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A Rich History of the Maple Harvest

Archaeologists can encounter a lot of problems when looking at the archeology of maple sugar. Since archaeologists study material remains from human activity, logically there needs to be material remaining to study. Unfortunately, the seasonal and temporary nature of sugaring activities leaves often leaves little for archaeologists to analyze.


That is why archaeologists can find themselves categorizing a site based on what isn’t there instead of what is. For example let’s look at a site that was excavated in the 1960’s in Glencarry County which was dubbed a pre-historic Iroquoian sugar bush site. This wasn’t done because there was a wealth of information pointing towards the camp being used as such, but because of the lack of post-European contact trade materials, or really any materials for that matter. The absence of artifacts led the archaeologists to think that it was used seasonally instead of continuously. Also, large deposits of ash were thought to indicate the extensive use of hearths in the area.


Both Indigenous traditional knowledge and historical accounts attest to the existence of maple sap harvesting in the past. As there is no certainty about when and where it started, it can be said to have been done since time immemorial. The sap would have been collected in birch bark containers and then been processed into syrup or sugar by constant heating to evaporate the water in sap. Kettles and other technologies were adopted once they became more accessible through trade with European settlers.


This cultural exchange allowed for new innovations in processing to be developed, and these can be more easily identified in the archaeological record. In Michigan and Wisconsin, archaeologists have excavated the remains of ‘boiling arches’ at some indigenous sites from the early 20th century. These are ‘u’ shaped structures of stones packed with earth, with one open end to allow a fire tender entry into the fire box. These “arches” were an efficient replacement for kettles, as they permitted a more even distribution of a greater amount of heat (that was also better controlled), and for more steam to be allowed to escape during the boiling process. Instead of using a series of small kettles, people processed maple in a large rectangular metal pan held over the arch. This technology left behind a lot of archaeological evidence. This includes the unnatural arrangement of soil and stone, called the “borrow pit,” where the builders took the dirt they used to reinforce the arch, charcoal and ash deposits found near the opening of the arch from intermittent cleaning of the fire box, and various other materials, such as smoke stacks and support rods for the boiling box.


The history of the maple harvest is almost as rich as the delicious snacks we get from it. While we know that Indigenous people have always been central to this story, it can be difficult for archaeologists to identify cultural activities surrounding harvesting maple. To learn more about what archaeologist can say about prehistoric sugaring activities, visit the Museum of Ontario Archaeology’s temporary exhibit, “A Sweet Excavation”.

To read more about it:
Henshaw, H. W. “Indian Origin of Maple Sugar.” American Anthropologist, vol. 3, no. 4, 1890, pp. 341–352. 

Kuhnlein, Harriet V, and Nancy J Turner. Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. Gordon and Breach, 1991.

Matthew M. Thomas (2005) Historic American Indian Maple Sugar and Syrup Production: Boiling Arches in Michigan and Wisconsin, Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, 30:2, 299-326, DOI: 10.1179/mca.2005.010

Pendergast, J.F. “The Sugarbush Site: A Possible Iroquoian Maplesugar Camp” Ontario Archaeology, OA23, 1974, pp. 31-61.

Conservation Corner: Pipe Tomahawk

This artifact is a single-handed hatchet from North America.
General-purpose tools, they were often employed as a hand-to-hand or a thrown weapon. There is a pipe-bowl opposite to the cutting blade and a hole drilled down the center of the shaft (for smoking tobacco). A decorative soapstone bead, group of feathers, and an orange pom-pom are held together with green yarn and attached to the stem with leather lace. Furthermore there is a band embellishment of brass tacks (metal studs) around the diameter of the haft.

In general the iron axe-head was rusted, the brass areas, decorative string, and pom-pom were soiled, and the feather embellishments were damaged.

Above top: tomahawk before treatment; encircled were the main treatment areas.
Above below: tomahawk after treatment.

Importantly, the rachis of one feather had split apart, and the feather was held together only by the integrity of the barbs. Therefore the main conservation technique involved a modified form of the veterinary treatment imping: implanting a splint inside the rachis of the feather to repair it.

 

Above: anatomy of a feather showing the rachis and barbs. Image courtesy of The Cornell Lab, Bird Academy.

Above left: decorative detail before treatment; encircled were the main treatment areas.

Above right: decorative detail after treatment.

 

This treatment, along with careful, specialized cleaning revitalized the tomahawk and revealed some unique characteristics. For instance, an unusual pattern of circles was uncovered on the axe head which was previously obscured by rust and a possible maker’s mark was uncovered on the pipe bowl which could provide more diagnostic information in the future.  

 

Aside: Fleming College conservation intern Jazmin Beddard performing controlled cleaning. Image courtesy of Marie Hoffmann.

 

Treatment Images provided by Jazmin Beddard.

