ago, when the child of a Woodland chief fell ill. Unsettled by fever, the child was plagued with bad dreams and unable to sleep. In an attempt to heal him, the tribe’s Medicine Woman created a device that would “catch” these bad dreams. Forming a circle with a slender willow branch, she filled the center with sinew, using a pattern borrowed from our borther the Spider, who weaves a web. This dream catcher was then hung over the bed of the child. Soon the fever broke, and the child slept peacefully. It is said that at night, when dreams visit, they are caught in the dream catcher’s web, and only the good dreams are able to find their way to the dreamer, filtering down through the feather. When the warmth of the morning sun arrives, it buns away the bad dreams that have been caught. The good dreams, now knowing the path, visit again on other nights.

At the Quillbox Gift Shop, MOA:
The Museum of Ontario Archaeology has numerous dream catchers of varying sizes and colours for sale. Prices range from $3 to $30. The majority of the dream catchers are locally made, unless otherwise stated.

Oberholtzer, Cath. “Dream catchers: legend, lore and artifacts”. Firefly Books Ltd., New York. 2012.