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Elsie Jury: Pioneering Local Archaeology

Elsie Jury Typing Notes in the Field
Elsie Jury Typing Notes in the Field

The career of Dr. Elsie Jury is just as fascinating as the career of Wilfrid Jury, and she played a huge role in fostering the acceptance of women in Ontario archaeology!

Elsie was of Irish and Scottish decent; her parents had immigrated to Millbank (Mornington Township) in Perth County in the early 19th century.  Her father was a doctor and her mother stayed at home to raise their family.

Elsie was very ambitious but during the early 20th century women’s education wasn’t always valued.  Regardless, Elsie went to the University of Toronto and completed her undergraduate degree specializing in English and History in 1933.  She then received her MA in History at Columbia University.  In her MA thesis Elsie wrote about the heritage of her ancestors, the Scottish settlers of Perth County.

In 1935 Elsie went back to the University of Toronto.  She worked as a research for the Toronto Public Libraries while she worked on a degree in Library Science from the university. Not long after, in 1942, she took a job at the University of Western Ontario Reference Library. Elsie was very involved in the Ontario Historical Society, helping with their publications, lectures, and research.

Wilfrid and Elsie met at the University of Western Ontario.  In 1944 Wilfrid mentions going on a number of chaperoned dates with Elsie in his diaries. During this time Wilfrid hired Elsie as a historical researcher on the Fairfield project. The dates continued for three years until their wedding in 1948. Elsie and Wilfrid’s marriage marked the beginning of their long lasting partnership and careers.

Elsie played a big role in Wilfrid’s excavations at Saint Marie I in 1947.  As part of her role as historical research Elsie contacted every institution, teacher, and historian that could have material on the period to help gather information—she even contacted the Russian Ambassador (Jesuits escaped to Russia during the French Revolution)!

Elsie helped establish Fanshawe Pioneer Village and, of course, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Elsie worked on almost every project worked on during his career as an archaeologist. Elsie would support the project and conduct valuable research to help the projects move forward.  Their passion for history and archaeology in Ontario helped further our understanding of Ontario, and promoted conservation of the past.

Even when Wilfrid passed away in 1981, Elsie continued to work with the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and at archaeological sites across Ontario until she passed away in 1993.

 

Want to learn more about other women pioneers of archaeology? Check out our blog post about a few of them!

Fur Trade: How and Why?

fur trade

The fur trade was a major commercial enterprise in Canada for nearly 300 years.  Beginning in the 17th century the Fur Trade lasted until the mid 19th century.  When Europeans arrived in the New World fur trade became a large part of European and First Nations interactions.

Before the fur trade, fishing was the activity Europeans took part in the most.  It was off the coast of Newfoundland, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where there was a large supply of cod, that interactions with First Nations peoples fostered the fur trade.  The cod needed several weeks to dry, and during that time the Europeans wanted to maintain their relationships with First Nations groups.  Europeans would often trade metal and cloth goods to the First Nations for fresh meat and furs.

Beaver felt hats are one of the major reasons why permanent European settlements came to Canada.  The popularity of beaver felt hats in Europe, where there are no beavers, grew during the 17th and 18th century.  The fur trade was increasingly taken advantage of in order to get enough pelts to satisfy the growing demand for hats.

The fur trade spread across North America, while most fur trading posts and settlements were located around Montreal and Northern Alberta.  Each spring, fur traders, or voyageurs, would head to Fort William, now called Thunder Bay, where they would hold a “rendezvous” to trade with First Nations in August.  Afterwards the fur traders would head home to deliver the furs to their trading company.  The Hudson’s Bay Company, established in 1670, was the most famous trading company and is still around today.

Fur wasn’t the only highly prized trade good.  Glass beads were another important part of trade between the First Nations and European settlers and traders.  Makers marks also started to appear on items like pipes, axes, and metal decoration that was often traded.  These materials are important to archaeologists and historians as they can help map trade routes and their use.

 

Did you know?  It could take 13 weeks for voyageurs to travel from Montreal to Thunder Bay.

