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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.

First Nations of the eastern Woodlands would collect and even boil tree sap in birch bark baskets such as this

These traditions that we associate with the Sugar Bush can be traced to First Nations origins, in which families would leave their homes and villages in late winter to set up small camps in the deciduous forest to collect maple (and/or birch, box-elder and white walnut) sap. Trees were scored, sap was collected and reduced. Before metals were introduced to the region from European settlers and traders, sap collection and processing used perishable containers such as wood and bark. Raw sap, rich in nutrients after the lean winter months, was also enjoyed as a tonic and a flavour enhancing base for soups, stews, and porridge. Processed syrup and sugar would preserve the taste of spring long into the year, used to sweeten culinary dishes and drinks and serving as a source of trade and commerce if collected in large enough quantities.

At our Maple Harvest Festival on March 11-12th, we will be honoured to have local First Nations Elders Dan and Mary-Lou Smoke on site to awaken the forest and conduct a sweet water blessing, thanking the trees for their nourishing gift. Anishinaabe Elder Larry McLeod will also be joining us from North Bay to teach us about the importance of birch bark, including its use as a basket to collect and even boil sap. We will also have sagamite, a traditional corn soup/stew made from fresh sap for tasting in the longhouse and an exhibition of archaeological objects relating to First Nations maple harvesting in our museum gallery.

We welcome our visitors to join us in this celebration of spring that has been honoured since time immemorial, the awakening of the forest (in the Forest City!) and the first harvest of the year. This is a festive time, marking an end to hunger and darkness as we welcome the return of light, life, and nourishment from the land around us. We hope to inspire in our visitors a wonder for the unique environment of this region in which maple trees flourish, an awareness of the wisdom and ingenuity of First Nations cultural practices and an appreciation for the rich heritage of Ontario which lies beneath our feet.


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.

A woven hat too damaged for display. Despite what you see, the brim of the hat is warped, with pieces of the interior breaking off with slight movement. The top of the hat is collapsed with its structure being held together by tissue placed inside.

The very first question about an online collection that most museums consider is weather we should create one at all, and if so, how much information should we include? One of the benefits of making the collection available online is that we can share parts of the collection that otherwise cannot be put on display, such as fragile or light sensitive objects. This allows the viewer to experience an object they cannot otherwise experience in person, while preserving the objects at the same time.

So how are online collections made? Online collections begin with the museum’s digital record of an object. New digital records are created everyday, and for some museums this may take years to change all object records into a digital form. For example MOA holds over 2 million objects and only a small fraction have a complete digital record. We also monitor what goes online especially when it comes to culturally sensitive or ceremonial materials since they are protected and not displayed unless special permissions are given. All objects are approached with care and consideration before being placed into public view. Information such as appraisals, donor information, and archaeological site information are also not shared online.

A tintype image, very sensitive to light.

The accessibility of online collections is limited only to the people who have a computer and internet making it easy for people all across the world to access the collections with a simple click. This invites research potential and allows viewers who are interested in a museum to experience the collections if they can not experience it physically. Like museum exhibitions, online collections are not static. They change and evolve with new research and objects.

Not all museums have online collections and the ones that do are hosted on the museum website. With the interest in cultural objects growing, sites that search objects from multiple museums such as the Google Art Project and Artefact Canada give you the opportunity to curate your own collection of favourite items and to learn about objects from all over the globe.

Here is a link to MOA’s Online Collection

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

By: Beth Compton

Twitter: @Beth_Compton

Web Hub:

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.

Replicas of an ulu artifact (Ikaahuk Archaeology Project). From left to right: white 3D print, colour 3D print, handmade replica (by Tim Rast), and the original artifact excavated from Banks Island, NWT. Photograph by Beth Compton.

There is no doubt that new 3D technologies are impressive in their ability to mimic the originals – but are these replicas and representations really useful beyond the “wow” factor? How do experiences with originals and copies compare with one another? Does making a copy (either digital or physical) change our view of the original artifact in any way? Ultimately, can we generate more meaningful experiences with digital and physical facsimiles?

