Navigate / search

2016 Harvest Festival Pow-Wow

Editor: Gordon Nicotine-Sands, our 2016 Harvest Festival Pow-Wow Emcee, provides some information below on the origins of a pow-wow and its significance to First Nation’s peoples and some information on each of the dances that you’ll witness. You can find event details at the bottom of the post Key points to know .

What is a Pow-Wow:

Pow Wow Dancer
Pow Wow Dancer

The Pow-wow was originally a ceremony (amongst dozens that were designed to give thanks to Creator and the spirits for the many blessings found in everyday life) typically found in the western Plains of North America by many of the First Nation’s who inhabited the area.  It is from these ancient practices that the modern day “Pow-wow” derives from, and has made its way to all points in North America.  Today, the Pow-wow is a drug/alcohol free celebration of “life” through the expression of song and dance, where all are welcomed.  The event is led and given direction by an Emcee, and an “Arena director”, who watches over the dance arena.

At a “Pow-wow” the use of Eagle Feathers (and other items from the eagle) is quite prevalent. First Nations people have governmental exemption (within reason) when it comes to the ownership of eagle feathers.  In many Native Creation stories the “eagle” is represented as a messenger from the spirit world, and is also seen as a protector.  It is considered an honour by most First Nations to adorn eagle feathers on their outfits, which are given in different ways by a competent individual depending on the territory.  For the most part the recipient immediately attempts to take on the responsibility of dedicating their life to teachings set out by their own nation.
The Drum is an integral instrument for any gathering as singers use it to provide music for the event, for mainly the “dancers”, but also for everyone’s enjoyment.  The Drum is sacred and considered to be the “heartbeat” of Mother Earth, and in combination with prayer and medicine’s it is said that the drum beat can be heard on the “other” side.


First Nations Men, Women, and Children showcase dance outfits referred to as “regalia”, and dance to various songs.  These practises are spiritual-based and are meant to invoke a “spirituality” for everyone in attendance. Many First Nations people believe that these experiences are healthy for your mind/body/and spirit.  Good feelings, positivism, and adrenaline are what people typically feel at a “Pow-wow”.

Image of woman dancing for 2016 Harvest Festival and Pow-Wow
2015 MOA Pow-Wow Dance Participant

Although not a religious event per-se, (many Native ceremonies are held in First Nation territories and not for public view) several components of the singing and the dancing are considered to be not “man-made” and were given to the people by a higher power. It is this belief system that many participants hold true and keeps them respectful and humble.   Through modernization, many Nations throughout North America have contributed several dance and singing styles through sharing and gift-giving.  Many dances and song styles also originated in “societies” within First Nations where members were selected for admission based on fulfilling obligations and/or sacrifices.  Many of these ‘societies’ still exist several hundred years after their creation.  In addition to the singing and dancing, you will also find many authentic Native craft and food stands, friends and families laughing and sharing, and occasionally visiting dignitaries from the local community. Visitors are invited and encouraged to participate at different times in the program where some songs are designated for ALL people; not just First Nations.

Dance Styles and their Meaning that you’ll see at the 2016 Harvest Festival and Pow-Wow

Male dancers for the 2016 Harvest Festival Pow-Wow
2015 MOA Pow-Wow

A word on modern day dance styles:  Although originally inspired by materials found in nature, some First Nations people have opted to replace many of the natural materials that have been used in outfit creation many years ago with a more durable selection of materials that stand up to the elements along with wear and tear.  So it is not unusual to see materials such as yarn, ribbon, leather, metal works, for example, all of which can be found at fabric, and hardware stores, etc. It is the way that Native people fashion these items to their outfits that make them uniquely “First Nations”.

All men dancers use Breach-cloth type bottoms, bells, bead-work, and head pieces called a “roach” which are made from porcupine and deer tail hair.

The Men’s Traditional dance is a “warrior’s” dance that originated from the western plains.  The dancers are distinguished by a circular item on the back known as a “bustle’ which is constructed of Eagle Feathers and other materials.  The dancer tells the story of the warrior who may be on the hunt, or on the warpath. During this dance you will see the dancer crouching, looking off into the distance, looking at the ground, and forward bursts.  The dancers regalia is adorned with items needed for not only battle but also for healing.  Although some dancers stay true to ‘tribal’ colours and designs, the outfit is designed to the dancer’s preference.  The dance style is accompanied by a slower-to-medium fast drum beat.

