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The Classificatory-Descriptive Period: Explorers and Romance

Written by MOA Exhibition Intern Joel Wodhams

What do you think of when you think “archaeologist?” Don’t try to be too correct. Have some fun. When I think of an archaeologist I cannot help but imagine an Indiana Jones-like figure: someone exploring jungles and deserts in search of mysteries from the ancient world. This isn’t what archaeology is today but it is part of the undeniable charm and romance of archaeology.

During the mid-1800s to the First World War, archaeology was in the Classificatory-Descriptive Period. In this period archaeologists described sites and artifacts and organized them into categories, such as the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age.

Imagine that you were an archaeologist during this time period. You are a person fascinated with the past, and scientists like Charles Darwin and Charles Lyell have laid out a sketch of the world that puts the age of the Earth to being billions of years old instead of just over 6000. With this huge amount of time to explore it is no wonder that expeditions were undertaken to discover the past.

Rough Plan of Earthwork by David Boyle, showing the earthworks at the Lawson Site. From Anderson, The Lawson Site: An Early Sixteenth Century Neutral Iroquoian Fortress, originally from Ontario Earthworks by David Boyle.

During this time period the “Great Civilizations” were researched by archaeologists. Expeditions such as John Lloyd Stephens’ to Yucatán in Mexico revealed the Maya to the European and North American public. The Minoans, Mycenaeans, Sumerians, Mayans, Peruvians, and the Indus—to just name a few—are described by archaeologists during this time. This research isn’t just limited to the ivory tower: archaeological books become best sellers during this time.

Working in the Classificatory-Descriptive tradition, the archaeologist David Boyle visited the Lawson Site in 1894. He made sketches and described the earthworks of the Lawson Site as part of his job with Provincial Museum (the Royal Ontario Museum). Boyle was the first professional archaeologist in Ontario (Anderson 2009:25) and wrote the first report of the Lawson site.

Archaeology has become more interdisciplinary and understanding since those adventurous days. By being careful and more scientific, we learn much more about the past than we could during the Classificatory-Descriptive Period. But we should always remember that part of the joy of archaeology is that sense of discovery that drove archaeologists during this time period.

 

Bibliography

Anderson, J. (2009). The Lawson Site: an Early Sixteenth Century Iroquoian Fortress. London: Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Boyle, D. (1894). Ontario Earthworks. Annual Archaeological Report, Ontario , 33-40.

Renfrew, C., & Bahn, P. (2008). Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice (5 ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.

Willey, G., & Sabloff, J. (1974). A History of American Archaeology. London: Thames and Hudson.

Colony of Avalon, Ferryland, Newfoundland and Labrador

By Alicia Sherret

 

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones when you weren’t quite sure if Indy and Marion were going to escape from the snake filled temple in the Well of Souls? Well, there’s an archaeological site a little closer to home with the same secrets, surprises and religious past. While a visit to the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland, Newfoundland, might be a little shorter on action than an Indiana Jones movie, it’s got excitement and interest of its own.

The Well of Souls from Raiders of the Lost Ark http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2016/the-20-best-scenes-in-indiana-jones-movies/3/

 

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Protecting the Past

By: Marissa Buckland

When people think of archaeology, they often think of box office hits like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft Tomb Raider. These movies suggest that archaeological “treasures” can only be discovered in far away lands such as the pyramids of Peru or the tombs of Cambodia, when in fact archaeological artifacts can be found right outside your back door here in Ontario!

About an hour north of Toronto are a series of archaeological sites near Wilcox Lake, on the Oak Ridges Moraine, located in Richmond Hill, that span most of the human history of Ontario. The TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation Authority) began initial excavation of the Lost Brant site in 1992 and intensive excavations took place from 1999 – 2002, uncovering almost 10, 000 artifacts, including chert points and pieces of ceramic vessels[1].

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The Speculative Period: Early Collectors

Guest Blog By: Joel Wodhams, Exhibit Intern Summer 2017

Canada’s 150th birthday is fast approaching, but did you know there is over 150 years of archaeology at the Lawson site? From its humble origins in the mid 1800s, to its current day affiliation with the Museum of Ontario Archaeology and the University of Western Ontario, Lawson has captured the imagination of generations.

Archaeology evolves from the underlying human interest in the past. Archaeology is a modern practice, evolving since the 1800’s, but interest in the human past spans back hundreds of years.

Sometimes called the “Speculative Period” early collectors created their own understandings of the past. The famous example in North America of this speculative period is the Moundbuilder myth: that the large burial mounds in the United States must have been built by an ancient civilization totally unrelated to the indigenous population.

Jury Collection on display at the Western Fair, September 1931.