In partnership with the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project, Sustainable Archaeology, and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, I explore the nature of archaeological objects and their digital copies in two localised contexts – one in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Canadian Arctic (Banks Island, NWT) and the other in Southwestern Ontario. With the help of the wonderful folks at Sustainable Archaeology, I have been able to take two collections of artifacts (provided by the Ikaahuk Archaeology Project and Museum of Ontario Archaeology) and expand those collections to include digital photographs, 3D models, and 3D prints.

Beth Compton cleaning archaeological artifact prints coming out of the 3D printer at Sustainable Archaeology. Photograph by Nelson Multari.


These collections have provided inspiration for dialogues with a diverse array of archaeological constituents including local Inuvialu it and First Nations community members (elders, adults, and youth), museologists, curators, and archaeologists. Overall, I hope to shed some light on how experiences, perceptions, and values differ amongst individuals.

While the majority of participants thus far have certainly demonstrated a strong interest in emerging 3D technologies, there is also a high diversity of opinion, both between and within communities, about the specific roles archaeological replicas should play. It will be interesting to see down the line how these views will shape what we choose to replicate and how.

Collection of artifacts, replicas, photographs and 3D models prepped for an interview at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, NWT. Photograph by Beth Compton.

Collection of artifacts, replicas, photographs and 3D models prepped for an interview at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, NWT. Photograph by Beth Compton.

Note: if you’ve never seen or heard of 3d printing, this is a good introduction to the technology:

Message from the Director:

Welcome to a brand-new year at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology! I am honoured to start my first full year as the new Executive Director at MOA, and I am excited about what 2017 has in store for us. I follow in the footsteps of some incredible people who have had the honour of directing this unique facility, the last of whom – Joan Kanigan – left a strong foundation of policy development and infrastructure renewal that will allow us to begin the first stages of our merger with Sustainable Archaeology, the research and curation facility next door. The integration of SA will allow us to incorporate new and interactive technologies into our galleries and classroom, highlighting some of the innovative archaeological research being done at this state-of-the-art facility.

Longhouse interior view using the HTC Vive

Interactive technologies related to Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and 3-D imaging will be moving into the gallery over the coming year, beginning with our MOA VRchaeology exhibit opening on January 12th. MOA VRchaeology will transport visitors back 500 years with HTC Vive virtual reality goggles to experience a reconstructed Iroquoian-style longhouse developed by Western Anthropology PhD candidate, Michael Carter. To read more about Mike’s project, which he’s fully documented, check out his blog here, then come out to MOA for this unique experience in person!

Our first temporary exhibit of the year opens on January 26th in partnership with Nokee Kwe Native Learning Centre. The +Positive Voice Program entitled Warrior Womyn: Reclaiming our Identity is an inspiring exhibit promoting positive narratives and memes by urban Aboriginal women who are experiencing a transition to employment/education. This will be followed in April by a temporary exhibit developed in collaboration with Western First Nations Studies. And in August, watch for our take on the year’s sesquicentennial celebrations with an exhibit featuring the negotiated identities of Chief Joseph Brant and Pauline Johnson in the era of Canada’s new confederation.

Do you love maple as much as we do? That sweet – even nutritious! – treat that maple trees reward us with after a cold winter? Then make sure to mark your calendars for the weekend of March 11-12th when we’ll be re-establishing an old event here at the museum to celebrate the Maple Harvest! We’ll be focusing on traditional First Nations’ methods of harvesting and processing this natural resource, and we’ll be offering all sorts of engaging and interactive activities throughout the weekend. And of course, plans are already underway to host our 9th annual Harvest Festival and Pow Wow on September 16-17th in conjunction with London Doors Open. That event will be followed by International Archaeology Day on the 21st of October. Also, watch for us this year out in the community, as we broaden our outreach to provide a contact and gift-shop booth at local and regional events and festivities – stop by to say hi and ask us what is new!

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

We are also committing to updating our education and outreach programs in 2017. With a newly installed and generously donated Smart Board from Western Ivey Business School, students will have more opportunities for interactive engagement in the classroom. And retired school-teacher Linda Imrie has donated her time and skills to revamping our Edu-kits, catered to augmenting curriculum studies from grades 1-6 – so if you are not able to get your classroom to the Museum to experience our in-house educational programs, please inquire about the availability of these instructive and archaeologically-themed kits!

