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Changing Landscapes: Archaeology in London

Introduction and Summerside Site

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Welcome to our four-part blog series titled Changing Landscapes that takes us on the journey into London’s archaeological past! Although there are hundreds of archaeological sites located throughout London and its surrounding area, we are going to focus on four sites in this series. These sites are featured in our feature exhibition Changing Landscapes: Unearthing London’s Past until April 2016 and highlights archaeology in London.

Before we dive into specific sites, let’s consider why these sites are excavated. The archaeological process in Ontario is not as simple as picking up a trowel and digging a square! The process is guided by rules and regulations set by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport under the Ontario Heritage Act. Since 1974, this act has defined the process that evaluates, investigates, and manages the cultural heritage resources of our province. Read more

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 Read more

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… Read more

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 Read more

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? Read more

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! Read more

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. Read more

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 Read more

We’re Hooked on Archaeology

For International Archaeology Day the staff at MOA wanted to share how we became hooked on archaeology.  We would love to hear how you got hooked on archaeology too, so please leave us your story in the comment section below!

 

Joan, Executive Director

Gilmore
Gilmore

Some of my earliest memories as a child are the many family visits we took to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the RCMP Museum.  I can still clearly visualize many of the exhibits that fascinated me as I imagined what life must have been like so many years ago.  My interest in people and cultures led me to Anthropology in university, but it was my first field course in archaeology that set me on my career path.  We were excavating a bison pound site and the experience of uncovering the bone bed and tools needed to hunt these massive animals and survive on the prairies was exciting. Read more

Changing Landscapes: Unearthing London’s Past

Bird's Eye of Victoria Park
Birds Eye View sketch of the Barracks.
Courtesy of D.R. Poulton & Associates

 

Our changing landscapes can reveal much about how communities develop and we can learn much about London’s past by studying how our landscape has changed.

Did you know that London Ontario contains hundreds of archaeological sites scattered throughout the city? Some of these sites might even be located in your neighborhood.  A new exhibit at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology will explore London’s Changing Landscapes and provide insight on how archaeology is conducted.  The early history of London includes aboriginal, pioneer, and early military functions. With new development and reuse of our landscape,  London’s history can be studied through excavated archaeological sites, archived stories, maps, and photographs. Read more