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Look Back: The Pipe Site Pipe

Long before the creation of this blog, and before the digital Palisade E-Post, the museum sent out paper newsletters.  First published in February 1979, each Palisade Post issue is a snapshot of what was happening in Ontario archaeology during this time, and is the basis of our Look Back series.

The Pipe Site Pipe

(Spring 1993, Volume 15 No. 1)

“Of all the pits, in all the fields, you had to pop out of mine.”

No, it’s not a bad line from a great movie, it’s just my way of introducing this article, which deals with the experience of finding that one artifact, in one test pit, on one survey.

This happened in November, 1992, when the Contract Archaeology crew conducted an archaeological assessment of approximately 64.5 hectares (160 acres) of land in Flos Township, Simcoe County.  Only 30 percent of this property could be visually surveyed.  The rest of the property that had both natural and reforested woodlot had to be surveyed using a technique known as ‘test pitting’.  Using this method we were able to recover three isolated find spots and one undisturbed village.  After a brief description of the survey technique, I will discuss the find spot which produced the pipe pictured here.

Test Pitting

Test pitting is a technique used when the surface of an area has little or no visibility.  A pit no smaller than 30×30 cm (12×12 in.) is dug from surface to subsoil.  In this case the depth was approximately 25 cm (10 in.).  The top soil is sifted through a 6 mm (1/4 in.) mesh screen and any cultural material removed.  The hole is then back-filled and the sod replaced.

On this survey, the property was considered to be of high archaeological potential because of its location in Huronia and its physical setting.  There are numerous registered and unregistered sites close by.  The physical setting has great potential because of the number of high knolls, the Lake Algonquin beach ridge bisecting the property, and the well-drained, sandy loam soil.

When it came to digging, pits were placed in five meter intervals.  In this survey, that translated into approximately 4,000 holes!  So, it was either a touch of luck, or skilled field intuition, that led Ernie Salva to choose the spot that produced the pipe.  First, he found two fragments of the pipe bowl while turning the earth, then he found the stem in the screen.  The rest of us narrowed the interval of test pits to between one and three meters around the find spot, but no other artifacts were recovered.  We had a complete limestone pipe in three pieces, which we could glue together back in the lab.


The pipe is made from a soft chalky limestone.  The overall length is 100 mm (4 in.), and the height is 69 mm (2 1/2 in.).  The pipe has a very rough, unfinished look, but this condition could have been produced by the acidic soil ‘eating’ away at the surface.  As you can see, holes have been successfully drilled through the stem and the bowl making this pipe functional, although there is no evidence of charring or residue to suggest it was used.  The bowl is decorated with four punctates.  These round impressions are four to fine mm (1/4 in.) in depth, and evenly spaced at 20 mm (3/4 in.) apart.

The hardest part of an analysis of a single artifact find spot is assigning a date to it.  There are relatively few samples of pipes made of stone of any kind and even fewer limestone pipes.  The punctate motif is most often associated with clay pipes of the Huron people, and with the close proximity of large Huron villages in the area, a date of 1300-1500 A.D. is a reasonable assumption.

This exquisite find from the Pipe Site tells us there was movement of people through the area.  Every piece of evidence, even a single find spot such as this one, adds to our knowledge which is invaluable in the research and understanding of the prehistory of Ontario.

The Museum would like to acknowledge Cyril Chase and Malone Given Parsons’ consulting firm for allowing us the opportunity to survey the property.

Written by Karen Mattila, Archaeology Technician at MOA in 1993.

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