MOA has a dynamic and dedicated team of Board members, staff and volunteers who continue to work diligently to create a more immersive and engaging experience for visitors of all ages – and we are always looking for volunteers willing to share their time and talents, so if you are interested in joining our team please give us a call! Whether it’s a walk through the gallery to see what’s new, your attendance at a craft workshop or school group, or just a walk along our pathways and woodlot to appreciate and reflect upon the undisturbed archaeological village preserved beneath your feet, we look forward to seeing you in 2017!

-Dr. Rhonda Bathurst-

Potters in the Past: Micro Computed Tomography of Archaeological Ceramics

By: Amy St. John, PhD candidate in Anthropology, Western University

A pot in the scanner

As an archaeologist, I believe we can access some of the day-to-day, face-to-face interactions of past people through the material culture they left behind. Ceramics are one of the most commonly found material culture types around the world and throughout time. There are many steps that go into ceramic making. Some of these include: gathering and refining clay, adding materials to that clay to make it more workable, forming that clay into a pot, then decorating, drying and firing that pot. Some of the steps in ceramic making, like exterior decoration, have been studied extensively by archaeologists trying to understand cultural connections in the past. Other steps, such as how people actually formed clay into pots, are more difficult to access. However, ethnographic evidence tells us that formation methods are often learned, passed on and maintained across generations, even as more visible decorative techniques change over time. So how can we access how people were forming pots out of clay?

3D images of exterior and interior features of a ceramic pot. The top row shows the exterior surface and inclusions. The bottom row shows renderings of voids

My research explores the ceramic analysis potential of innovative micro CT technology available at the Sustainable Archaeology: Western, located next door to MOA. Micro CT uses X-rays to provide non-destructive, high resolution, fully 3D images of the interior and exterior of ceramics based on the density of materials. It can show us interior features in a unique way, augmenting traditional techniques that include destructive methods.

As a case study, I’ve scanned ceramic sherds from an archaeological collection that are part of a larger research project, directed by my supervisor Prof. Neal Ferris (Lawson Chair of Canadian Archaeology), related to a Late Woodland Borderland in southwestern Ontario dating to around 1100-1250 A.D. Micro CT is proving to be an extremely promising method for examining the interior features of ceramics. These include: voids/air pockets, micro folds in clay, and both intentionally added material known as temper and natural inclusions in clay, which you can see we can easily isolate in the 2D slices and 3D renderings that micro CT creates.

Patterns that we can see in these interior features often relate directly to the formation techniques potters used to make ceramics. I’m finding that on these borderland sites, there were several different ways of making pots that are visible in the scans. For example, some pots’ rims are folded over, while others have clay added on to the exterior.

A 2D slice and 3D renderings of the interior structures of a ceramic

So what I am demonstrating through the micro-analysis of ceramic craft is how micro CT can help us understand an often neglected aspect of this common artifact type: how people were using their hands and other tools to manipulate clay into pots. Using some of the most advanced technology available today, we can explore how the craft of making pots relates to communities, learning, tradition, and innovation over several generations in the past.

Looking Forward: Virtual Reality at the Museum

Trained as both an archaeologist and computer animator, Michael has spent his professional career immersed in the creative, technical and business roles of animation and visual effects (VFX) film and broadcast production. Returning to his archaeology roots twenty years later, Michael’s research focuses on the use of Virtual Archaeology (VA) to better inform archaeological and heritage research, dissemination, and mobilization. His interest is in VA epistemology, paradata and the experiential application of technology for archaeological knowledge construction.

Exterior of the Longhouse

Michael’s most recent completed research project explores the application of virtual reality in the (re)imagination of a 16th century Iroquoian Longhouse.

“What’s cool about Iroquoian longhouses in Ontario archaeology is that nothing survives of these once massive wooden structures except for the post hole stains in the ground, remains of fire hearths, storage pits or even burials within the disintegrated walls of these houses.” Using the archaeological evidence found in the ground, archaeologists make an educated guess as to how the longhouse once appeared as it stood. By coupling European historical accounts and Indigenous oral histories with archaeological data, Michael can stitch together a virtual 3D account of a typical longhouse.