Medicine Wheel Teachings

By Dakota Ireland

Medicine Wheel

These teachings come from the Anishinaabe people. There are different variations of these medicine wheel teachings; this is only one of them. The medicine wheel is a circle because it demonstrates that it is a never-ending cycle. It is continuous. It is further divided into four sections each with its own distinct colour. Each colour represents the original four races of man that the Creator made. Each section has its own meanings and representations such as the four directions, seasons, and sacred medicines.

There are more in depth teachings behind the medicine wheel. I would encourage you to seek a knowledgeable elder or individual within the Anishinaabe culture to share any other teachings with you.

Miigwetch!

Why is Wilfrid Jury’s office here?

Wilfrid Jury's Office
Wilfrid Jury’s Office

Museum staff are often asked, “Why is Wilfrid Jury’s office displayed at the museum?” Why is this exhibit here when most of our artifacts come from First Nations or colonial contexts?

Well, Wilfrid Jury, and his office, played a big part in the establishing and development of the Museum.

Before the Museum was built on Attawandaron Road, Wilfrid and his father Amos began the Museum at the University of Western Ontario.  In 1927 they started the Museum using artifacts from their own collections.  The majority of Wilfrid’s work, from the writing of excavation notes on the sites he had researched, to the curation of the museum, was completed in his office.  Wilfrid also used his office as a collection space.  He kept a number of the artifacts he had been gifted from across Canada, or had discovered himself, in his office.

Wilfrid Jury in his Office
Wilfrid Jury in his Office

The office we have on display is a reconstruction of Wilfrid’s office from around the 1950s.  At the time his office was in the basement of Middlesex College at Western.  He would often display artifacts in the hallway so passers-by could take a look.

When the Museum opened on Attawandaron Road in 1984 the curators decided to include an exhibit featuring Wilfrid’s office furniture and supplies.  The recreation now has a permanent home in the Museum as we honour his family’s legacy in London archaeology.  After all, without all of the collections work, writing, and compiling Wilfrid did in his office the Museum probably would not have nearly as many artifacts, or be the repository of so much information, let alone exist.

 

Carbon Dating aka Radiocarbon Dating

One of the dating methods most people think of when they talk about archaeology is radiocarbon dating. This is one of the absolute dating methods that archaeologists use to date an artifact. Only organic materials can be dated using this method, but archaeologists can also use it for inorganic artifacts sometimes too.  If an inorganic artifact, like pottery or stone tools, comes from the same layer of soil as an organic artifact, like plant remains or bone tools, archaeologists can use the age of the organic artifact to assign an approximate age to the inorganic artifacts as well.

Even though radiocarbon dating is a pretty well known technique not all archaeologists that have organic samples are able to do it, or perhaps more importantly, the funds to do it. It can cost over $600 to run these kinds of special scientific tests so sometimes archaeologists need to rely on other dating techniques instead.

The science behind it all…

Where does the carbon come from?
Where does the carbon come from?

All organic materials contain carbon. During its lifetime, a plant or animal aborbs carobon (14C and 12C) from the atmosphere. Once it dies, its radiocarbon clock beings to tick down as the amount of 14C begins to decay into 12C. This happens at a constant rate, known as the half-life. Radiocarbon dating is based on the half-life of carbon isotope 14 (written as 14C) as it undergoes radioactive decay into the carbon isotope 12 (12C), which is stable and does not decay. Physicists can measure the ratio of 14C to 12C and calculate when the organism died.

The half-life of 14C is 5730 years, which means that after 5730 years half of the 14C will have decayed into 12C.  The thing is the process isn’t that exact!

Not as accurate as hoped…

  • “A.D. 550 +/-50”: the real date of this artifact is between A.D. 500 and A.D. 600 because the results of radiocarbon dating are always estimates.
  • We can only date objects up to 100,000 years old this way (But that captures a large span of the human experience!)
  • “A.D. 600 cal”: This shows a calibrated date that scientists have calculated since the ratio of 14C to 12C in the atmosphere is not steady through time
  • Nothing that has died after 1950 can be dated using the radiocarbon method. Nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s threw off the natural ratio of carbon isotopes.

How its done…

Radiocarbon dating methods have really improved over the decades.  In the 1940s physicists need really large samples to test radiocarbon—they would use a Geiger counter to literally count the rate of decay and it wasn’t very accurate. But in the 1970s a new method that used a fancy piece of equipment known as an Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) was discovered.  Radiocarbon tests that use AMS are a lot faster, more accurate, and can date even very tiny samples, even corn kernels!

