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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.

Canadian Currency from the 16th Century to 1867

Example of a wampum shell bead excavated in Southern Ontario

The evolution of early Canadian currency offers a unique perspective into the growth of Canada as it was evolving into a nation. From it’s pre-colonial origins, to the tokens ushered in by Confederation in 1867, currency saw many forms and many uses.

Early 16th Century- First Nations and Wampum

As Canada was being settled, coins from Europe were scarce and far between. Interactions with the First Nations led to strong trade systems through the bartering of goods such as furs, wampum, copper objects, tools, and beads.
Wampum was highly valued among the Aboriginals not only for the time and difficulty of creating wampum shell beads, but the ceremonial functions of both the beads and the wampum belt. Wampum most importantly conveys messages, mark peace treaties, and record historical events using marks of friendship and respect. To early European traders, beads were essential to the fur trade since they were small and high value. Europeans used the beads to trade for pelts to cover the high demand for fashionable furs in Europe. 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 (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. 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: 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

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

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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New Norval Morrisseau Donation to MOA

2016.012.004
Shaman Motifs by Norval Morrisseau

By: Christie Dreise

This past month, MOA was provided the opportunity to acquire a new artwork collection which includes two artworks by renowned artist Norval Morrisseau: Discipline and Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975).

Discipline, a colourful serigraph, depicts two larger than life faces in profile nose to nose, almost touching each other in an intense confrontation. Shaman Motifs Mohawk Clan (1975), an original acrylic painting, reveals a unique figure from the waist up filling the entire canvas. He is an intense, bright, and engaging presence. Read more

A Journey in Conservation: Basketry

Many objects in a museum collection require conservation treatment to extend their longevity and First Nations basketry is no exception. Treating baskets requires multiple steps, but the general philosophy is simple: reduce the effects of damage by using a controlled, documented, and reversible way.

MOA Conservation Intern Josh cleaning a basket from the ethnographic collection.
MOA Conservation Intern Josh cleaning a basket from the ethnographic collection.

The first step of conversation is documentation. Once this is complete, it is time to treat the basket. Conservators consider a lot during the treatment of an object including; fragility, materials, and the object’s continuing health. The first round of cleaning is usually ‘dry’ cleaning. This includes brushing surface dust and debris from the object, as well as using cosmetic sponges to remove adhered dirt or accretions from the surface. Dry cleaning is an effective way to gently remove most of the dirt and dust from an object without being aggressive or invasive (because causing extra damage to the object only means more work later). In my experience with the basketry collection at the MOA, most require dry cleaning only. Read more