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.