Thursday, August 16, 2012

PA day 2012 - Have we got beady eyes?

                       Public Archaeology Day – OAS Huronia Chapter:
                                                        11 and 12 August 2012.

  Have we got beady eyes?

The Huronia Chapter (OAS) held its Public Archaeology Day(s) on Saturday and
Sunday, 11 and 12 August. The chosen site sits in the middle of the Tay Peninsula jutting out into Georgian Bay between Midland and Penetanguishene, in the midst of the lovely, dark and deep Simcoe County Forest. Designated formally BeGx-76. Wow! This is cool!. The site awaits its proper name to be chosen by the Huron/Wendat Nation of Quebec.
The deal was come rain or shine, and ... well, yes. That does describe it pretty well.
The weather was forecast to be rainy, on and off, and things got under way Saturday morning quite pleasantly, with as many as 25 people coming out loyally, clutching hot Timmy’s in their mitts, carrying backpacks and foul-weather gear. As an old motto has it: there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. We kept that in mind.
John and Marg Raynor had the site-tested RV (Noah’s Arch?) positioned at the entrance
to the dig location. On Friday the hard-core faithful with assistance of county forest staff set plastic markers to delineate the path in, as well as tarpaulins to cover the area of excavation. Dr. Alicia Hawkins determined that our task was to be limited to the disturbed part of one large midden clinging to the edge of the ravine. As so many – if not all – Wendat sites seem to appear, this site followed the characteristic pattern: surrounded on at least three sides by a declivity, near a reliable source of water, and on sandy – what isn’t in Simcoe County, other than swamps? – upland soil. Sadly, this location had been looted previously, probably over a number of years. The midden we were to deal with had an extensive edge cut away and the spoiled earth piled haphazardly. We set about taking pails of dirt by trowelling from these piled portions and screening the soil carefully; guided by the “old hands” – being careful to note that old hands in archaeology can be quite young and attractive – the duffers like myself were coached in the fine art of telling charred wood from charred corn, charred beans from seed pods, fish bones from mammal bones, and told to keep a wary eye open for pottery sherds, or beads, or any specimens of metal. When we began, we were told that the site was newly-discovered (credit goes to Gary Dubeau) and newly-Bordenized by Alicia and that at this point it was not known if it was a contact-site or not. So ... we were on the leading edge.
The first half of Saturday – for me at least – entailed learning to recognize what I was
handling, all covered in fine black dirt. The largest concentration of recovered items would be by far the charred wood, charred corn kernels, and such unromantic stuff as fish bones; but occasional pottery shards cropped up, enough to keep the fire in the belly, some quite nicely decorated with notches and lines. And then one shell bead was discovered. The finds were passed first to Alicia for her okay, but then our bead-lady, Tonya Kitay, examined them, singing her praises of each and every recovery. This was Tonya’s first experience of a dig and she was enjoying each second.
About noon, the heavens opened. Jamie Hunter had opined to Alicia that it might be a
good idea to water-screen the sample soil and nature appeared to agree. Thunder, lightning, all the good stuff, but it might not last long and a lunch break was waiting to be taken. It served as
a good chance to clean our filthy hands. And to sample Marg Raynor’s excellent soup.

         Tonya Kitay (our Bead Lady) is in the black top, Kristin Thor beside her, back to camera. Sorry, Kristin.

As the rain tapered off, the crew returned to their  posts. So far, we had not determined
that it might be a contact-site, and we were back there to dig our heels in and make something happen – well, we had to, the ground was now slippery as hell. But by the end of day, all the hard campaigners had not found anything that proved European influence, beyond what could have been traded inland from the far-off Atlantic coasts. Although the suspicion was there: we had found a rolled copper bead and a copper cone, perhaps a decoration from clothing. Sunday was another day.
And Sunday was a better day. Only spits of rain. The faces had changed somewhat,
several people being otherwise committed, but new recruits had signed on and filled the gaps nicely, and our work resumed. Jamie Hunter arrived and set to work with a will. He had a happy knack of filling buckets with earth, and setting a lovely sherd of pottery right on top, dead center, to keep our spirits up. And the discoveries began. Jamie found a piece of a knife blade – iron – bingo! Certainly a contact site! I found a small, right-angle folded, piece of copper that I was sure was from Canadian Tire and not the seventeenth century. But Alicia slapped me around and corrected the error of my ways. I was working with Gary Dubeau and Paul Johnston on a standing screen (⅛-inch screen for those technically minded). Paul, on his first dig, had the uncanny knack of picking out beads. Yes, beads! He found two; we joked that he had “beady eyes.”

(Left) Paul Johnston and Caitlin, our supervisor, screening.                    (Right) Kristin Thor hard at work; “finds” went in the paper bags.

And Gary Dubeau found a bead – his first ever bead, and he has been doing this work for years! The gods were smiling on us at last. Kristin and her husband and sister found a beautiful red bead with white “bloom” inserts. No doubt now that it was a site dating after European trade was well established. Being located in the Carhagouha area, this is a very interesting site indeed.
Alicia, in an email sent to Jamie Hunter after the weekend, points out: “Blue tube – Ia19; White football – IIa15; Blue and white tube – closest is Ib18; Red round with white and blue – IIbb1. According to both Kenyon and Kenyon and to Fitzgerald, Knight and Bain this should put it into GBPII. What do you think?”  Archaeological-speak, but big brains need their outlets too.
What I think, Alicia, is that I had the time of my life and I am hooked – real bad. I think
that the Huronia Chapter, OAS, will be getting my faithful, volunteer service whenever I can manage it in the future. And if you, too, have beady eyes, then you are welcome to join us.

                       - Peter Davis, 15 August 2012

PS - based on what was found in the screenings of the area that was worked Alicia has a preliminary rough estimate of the occupation of this being 1600 - 1620 and hence I think, a suitable candidate for a Champlain era site.


John Raynor said...

comment in an email from Alicia - "Despite the rain, the event was well attended and we recovered enough contact period trade material to establish that the site does indeed date to the period of European contact with the indigenous Wendat people of the area. In fact, at this time the glass beads suggest to us that we can estimate the age to be A.D. 1066-1620, but this is still a rough estimate."

Alicia said...

The date should read 1600-1620, obviously.