The Men’s Grass Dance is a dance that originated in the western plains where the landscape is void of trees and abundant with long grass.  There are several origin stories on the dance with some tribes having warrior societies. Some believe that dancers cleared an area of an impending ceremony of all the grass.  Others believe that it is a dance of acknowledgement to the power of items in nature such as the sweet-grass, used in nearly ALL native ceremonies.  The dancers have long flowing yarn and ribbon on their outfits to mimic that long flowing grass blowing in the wind.  It is accompanied by stepping and swaying.  The dance style is accompanied by a medium-fast drum beat.

The Men’s Fancy Bustle Dance is another type of warriors dance used by young men and boys, and originated in the southern United States.  The dance style is categorized by two “bustles” constructed of white turkey feathers and brightly coloured “hackle” feathers, which are worn at the base of the neck and back.  It is an opportunity for young men and boys to showcase just how acrobatic, fast, and athletic they can be, which usually gets the crowds cheering.  The dance is of course accompanied by a fast drum beat.

The Women’s Traditional Dance is a dance of honour, respect and inspiration.  In many First Nation teachings, women are held in the highest regard.  First, and foremost, for being givers of life, but also for other qualities and contributions that bind families and communities together, such as wisdom, strength, and pride.  There are several “medicines” such as tobacco, sage, sweet-grass, etc. carried by the dancer.  The dance is very stoic, with minimal movement. Typically there is detailed and high quality bead, fabric, ribbon and feather  work put into the outfit.  The dance is accompanied by a slower to medium-fast drum beat.

The Women’s Jingle Dress Dance originated from the Great Ojibway Nation of Northern Ontario and Minnesota, this special dance is considered to be “healing” in nature.  It is believed to be given to the people from the sky-world, as a ceremony to help those who are in need of spiritual lifting.  From its creation to modern day, dancers are still called upon whenever there is a member of the Pow-wow circle or community who are in need of spiritual help due to tragic and unfortunate circumstances.  Young women who decide to take up the jingle dress dance are handed down protocol and teachings by senior dancers, explaining their roles and responsibilities when wearing the dress.  The dress is also unique in its creation in that metal cones are fixating to the dress to create a “shook” type of sound which is said to be heard on the “other” side, just like the “drum”.

The Women’s Fancy Shawl Dance is relatively modern, and is a way for women to showcase how athletic, fast and light footed they can be.  It has been nicknamed the ‘butterfly’ dance because of the wide and colourful shawl worn by the dancer.   Emphasis is also put on the outfit design, with plenty of detailed, colourful and eye-catching patterns used in the ribbon and material work.  It is unique in the way that it is the only dance style that doesn’t employ noisemakers, such as bells or jingles.

Editor: Our thanks to Gordon for his contribution to the blog and for providing such great information. For the event details and to stay current right up to your visit, head on over to our Pow-Wow site and bookmark it for future reference. You could always sign up to our e-newsletter and stay abreast of all the museum’s activities.

Key Points to Know:

Plans are underway for our 9th Annual Harvest Festival and Pow-Wow taking place September 17 & 18, 2016.
Event highlights each day include:

  • traditional singers, dancers and drummers
  • cultural teachings, workshops and demonstrations by local First Nation’s artists
  • flint knapping demonstrations
  • pottery pit firing demonstration (London Potters Guild)
  • storytelling and legends in the longhouse
  • historical re-enactments
  • youth activities (pottery, corn husk doll making, archery)
  • traditional foods and crafts on sale

Here’s the 2016 Program: 2016_powwow-program-1

The event runs from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both days. Admission by donation. Free offsite parking with shuttle service. Accessible Parking available on-site only.


Meet Dr. Rhonda Bathurst

Editor: We’re releasing the news of our new Executive Director, meet Dr. Rhonda Bathurst.

The Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Dr. Rhonda Bathurst has been appointed as the new Executive Director of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. Her position will commence on September 26, 2016.

Meet Dr Rhonda Bathurst, MOA's new ED

Rhonda received her PhD in Anthropology from McMaster University in 2005, and has worked in archaeology around the world; including Belize, Iceland, California, the Pacific Northwest Coast and here at home in Ontario. With seven years of experience managing Sustainable Archaeology: Western, just next door, Rhonda is already well acquainted with the Museum, its core values and its staff.

