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Interview with Bioarchaeologist Dr. Andrew Nelson

Dr. Andrew Nelson, Western University

MOA had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Andrew Nelson, an Associate Professor in Anthropology at Western University, to discuss some of his more recent work including his contribution to the Art Gallery of Ontario Small Wonders exhibition that includes a Virtual Reality Medieval Prayer Bead, now available at MOA.

Andrew’s research interest are focused in two major subfields of anthropology; biological anthropology and archaeology. When he is not scanning artifacts in Sustainable Archaeology or on the many research projects at Western University, Andrew can be found navigating the complexities of archaeological sites both local and abroad.


How is the MicroCT scanner important in better understanding archaeological material?

The microCT scanner allows non-destructive analysis of the composition and method of construction of archaeological materials.  For instance, with ceramics, one can understand the choice of tempers, the means of construction of a vessel (slab, coil etc) and how the clay was prepared (the distribution of particles throughout the clay).  The key elements are the non-destructive nature of the analysis and the three dimensionality of the information that is provided.


Tell us about your research on the MicroCT Scanner in Sustainable Archaeology: Western
Most of my work has been exploratory, answering questions such as how can the scanner be used to aid in the analysis of both bones and artifacts from archaeological excavations.  Some examples…
– scanning the earliest coins that have value backed by the state – Lydian coins – to address the question of how they were made.  They are made of a gold and silver alloy – electrum – which is just about the best thing to completely stop x-rays there is.  Fortunately, our scanner has very high power and we were able to establish that they were made from molten gold and silver added together – rather than from heated nuggets – because we can see through the scan that there are small bubbles in the metal.
– I am interested to use the microstructure and density of different kinds of wood to identify wood species used in archaeological artifacts.  This is an ongoing effort that arose from the prayer bead work, and continues with some work I am just beginning with the conservation program at Queens on Egyptian coffin wood samples.
– I have also been working with external researchers exploring the use of the microCT scanner in other realms, such as the analysis of meteorites, copper/steel simulators of the lining of nuclear containment vessels, the deformation of human shoulder joints, examination of metal 3D prints, concrete samples etc.  The possibilities are truly endless – but many of them feed back to things we’re trying to do in archaeology – such as the meteorties and concrete samples having many similarities to the examination of archaeological ceramics.

Dr. Nelson using the MicroCT Scanner at Sustainable Archaeology:Western image source

The themes here are non-destructive and 3 dimensional.  In addition several of these examples draw on one of the particular strengths of this microCT system – its considerable power, enabling us to penetrate very dense objects.  Something that is extremely important to emphasize about this work is that it is inherently interdisciplinary and collaborative… I spend a lot of time working with imaging physicists, radiologists, chemists, geologists, bioengineers to name only a few.

“That is one of the most exciting aspects of working with the scanner – everyone brings a different problem to solve, a different perspective on how to solve problems – so there is always a buzz during plans for and actual scanning sessions.”

Even though we have had the scanner for several years now – we’re still finding new ways to use it, new ways to optimize what we have been doing, exploring new analytical routines to use on our artifacts and new people we need to talk to.  And there is lots yet to explore.

You mention your work with the boxwood prayer beads. What did the MicroCT scanner unveil about the manufacture of these beads?

This analysis allowed us to see the unseen – the complex nature of the construction of these amazing beads.  Once scanned, I was able to “deconstruct” the beads in the computer, demonstrating that they were composed of a complex series of elements, which were then assembled such that it was impossible to see seams from the front.  In this case, the bead was all made from the same material (box wood), but the three dimensionality and the ability to manipulate the data virtually were the keys to understanding the bead’s construction.  The results led to a greater appreciation for the sophistication and craftsmanship of these medieval artisans.

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. Read more

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:

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

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