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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

Southdale Site Longhouse

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.

The Southdale Site Longhouse

(1988 Volume 10, Number 1)

An intriguing page of the London area’s early history was unearthed in south London during July with the Museum’s salvage excavation of the Southdale site on Southdale Road.  Of particular interest to Museum archaeologists was the discovery of a 14th or 15th century Neutral longhouse that measured an incredible 53 metres (174 feet) in length.  While larger longhouses have been found in other parts of the province, the Southdale house becomes the largest prehistoric structure ever documented in the London area.  This unusual find has revealed a hitherto unknown aspect of prehistoric Neutral settlement patterns, yet as often happens in archaeology, we have come away with more questions than answers.

The Southdale site was discovered by the writer in 1982 during the Museum’s City of London Archaeological Survey.  It was visited and surface collected on two occasions that summer, resulting in the collection of one projectile point, four small pieces of pottery, four utilized flakes, a hammer-stone, and 25 chert flakes.  A small amount of historic debris, indicative of a 19th century occupation of the property, was also collected at this time.  The site was registered with the Ministry of Culture and Communications, Heritage Branch, and was closely monitored by Museum staff since it was located on prime development land.

In early 1988 staff of the Ministry of Culture and Communications reviewed a plan for the development of the Southdale sit property as a residential subdivision and requested a reassessment of the site prior to development.  The Museum was then contracted by PlanCan Associates Inc. of London to carry out a Stage II assessment of the site.  This work resulted in a detailed mapping of the artifacts on the surface of the site and led to the recommendation that both the prehistoric and historic components of the site be salvaged.

On July 4, 1988 we began a three week excavation on the site expecting to find the remains of a mid-19th century farmstead and perhaps a small Neutral cabin similar to those that the Museum has excavated in the vicinity of the Lawson site.

Initial topsoil stripping revealed the presence of a series of historic structures as expected.  These structures tell a tale of early pioneer life in Westminster Township, however, their story must be seen as a sequel to the prehistoric puzzle that was beginning to unfold.

On July 14 we uncovered the first remnants of the longhouse wall, barely visible as a faint line of staggered post moulds in the sun-baked clay.  Two days later London’s first rain in 17 days greatly improved conditions on the site as the house posts became more evident in the moist soil.  We continued to expose more postmoulds and the house continued to grow.  On July 19, after uncovering over 50 metres of house wall, we finally found the house end wall and the entire structure was exposed.  It then became a race to record and excavate the posts and features, a task that was completed on the last day of the project.

The resulting floor plan of the Southdale house (Figure 1) shows a double line of posts along both side walls and only a single line of posts along the ends.  Along the double wall the inner posts are much deeper than the outer posts.  Similar wall patterns have been observed on other Neutral longhouses indicating that this is a result of a particular construction technique rather than a product of rebuilding.  Within the house large support posts occur at regular intervals about two metres inside the walls.  Many of the posts were filled with charcoal suggesting that the house may have burned down.  However, the house interior was extremely clean, containing few artifacts and features.  This is not what one would expect if it had been quickly abandoned, however, it may have burned during a season when it was not in use.  Only five centrally alighned hearths and a single ash-filled pit were found.  The remains of a small refuse midden were evident at the north end of the structure.  Surprisingly few artifacts were found in either the midden or the features, indicating that the site may have been used fr a relatively short period.

Southdale site longhouse

The Southdale site adds a new twist to our present understanding of prehistoric Neutral settlement patterns.  In short, it simply does not fit with the documented pattern.  The Museum has excavated eight small Neutral cabin sites in the London area in recent years.  These sites are all associated with nearby villages and they all consist of a single small longhouse.  Like the Southdale house, these cabins contain few interior features and they usually have an associated refuse midden at one end.  However, the cabins have an average length of only 13.09 metres and an average width of 6.75 metres.  The Southdale house is four times this size.  Even at the Lawson village, the average house length is only 23.1 metres and the longest house exposed to date is only 36 metres n length.  The cabin sites have been interpreted as agricultural hamlets occupied by small groups of villagers during the summer months for the purpose of tending crops.  It is estimated that less than 20 people would have occupied such sites at any one time.  In contrast, the Southdale house was built to accommodate between 70 and 100 individuals, based on the estimated number of hearths present and the size of the living area.  These comparisons indicate that the Southdale house may have been built to serve a different purpose than the cabins we have documented.