From Rhonda:

“After over 30 years of experience in archaeology, I couldn’t be more proud or delighted about this opportunity to become a vital conservator of my home province’s cultural heritage. Archaeology is about narrative; it’s about telling informed stories, in multiple voices, from a fragmented and partially preserved record. My experience at Sustainable Archaeology has introduced me to exciting new technologies that archaeologists are using to share these narratives, and my vision involves using these sorts of tools to create interactive and meaningful ways of learning about and engaging with Ontario’s heritage. The Museum is a community space, where the present interacts with the past. It has a rich history of its own, and has touched many lives of researchers and residents, both here in London and across the province. I aim to share this resource broadly, to brand the Museum not only as a facility for historians, descendant communities, and students, but as a destination hub of Ontario archaeological resources, practices, and innovations. I look forward to forging new relationships and to working with the enthusiastic and supportive group of people who make up the Board of Directors, staff, interns, volunteers and students of the MOA team.”

Editor note: The highlighted link for Dr. Bathurst brings you to her page, where you’ll find her published papers. To read her works, you’ll need to register – it’s free to do so.

Field School Experience – Arlyn

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Western University summer field school experience of 2016, conducted by Dr. Neal Ferris, and I was looking forward to it. This course is not a typical archaeological field school. Dubbed the “Unfield School“, it is an opportunity for us to learn how to map, record, and the remediation past archaeology conducted on the Lawson site. As a crew we were going to start the very long process of caring for and repairing the site for the future.
Students being instructed during their field school experience

My field school experience with Mapping

Mapping is an important part of that process. So we spent our early days on the site being taught how to use a Total station and prism (photo above). In many ways, as Ed Eastaugh from the Department of Anthropology noted, the Total Station is one of the most important pieces of equipment we can use on a project like this field school. It would allow us to accurately map the condition of the Lawson site at this moment in time.  this, together with all of the current and past activity evident on the site both natural and human, would provide a comprehensive evaluation of the activity on the site over time. In those early days of the field school, Ed taught us how to set up the total station and how to operate record location information from it. Darryl Dann, a volunteer at the Museum who also helped the field school. Darryl, an avocational archaeologist pointed out cultural features present on the forest floor, and features of current conditions on the site that need to be part of the mapping process.
Image of the functions of a total station
Total Station

Recording these features and site context – basically where everything is across the site that is either a feature of the archaeology. It can include a feature of the current land use and those characterising the surface of the site (such as building locations, sign poles, paths, etc.) is critical for this long term caring for the Lawson site. By understanding accurately where previously excavated and unexcavated portions of the site are, we can ensure the site’s integrity and preservation for the long term. Ultimately, our work will inform future actions at the Lawson site for generations to come.

But most of all, the field school taught us to remember that stewardship and management is not simply about mapping and collecting, but about making sure that all people who care for a site appreciate the cultural significance of a site,
At the Lawson site, the museum, archaeologists, community, and Indigenous peoples who celebrate the ancestors that lived and worked here, will continue to work toward an archaeological plan that makes the site accessible to all through proper interpretation and understanding.  These groups and future generations will be able to appreciate the Lawson site for what makes this place special to them. Really, caring for the site needs to be a community collective decision making process. Our job in the field school was to know and share the heritage of this place and to manage the integrity of the site together for all who will use and have used this area.
Arlyn Martin
Archaeology Summer Field School – Site Management and Service May 2016.

Museum Curators Secrets

We asked our Curator Nicole Aszalos to comment on this Guardian Article and share her Museum Curators secrets.

Image of Nicole holding an artifact from the collection
Nicole and a Birdstone

The Secrets of the Museum Curators from The Guardian is a well written article, with some of England’s top flight curators sharing thoughts on their careers. Although the article is not an in-depth discussion of the curatorial field, it does provide some effective and honest career insights for the aspiring curator. In the short article the curator’s also try to solve some misconceptions commonly associated with the profession.

