Sunday, March 28, 2010

So where do all the artefacts go?

Current Provincial legislation requires I believe that all artefacts recovered from archaeological sites in Ontario be “held in trust for the people of Ontario”.

It soon becomes obvious from reading the reports submitted to the Provincial Museum (now the ROM) that that was not the policy in the late 19th or early 20th century.

In review of the data currently available to me while investigating sites within our cluster search areas it is clear that many of these items were left in the hands of the landowner to do with as they wished, kept by the archaeologist for further evaluation or to add to their personal collections or sent to a museum for curation.
In most cases but not all these early reports and associated artefacts were sent to the Provincial Museum in Toronto. But what about the rest? It appears clear that in one case (Dr. Tache) that most if not all of his finds went to Laval University in Quebec City and from there some ended up in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Dr. Tache exhumed the contents of at least 16 ossuaries in Huronia in the mid 1800s and the paper trail leading to their current whereabouts is far less than clear. Another amateur archaeologist (Dr. Bawtree) who worked at the asylum in Penetangushene exhumed at least 6 ossuaries and sent some of the contents at least to a military hospital museum in Britain.( Museum of the Army Medical Department at Netley, England) That museum no longer exists and it is hard to trace where its collections went. These artefacts would appear to be human remains sent to Britain for further investigation. Other grave goods artefacts such as large copper kettles were given at least in one case to a local blacksmith in the Thunder Bay Beach area for recycling.

In rereading the details of the reports relating to our Old Barrie Rd cluster it is clear that some of the artefacts (at least 2 early French trade axes) went to a museum in Scotland. (Grieson museum. Thornhill, Dumfriesshire Scotland). That museum was closed down in the 60s and it collection went to the National Museum in Edinburgh.

In more recent years collections from digs have gone to universities for further analysis and some have been sitting in these same university basements ever since. Some of these have even ended up inadvertently in a Michigan landfill. Not so many years ago the Ministry of Culture was responsible for doing archaeological assessments in order to save or salvage sites, their artefacts remain in storage in a warehouse in Mimico I believe. Today most assessments and resulting digs are done by consultant archaeologists who work on behalf of developers to clear their land prior to construction. These artefacts usually end up in the storage facilities of these professional archaeologists.

So the question is – Are these artefacts truly being held in trust for the people of Ontario or simply stored in places where the pubic has little to no access?

Our museums are where these items need to be so that they can be viewed by those who may be interested and further investigated and analyzed by those who are trained to do so. These museums need to be funded and equipped with proper storage and research capabilities so that our material past can be properly shown the light of day that it deserves.

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