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Archaeological Imaging at Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a heritage site operated by the Ontario Heritage Trust.  It takes its name from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel.  The cabin once belonged to Reverend Josiah Henson, on whose life Beecher Stowe loosely based the events of her novel.  It stands on land that was once the Dawn Settlement – a self-sufficient Black community in part founded and financed by Henson that was intended to give Blacks who escaped to Canada a new life with opportunities to prosper. You can learn more on the OHT’s site.

Part of the settlement included the Henson Family cemetery, which includes a memorial stone to Josiah Henson, and which is still in use for family members. As part of its site management, the OHT wanted to investigate the possibility that there were unmarked graves on the cemetery lot.  In 2011, they approached the University of Western Ontario to come and survey the lot with the ground penetrating radar (GPR) equipment acquired for the Sustainable Archaeology: Western facility. This was a follow up to a survey performed in 2008 by UWO using a different kind of geophysical imaging technique called Magnetic Gradiometry.  This survey, conducted through a partnership between the OHT and Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants (TMHC), was inconclusive, and it was hoped that the radar would prove more effective.

GPR in Use – courtesy of Ed Eastaugh, UWO Anthropology

GPR works by sending radar waves from an antenna into the ground.  These reflect off of buried objects, but also changes in the soil distribution. This can detect areas that have been disturbed – for example by digging a grave.  These reflections are captured by software, which indicates areas where the waves have reflected.  In order to cover an area, the machine is wheeled in parallel lines inside a predetermined grid. Trained operators can interpret these data and images and get a sense of what the reflections mean throughout the survey area.

Composite map of radar reflections – Red indicates probable disturbances.

In the above image, we can see the original radar image superimposed on a map of the cemetery. Below, we see the ‘translation’ of that radar image into the location of unmarked graves.  The survey uncovered upwards of 300 unmarked graves on the site, and one clear area in the north that could be used for future internments.

Graphical representation of the likely location and density of graves at the Henson Family Cemetery

Cedar Park Farm

Lisa Small is a student of Black history and heritage. She believes that they can help us identify areas of interest for archaeological investigation – in fact, this kind of background research is key to understanding and interpreting archaeological finds. Here she examines the background of Cedar Park Farm in a comic book she co-authored with Matthew Wilkinson and Daniel Wong as part of a series, The Grange, presented by Heritage Mississauga. The book takes researched Black history, presenting it in a relatable and accessible format. It is available on Heritage Mississauga’s website: https://heritagemississauga.com/comic-books/


Peel County Map, 1937

     Following the abolishment of slavery in the United States, many emancipated Blacks made northerly migrations into Canada in search of land, opportunities and a new life. Many of those who came to Canada bringing significant means with them to secure citizenship, purchase land, homes and even the freedoms of other Blacks, including family and loved ones. Some Blacks travelled by boat across the Great Lakes and some people/families landed in areas like Oakville, Bronte and Mississauga, formerly Toronto Township.

     Mississauga had a relatively small Black population. Census records indicate there were approximately 60-70 recorded Blacks that settled in the Region of Peel throughout the 19th century and consisted of a diverse demographic of freed Blacks and fugitives who were landowners, farmers, labourers, schoolteachers, barbers and servants.

The Grange, Vol. 8 – Legend of Cedar Park – click to open in a new tab

     “The Legend of Cedar Park” is Mississauga’s first illustrative comic book exploring the City’s early Black history during the 19th century. The comic features one of the best-documented early Black families in historic Peel about the story of the Ross Family and their home at Cedar Park Farm.

     In the story, you are introduced to Didamia (nee Paul) whose father Benjamin Paul had been a prominent abolitionist and minister at the Wilberforce Settlement, near Lucan, Ontario. Didamia herself had been a schoolteacher before getting married, and the couple would go on to have 11 children here in what is now Mississauga. George Woodford Ross, Didamia’s husband, had been born enslaved in Urbanna, Virginia. After being emancipated, George came to Canada in 1834, and in 1836 purchased a 200-acre farm on Concession 2, Lot 12 near the modern intersection of Burnhamthorpe Road and Cawthra Road. George built the family home circa 1836 and added bricked veneer in the 1870s.