An accelerator mass spectrometer used for radiocarbon dating.

In addition to radiocarbon dating being expensive and sometimes inaccurate, it also takes time, and most labs have long wait lists. It can be a long time before archaeologists are able to get the results of their tests. Regardless, radiocarbon dating has become a media and movie darling, making it one of the most well known techniques for dating artifacts.

Want to learn more about dating methods?  Be sure to check out the series introduction or follow the links below!

Relative Dating Methods in Ontario Absolute Dating Methods in Ontario
Superposition Radiocarbon
Seriation Dendrochronology
Index Types

 

References
Paul Bahn, and Colin Renfrew. Archaeology Theories, Methods, and Practice. 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson. 2008.

Dendrochronology aka Tree Ring Dating

With fall coming to a close, there is no better time to talk about tree rings and their use in archaeology.

You probably know that trees have rings, which you can see and count when you look at a stump after a tree has been cut, but did you know that the rings of a tree let you know how old it is? Tree ring dating allows archaeologists to date when a tree was cut. The method was developed in the early 20th century by A.E. Douglass.  Douglass was an astronomer that worked at archaeological sites in the Southwestern United States.  By the 1960’s, tree ring dating spread to Europe.  Soon, with the rise of computers and statistical methods, scientists, like archaeologists, were able to create long series of tree ring dates that could be used to help figure out how old things are.

Dendrochronology, or tree ring dating, examines the rings produced by trees each year.  The thickness of the ring changes each year based on the growing season, changes in the climate in the weather, illnesses, and things like that.  For example, if there is a drought in the area the tree might produce a very narrow ring, but if it is warm and sunny, with just enough rain, the ring might be thicker.  The size of the rings can also depend on the age of the tree, because as a tree gets older it produces narrower rings as well.

So, how do archaeologists use this information? Dendrochronology has two uses in archaeology: it can be used to calibrate (correct) radiocardon dates, and it can be used to date things all on its own.  Archaeologists look at other trees of the same species in the area because they have the same ring patterns.  Together older trees and younger trees are used to create long, chronological, growth sequences that can help us date artifacts and archaeological sites that are hundreds, even, thousands of years old. The sequence is created by overlaping the tree rings so a long series of rings can be seen.

dendrochronology

When done correctly dendrochronology can be used by archaeologists to date the cutting of a tree to within a year.

Tree ring dating isn’t without its limits though.  Dendrochronology can only be used effectively in places with distinct seasons because the change in season is what causes distinct tree rings to be produced.  It also can only be used when a master sequence has already been created using the same types of trees people used long ago.  The types of trees that grow or flourish in an area changes over time, which may means a dating sequence might not be able to be created.

When scientists and archaeologists use tree rings for dating it is always a good idea to use multiple samples because the wood can sometimes be older or younger than the purpose or structure they were used for.  Older pieces of wood were often reused, while new pieces of wood were often used to mend things.  This means these pieces of wood may not give you the correct date even using dendrochronology, so it is very important to look at more than one set of tree rings.

dendrochronology
Source: http://creatememe.chucklesnetwork.com/memes/112759/why-didnt-the-dendrochronologist-get-married-all-he-ever-dated-w/

Maybe you’ve heard of carbon dating, and are wondering “Why do archaeologists use tree-ring dating at all? Couldn’t you just carbon date the tree?”

Yes, you could, but carbon dating (which our final blog post in the series will be about next week) always has an error range of as many as 50-100 years, meaning that we can only have a general idea of how old something is. Tree-ring dating lets us find out the exact year that a tree was cut down! It can be a very accurate method of dating. It is too bad that we do not find wood more often in Ontario!

Want to learn more about dating methods? Be sure to check out the series introduction or follow the links below!

Relative Dating Methods in Ontario Absolute Dating Methods in Ontario
Superposition Radiocarbon
Seriation Dendrochronology
Index Types

Sources
Henri Grissino-Mayer, “Principles of Dendrochronology.” Department of Geography, University of Tennessee. 2015.
http://web.utk.edu/~grissino/principles.htm
Paul Bahn, and Colin Renfrew. Archaeology Theories, Methods, and Practice. 5th ed. London: Thames & Hudson. 2008.