Often when I say I am a curator, responses run along the lines of ‘Oh that’s interesting.. What is that?” Now when we compound that on the fact that I am a curator at an archaeology museum, it can make for some interesting conversations due to the uniqueness of the position. The most common misconception about a curator’s role, is that the majority of your time is spent doing exhibit design and selecting objects to make a gallery look pretty. Realistically, that is maybe 25 percent of the job. Curators are the keepers of the museum’s collection.  This means we research, catalogue, preserve, conserve, and house museum objects for current and future generations. We maintain the gallery AND collection space and coordinate interns and volunteers. In actuality, it is a lot more behind the scenes than many people realise (editor’s note: imagine an iceberg. What the public gets to see in a museum, is only the tip, above the water).

Although the article mentions that curating is no longer a suitable long term profession, I don’t believe this is true. Starting in the field, the majority of jobs will be contract or project related work. This may be frustrating for some, however this is normal. Most curators go through many contract or part time jobs before finding a permanent position.  We also need to open our mind to what it means to be a curator. Depending on the institution a curator can also mean you are also the collection manager, executive director, or program coordinator.

Daniel Martin notes; “nothing is as important when you’re starting out as gaining experience,” for the aspiring curator, this is the most valuable knowledge one can share.  If you can, volunteer and take internship opportunities while in school. All experience will supplement your degree and make you a better candidate when vying for a position in this highly competitive field.

Image of a Jesuit Ring, found at Christian Island
Christian Island Jesuit Ring Find

I would end on a note similar to that of the article by sharing my favourite career object, a complete Jesuit ring found during excavations on Christian Island. This ring is associated with one of the last Jesuit missions in Huronia and it features a distinctive ‘L-Heart’ sign. Jesuit rings are rare to find in terms of archaeology which makes this complete ring even more awe- inspiring.





Editor’s Note: The Jesuit Ring pictured above can be viewed not only here, but in the Museum’s on-line collection page. You can search for specific items, or let the system randomly generate material for you to view. We hope you find the service to be of value and will be adding more pieces on a somewhat regular basis, as time and resources allow.

Lawson Field School Update

The Lawson Site Un-Field School Was a Success!

By: Dr. Neal Ferris, Lawson Chair of Canadian Archaeology, Western University.

Students and volunteers at work

It has been a few weeks since the end of our first “Un Field School” here at the Lawson site, with students and instructors since moving on. But, for me, I finally have a moment now to reflect on the field school and what we discovered during those three weeks. Below is an update and brief summary of what we managed to achieve.

This Lawson field school had several aims: First, it needed to be instructive and a good learning experience for the Western anthropology students who took the course. Second, it had to serve the needs of the Museum’s Lawson Site Management Plan and provide insight on how we can best manage this site long term. Third, it had to be a successful experience for the volunteers and visitors who joined us. Our goal was to make archaeology accessible to non-archaeologists and to underscore to the class the bigger context within which we do archaeology today. Finally, I was hoping to learn just a little bit more about the Lawson site. Not just to care for it as the Lawson Chair, but also to have a better sense of the importance of this place.  It has been both an ancient home and village and is one of the oldest continuously excavated sites in Canada. Really, when you think of it, the entire history of Canadian archaeology has happened on this site!

While sorting through the findings will still take some time, I am fairly confident in saying that we’ve managed to achieved those aims. I must thank, as essential to that success, the help of MOA volunteer and field director Darryl Dann, as well as Department of Anthropology staff and geo-spatial and geo-physical expert Ed Eastaugh. Darryl and Ed were vital to the success of the course and meeting the aims we had set for ourselves.

In terms of the geo physical survey, we are only just starting. The use of three complementary and different technologies (magnetometer, resistivity meter, ground penetrating radar), each added a bit more below ground insight into possible archaeological features. The technologies illustrated the edge of past excavations, and even old fence lines reflected in 19th and early 20th century mapping for the site. As part of the ongoing site evaluation, a wider area of geophysical mapping will be planned for the years ahead.

Lawson field school map
Field School Map

I wasn’t sure how productive excavating previously excavated areas would be, which was the primary task for the Lawson field school this year. After all, in theory there should be little archaeological data or material left.  But to the contrary, we were able to confirm that, at least in the Previously Excavated Area C, past hand excavations did not always completely get down to subsoil, leaving remnant site intact for us to document. More critically, cultural features in these areas were only rarely excavated, (14 of the 18 features that were mapped appear to be cultural, and not archaeological from previous excavations). Moreover, because we were able to open a relatively large area relatively quickly, we were able to see more of the site. I was quite pleased to see clear settlement data, in the form of post mould rows, visible to be recorded.