Henry Cook then purchased the Ross home in 1919 and by circa 1975 it was demolished. Since then, much of the Ross-Cook property including the farm has been converted into residential streets and neighbourhoods. What remains today is Rayfield Park, located on part of what was the Ross’ Cedar Park Farm.

1954 aerial map of Ross Farm

     The comic also gives a glimpse into the local story of Solomon Northup, a fugitive slave who was born free, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Northup’s life was portrayed in the novel and film “12 Years a Slave”. According to the “Streetsville Review”, one of Mississauga’s surviving newspapers, Solomon was last reported giving a lecture in Streetsville in 1857 but was chased out by an irate crowd outside the Town Hall never to be seen again after that day.   

     While the comic mentions notable Blacks like Northup and the Ross family, there remains room for discoveries and to further unpack what does exist of early Black settler life in Peel.

– Lisa Small


Credit: Heritage Mississauga, Modern Mississauga Media, Erin Brubacher, Region of Peel Archives


For More Information:

Brubacher, Erin. “A Fugitive Past: Black History in Mississauga” for Heritage Mississauga. Heritage News, Fall 2006.

Government of Canada, 1865, 1871, 1881, 1901, 1911 census, Peel Region: York West.

Henry, Natasha L. Emancipation Day. Celebrating Freedom in Canada. Dundurn Press, Toronto, 2010.

The Streetsville Review. Proquest Historical Newspaper: The Globe and Mail (1844-2011), The Globe, August 19, 1857, page 2.

Conservation and Agents of Deterioration

In some of our recent social media posts, we have discussed the importance of safe and stable storage conditions for the artifacts in our Collections Repository. But what exactly are safe and stable storage conditions?

A cardboard box of new archaeological materials, prior to being repackaged. This style of packaging is not ideal for providing safe and stable storage conditions.

We have many types of artifacts in our repository. Predominately we have stone objects (such as grinding stones and projectile points), glass (beads), metal (copper beads, pots), bone fragments (food remains, beaver teeth, and other tools and jewelry made of animal bones), and clay pottery. All of these objects are susceptible to Agents of Deterioration.

Agents of Deterioration are forces that can harm artifacts in our collection. They include light, improper temperature and humidity, water, and pests. Our Collections Repository has been designed to help stop these problems from occurring. The temperature is moderated and the humidity is monitored in the repository. All the objects are repackaged into archival plastic bags in archival plastic boxes to help prevent water damage and keep pests out. The repository has no windows to avoid light damage. And the boxes are properly closed when not in use to protect against possible dust or pests. All of these things are done by our collections staff to ensure the artifacts are kept in the best conditions possible.

The repackaging materials volunteers and collections staff use to safely repackage artifacts for storage.

The boxes are made of polypropylene, a strong water, acid, and base resistant plastic.  Our bags are made of polyethylene, which has great flexibility in addition to these other properties. Polypropylene and polyethylene do not off-gas, a process in which plastic emits a gas that can harm the artifacts. This provides strong and durable support for the artifacts they house and help protect against water and pest damage.

Now you know what materials we use to store these artifacts and what the materials protect against, but why does it matter? Well, we hope that these conservation techniques will protect the artifacts for years to come. Conservation is an important part of archaeology and museum work in general. Ensuring objects survive for our descendants is a crucial part of the everyday work we do here at MOA.

Boxes of repackaged artifacts safely in their forever homes in the Collections Repository.

Hopefully, this blog post has taught you a little more about the work we do to ensure the safety of the artifacts in our collections. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to keep up to date with our current projects and learn more about the behind-the-scenes work here at MOA!

Written by Katie Gaskin.