The Story of Ste. Marie II- A Virtual Exhibit

Located along the southern shore of Christian Island, Ste. Marie II was the last Jesuit Mission to the Huron-Wendat Nation in what is now southern Ontario and was a central place in one of the most significant stories in early Canadian history. It is one of struggle, sacrifice and change, all of which left both the Wendat and Jesuits with unexpected consequences.

A google map image showing the site of Ste Marie II. Copyright 2018.

We begin in the early seventeenth century when the French and Wendat thrived alongside one another. By far the most comprehensive records of Wendat life are the annual accounts of the Jesuit priests who lived among the Wendat from 1634 until 1650. These regular reports by those Jesuits who lived among the Wendat are filled with descriptions of Wendat life and society. Jesuit missions in North America began early in the seventeenth century. Christian proselytization was an important component of the Christian church at this time around the world. All of these sources must be employed with caution, however, as they were written by outsiders with their own agendas. Read more

Conservation vs. Preservation: What’s the Difference?

One of the most important roles museums have is to care and maintain artworks and artifacts in their collections. Museums all over the world abide by this to extend the objects life for future education and for general public enjoyment for generations to come. Although museums strive to protect every single object, environmental conditions, storage control, and individual handling all influence the longevity of the artworks and artifacts.

Conservation and preservation are two methods which are used to maintain the state of the object. Conservation is the hands-on act of working directly with the object to preserve its current condition. Such method can be invasive, for example, conservators use restoration treatments to enhance the object to its original state or appearance by removing accumulated layers of dirt and/or adding necessary components that have gone missing.

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

Preservation is the non-invasive act of minimizing deterioration and preventing future damage of the object. Some examples are outlined below: Read more

Meet the Staff: Curatorial Intern Amanda

My name is Amanda Futcher and I am a third-year student at Algonquin College taking the Applied Museum Studies program. I have been working as a library/archives assistant doing a lot of work with organizing and cataloging the map collection, assisting in the digitization of photographic slides, as well as doing different odds and ends with other collections and giving a hand to deliver the virtual reality experience offered at the museum. Read more

MOA Staff Post: Zsofia Agoston

This photo was taken by the forested creek behind MOA!

Hello Everyone! My name is Zsofia Agoston, and I am a third-year student at Western University majoring in Anthropology and Museum/Curatorial Studies. This year I have been working as a Curatorial Assistant doing an array of jobs including cataloguing archaeological donations, overlooking our archaeological inventory, and maintaining our gallery and exhibition spaces. Prior to this role, I volunteered at the MOA since September of 2016. Read more

Processual Archaeology

Archaeologists working in the 1960s, such as Lewis Binford, developed the theory of New Archaeology, which tries to understand the forces that cause cultural change. New Archaeology is also known as Processual Archaeology.

Lewis Binford and archaeologists like him realized that archaeology had unused resources. These new archaeologists argued that they should look at the populations of today to understand more about the populations of the past.

For example, Binford conducted an ethnographic study among the Nunamiut of Alaska. He lived with, ate with, and learned about the Nunamiut to better understand how hunter-gatherers lived in ancient France. Binford observed the waste materials created by knapping stone for tools, and found similar waste materials in the archaeological record. By linking modern understandings with archaeology, Binford learned more about past technologies and learned why stone fragments appear the way they do in the archaeological record.

Archaeologists now answer questions by combining understandings of many disciplines. Before this change, archaeologists could only describe sites, or ask questions about what the artifact was and how old it was. To understand the ‘why’, archaeologists take an inter-disciplinary approach by working with people such as sociologists, chemists, biologists, and geophysicists, just to name a few. Sharing knowledge between these disciplines allows archaeologists to develop their understanding of material culture better than ever before.

Bibliography

Binford, L. (1972). An Archaeological Perspective. New York: Seminar Press.

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.

Copper Manufacturing of the Archaic

By: Ira Lehtovaara

Out of the known materials that were made by the First Nations, the copper materials that have been unearthed over the years are indeed fascinating. But where did these materials originate? How were these objects created? And what were copper objects used for? When journeying through the archaeology of these copper materials, even professionals in modern blacksmithing and Indiana Jones himself can only marvel at the brilliant copper manufacturing skills of the First Nations.

Archaic copper axe, MOA Permanent Gallery

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International Archaeology Day: What You Need to Know

On October 21st, hundreds of organizations across the world will be holding workshops, fairs, and lectures for International Archaeology Day.

“International Archaeology Day is a celebration of archaeology and the thrill of discovery. Every October the AIA and archaeological organisations across the United States, Canada, and abroad present archaeological programs and activities for people of all ages and interests. Whether it is a family-friendly archaeology fair, a guided tour of a local archaeological site, a simulated dig, a lecture or a classroom visit from an archaeologist, the interactive, hands-on International Archaeology Day programs provide the chance to indulge your inner Indiana Jones.”
– AIA Website

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