Interior of the Longhouse

This longhouse combines the interpretation of the cultural material available, modern methods of CGI and virtual reality production, and 3D scanned artifacts from the Lawson collections to provide visitors of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology a chance to explore the sights and sounds of what a potential longhouse might have looked and felt like within the 16th century in Southwestern Ontario.  

In 2017, the museum plans to make this technology available for use to visitors to experience at the museum. Stay tuned for updates, stories, and new information relating to the use of virtual reality in the museum here through our notes, or on social media.

Hillary testing the Vive


For more details on Michaels work check out A Day in Virtual reality here.

Follow Michael Carter on Social Media


Kathleen Kenyon Archaeologist

As part of our programs, we encouraged University students to contribute to our blog, based on what they were learning.  In this week’s guest blog, Elizabeth McConkey. then a student in Western’s ANTHRO 2261 – Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology, covered Kathleen Kenyon, an Archaeologist we would all benefit from knowing better.

Kathleen Kenyon, Archaeologist

Image of Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon

Indiana Jones is one of the most well known movie franchises of all time. In the first installment of the series, with the Nazis hot on his trail, Indiana Jones equipped with his whip, shotgun, satchel and fedora sets out to uncover arguably the most significant archaeological find in all of history, the Ark of the Covenant. Despite having an affiliation with a museum and university, Indiana adds some unconventional aspects to the archaeologist’s job description. Such criteria include gun fighting and hand to hand combat. Despite the image that popular culture provides, the truth is that real archaeologists are quite different from Harrison Ford’s character. For example, British archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon could not seem further from this portrayal of an archaeologist. Kenyon was a significant British archaeologist in the 20th century, taking part in excavations all over the world. She might not have been involved in gun fighting and car chases, but her career was nothing short of extraordinary.

As a significant female archaeologist, Kenyon defies the masculine image and stereotype that the Indiana Jones franchise reflects. A graduate of Oxford University in London England, Kenyon pursued a career in archaeology with a special interest in stratigraphy (the distribution of different soil types in the ground) (3). She created the concept of the baulk, which is now a very significant part of stratigraphic analyses in modern archaeology (3). A baulk is the wall or edge of an excavated area, which reveals the different layers of soil in the ground (4). Baulks are significant because they allow archaeologists to identify the different layers of the soil and thereby to determine the age of a site and categorize the artifacts into time periods.

Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho

Kenyon in the field at Jericho
At Jericho

Though Kenyon never set out to find the Ark of the Covenant, she did take part in significant excavations with a biblical theme. For example, she was greatly involved with the excavations at Jericho, a site located in Palestine and associated with the ancient Israelite’s (1). This site is not only significant because it is thousands of years old, but evidence collected by Kenyon suggests that it is the only site that has been inhabited continuously from the beginnings of the first human agricultural settlements until the present (2). The evidence that she collected shed light on the lives of those who inhabited the site in more ancient times. Her research records the development of the people of Jericho from their nomadic beginnings to their use more sophisticated year round settlements (2.Pg 269). Though nothing supernatural came with her finds, she certainly contributed a great deal to knowledge about the site.

Kenyon’s career was not lacking in excitement. Through the development of new archaeological techniques like the use of the baulk and her excavation of sites at Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon clearly made a large mark on the field of archaeology. Despite their differences, Kenyon was more like Indiana Jones than we might have expected at first glance.

Kathleen Kenyon Archaeologist

References and Additional Resources:

  1. Kenyon, Kathleen. 1955 “Some Archaeological Sites and the Old Testament: Jericho,” The Expository Times 66(12). 355-358.
  2. Kenyon, Kathleen. 1967 “Jericho,” Archaeology 20(4). 268-275.
  3. Dever, William G. 1978 “Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978): A Tribute,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 232. 3-4.
  4. Archaeological Institute of America “Introduction to Archaeology: Glossary,” Accessed on Feb 8th 2016.

International Archaeology Day

Come celebrate MOAs International Archaeological Day!

On October 15th, over 100 organisations across the world will be holding workshops, fairs, and lectures for International Archaeology Day. With only five years under its belt, this once National day held by the Archaeological Institute of America started from humble beginnings with only 14 participating institutions in the United States. You may be thinking why is this important to me?