African Methodist Episcopal Church of London

In 2013, Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants was contracted to manage excavations at 275 Thames Street in London after the local community rallied to prevent the destruction of this very special building.  It was the home of the city’s first Black church, and was at the heart of London’s Black community from around 1850 to 1869. 

You can read about the church on the TMHC project blog: https://tmhc.ca/fugitive-slave-chapel

Or you can view the MOALiveTalks video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XvYNQu6C0s

The project relied largely on volunteer labour from TMHC employees and interested members of the public.  Artifact processing took place, also by volunteers, at the public lab of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. The community involvement for the project was one of the  most  significant aspects – the MOA interviewed people who were involved with the project at the time, including participants and one of the project managers, Darryl Dann, from the local branch of the Ontario Archaeological Society:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Su_gKirUbY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dW7ZKl3YMu8

All About the Repository and Contracting Storage

If you follow us on our social media platforms (Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram) you may have seen some of our recent behind the scenes posts. We’ve been taking our followers inside the Collections and Research Wing of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology (MOA) and showing them a little more about how repackaging is done, the history of the space, and its current uses.

The Collections and Research Wing.

We recently received a new delivery of artifacts and I was inspired to tell you a little more about the facility, how it works, and why it’s important. The Museum of Ontario Archaeology is home to the Collections Repository in the Collections and Research Wing. Here over 54,000 boxes of millions of archaeological items can be stored in safe and secure conditions. The collections staff at MOA works tirelessly to maintain this space so researchers, descendant communities, and others can have access to these objects. It is also important as these objects are given proper storage conditions to ensure they last over time.

You may be wondering where these artifacts come from, who they were recovered by, and how they end up here at the museum.

The recent delivery included dozens of boxes of archaeological materials.

These artifacts come from across Ontario. Our current feature exhibition, Who Cares About the Past, and our online video series, Behind the Glass, have both explained how artifacts are recovered in Ontario. Most of the archaeological work in Ontario is done by Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms. CRM companies are contracted by developers to investigate sites earmarked for development. Before any construction can happen, the CRM company must survey the site and conduct an analysis to evaluate if the site needs to be excavated. To hear more about this, check out our Google Arts and Culture page or the Behind the Glass Series.

So, these objects are recovered by licensed archaeologists working for CRM companies contracted by developers all across Ontario, but how do they end up here at MOA? The short answer is we are contracted to store the objects by CRM firms!  They reach out to us about housing the objects in these safe and stable conditions and we draft a contract for them. If you are an archaeologist or from a CRM firm interested in this program, please see the collections page on our website.

Moving the boxes from the delivery van into the Collections Repository.

All the objects are packaged into safe storage conditions and labelled using a complex system that allows our collections staff to easily locate them. If you’re interested in hearing more about what safe storage conditions are, what it means, and how conservation is done—check out our posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and keep your eye out for a blog post right here.

We receive the artifacts in shipments and store them on our shelves. If specified in the contract, we repackage the artifacts to ensure that all materials entering the repository are in the safest storage conditions possible! If you are an archaeologist or someone from a CRM company who is interested in this service alongside our storage service, please let our collections manager know when reaching out to negotiate a contract.

Storing the boxes in their temporary location on the shelves until they can be repackaged.

As part of the agreement for this deposit, our collections staff will repackage the artifacts. That’s why you see the staff moving cardboard boxes in, don’t worry, soon they will be in conservation safe plastic! Interested in what repackaging looks like? Check out the time lapse video we posted on our social media!

Once the objects are repackaged, they are entered into our database. The boxes are labelled by site location or project name, recorded into our database, and placed in the appropriate area in the repository.

Now, these artifacts are available to researchers, descendant communities, and others, like you, who are interested in archaeology! Follow us on social media or check out our Google Arts and Culture pages to see more about the artifacts we house and hear their stories!