Perhaps most exciting of all, we also uncovered a very large stain (Feature 10, which encompasses Features 17 and 18) in the very edge of our excavations. This stain was not deep, and revealed cultural features below it. When I align this area of our excavations with previous work done on the site, it is clearly very close to a part of the trenches excavated across the site between 1921-1923 by William J. Wintemberg. This is really important because it suggests we can start to accurately align his trenches and findings in real space and with the findings from more recent fieldwork. It also is pretty exciting, almost a 100 years later, to “see” Wintemberg’s hand revealed so intimately on the site and reach back to that early formative period in Canadian archaeology!

In terms of artifacts and remains, most of what we uncovered were small items that would have been missed first time out (flakes, animal bone, small ceramic fragments). But we did recover large quantities of carbonized maize from around Feature 8, which we will be able to run C14 dates on (update will be provided in a future piece). This will represent one of the first times we can date from controlled context materials recovered from within the older, pre-expansion area of the village, in order to better understand the history of the site.

Volunteers at the Lawson Field School
Students interpreting the site with visitors.

Fortunately a wide range of volunteers joined our efforts, to work with the students.  The public aspect was twofold, to give them a hands-on experience while at the same time giving the students an opportunity to think about how to talk about archaeology and the site to a wide range of visitors. We were joined by a diverse group, from grade school students, to a visiting, retired American archaeologist that happened to show up one day, to a group of parents and home schooled students from Oshweken and Brantford. I really wanted the students to think about archaeology as a practice that occurs not just in pursuit of knowledge about the past.  It is a practice that occurs in the present and is of interest to a wide range of people beyond archaeologists. I couldn’t have chosen a better setting for bringing that message home.

Really, it is hard to imagine a set of outcomes I would have preferred to those we achieved. The students themselves got into the spirit and the aims of the field school (a sample of the blogs they wrote for the course will be posted here subsequently, so you can get a sense of their perspective directly) and all did really well. We have tested out a series of methods that will work well for rehabilitating the site. These efforts will ensure the various other uses that happen here are managed so as to avoid degrading the site. We’ve gained new insights into the site itself that will help advance our understanding of the archaeology and human history of this place. Most importantly, we have a better appreciation for the long history of archaeology that has been carried out on the site. All of which will provide the Museum’s and the Lawson site visitors a better experience and understanding of the history captured here.

I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to further these aims again at the Lawson site!

Thank You from Joan Kanigan

Joan Kanigan headshot
MOA ED Joan Kanigan

Four Years at MOA, by Joan Kanigan

It is with a combined sense of anticipation and regret that I prepare my final blog for the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.  I am proud of what the museum has been able to accomplish over the past 4 years and my decision to leave was difficult.  As I write this blog, our Summer Camp program is completely full, the roof and HVAC systems are being replaced, and we are in the process of adding movable shelving in the collection storage room.  So much has changed over the past four years that I wanted to take this opportunity to review and celebrate what has been accomplished as the museum prepares to develop exciting new exhibits, increase community partnerships, and improve the management of the Lawson Site.


Joan Kanigan leading MOA Mission Meeting 2014.
MOA Mission Meeting.

My first year at MOA was one of reflection, rebuilding, starting with the development of a new mission statement that would align the museum’s research, collection, and public mandates. The new mission not only clarified our focus to advance our understanding of Ontario’s archaeological heritage, but more importantly articulated our ultimate goal of inspiring appreciation and respect for Ontario’s cultural diversity. There was also an emphasis on strengthening MOA’s foundation by redeveloping many of the museum’s policies to reflect changing expectations and incorporate best practices into how the museum functions.


MOA Logo

There was a more visible change at the museum during my second year when we redeveloped the museum’s logo and brand. MOA’s logo reflects our belief that archaeology is (first and foremost) about people and conveys the sense of excitement and adventure that we want people to experience when they visit. This change lead to a steady increase in volunteers, tours, and school groups at MOA. A new membership program was also launched at the end of the year as we continued to look for ways to actively engage with members. At this time the Board approved a new strategic plan that focused on sustainability and creating exceptional experiences for visitors.


