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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

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

+Positive Voice: Anne’s Story

 

Interview with Anne from the +Positive Voice Program at Nokee Kwe

My name is Anne and I am a woman who was lucky and proud to have been a part of the +Positive Voice program. Over the seven weeks I spent with the program’s director Summer and the women, I can truly say was a positive experience.

I have seen many programs for aboriginal woman, but this is a program where I have seen aboriginal woman stand in front of me and praise one another. This is why I wanted to be apart of the second session of +Positive Voice.

On the first day of the program we were asked why we wanted to be in +Positive Voice and my answer was “I heard from the women of the first group it was good, and I want to find my independence and not just be a mom anymore. I want to find me”.

Summer explained everything to us such as how the next seven weeks were to run and who our hopeful guests were to be. She was very coordinated, organized and excited about the second session and us. I can’t complain, I was pretty excited too. 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

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. Read more