Index Types

WARNING: Archaeologists don’t dig up dinosaurs… or fossils… but we borrowed this method from our Paleontology friends.

Index fossils are fossils that are used to identify a particular period of time.  Archaeologists don’t look for fossils but they can use other types of artifacts that don’t decay to do something very similar.

One broad type of artifacts archaeologists find are stone tools.  Stone doesn’t decay so these artifacts can sometimes be the only thing archaeologists find at very old sites.  What archaeologists often find are small chips of stone, the debris (debitage) from making stone tools, other times they find a whole tool.  When archaeologists find a whole tool they compare it to the index type from the different time periods.  If the artifacts match archaeologists can date the site the artifact was found at to that time period.

Chances are you’ve been using a simple version of this kind of method since you were a kid!  Do you remember this song from Sesame Street?

Archaeologists in Ontario use index types fairly regularly and often refer to this method as indexing.  Indexing is a very common dating method used by archaeologists who study the Paleo-Indian (12,000–9,500 BP) and Archaic (10,000–2,800 BP) time periods.  Paleo-Indian and Archaic sites are generally very small and don’t have pottery to date using seriationSuperposition often isn’t able to help archaeologists discover the age of the site or artifacts because farmers have often plowed the soil layers together over and over again.

On top of that, there are often no samples to do radiocardbon tests on.

Over time though archaeologists have learned that some styles of artifacts are only found during certain time periods—just like paleontologists have learned that some fossils are only found during certain time periods, which means they can used these artifacts to index a site. For example, Nanticoke Notched projective points are a type of stone tool only found between 1400-1500 CE in Southwestern Ontario.  All Nanticoke Notched points look similar, so when archaeologists find a new point that looks the same they call it Nanticoke and say it was made between 1400-1500 CE.

Ontario Iroquois Naticoke Notched style projectile point. Artifacts, like projectile points that have distinct styles can be compared to an index of tools. Archaeologists use the index to see if the style is unique to a particular period and give it an approximate date
Ontario Iroquois Nanticoke Notched style projectile point. Artifacts, like projectile points that have distinct styles can be compared to an index of tools. Archaeologists use the index to see if the style is unique to a particular period and give it an approximate date.
This poster shows a number of projectile points that are common in Ontario. If archaeologists find a point that looks like X, they can date it to that time period. Like the poster? You can buy it at our gift shop.
This poster shows a number of projectile points that are common in Ontario. If archaeologists find a point that looks like X, they can date it to that time period.
Like the poster? You can buy it at our gift shop.

Even though indexing is similar to seriation they don’t do exactly the same thing.  Remember, seriation only shows how the style of artifacts changed over time and figures out the age of a site by looking at a series of artifacts that were made over a long period of time.  An index of tools, or indexing, uses one style of artifact that is unique to a certain time period to represent that period, and date artifacts that are a similar style.

Want to learn more about dating methods? Be sure to check out the series introduction or follow the links below!

Relative Dating Methods in Ontario Absolute Dating Methods in Ontario
Superposition Radiocarbon
Seriation Dendrochronology
Index Types

Seriation

Next time you go to the mall take a look at the cars around you. Can you tell which ones are newer and which ones are older? You probably have a good idea of which ones are older even if you don’t know anything about cars. Take a look at the image below. Chances are, you can tell the 1981 Honda Accord apart from the 2014 model just by looking at them!

And what about clothes? If you saw someone wearing a baggy neon sweater you can be sure they bought it in the 1970s. That’s because the things that people make and use change in appearance over time. One fashion style might be new and unpopular at first, but soon everyone is wearing it. Then, one day, the baggy neon sweater you used to love is no longer trendy and gets replaced by shoulder pads!

The style of an artifact, like a stone tools or Iroquoian pot, also changes regularly over time.  It can happen in fits and bursts, or steadily, it just depends on the style. Archaeologists use changes in trends to figure out how old a site is based on the style of artifacts they find. This is a type of relative dating known as seriation.