“International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organisations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.”
-AIA Website-

For the past year, the city of London has been working on reviewing their Archaeological Master Plan with a focus on updating the modeling for predicting the location of Indigenous sites and better modeling the urban core of the City. Overall, the four goals of the Master Plan review are:

1. To update the archaeological site database and associated mapping for known archaeological sites in London
2. Review the existing archaeological site potential model and make recommendations for potential improvements/compliance
3. Review current federal, provincial, and municipal planning and management guidelines
4. Develop an implementation framework for responsible municipal stewardship and management of archaeological resources in the city.


This year’s International Archaeology Day features collaboration between the City of LondonArchaeological Services Inc. (ASI) and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.  ASI’s Dr. Ron Williamson (also the Museum Board Chair) and Jonas Fernandez will present Something Old and Something New: Archaeological Management Plans in a City Building Context. You have the opportunity to attend this free lecture to learn about modern ways municipalities are managing their cultural resources and how this updated Archaeological Master Plan will help preserve our city’s rich archaeological heritage. See our website for additional fun activities.

Importance of Chase Wesson Site

Image of flagged test pit

In 1992, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology carried out a Stage 1/2 assessment of a proposed subdivision in Simcoe County that led to the discovery of a previously unknown Huron-Wendat village. This village was subsequently subject to Stage 3 and limited Stage 4 excavations carried out by another consultant, revealing an undisturbed fifteenth century village, which is now known as the Chase-Wesson site. Nineteenth and early twentieth century research by people such as archaeologist A.F Hunter.and more recent investigations by cultural resource management firms have resulted in the documentation of hundreds of Huron-Wendat villages in Simcoe County (Williamson 2014). The founder of the museum, Wilfrid Jury, carried out exploratory excavations at a number of these sites in the 1940s through early 60s (see Stories of Pre-History: The Jury Family Legacies by Robert Pearce, our former Executive Director). Copies may be ordered from the Museum, where they are also on sale in our store.

Chase Wesson Methodology

At the time of the museum’s 1992 assessment, 30% of the property was clear of vegetation and was being actively farmed while the balance was forested.  It seems the closest water source for the village was one or more natural springs just south-southeast of the village.

MOA’s team of archaeologists began their assessment by completing a visual pedestrian survey of the active farmland.  The heavily wooded area was test-pitted.  The test pits were 30cm in diameter or greater and excavated to the subsoil. The team tested all areas of high archaeological potential at five metre intervals or less while areas with low potential were assessed at intervals of 10 to 20 meters.  It was confirmed that the site extended to the north and northwest edges of the property.

Results of the test pits:

Artifacts from the dig, captured in the screen

The results of the test pits revealed a large settlement that was mostly undisturbed. The first sign of the site was the many ceramic sherds being unearthed.  Subsequent excavations revealed a total site area of about two hectares.

A total of 308 artifacts were found at the site by the Museum, ceramics being the majority. There were 11 rim sherds, 20 fragmentary rim sherds, 26 neck/shoulder sherds, 145 body sherds, and 93 fragmentary sherds (for a total of 295 pieces or 95.8% of the collection). The other artifacts found included one piece of chert debitage, two pieces of ground stone, and six animal bone fragments.

Analysis of Chase Wessen

The Museum team working on the site reported that it was difficult to determine a precise chronological placement for the site since only a few diagnostic artifacts were found. Based on the ceramic traits evident in the limited assemblage, they suggested it was an assemblage similar  to other fifteenth century (AD 1450-1500) pre-contact Huron-Wendat sites in the area such as Lalonde, Copeland, Baumann, and Ellesmere-Morison. The work conducted after the Museum yielded a similar but larger artifact assemblage; neither the Museum’s nor subsequent work on the village yielded European trade items. In the absence of radiocarbon dating of maize from the site, the Museum’s original estimate of the site’s age will have to suffice.

Chase Wessen – A site protected

Chase Wessen reconstructed pot

The discovery of the Chase-Wesson site in 1992 was significant in its demonstration that there were undisturbed Wendat villages yet to be documented in Wendake, the Wendat homeland in northern Simcoe County.  The site is registered with Ontario’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport and efforts are underway to protect the site permanently.


Williamson, R.F.

2014       The Archaeological History of the Wendat to AD 1651: An Overview. Ontario Archaeology 94:3-64

Look Back: Underwater Archaeology in Ontario

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.