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World’s Oldest Dress Re-Discovered

By Emila Siwik

 

The Tarkhan Dress

Could the world’s oldest dress be the coolest Archaeological discovery of 2016? Recent work by Alice Stevenson and Michael Dee shows that a dirty linen cloth excavated in 1913 by Sir Flinders Petrie is actually a dress.  But not just any dress, the worlds oldest woven garment! The Tarkhan dress dates to around 3200 BC and was once worn by a female Egyptian teenager of royal descent.  It was found in a First Dynasty Tomb south of Cario  and is made out of flax plants that were spun, then woven into linen.  Linen was the fabric of choice in ancient Egypt; many people were wrapped in it during the mummification process and it was often given as a symbolic offering after death. The dress was tailored, meaning that it was not draped or tied to the body, but cut and fitted.  It had a V-neck and pleated sleeves and bodice. Signs of wear at the elbow and armpits show that it was a beloved item worn in life, then brought into the after world.  It was placed in the tomb folded and inside out to allow the detail around the cuffs and neckline to stay intact through the years. Read more

Environmental Archaeology: An Overview

 

Environmental Archaeology is the study of the ecology of past human populations. No matter where we live, we create an impact on the landscapes and the landscape impacts us. Archaeologists understand the physical environment such as landforms and climate and the biological environment such as plants and animals through analytical techniques used by the various sub disciplines of environmental archaeology. This includes;

Geoarchaeology

Geoarchaeology reconstructs interactions between humans and the past physical environment using geomorphology and sedimentology. Geomorphology studies the shape and origin of landscape features while sedimentology reconstructs the history of sediment/ soil deposits. Together we can identify inorganic resources such as stone, clay and mineral deposits while reconstructing past landscape topographies to explain human settlement patterns and impact. Read more

Canadian Currency from the 16th Century to 1867

Example of a wampum shell bead excavated in Southern Ontario

The evolution of early Canadian currency offers a unique perspective into the growth of Canada as it was evolving into a nation. From it’s pre-colonial origins, to the tokens ushered in by Confederation in 1867, currency saw many forms and many uses.

Early 16th Century- First Nations and Wampum

As Canada was being settled, coins from Europe were scarce and far between. Interactions with the First Nations led to strong trade systems through the bartering of goods such as furs, wampum, copper objects, tools, and beads.
Wampum was highly valued among the Aboriginals not only for the time and difficulty of creating wampum shell beads, but the ceremonial functions of both the beads and the wampum belt. Wampum most importantly conveys messages, mark peace treaties, and record historical events using marks of friendship and respect. To early European traders, beads were essential to the fur trade since they were small and high value. Europeans used the beads to trade for pelts to cover the high demand for fashionable furs in Europe. Read more

What’s On- Maple Harvest Festival

This hafted stone axe head would have been used to chop, split, or shape wood. This object, along with many other Indigenous woodworking tools will be on display in the Permanent Gallery during the Maple Harvest festival

As Canada commemorates its 150th anniversary with hundreds of events scheduled throughout the country this year, here at MOA we are taking advantage of the opportunity to highlight the life-ways and practices of the First People who were living here for millennia before “Canada” even existed. Many First Nations traditions and practices, such as maple harvesting, are still very much alive today and part of the traditions we consider to be quintessentially Canadian.

As part of growing up or living in southern Ontario, most of us enjoy, or have enjoyed at some point in our lives, the opportunity to walk or even ride on a horse drawn-sleigh through a snowy woodlot in late winter, observing the spiles and buckets (or today, the acres of tubes!) hanging from trees, collecting maple sap.  An isolated cabin, wood smoke billowing from the chimney and smelling of sweet, caramelised syrup is the highlight of our tour (short for the pancakes!), where sap is boiled in metal kettles or large, flat pans, reducing the liquid after many, many hours to the sweet, sticky, sugary treat that we all know and love. Read more

Online Collections: A Digital Experience

Technology is an integral part of our society. We spend countless hours checking our emails, browsing social media, and looking up ratings of places before we even visit them. We have the opportunity to connect with places across the world we may otherwise never have the opportunity to visit. The widespread accessibility of the internet allows museums the opportunity to present their collections online, making them more accessible and present within a wider community. With the quick advances in technology, it can be hard to stay up to date in the museum world. Online collections are one way of staying relevant with today’s technologically savvy generation. Read more

Negotiating Authenticity: Engaging with 3D Models and 3D Prints of Archaeological Things

By: Beth Compton

Twitter: @Beth_Compton

Web Hub: http://www.ourpresentpast.org/

If you’ve ever been really excited to go to a museum exhibition only to discover later that part or all of the display was made up of replicas – you’ll know that, for some reason, people tend to feel differently about the “real thing” than they do about the “copy” or the “fake.”  People have fascinating relationships with things and their copies. Sometimes we don’t know or understand where our own impressions of authenticity come from, or why we feel better about certain modes of representation and replication than we do about others. While some might really enjoy looking at a 3D model of an artifact on a screen – zooming in to take a closer look, flipping it around to see its different sides – others might prefer seeing the original artifact in a glass case in a museum. Still others might prefer to hold a 3D printed replica, able to run their fingers over the surface of the object and heft it in their hand. A lot of this is pretty subjective. Read more