Before seriation can be used as a dating technique artifacts need to be put into a sequence.  This lets archaeologists see changes in style over time.  This sequence is know as a typological sequence. If you take another look at the Honda Accords you can see that the 1981 and 2014 models look very different.  If you look at the cars in between, you can see how the style of the 1981 model slowly changed into the style of the 2014 model.

Typological sequence for Honda Accords. See how the car changed style through the years? If you only looked at the 1981 and 2014 models you might not even recognize these as the same car. But by finding the entire sequence you can see how the car’s style gradually evolved into one we recognize today.
Typological sequence for Honda Accords. See how the car changed style through the years? If you only looked at the 1981 and 2014 models you might not even recognize these as the same car. But by finding the entire sequence you can see how the car’s style gradually evolved into one we recognize today.

How do archaeologists learn how old a site is using seriation though?

Once archaeologists understand the sequence they can count all the different styles of artifacts found at the site.  Archaeologists then do some math to figure out what percentage of a kind of artifact, for example pottery, are a particular style.  A graph is then made to see how the styles compare to one another as a part of the whole.  As archaeologists examine artifacts they notice how the different styles are common, or trendy, at different times.  While one style may be popular now, it likely will have been less popular early on and will likely become less popular later.  As popularity of a style changes so does how common it is, so the more popular it is the more examples of it archaeologists will find.  With this in mind archaeologists track how common a style of artifact or site is over time to see which may be older and which may be newer.

An archaeological seriation of pottery sherds. Note how the patterns of lines change over time and over different regions. Numbers 5-7 are of an earlier style than numbers 2-4, while number 1 was likely traded from Michigan All of these pottery sherds were found at the Edwards site, just west of London.
An archaeological seriation of pottery sherds. Note how the patterns of lines change over time and over different regions. Numbers 5-7 are of an earlier style than numbers 2-4, while number 1 was likely traded from Michigan All of these pottery sherds were found at the Edwards site, just west of London.
Graphs like this are common in archaeology. This shows the seriation of 15 archaeological sites,. The percentage of types of pottery found at each site is shown by the size of each bar. Collared and High Collared sherds are most common at the Rife and Van Eden sites, while Collarless sherds are more common at the Tara site. Collared sherds were more popular later in time than Collarless ones, so the Van Eden and Rife sites are the youngest. These graphs are sometimes called battleship graphs because the shape of each type looks like the outline of a battleship.
Graphs like this are common in archaeology. This shows the seriation of 15 archaeological sites,. The percentage of types of pottery found at each site is shown by the size of each bar. Collared and High Collared sherds are most common at the Rife and Van Eden sites, while Collarless sherds are more common at the Tara site. Collared sherds were more popular later in time than Collarless ones, so the Van Eden and Rife sites are the youngest. These graphs are sometimes called battleship graphs because the shape of each type looks like the outline of a battleship.

Seriation is one of the oldest dating methods used by archaeologists, and is still very important today!  Like all relative dating methods seriation can’t tell you exactly how old a site is in absolute year, but it can help you estimate its age.  Archaeologists use many dating methods at the same time in order to discover the age of an artifact or date of a site, so it is important for them to be mindful of the different clues and samples that may help them learn more.

Want to learn more about dating methods? Be sure to check out the series introduction or follow the links below!

Relative Dating Methods in Ontario Absolute Dating Methods in Ontario
Superposition Radiocarbon
Seriation Dendrochronology
Index Types

The Law of Superposition

Superposition is a relative dating method that looks at the layers of soil beneath the Earth’s surface. Layers of soil that are younger are found on top of layers of soil that are older.  The Law of Superposition isn’t only used by archaeologists though, it is also very important to other scientists like paleontologists and geologists.

At first superposition might seem pretty simple, older things on the bottom, newer things on the top—but what happens if something moves the soil around, like a farmer’s plow or an animal burrowing into the earth?  That is when things can get a little tricky.

A good way to think about superposition is to imagine a messy desk, full of four weeks of mail!  Say one day you need to find a letter from three weeks ago in those layers of envelopes, how will you know about where to look in the pile when there are two weeks of newer mail? To get to the letter from three weeks ago you will have to dig and sift through the other two weeks before you can find the one you are looking for.  When you’ve found it there will still be about a week of even older mail left in the desk.