Underwater Archaeology in Ontario: An Overview

April 1982 Vol 4. No. 2 Author: Scarlett Janusas (ed note: Ms. Janusas was an intern at the museum at the time).

Image of submerged ship Underwater Archaeology in Ontario

Underwater archaeologists share a common goal with treasure hunters and salvagers. Each wants to bring to the surface that which the sea and other bodies of water have claimed. In all other respects, the similarities between these groups disappear.

Treasure hunters, as the label implies, occupy themselves with the removal of items for which monetary gains may be made. Occasionally, they may complete maps denoting positions of artifacts and other items of worth, but these maps at best, are just sketches employed for relocating the site for the sole purpose of continuing the pillage. Salvagers are even less concerned with recording and mapping. Their purpose is to haul up items which can later be sold for scrap metal. There is a time and profit incentive for both the treasure hunter and the salvager. Greater profits can be realized by spending less actual time on the site.

This attitude of ‘ultimate greed’ is totally irreconcilable to anyone concerned with heritage conservation. Removal and deconstruction of information is a by-product of the occupation of the treasure hunter and salvager. It is this information that is of primary importance to the underwater archaeologist, for it can lead to the disclosure of details concerning the shipboard activity, vessel type, shipbuilding technology, vessel dimensions, cargo, cause of wreck, and much, much more.

Underwater archaeology creates an aura of adventure and excitement. The adventure exists, but the reality is that almost ninety percent of the excavation involves lifting and hauling, which can be monotonous. Cold, deep, fresh water presents the opportunity for archaeologists to discover sites (prehistoric and historic) in an almost perfect state of preservation. But these same conditions which make a site so attractive and culturally valuable, also create specific problems for the underwater archaeologist.

Cold water dictates that some protection for the diver be made available. Exposure suits can protect the diver for hours at a time, but they also reduce mobility and dexterity. Thick neoprene restricts the divers’ movement and the use of three-fingered gloves involves a new method of manipulating pen and tools. Working at great depths reduces the amount of allowable bottom time without having the diver risk decompression sickness, better know as the ‘bends’.

Breathing compressed air at depth produces another complication for the underwater archaeologist called nitrogen narcosis or ‘rapture of the deep’. As the phrase implies, the diver experiences an euphoria not unlike drinking one to two martinis on an empty stomach. This not only impedes work but creates a danger to the diver.

Many of the tools that the underwater archaeologist uses are modified versions of the tools of the terrestrial archaeologist. The tape measure, mallet, sketch pad, grid system, and camera are all employed underwater, but, the trowel, shovel and the traditional stake-grid system are absent from the underwater archaeologist’s tool assemblage.

Another problem in excavating an underwater site is the reduced visibility that can be caused by the diver stirring up bottom sediment. Two methods can be used to resolve this difficulty. The first involves a simple weight adjustment by the diver so that he is literally suspended above the bottom and is thus prevented from kicking up sediment with his fins. The second method involves actual removal of the sediment by means of an air suction hose which deposits the sediment far enough from the site to prevent reduced visibility. Unfortunately, the two methods are not always sufficient. In many areas of Ontario, visibility will remain poor to nil at all times. Rivers with mud bottoms, such as the Thames (ed. note – in Southwestern Ontario) River, create difficulties in even locating sites by vision alone.

Another visibility-related problem occurs at deep water sites. Less sunlight is able to filter through to deeper regions, thus creating a dark working environment. This problem can in part be alleviated by dive lights. A case in point is the H.M.S. Breadalbane, a 428-tonne supply ship that sank in 1853, off Beechey Island in the Northwest Territories. Seven lights, the type employed on a Boeing 747 aircraft, will be used in the near future to illuminate the British barque for photographic purposes.

Although not in Ontario, the Breadalbane Project is of great historical value and interest. The vessel was on a rescue mission, searching for the explorer Sir John Franklin, when it was holed by ice. The ship sank in a short fifteen minute span in 325 feet of water. These cold Arctic waters have done much to preserve the wreck, even to the point where remains of her sails are still present. Further work on the Breadalbane is contingent upon the ice thickness which affects equipment transport.