It should be noted that most of the cabin sites are found in the northern part of the city in association with the Lawson village.  The Southdale site is probably associated with a village on the south side of the Thames River and we know very little about the settlement patterns of this community since no village sites have been extensively excavated.  Southdale provides tantalizing evidence suggesting that the villages on the south side of the city may be quite different from Lawson and may involve some very large structures.

A definitive interpretation of the Southdale site must await the collection of additional archaeological data from the south London area.  For now, the Southdale site provides archaeologists with another useful cautionary tale by demonstrating how a seemingly simple site (on the surface) can lead to a series of unanswered archaeological questions.



The Southdale excavation was generously funded by Drewlo Holdings Inc. of London.  The Museum would also like to thank the Heritage Branch of the Ministry of Culture and Communications (London office) for the loan of their summer filed crew for the final two weeks of the project.

Written by Peter Timmins, who is now Principal / Archaeologist / Heritage Planner at TMHC Archaeological and GIS Services




The Attawandaron Discoveries

by Marjorie Clark
(Part 3 of a 3 part series)

This article, part 3 of this history series, was previously published in the Puslinch Pioneer, 2015 and re-printed here with permission from the author, Marjorie Clark and PuslinchToday

The Huron First Nation called their southern neighbours “Attawandaron”, meaning “People of a slightly different language”. The French labelled those same people “Neutrals”, as they remained neutral between the Huron and Iroquois.

The Attawandaron or Neutrals inhabited dozens of villages in Southwestern Ontario stretching along the north shore of Lake Erie from the Niagara Peninsula to the Detroit River, perhaps as far north as Toronto in the east and Goderich in the west.

A semi-nomadic society, the Neutrals lived in villages, which would usually be abandoned after about twenty years. When the game, the soil and the wood in an area became depleted, the area would be left to regenerate and the village would relocate to a new spot. The largest Neutral village site in Wellington County and perhaps in Ontario, covering thirteen acres, was in the Badenoch section of Puslinch, on the east side of Morriston, lot 32, concession 8. The other one situated within the Badenoch area was on lot 28, rear of concession 8, the former McPhee farm.

In 1615-1623, some of Samuel de Champlain’s men travelled south from Midland to meet the Neutrals and in 1625-1626, Etienne Brulé spent the winter among them. A Récollet priest, Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon described them in a letter dated July 18, 1627. At the time, there were approximately 40,000 Neutrals.

In the autumn of 1650 & spring of 1651, the Iroquois tribes from the south, that is, the Mohawks, Onondaga and Seneca, armed with guns given them by the Dutch in New York State, nearly annihilated the Neutrals. Some were carried off as captives and were assimilated into the Seneca. Those who remained fell victim to diseases like smallpox and measles, which had been introduced by European emigrants or were assimilated by surrounding tribes. After that, this area was frequented by Mississauga on hunting parties. The Mississauga were still in the area after the arrival of the European settlers and our ancestors in Puslinch interacted with them.

Although they had lived in harmony with nature and did not significantly alter the landscape, the Neutral Nation left shreds of evidence of their civilization, which have and are still emerging from the earth. Throughout the years, farmers would pick up artefacts that surfaced in their fields, while ploughing. My uncle, John Clark (1908-2000), who was born and raised on a farm, adjacent to the McPhee site and who farmed across the road from it in adult life, collected arrowheads and skinning stones throughout his lifetime.

In 1982, Ken Oldridge, a teacher at John F. Ross Collegiate Institute in Guelph learned of John Clark’s collection from his student, Richard Ussher, who was John Clark’s grandson. At the time, Ken Oldridge was the Regional Vice-President of the Ontario Archaeological Society and Archaeological Conservation Representative for the Ministry of Citizenship & Culture. John showed the artefacts and the locations, where he found them, to Ken Oldridge. This created a flurry of activity and during the summers of 1983-85, digs on the sites were funded. The result was a significant enrichment of our society’s knowledge of the people, who preceded us on this land.

The 1st excavation took place on McPhee farm, owned by Raymond Reid at the time of the archaeological dig in summer 1983. A 500 year old village site, inhabited by about 1,000 people around 1500-1530 AD, was located. It covered 3½ to 4 acres. Ken Oldridge was project director and the site co-ordinator was Bill Fitzgerald, a PhD student at McGill. The dig was visited by archaeologists from the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph, some 50 members of the Ontario Archaeological Society, James Schroder, M.P. and Aberfoyle School Principal, Fred Dack and teachers. Ken Oldridge was guest speaker at one of the first meetings of the Puslinch Historical Society, held on April 2, 1984.