Stewardship: Caring for the collection
Stewardship: Caring for the collection

There was a big push during the 2014/2015 year to improve our collection storage, digitize collection records; add interactive components in our gallery; and develop a better understanding of the current condition of the Lawson Site. We also increased online content through regular blog posts about what is happening at the museum, added downloadable teaching resources and videos to our website, and launched our on-line Gift Shop and Adopt an Artifact program. Launching the on-line collections database was particularly exciting as it allowed us to give people access to many of the objects in our collection that are currently not on display.


Oneida and Huron Language Exhibit

The past year has seen tremendous growth in the museum’s reach through our social channels and community outreach. This year we established a strong partnership with Huron College and First Nations studies at Western University that have resulted in major exhibits at the museum.  Staff have also been updating MOA’s permanent exhibits and we’ve increased opportunities for students in various programs to complete internships and research projects at the museum.  Particularly exciting is the partnership being developed with the Huron-Wendat Nation and the Jesuits in English Canada to create a Community Memories exhibit about Ste. Marie II. MOA has also more actively promote the work of Ontario Archaeological Society Chapters and has built engaged communities through a variety of ways – social media, our electronic newsletter, our web site, and programming.

MOA’s Future

Looking forward, I believe that MOA will continue building exceptional experiences that excite and inspire people to become actively engaged in how we build appreciation and respect for Ontario’s diverse cultural heritage. I have been fortunate to work with a dedicated and supportive Board of Directors along with a supportive community.

The staff and volunteers at the museum are truly amazing and none of what has been accomplished during the past four years would have been possible without them.

It has been a privilege to serve the museum and everyone involved. Thank you.

Archaeology Field Kit

MOAs resident archaeologist Ontario Doug and his tools

Have you ever wondered what tools archaeologists use and why they are important?  Ontario Doug is helping answer those questions by sharing the contents of the professional archaeologist’s tool kit.

The most iconic tool in an archaeologist’s field kit is the trowel.  Trowels allow archaeologists to carefully clear thin layers of soil making it easier to reveal features in the ground.  At the Lawson Site, a common feature archaeologist’s find are post moulds which look like dark circular stains in the ground.  An archaeologist needs to have a good eye to catch the changes in soil colour when excavating.

The second most iconic tool in the archaeologist’s field kit is the shovel.  Shovels are useful when archaeologists have to excavate a larger area that they know won’t have many artifacts or features.   Whether an Archaeologist uses a square shovel or a rounded shovel is usually up to personal preference.  Ontario Doug prefers square shovels because he can be more precise as he removes the layers of soil.  It’s also easier to keep the edge sharp!

Notebooks, pencils, and a camera are especially important and no professional archaeologist would be without these in their toolkit.  Archaeologists record everything they find and keep very accurate records detailing their excavation process and where artifacts and features were found.  Context is very important and archaeologists must keep detailed records about their work.

To help ensure accurate records, archaeologists also use tape measures, line levels, compasses, and GPS equipment.  These tools allow Ontario Doug to precisely measure where artifacts are found so that they can be accurately recorded on a map of the site.  Mapping the location of artifacts and features helps archaeologists develop a picture of how people lived on a site.

Archaeologists also use a screen when they are excavating.  All the soil is removed by digging, whether with a trowel or shovel, then it is sifted through the screen to catch any small artifacts that may have been missed while digging.  Archaeologists will also collect soil samples to take back to the lab so that they can been screened using flotation to find very small artifacts as well as seeds and plant remains.

They typical archaeologists toolkit also contains dental picks, small paint brushes, and a dust pan.  Dental picks and small brushes are used to very carefully remove soil from around artifacts, especially ones that are fragile.  A dust pan is a great way to get that last bit of loose soil out of a unit.  Ontario Doug likes to make sure his units are clean before taking pictures of the features and artifacts that have been found.

The Thornton Abbey Project

The Thornton Abbey Project – One Curators Journey in Archaeology

By Nicole Aszalos, Musuem of Ontario Archaeology Curator

For the month of June, I spent most of my days out of the office and in the trenches at Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire England. Since this was my first time in England, I wanted to experience as much as I possibly could. To do this, I left a few days early to travel York and Leeds to gain an understanding and appreciation of history I was hoping to unearth. And being the Harry Potter fan that I am, there was no possible way I could venture into York and not spend a day touring The Shambles, an opportunity that the nerdiness in me fully appreciated.