Map of Fathom Five National Park

Grid systems employed in underwater archaeology must fulfill several criteria. These systems must be compact, portable, flexible and be heavy enough or have securing devices to be anchored above a site and withstand strong currents to avoid displacement. Mr. Stan McCellan of the Ministry of Natural Resources, employed an aluminium grid system (ed note – image can be seen in original publication, unsuitable for reprinting here), which was embedded in the sediment to conduct some shallow water work during his Griffon Cove Project.

The aim of this two year study, conducted during 1978 – 1979, was to identify a vessel which had been purchased by Fathom Five Provincial Park in Tobermory, to collect any additional data about the area in which the wreck was originally found. The vessel was reputed to be the “Griffon” which is thought to be the first sailing vessel to cruise the Great Lakes. The “Griffon” was constructed by La Salle in the 17th century near Fort Erie, to carry furs during the fur trade back to Montreal. La Salle sailed her from Fort Erie to Green Bay and through the Straits of Mackinaw. The “Griffon” disappeared on her return voyage and the vessel purchased by Fathom Five Provincial Park was originally thought to be the one and the same. Mr. McClellan was able to ascertain that the wreck was a mid-19th century vessel and establish that it was not, in fact, the “Griffon”.

Notable Ontario Underwater Archaeology Projects (ed note)

Image of the shipwreck Sweepstakes
Image: Jack Salen

Other careful and well-conducted work is being carried out elsewhere in Ontario in the field of underwater archaeology. For example, Mr. William Fox, of the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, investigated a wreck discovered in 1981 in the Thames River in Chatham, Ontario. The hull of a 50 foot vessel was lifted from the river this past year, and, while local interested parties believed the vessel to be of 1812 vintage, Mr. Fox was able to correctly date the vessel to the turn of the twentieth century. Although not verified as yet, this wreck may well have been the “Morning Light”. Plans for the wreck include a graphical documentation in the spring of 1982. It is not surprising to discover a wreck of this nature in Chatham since this city was a major port in the early 19th century and also supported a ship-building industry.

There are numerous other small projects being undertaken by concerned individuals and groups who are collaborating with heritage resource management people and the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture to accurately record and excavate both historic and prehistoric sites. Fathom Five Provincial Park conducts a continuing program of mapping all the wrecks in the park. The Park prohibits any destruction or removal of underwater sites, and thus provides a veritable ‘diving mecca’ for sport divers.

Mr. Michael Verbrugge obtained assistance from the Ontario Heritage Foundation to investigate a mid-19th century merchant vessel in Lake Erie. The project was initiated in 1978, but was delayed almost a full year due to a faulty reading from the Loran system which had been employed to pinpoint the wreck. The vessel was found by fishermen who had repeatedly lost or damaged their nets on the wreck’s rigging. This project involves examination of a virtually intact vessel and will continue this summer.

Banner for the Hamilton Scourge National Historic Site

A major project that has recently received considerable press coverage, centres on the U.S.S. Hamilton and the U.S.S. Scourge. During the War of 1812, the United States found their navy in short supply of armed vessels. An immediate solution to the problem was to commandeer 13 merchant schooners and outfit them as war schooners. Two of these vessels were the Hamilton, originally called the U.S.S. Diana and the Scourge, originally named the H.M.S. Lord Nelson. On August 7, 1813, the British fleet lay in waters near Grimsby when a storm developed out of Port Credit. The U.S. fleet was hit broadside, and the already unstable Hamilton and Scourge sank. The storm had been so violent that the two ships were not reported missing until the following morning.

Dr. Dan Nelson, head of the Hamilton-Scourge Foundation, assisted in the search for these two vessels. The logbook of a British flagship was employed for rough locational data and, on the basis of the information derived from this book,  a 90 square kilometre search area was defined. This area was surveyed in 1972-73 in 50 meter strips employing magnetometers, side-scan sonar and depth sounders, but without success. After moving the search area to the west, the project finally met with some success when an image at last appeared on the side-scan sonar! No further work could be conducted on these wrecks since the find was made on the last day of the project and the crew of the search vessels had a previous commitment – a stag party.

