Friday, September 30, 2011

A Student's View of Archaeological Field Investigations

                                      The Ellery Site (BdGx -8), and The Dorion Site (BeGw-9)                                                                                                                           May 24 to June 30, 2011

            Under the direction of instructor, Alicia Hawkins, of Laurentian University, and three teaching assistants (T.A.s), twelve students attended the field school for five weeks, then we moved to the university to start lab analysis and take tests on skills learned.  The purposes of the course were to teach practical field procedures, as well as to investigate a potential 15th century Wendat site close by a known 17th century Wendat site, dug in 2008 by Laurentian students under Hawkins's  direction.   It was speculated that this location was the former Jesuit site of Saint Michel. 
            "Week five" of field work was spent at the Dorion Site, as discussed separately in this article.
            Both Wendat sites, were located at, or close to the brow of a ridge, facing south, with water found in the valley below. The fenced farm is on the Old Second Line North, about two km NNW of Orr Lake, in Simcoe County, with sufficient space for private tenting, common cooking and work tents, and privies. At the 15th century Wendat site, field work included digging 16 test units by trowel in an area of young sugar maple trees, located approximately 300 metres from the camp site at the abandoned Ellery farm.
            Students were sent in advance practical information on many aspects of archaeological field work, such as regulations, standards for digging, recording procedures, relevant histories of past digs on the sites: enough material to fill a 50 mm binder.  The material is indispensible.
            Before starting work on the site, students were taught how to trowel, how to lay out test units   on level and sloping ground, using basic equipment.  The second day after further instruction, we were taken into the Wendat sites by common trails and a former road.  Periodic grid points had already been laid out that covered both sites, all referenced from 0N, 0W, located remotely from the southeast corner of the Ellery property due to the presence of poison ivy.  Our orientation, once in the bush, was at first somewhat confusing until explained.  Each 1 m x 1 m test unit was identified relative to the overall grid at its SW corner.  One test unit selected for digging included a tree-fall, as their root systems disrupt the earth, possibly bringing up more artefacts closer to the surface. Teams were established, with a T.A. leading each, and individual test units assigned. Often team members would be reassigned, in order to gain the maximum variety of skills.  Actual digging began on the third day.
            Weather and site conditions were variable:  rocky ground where we tented; cold, heat, sun, rains, heavy morning dew, severe wind storms, even hail once, insects, and finally spiky Hawthorn bushes at the Dunlop Site.  A family of racoons occupied the farm house.
            Students and T.A.s kept daily logs to record activities, and to include drawings of notable features. These would become part of the body of information for Hawkins when she would prepare her final report for the government.  The work day began near 9 a.m., and ran to about 5 p.m., when people would return to camp.  The assigned cook's team would prepare supper, make breakfast the following morning, and lay out food stuffs for everyone to make their own lunches, to eat on site.
            Aside from digging, dry-screening on site, wet-screening at the farm next door in the evenings (all screens had 1/8"-mesh whether a shaker-screen or a smaller hand-screen), and updating our log-books, we also learned how to do basic surveying with different equipment, mapping using a 1:50,000 map to measure distances, draw land profiles, and locate positions using either the Lat./Long. system or the U.T.C. system. These exercises provided breaks from our digging work.
            We had a variety of visitors who told us about different aspects of practical archaeology: two representatives from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture talked about the processes of obtaining permits to do digs; two people came from URS, who hire archaeologists to do contract archaeology work; an archaeologist who was a soils specialist, who talked about the layers of earth below the topsoil and "A" level, and their importance on some projects (he arrived between two major wind/rain/hail storms so our visit to the gravel pit was most opportune as water was running freely out from each layer into the pit); a forensic police officer came to talk about her work, and the parallels she faces to what archaeologists do - a little gruesome, but very educational. We made trips to a historic site, Ste. Marie among the Hurons, and attended a meeting of the Huronia Chapter, OAS, at the Huronia Museum in Midland, to hear a Ph.D. candidate talk about Charles Joseph Taché, a 19th century man from Quebec who had a strong interests in the Church, politics, governemnt, and the history of the Wendats who had left Huronia and settled neared Quebec City. He named their settlement Loretteville, which remained in use until a very few years ago, when the name was changed to Wendake