Written by Katie Gaskin

If The Shoe Fits…

Prof. Andrew Nelson of Western University’s Anthropology Department is the primary user of Western’s micro-CT Imaging System that’s housed in the Collections and Research wing of the MOA. Recently, Prof. Nelson has been working on a new research collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Greene  from the Department of Classics. Dr. Greene has been excavating at the ancient Roman fort of Vindolanda in northern England for many years.  Excavations at the site have uncovered a wealth of well-preserved organic deposits, including leather sandals.  Discussions between Greene and Nelson led them to wonder what might be learned about these ancient shoes, and their wearers, through non-destructive analyses like micro-CT imaging?  The MOA offered footwear from the Jury ethnographic collections as a test to see what kinds of details the scanner could pick up – and the preliminary results are promising!

We don’t know very much about the footwear from the MOA collection, other than the sole is recorded to have been made of walrus hide and may have been an outer layer of Inuit-style footwear called Mukluks or Kamiks, as seen in this exhibit from the Bata Shoe Museum, hosted by the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Ethnographic footwear from the MOA collections mounted inside the micro-CT scanner. Image courtesy of Prof. Andrew Nelson, Western University, 2020.

The micro-CT images show some interesting characteristics of the materials, and what may be signs of wear.  Not bad for a quick pilot project, although it is hoped that further tests may demonstrate that the technique can also illuminate how the shoes were constructed. We look forward to seeing what scans of a Vindolanda shoe might tell us about how Roman footwear was crafted and worn! 

Micro-CT image showing possible impressions of the wearer’s foot on the walrus hide sole, as well as an unknown material adhered to the leather where the wearer’s heel would have been. Image courtesy of Prof. Andrew Nelson, Western University, 2020.

Archaeology for Kids: Excavate the Chocolate Chips from a Cookie!

If you’re looking to introduce a young archaeologist to some of the principles of archaeology, try this fun (and delicious!) activity for #InternationalChocolateChipDay! This cookie excavation will help children understand how important it is to be careful while excavating fragile artifacts. They will also learn how an archaeological excavation destroys a site, and why recording the location of artifacts is crucial to preserving archaeological knowledge. In this activity, the chocolate chips serve as the artifacts while the cookie serves as the archaeological site.

Image of cookie excavation

For this activity, you will need:
– Toothpicks
– Chocolate chip cookies
Activity Sheet

Instructions:

  • Give each child a cookie, activity sheet, and two toothpicks.
  • Before starting the excavation, children should place their cookie on Grid A. Then draw the cookie, with all the visible artifacts (chocolate chips) included. This will be their record of the archaeological site.
  • Excavate the cookies with the toothpicks, by carefully chipping away at the dirt (cookie) to slowly reveal any hidden artifacts (chocolate chips). Be careful not to damage the artifacts while excavating! For an added challenge, remind them that they should not pick up their cookies because archaeologists cannot pick up sites.
  • For each “artifact” found add it to the drawing on grid B.
  • At the end each child should have a pile of back dirt (cookie crumbs) and artifacts (chocolate chips), and their drawing of what they looked like before.
  • Count artifacts; who has excavated the most?
  • Eat the destroyed cookie!

What does this activity teach us about archaeology?

Archaeological excavations are a destructive process. When archaeologists have finished with a site, they have largely taken it apart piece by piece to discover its secrets. Unfortunately, this means a site, once excavated, can’t be excavated again. To fix this problem, archaeologists take lots of notes, drawings, photographs, and soil samples, and they write detailed reports so archaeologists in the future can come back to their excavations and learn even more.

New Collections with MOA Merger!

Last December we announced that the MOA was taking over the 8000 square foot repository formerly operated by Western University.  As part of this transfer, the museum has also taken responsibility for the care of the objects, introducing millions of new artifacts to the museum’s collections.  These include collections from UWO’s Anthropology department, as well as hundreds of boxes from cultural resource management firms including ASI, TMHC, Dr. Poulton, Golder, AECOM, and Amec Foster Wheeler. The museum has also taken over the responsibility of caring for over 2000 boxes of archaeological materials for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport that were transferred to the repository in September 2017. These materials are now accessible to Indigenous communities, and to support interpretation and research taking place at the museum!