The image on the side-scan sonar showed that most of the Hamilton was still standing. The Scourge lies in waters not too distant from the Hamilton. Both ships rest at a depth of 290 feet with a visibility of 1 to 1.5 meters. The ships are extremely well preserved owing largely to their present environment of a constant four degree Celsius temperature in almost total darkness.

The project recently completed a photogrammetry survey of both ships using equipment donated by the National Geographic Society (ed note: images in link above). Further plans for these two vessels, under the direction of Mr. Ken Cassovoy, include compiling a complete visual reference, conducting conservation studies by examining core samples of the hull, and geotechnical studies of bottom sediments.

Final plans are being prepared to raise the ships and duplicate their present environment for purposes of storage and exhibition. The last phase is being carefully researched before actual implementation since other raised ships have demonstrated that the traditional treatment with polyethelene glycol – which forces moisture out and thus prevents shrinkage and decay – is not sufficient for good conservation.

One example of  the problem in using this polyethelene glycol treatment is the soft cheesy texture of the wood of the Swedish warship, “Vasa”. The “Vasa“, a 1400 ton galleon which sank in 110 feet of water on its maiden voyage in 1628, is under serious threat of suffering irreparable damage. The Hamilton-Scourge Project, wishing to avoid this consequence, plans to raise the ships and place them in a large bath solution to duplicate their present environment.

Multiple factors contribute to the condition in which an underwater archaeologist finds a wreck. The state of a vessel before it went down may contribute to a quicker deterioration in its watery grave. The actual event of the wreckage will dictate whether the archaeologist will be dealing with a semi-intact vessel or miscellaneous planking spread far and wide. Currents, surf and the tide aid in the deterioration of a vessel. Burial of the wreck in sediment may protect it from attack from aerobic organisms. Shifting sands may subject the vessel to undue stress and present difficulty for the underwater archaeologist  in locating and excavating the wreck. Depth and water temperatures are critical to the state of the site. Greater depth disallows light from penetrating, and also restricts organism growth. Cold water, discussed elsewhere, also aids in the preservation of the wrecks. Fresh water versus salt water environments determine the type of organisms present and hence their involvement in the destruction of the materials. Pollution is yet another factor to consider. And, perhaps, most hazardous of all to a sites’ preservation, is man himself.

Sport diving has become very popular within the last decade. A diver descends into a world of weightlessness and his curiosity to explore is aroused. The reasons for diving vary but, one class of diver, the ‘wreck’ diver presents many problems for the underwater archaeologist. What better way in which to commemorate a dive than for a wreck diver to claim a souvenir  by prying off a dead-eye or bronze porthole, hauling it back to shore and proudly displaying his new found treasure. The prize is taken home, and all too often, the artifact becomes a center for a coffee table or finds a new home in a dingy back closet. Stripping wrecks or prehistoric sites is illegal and should not be condoned by anyone.

We have laws to protect our heritage against such pillage, but such laws are difficult to enforce. Three privately organized groups have recently taken steps against the continued desecration of wrecks and sites. One organization is called S.O.S. (Save our Shipwrecks), another is called P.O.W. (Preserve our Wrecks) and the third is the Ontario Marine Heritage Committee. S.O.S. and P.O.W. base their objectives in the education of divers through various certifying agencies, by promoting shipwreck conservation, and by organizing volunteer activities where needed. They have made a beginning, and with growing awareness comes growing concern. Ultimately, heritage awareness and preservation will result.

Editors Note to Underwater Archaeology in Ontario.

We contacted Ms. Janusas to let her know we were reprinting this article from her early days. Ms. Janusas also offered the following:

You can say….that MTCS has indicated that they will not address marine archaeology until they “clean up” land archaeology (Finnerty, DM, personal communication to S. Janusas when Pres. of APA). I continue to work in the business, and new technologies make things much easier than before.   Ontario is still the only province in Canada that does not have more “lenient” laws regarding scientific diving, meaning that we are required to follow Min. of Labour regulations when it comes to diving (i.e. putting people in the water).   We have many shipwrecks that predate those of the Erebus in the Arctic but marine archaeology remains a neglected part of our heritage….

Ms. Janusas has also indicated that she may give us all an update to this piece in the near future. What has changed, what technology has meant to underwater archaeology, and others. In the meantime, if you have anything to add to this piece, we’d love to hear from you.