Nicole at The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. Also had the opportunity to shoot a crossbow here which was a cool experience.
Nicole at The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. “I also had the opportunity to shoot a crossbow here which was a cool experience.”

My goal in York and Leeds was to gain an understanding of the museums and their presentation of history since this is something I am passionate about.  I spent my days touring museums and historic sites including York Minister, York Castle Museum, and the Royal Armouries in Leeds.  It was exciting to see how interactive these museums were in engaging the visitor with history.  The museums I visited created immersive experiences by combining both historic objects and modern technology in their displays. One of the most immersive and unsettling experiences was exploring the dungeons of York Castle Museum where they had projections of actors representing some of the most notorious or historic people hung at the gallows there.  Being the active person I am I also spent a couple hours hiking historic paths including what remains of the Roman Wall in York.

The Excavation

On Saturday June 11th I arrived at the Thornton Abbey Project excavation camp mid-afternoon by train. It was dreary, cold, and I was jet-lagged. There were about 15 of us there by the end of the night with the majority of us being either Canadian or American. We worked the site 6 days of the week, rain or shine. The trenches included an area of trenches that were re-opened from last year and one new one, so the first few days were digging out the remaining back-fill then starting into the new levels where the skeletons were buried.

I can’t go into detail on all that was uncovered during the excavation because of the sensitive nature of the excavation.  Also, the Thornton Abbey Project is an active excavation so I can’t discuss specific details until after the project is finished.  This will help prevent treasure hunters or ‘head hunters’ if you will from taking some of the human remains (especially the skull) as prizes from the site.  I will say that finding my first skeleton was an amazing experience. I was building with anticipation with every animal bone and iron nail uncovered (which was a lot). I decided to work our day off and it was a great choice that I did since that was the day I found and uncovered my first skull.

Uncovering Human Remains

Nicole excavating at Thornton Abbey.
Me unearthing my first skeleton with Mary.

Uncovering the human remains is quite a meticulous process, but the cautiousness and care that it takes to uncover a skeleton is something that I loved most about it.  It is important to be very careful because the human remains we were excavating were upwards of 1000 years old and very fragile. We want to prevent as much damage as we can to the human remains as we can while excavating them, especially because they can potentially become more fragile the longer they are exposed to the elements.

It was like putting together pieces of a puzzle with each bone that was unearthed. The coolest part of it though was being able to see the individuals age and health at their time of death and possibly see some of the diseases they had. When my partner Mary and I were able to uncover and lift the skeleton we were working on, we were able to see the evidence of Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis (DISH) on his spine and experience firsthand the impacts disease can have on the body.   DISH is a bony hardening (calcification) of ligaments in areas where they attach to your spine.  DISH is a calcification of the ligaments located along the spine that most often occurs in older people. During the time period that these burials are related to the disease is often a result of their diet. Our skeleton that displayed symptoms of DISH was an older gentleman who had it along the lumbar portion of his back.  It was very interesting to see an example of DISH first hand by actually handling the vertebrae’s that displayed these symptoms instead of viewing pictures in a book.

The rest of the last week continued with more excavations of burials including multiple disturbed burials. These were fascinating. As I was trying to find the arm of one skeleton I end up coming across the leg of another. One student came across an upside down mandible on the pelvis of the skeleton he was unearthing. Finds like those made for even more interesting days on the field. Overall this was a great experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat (even with the cold and rainy weather).

If anyone would like to learn more about the purpose of the 2016 excavations and some history behind the site, feel free to check out the Thornton Abbey Project

Additional Resources:

Students speak about their experiences at the Thornton Abbey Project site:

Meet Desiree Barber

As part of our behind the scenes series: Meet Desiree Barber, a MOA Intern


When travelling in Europe at 16,  I fell in love with art history and architecture.  Consequently, I decided working within art, history and culture was what I wanted to do as a career.  However, after receiving some advice, I took a detour towards college for Dental Assisting.  After finishing the program I decided being a dental assistant for the rest of my life was not what I wanted.  So, I entered university to pursue my dream.  After I received my Bachelor of Arts, I saw the need for a post-graduate program.   I started at Georgian College for the Museum and Gallery Studies program.  The final semester requires an internship, which I am completing at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA).