            Of special significance were two First Nation visitors from Wendake, QC, and the Wyandotte First Nation near Detroit.  They spoke of their respective histories when we met them at Ossossane, as well as at the Ellery dig site the day before.
            At the end of the fourth week we hosted a "family day", when guests came to see what artefacts we had found, play aboriginal games, see demonstrations of our skills, and tour the dig site.
            "Week five" was different. We had a student exercise to examine reports of the Dunlop Site, (BeGw-9), located about 10 km away, and to decide how to extend the preliminary investigations further, Due to time restraints, there were only four days available for this site work.
            The purpose was to determine if this site was worthy of a full investigation at a future date. Reports from A Hunter, 1902; F. Ridley, 1968; and A. Dorion, 2008 (an undergraduate thesis report), were reviewed.  It was determined that students would first locate Dorion's centre point (our 0N, 0W point), then dig test pits with shovels at 5 m spacing, in three rows to north, east, south and west from this location. In contrast Dorion had dug test pits parallel to (and at right angles to), the road nearby, about 35˚ northwest of the North-South meridian axis.  Thus, with our work, there would be an irregular, eight-spoke "wheel" of test pits (and later added, four test units), located on the site.
            Using a GPS, the centre of Dorion's findings was located, and a test pit dug, The amount of artefacts found immediately warranted digging a 1 m x 1 m test unit. Due to the concentration of findings in test pits, a 1 m x 1 m test pit was also dug at 85S, 05W, which proved fruitful.  Similarly, on the east leg good findings were found in test pits, but on digging 2 - 50 cm x 50 cm test units no further material was found. Test pits were extended in each direction for seven holes past the last one to unearth an artefact. A short set of test pits was dug to the west from the second test pit mentioned above, without success.  In all, 248 test pits were dug. Pits were measured to be approximately 30 cm in diameter, and 25.0 cm deep +/- 5.9 cm.
            As recorded in our subsequent Student Report, a total of 3826 g of artefacts were found, including a great variety of pottery, clay pipe fragments, iron fragments, copper fragments, various shapes and sizes of beads made from glass, clay and wood, a variety of faunal remains, both fish and mammal, and carbonized floral remains of corn, squash and charcoal.  Tools included a projectile point and netting needle. All findings suggested that this site was a post-contact, Wendat site.         
            At the conclusion of the fourth day, the test units were filled in, as had the test units had been when dug.  For the final test unit, a traditional ceremony of words, and tobacco were given, along with a 2011 coin placed in the base of the pit to mark our presence there.
            We went to the Thompson-Walker site, to see the "Feast of the Dead" site near the road.
            On the final day of this week we remained at the Ellery Site, to also close up all test units.  Gravel had to be hauled from the gravel pit to bring in sufficient material. In closing the final unit, more words were spoken, along with the offering of tobacco, a 2011 coin, and laments sung beautifully.
            During "Week six", spent in Sudbury, students prepared a report that recommended an elliptical shape for further investigation of a possible village settlement at the Dorion Site. The ellipse would be oriented to the southeast from our original 0N, 0W point (also Dorion's 2008 centre point), as the northwest end, then measuring 85 m to the south, 75 m to the east, and 166 m to the southeast. This size and shape generally coincided with that suggested by Ridley, 1968; and Ramsden, 1990. It was expected that middens generally would be located outside the perimeter of a settlement.  The student report included a site map showing all of our test locations. The balance of the week was taken up with a G.I.S. class, lab analysis, and completion of the Dorion Site analyses for the student report. Various tests of learned skills were given.                                              
            We had become a cohesive team, which was celebrated with a potluck dinner at Lizette Frappier's home, followed by a dinner on the final evening at a local restaurant.

            N.B.  Some members of the team participated in writing up a report on the Dorion Site work.  It has been accepted for publication in Arch Notes.

Robert Browne, student.

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