A long row of shelves with labeled green – a peek a repackaged collections in the repository.

Work is underway by collections staff and volunteers to integrate these with existing collections, and bring all materials up to the standards of packaging and care for long term storage in the repository.  This involves repackaging of collections, moving archaeological collections from the museum’s storage area into the new repository, and completing data entry of artifact and inventory information.

Collections volunteer assisting with repackaging

Interested in helping out?  Check out our current Volunteer Opportunities!


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.

For International Women’s Day, MOA is celebrating women in archaeology!

Dr. Holly Martelle has had a wide and varied career in archaeology. She worked as a Heritage Planner with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, has taught in universities across Ontario, and served as President of the Ontario Archaeological Society. Dr. Martelle co-founded Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc. with Dr. Peter Timmins in 2003, which won the Ontario Archaeological Society’s award for Excellence in Cultural Resource Management in 2013. Dr. Martelle kindly agreed to share her knowledge and experiences in Ontario archaeology with us for this special International Women’s Day MOA Blog post!


How long have you worked in archaeology and how has the field changed over that time?

I started my undergraduate degree over 30 years ago. At that time, students were encouraged to go all the way through graduate school and complete a Ph.D. The push was that the first generation of professionally trained Ontario archaeologists would be retiring and there would be positions to fill! That never turned out to be the case. I only had a small cohort of archaeology majors and most of those were women! I was fortunate to have gone to Wilfrid Laurier University and to have been taught and mentored by an inspiring group of both male and female faculty, in archaeology, anthropology and biology. My grandfather owned a road construction company and I grew up in it. Coming from that background where there was a clear gender-divide in roles and less involvement of women directly, gender discrepancies in archaeology were not visible to me.  When I started in archaeology it was still very much research-based. As I sit here today, most archaeology done in Canada is cultural resource management and driven by land development. University archaeological courses are much larger than they were and departments much bigger. There are far more opportunities for people in archaeology today and folks make a decent living at it. Back in my early days you were just lucky to get a job in archaeology and you were usually paid minimum wage or less to do it.


What are your research interests? Why are you passionate about that particular topic?  

My passion drives everything I do as an archaeologist. Since before I began my Master’s research on “other ways of knowing and understanding,” I have been very much interested in the power of archaeology to tell the stories of people who are often written out of traditional historical narratives. This has generated my interest in the archaeology of women, of the working class, of African-Canadians and immigrants to Canada generally. I spent much of my career advocating for the inclusion of the voices of Indigenous and Descent community voices in archaeology and our shared responsibilities in managing, describing and interpreting archaeological sites.

My dissertation work and early cultural resource management experience also developed my interest in ceramics and ceramic technology, from Iroquoian pottery to the 19th century. I’m interested not just in how ceramics were made or used, but how they were perceived by their makers and users and integrated into all facets of daily life.


What significant projects/publications have you worked on and what impact do you hope they will have on the field?

There are many. Some of my biggest learning moments came during contentious projects where I was working directly with or for Indigenous communities. My experiences working with Indigenous communities have shaped my entire approach to doing archaeology and talking about our findings. Our recent work in downtown Toronto on St. John’s Ward, a multi-ethnic working class district, resulted in the book The Ward Uncovered: The Archaeology of Everyday Life. It is the publication of which I am most proud because it incorporated stories from authors of many disciplinary and ethnic backgrounds and was not about an archaeologist only telling their version of the past. I hope that it will encourage archaeologists to be more considerate and inclusive of multiple perspectives on the past.

What advice do you have for young archaeologists looking to break into the field?

I would say the best thing they can do is continue to learn. Every moment is a learning moment. Be receptive to multiple perspectives. Take every opportunity you can to listen to and spend time with the elders of Ontario archaeology. They have much to offer and provide the best perspective on how Ontario archaeology (and its issues) have evolved over time.