I chose to do my internship at MOA because I believed it was the best fit considering my education background.  At university I majored in Anthropology and minored in Art History.  Archaeology is a subdivision of anthropology and it has always interested me but I never really got a chance to study it while at university.  An internship at MOA allows me to learn more about a topic of interest and apply the knowledge I have gained in a practical setting.

During my studies at the Georgian program, I discovered a passion for both the departments of Education and Collections Management. While applying for internships, MOA was offering a position for each department.  Since I have an interest in both, while meeting with the MOA team I got to speak with Katie (Education)  and Nicole (Collections Management).  Katie and Nicole suggeted I split my internship into two parts.  I immediately took advantage of the opportunity.  Thanks to this flexibility I’m gaining experience in both areas. I’ll be able to demonstrate to future employers that I am a flexible and versatile employee.  These attributes are important to possess while working at cultural institutions.  Because,  there are always many hats to be worn and the environment is very team oriented.

My involvement with the education department is focused on becoming familiar with the school group activities.  These include preparing for the day, giving gallery and longhouse tours, introducing artifacts to the students, holding workshops and leading crafts.  A project I was assigned included organizing and planning several summer camp weeks for this upcoming summer.  It has been a great experience thus far!

Next week I begin part two of my internship in Collections Management.  I will be responsible for digitizing and cataloguing artifacts in MOA’s collection (using PastPerfect), completing condition reports and helping with preparations for an exhibition.  I am looking forward to it!


After the internship at MOA, I would like to find a position at a cultural institution. I’m looking forward to applying my skills and knowledge within the Education or Collections Management departments.  The end goal is to find that one position that will fulfil the dream that started when I was 16.

Editor: Thanks for taking the time to meet Desiree Barber. If you missed the piece by our other Intern Monica Norris, you can read it here. We feel fortunate to have these talented young women with us and look forward to their contributions. We hope to follow their careers when done with school. Welcome Desiree and Monica. Thanks for choosing MOA for your internship.

Year in Review

2015/2016 Year in Review

As seems to be the case every year, this year in review highlights how much has been happening at MOA. The museum has continued to improve over the past year. Plans for much needed repairs to the building are well underway, such as the repairs to the roof and HVAC system.  We have also planned exciting new exhibits, community partnerships, and better management of the Lawson Site.

Oneida and Anishinaabe/Ojibwe Language Exhibit

The past year has seen tremendous growth in the museum’s reach through our social channels and community outreach. We’ve established a strong partnership with Huron College and First Nations studies at Western University that have resulted in major exhibits at the museum this past year. We’ve increased opportunities for students in various programs to complete internships and research projects at the museum. We’ve also begun building a partnership with the Huron-Wendat Nation and the Jesuits in English Canada to create a Community Memories exhibit about Ste. Marie II. This is an exciting partnership and the resulting on-line and physical exhibit will explore a story of struggle, sacrifice, and change during one of the most significant periods in early Canadian History. We have been able to more actively promote the work of Ontario Archaeological Society Chapters and look forward to working even more collaboratively with the OAS in the coming year.

Mary and Erin 2015
Mary and Erin working on reboxing artifacts



Year Ahead

With support from the City of London SPARKS grant and community partners, we are also creating new interpretive gardens outside of the Lawson Village that will explore indigenous plants and their traditional uses. This will enable us to make changes in the Lawson Village to improve how the site is interpreted and managed both from an archaeological and community perspective.

As we reach out into our communities through a variety of ways – social media, our web site, and programming – we will continue working to build exceptional experiences that excite an inspire people to become actively engaged in how we build appreciation and respect for Ontario’s diverse cultural heritage.

If you want to read more about everything that happened at MOA this past year, check out our 2016 Annual Report  where you can find details on the many programs and activities undertaken this past year and the successes we’ve had.

I am grateful to the museum’s staff and volunteers for all their hard work and dedication as nothing we’ve accomplished would have been possible without them. MOA is also fortunate to have a dedicated and supportive Board of Directors along with a supportive community. I would like to thank Western University, the City of London, London Heritage Council, the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture, and all our funders, sponsors, and most importantly donors for all your support this past year. – Joan

MOA Thank you