The Morriston or Elliot site was excavated in 1984-85. This village covered 13 acres, with 4,000 inhabitants. It existed for approximately 20 years, around 1450-1500. The village was constructed about 50 metres from a spring. The longhouses were 200 to 300 ft long, 2 ½ metres apart and appeared more structurally sound than those at the McPhee village. Bob Penrice (1906-1985), who farmed south of Morriston, had a collection, which contained a 7,000-year-old Stanley stem from the Morriston area. Ontario Hydro was forced to map a new route for its transmission towers, which had been slated to be erected through here, due to this discovery.

Andy Scott with his collection, June 8, 1984
Andy Scott with his collection, June 8, 1984

Three sites were identified in the vicinity of Crieff. Artefacts found on lot 20, rear of the Gore, the farm belonging to Donald A. Stewart (1903-1991), indicate the sites were used in 3,000 to 5,000 BC. Andy Scott’s collection from his farm, lot 26, rear of the Gore, was one of the best collections in Wellington County, with some items dating back as far as 8,000 years. The Crieff sites were within hunting and fishing area for the Attawandaron, which probably extended as far west as Puslinch Lake, where Winfield Brewster of Hespeler reported finds. Andy Scott (1901-1984) remarked that artefacts were to be found on his and every farm for three or four miles along the 1st concession road.

In January 1989, Catherine and Maurice Smith, on behalf of Margaret Starkey, donated a collection of 17 artefacts from 600 to 9,000 years old to the Wellington County School Board. These items were found by hired man, Willie Fraser (1870-1961), around 1900, on the farm owned by Richard and Jim Starkey of Arkell, part of lots 7, 8, and 9, con. 10,

Would you like to know more about the Attawandaron? “The Neutral Indians of South-Western Ontario” by Elsie McLeod Jury, is available to read in the archive of the Puslinch Historical Society, as well as information on the Puslinch sites.

PuslinchToday would like to thank Marjorie Clark for her contributions. This three part series of history articles has been extremely popular on the site and we look forward to all her future work.

This article, part 3 of this history series, was previously published in the Puslinch Pioneer, 2015 and re-printed here with permission from the author, Marjorie Clark and PuslinchToday

Monica Norris Internship

In the collections storage room cataloguing
Monica In the collections storage room cataloguing.

Meet Monica who is completing an internship at MOA

Hello!  I am Monica Norris, and I began my Collections internship with the MOA in May.  I am completing my final semester of the Museum Management and Curatorship post graduate program at Fleming College.  The reason I chose to study at Fleming College is because the program is intensive and very hands-on.  A lot of material is covered, not only from an academic approach, but I also had many opportunities to apply concepts in a practical manner.  This has given me a more realistic experience than other programs might offer.  The skills and tools I acquired through the MMC Fleming program have prepared me for real life situations, and given me the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks that are common practice in medium to small sized museums.

I will be working in collections management this summer, helping to create, maintain and enhance the archaeological records in the database PastPerfect.  This has involved cataloguing artifacts that have not been entered into the system yet, as well as providing condition reports.  Along the way I have been repacking artifacts into archival bags.  I will also conduct research to help gather information to be used in the collections records and in museum blogs.

I chose to intern at the MOA because I have had a deep curiosity about archaeology since I was a child. I have gone on digs in England, and more recently some in Ontario.  I will be honest, before my digs in Ontario I was quite naïve about how much archaeological evidence there is in Canada.  Now I am so excited to learn more at MOA, and have the opportunity to handle these artifacts!

Jim Keron showing Monica how to do a profile drawing at Davidson Site. 2008
Jim Keron showing Monica how to do a profile drawing at Davidson Site. 2008

It hasn’t even been a month yet, and I feel right at home.  The staff here are lovely.  They are friendly, hard-working, and enjoy their jobs.

In addition to cataloguing, my summer project will be to develop, create and install my own small exhibit in the main gallery.  I enjoy exhibit development as much as I enjoy collections management, so I look forward to what the summer has to bring at MOA!  Once I graduate I plan on pursuing a career in the heritage and museum sectors.  I love to research, and have an honours BA in English Rhetoric and Professional Writing.  My strongest interests are in curatorship, exhibition, and collections management, but I hope to explore any and every opportunity offered to me to!



Editor: Thanks for taking the time to meet Monica. If you missed the piece by our other Intern Desiree Barber, 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 Monica and Desiree. Thanks for choosing MOA for your internship.