For archaeologists this means that the artifacts that are found in the upper layers of soil are younger than those found below them.  By looking at the layer of soil that an artifact is found in you can learn how old it is relative to another artifact.  Newer artifacts on top of older artifacts. Archaeologists can’t tell exactly how old artifacts are using the layers of soil or how many years older or younger the artifacts are than each other. A different, absolute dating method would need to be used to do that.

You may be familiar with the word stratigraphy. Stratigraphy is the study of how layers of earth are deposited and overlap, leaving patterns in the soil.  Take a look at the photo below. Superposition just means that the upper layers of stratigraphy are newer than the lower layers. New layers are formed later, or more recently, than the older ones so they sit on top.

stratigraphy
Stratigraphy, or layers of soil, at an archaeological site in the Islands of Orkney, Scotland. The upper layers are younger than the lower layers. Any artifacts found in the dark band in the middle of the picture would date from roughly the same time. Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25889317@N06/2431080454/in/photostream/, Creative Commons license.

Superposition can be really useful when trying to figure out the history of a village site, like Lawson.  When archaeologists find three longhouses, and one crosses over two of them, you know they couldn’t have been used at the same time.  Some of them are newer, and some of them are older.  Take a look at the image of the below. Which longhouse, or longhouses are older, and which are newer?

Which longhouse do you think is the youngest? Which one is oldest? Why?

Which longhouse do you think is the youngest? Which one is oldest? Why?

In this example the red longhouse is newer than the blue and black longhouses.  Archaeologists learn this by noticing that the posts and pits from the red longhouse cut into, and overlap those of the blue and black longhouses.  The blue and black longhouses don’t superpose, or overlap, each other so archaeologists can’t determine which one is older and which one is newer.  Chances are they may have been neighbours, used at the same time.

What archaeologists can’t learn about these longhouses, and what we can’t tell from the image, is how long after the blue and black longhouses  exsisted was the red longhouse built? Was it two weeks later, or 200 years later?

 

Want to learn more about dating methods? Be sure to check out the series introduction or follow the links below!

Relative Dating Methods in Ontario Absolute Dating Methods in Ontario
Superposition Radiocarbon
Seriation Dendrochronology
Index Types

 

Five Ways to Date Old Things: An Introduction to Archaeological Dating Methods

When archaeologists talk about dating, they aren’t talking about who they took out to dinner last night. Instead archaeologists are talking about how they find out the age of the artifacts and sites they study.

How do you think archaeologists date artifacts and sites? You may have answered “carbon dating.” And you’re right! Carbon dating, or radiocarbon dating, is one very common method that archaeologists use, but it’s not the only one.

In Archaeology there are two types of dating: Absolute Dating and Relative Dating

Absolute dating gives you a date for how old something is, or how long ago it happened, like 650 years ago.  For example, radiocarbon dating is an absolute method. These methods are precise but are very expensive.  Experts in other fields need to use high-tech scientific equipment to determine the radiocarbon date, meaning archaeologists might not always be able to use this method. Perhaps more importantly, archaeologists also need to find a sample to test, like charcoal or preserved seeds, which aren’t found at every site.

Relative dating tells you how old something is, or how long ago it happened, compared to something else.  Sites and artifacts are put in a sequence that tells you if it is older or younger instead of being given a specific date. Archaeologists are specialists in this type of dating and can use relative dating to begin to understand the history of a site as soon as we find something in the field.

Archaeologists use a combination of relative and absolute dating methods to help them interpret the past. The past often gets divided into big periods like “Archaic” and “Woodland.” Archaeologists can give artifacts a relative date by determining what period the belong to. Afterward archaeologists may use an absolute dating method to find out how old it is in years, or to learn how it was used over time. Archaeologists decide what dating method to use depending on what they want to learn, and what the method is best at.

Archaeologists around the world use a number of different absolute and relative dating methods, but not all of them work well in Ontario.  Over the next few weeks we will be posting blogs about the dating methods used in Ontario; some of them have helped archaeologists and the museum to interpret the history of the Lawson Site.

Relative Dating Methods in Ontario Absolute Dating Methods in Ontario
Superposition Radiocarbon
Seriation Dendrochronology
Index Types

Until next time, here is a dating methods joke!

dating joke