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!
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.
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!
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”.
Working in a museum artifact storage room, one can sometimes discover mysterious pieces. This is what happened to the Museum Collections Coordinator, Dr. Heather Hatch early December. On a shelf and on a wooden tray, laid two archaeological casts, with no or few pieces of information about them. Plaster casts, or field jackets, are rather common in archaeology, especially palaeontology: it helps to preserve and transport fragile features.
In order to identify them, the first step was to record the data incised on the casts. The smallest one had its originated site recorded. By consulting the field report from this specific site, was found the mention of wood fragments. The second step was then to try to scan the object.
Due to its size and the thickness of the plaster, the only available method was the CT scan. Even with this technology, Andrew (his status?) was only able to scan only half of the cast. But this was enough to confirm the content of the jacket.
It contained… There was solved the cast mystery! But the other cast remains, so stay tuned for another collections mystery!
“Cleveland” was the affectionate name by which researchers at
McMaster University came to refer to a dog in their archaeological collections.
(Bathurst and Barta, 2004). Originally discovered on the Cleveland
archaeological site near Brantford, Ontario, the dog was an unusual find – a
complete burial recovered within what remained of a large ceramic pot. From the
robust markings on the skull and a distinctive bone called a baculum, or “penis
bone”, found among the remains, there was no doubt that Cleveland had been a
male. Minimal dental wear and almost no deterioration in the joints indicated
that he was likely no older than three or four years old at the time of his
death. Measurements of his limbs determined that he had likely once stood about
knee-height to an adult human.
Dogs are humanity’s oldest domestic companions, and recent research
confirms that they were present in North America over 10,000 years ago. (Perri
et al, 2018) Archaeological evidence of dog remains suggest that the
agricultural communities living in the Brantford area 450 years ago had complex
relationships with their dogs. While some were carefully buried whole and
undisturbed, as Cleveland was, other remains have been found burnt, broken, sometimes
polished around the edges from bouncing around in a boiling pot, scarred by
cuts or gnaw-marks, and scattered among the garbage heaps – or middens – within
the same communities. Some dogs, it seems, were invited to dinner, whereas
others were dinner.
There are things we can presume about ancient dogs that we cannot
see or confirm from archaeological evidence. We know from our relationships
with them today, as well as from historic accounts and traditional knowledge,
that dogs would have served many purposes in a community, from labourers to
companions. They would have been helpful on a hunt, and loyal guardians within
a village. They would have eaten scraps and garbage, controlling waste, and
driven away predators around a village or pests within the fields of crops. They
may even have helped as pack animals, prior to the arrival of the horse,
bearing burdens from one community to the next. Dogs feature in many
traditional narratives as loyal and helpful companions to humans in both life –
and in death.
Cleveland’s remains show that he suffered from a condition called
hypertrophic osteopathy, or HPO, a painful and obvious bone condition that may
have been caused by a reaction to lung-related infections such as pneumonia,
cancer, or tuberculosis. Thanks to modern veterinary medicine, HPO is condition
that is not seen often today and can be readily cured when it is. The
archaeologists were particularly interested in knowing whether Cleveland’s
condition was caused by tuberculosis, because TB is a zoonotic disease – that is, an infection that can be shared between
animals and humans. Therefore, they tested Cleveland’s bones for evidence of
tuberculosis DNA – and they found it. This told them two interesting things
about the relationship between humans and dogs in this ancient community.
First, Cleveland was cared for. With HPO and tuberculosis, he would have looked and acted very sick, with symptoms of TB such as weight loss, cough, and vomiting. The HPO would have swollen his paws and lower limbs, making them thick and painful and difficult to move. He likely would have required assistance eating and drinking and would not have been able to defend himself. The advanced state of the condition suggested that he’d lived with the condition for some time. His remains showed no evidence of cut marks, gnawing, nor any other indication of violence or abuse. This suggested to the archaeologists that Cleveland was able to rely on his human companions for food, protection, and care as his illness progressed. People in this ancient village cared for this dog in much the same way we do with our pets today.
Second, Cleveland’s condition potentially posed a great and unexpected danger to those who were caring for him. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that the World Health Organization still considers one of the top 10 causes of death, worldwide. (World Health Organization, 2018) Just as it can be passed from person to person, it can also be passed between humans and animals. Tragically, those who had cared so tenderly for this dog, may have become infected themselves, and in turn may have passed this deadly condition along to others in the community – human and canine, alike.
Despite his short and difficult life, Cleveland appears to have been tenderly cared for by his human companions. Almost 500 years later, his discovery has sparked over 20 years of research – from his archaeological recovery to historic, pathological, etiological, DNA, microscopic, and microCT research that has served to teach us all more about the conditions he and his human companions once lived in and the relationship that they once shared.
Dr. Rhonda Bathurst is the lead author on the research paper that this story is drawn from (you can read this article in full at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440303001985). Dr. Bathurst wrote it during her PhD at McMaster University after her (re)discovery of the Cleveland dog remains in a locked cabinet in a basement archaeology lab. She collaborated with a fellow PhD candidate at the time, Jodi Barta, who was working in the newly built McMaster Ancient DNA Centre. Barta helped her to confirm the hunch she had about the dog’s primary condition – tuberculosis. Today Dr. Bathurst is the Executive Director of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and is delighted to share this story about her favourite dog.
To read more about Cleveland, other research involving
this dog includes:
James A. Burns.
“The Dog Who Couldn’t Be.” Arch Notes,
73 (1973): 3–5. Print.
Hunnius, T. Von. “Using Microscopy to Improve a Diagnosis: an Isolated
Case of Tuberculosis-Induced Hypertrophic Osteopathy in Archaeological Dog
Remains.” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, vol. 19, no.
3, 2009, pp. 397–405., onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/oa.989.
Victoria recently completed a high school co-op placement at MOA. Here’s what she had to say about her experience!
My name is
Victoria Wilson, and I am currently in grade 12 and in my final year of high
school before I go to university. As my career choice, I want to be a forensic
anthropologist and have archaeology as a major. I started my co-op in the fall
of 2018 and am ending February 2019. I chose to do my co-op at the Museum of
Ontario Archaeology because of the learning environment. Each day I have
learned something new from how the programs run with each grade to taking
people through the Virtual Reality tour. I grew up always interested in the
history behind people and artifacts. When I first started at the museum, my
knowledge was limited to what I have learned in school and read about in books
or the news. Planning out courses in high school that were related to ancient
history and anthropology helped direct me to my career choice as well as this
Being a part
of the museum has helped me be more confident in the tasks I am given as well
as helping me come out of my shell. Since I want to major in archaeology, the
museum gives me insight on what this career path will look like and what it
entails as well as the many people willing to help me reach my goals. Joining the staff and assisting with the
school programs has taught me a lot about the history of the Indigenous peoples
as well as teaching me about myself and what I am capable of. When I first
started, I would help make sure the students had the material they needed for
the activity they were working on. Now I am able to teach students from other
schools or even universities. I have learned through my experience here that
there are many possibilities following this path. I found that working in an
environment that helps you grow while teaching others and building up your own
strengths gives you a boost to your personal goals and to achieving them.
interested in volunteering or completing a placement at MOA? Every day is
something new that you learn and see, whether it be from staff, students or
even just looking around. The staff members are always welcoming and make sure
you are comfortable in the task you are doing. You will get to experience a
broad range of activities and sights that you are able to participate in
throughout the year and will learn many things throughout your time here just
like I have.
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.
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.
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
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.
Preservation is the non-invasive act of minimizing deterioration and preventing future damage of the object. Some examples are outlined below:Read more