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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.

At a time 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 world’s 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 Cairo  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 often 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 impact the landscape, 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 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 or 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

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 (along with the pancakes!). Here 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:

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

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. Read more

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? Read more

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

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Kathleen Kenyon: Archaeologist

Elizabeth McConkey, 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 profile, such as 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. Read more