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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. Read more

Field School Experience – Jeff

Editor’s note: We’ll be sharing the Field School Experiences over the next weeks from students in the program. This week, meet Jeff Hardy.

Image of Jeff Hardy excavating in a pit during the field school
Hi, my name is Jeff and this is me at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology here in London,Ontario, when I got to participate as a student in the recent “Un-field-school” carried out by Dr. Ferris at the Lawson site. As the son of a curio-collector, I was instilled with a strong interest in archaeology from an early age. However, it was not until my first field school experience at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology that I began to truly appreciate the complex processes, methods, and perspectives involved in defining and doing this thing known as archaeology.

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Field School Experience – Arlyn

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Western University summer field school experience of 2016, conducted by Dr. Neal Ferris, and I was looking forward to it. This course is not a typical archaeological field school. Dubbed the “Unfield School“, it is an opportunity for us to learn how to map, record, and the remediation past archaeology conducted on the Lawson site. As a crew we were going to start the very long process of caring for and repairing the site for the future.

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Lawson Field School Update

The Lawson Site Un-Field School Was a Success!

By: Dr. Neal Ferris, Lawson Chair of Canadian Archaeology, Western University.

Students and volunteers at work

It has been a few weeks since the end of our first “Un Field School” here at the Lawson site, with students and instructors since moving on. But, for me, I finally have a moment now to reflect on the field school and what we discovered during those three weeks. Below is an update and brief summary of what we managed to achieve.

This Lawson field school had several aims: First, it needed to be instructive and a good learning experience for the Western anthropology students who took the course. Second, it had to serve the needs of the Museum’s Lawson Site Management Plan and provide insight on how we can best manage this site long term. Third, it had to be a successful experience for the volunteers and visitors who joined us. Our goal was to make archaeology accessible to non-archaeologists and to underscore to the class the bigger context within which we do archaeology today. Finally, I was hoping to learn just a little bit more about the Lawson site. Not just to care for it as the Lawson Chair, but also to have a better sense of the importance of this place.  It has been both an ancient home and village and is one of the oldest continuously excavated sites in Canada. Really, when you think of it, the entire history of Canadian archaeology has happened on this site! Read more

Archaeology Field Kit

MOAs resident archaeologist Ontario Doug and his tools

Have you ever wondered what tools archaeologists use and why they are important?  Ontario Doug is helping answer those questions by sharing the contents of the professional archaeologist’s tool kit.

The most iconic tool in an archaeologist’s field kit is the trowel.  Trowels allow archaeologists to carefully clear thin layers of soil making it easier to reveal features in the ground.  At the Lawson Site, a common feature archaeologist’s find are post moulds which look like dark circular stains in the ground.  An archaeologist needs to have a good eye to catch the changes in soil colour when excavating. Read more

The Thornton Abbey Project

The Thornton Abbey Project – One Curators Journey in Archaeology

By Nicole Aszalos, Musuem of Ontario Archaeology Curator

For the month of June, I spent most of my days out of the office and in the trenches at Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire England. Since this was my first time in England, I wanted to experience as much as I possibly could. To do this, I left a few days early to travel York and Leeds to gain an understanding and appreciation of history I was hoping to unearth. And being the Harry Potter fan that I am, I just had to venture on a day touring The Shambles, an opportunity that the nerdiness in me fully appreciated.

Nicole at The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. Also had the opportunity to shoot a crossbow here which was a cool experience.
Nicole at The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. “I also had the opportunity to shoot a crossbow here which was a cool experience.”

My goal in York and Leeds was to gain an understanding of the museums and their presentation of history since this is something I am passionate about.  I spent my days touring museums and historic sites such as York Minister, York Castle Museum, and the Royal Armouries in Leeds just to name a few. It was exciting to see how interactive these museums were with engaging the visitor in history.  The museums I visited created immersive experiences by combining both historic objects and modern technology in their displays. One of the most immersive and unsettling experiences happened while exploring the dungeons of York Castle Museum where projections of actors representing some of the most notorious people hung at the gallows played in each cell.  Being the active person I am I also spent a couple hours hiking historic paths including what remains of the Roman Wall in York. Read more

Southdale Site Longhouse

Long before the creation of this blog, and before the digital Palisade E-Post, the museum sent out paper newsletters. First published in February 1979 each Palisade Post issue is a snapshot of what was happening in Ontario archaeology during this time, and is the basis of our Look Back series.


The Southdale Site Longhouse

(1988 Volume 10, Number 1)

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

The Attawandaron Discoveries

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


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


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

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

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

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

Sir William Flinders Petrie

Sir Flinders Petrie, 1903
Sir Flinders Petrie, 1903

Sir William Mathews Flinders Petrie is responsible for making archaeology the scientific discipline it is today.

Archaeology in popular media is frequently portrayed as a treasure hunt. Many popular characters perpetuate this image, perhaps most famously Indiana Jones, a professor of archaeology who travels the globe in search of precious artifacts, which he obtains by any means necessary, and at anyone’s expense, with little regard for context beyond the value of the object. Although this is a misleading image of archaeology today, in its early years the discipline really was more like treasure hunting than science. Sir William Mathews Flinders Petrie is the man responsible for taking the first steps towards making archaeology the scientific discipline it is today. Read more

Ice Patch Archaeology

Many portrayals of archaeology in popular culture include travelling to remote locations in order to recover artifacts regarded as “treasure”, usually under dramatic and somewhat harrowing circumstances. For Greg Hare, the Yukon Territory’s site assessment archaeologist, ice patches are the equivalent of the treasure filled tombs in an Indiana Jones film.

Figure 1. Archaeologists Survey the Friday Ice Patch, Yukon Territory Photo courtesy of Yukon Cultural Services Branch
Figure 1. Archaeologists Survey the Friday Ice Patch, Yukon Territory. Photo courtesy of Yukon Cultural Services Branch

Ice Patch Archaeology began in the late 1990s through the Yukon Ice Patch Project (Hare 2011: 2). Ice patches are accumulated snow and ice from previous winters that does not melt in the summer. They are found in alpine regions around the world, including the southern Yukon. Unlike glaciers, they do not flow downhill or move over time (except for seasonal melting along the perimeter). When the Yukon Ice Patch project began, changing temperatures were resulting in massive melting of these ice patches, which revealed many archaeological artifacts that had previously been encased in the ice. Due to the extremely dry and cold conditions, as well as the sedentary state of the ice, these artifacts are  remarkably well preserved and can include sinew, hide, and feathers on objects up to 9,000 years old (Hare 2011: 22). Read more