Old Fort Erie: Week 1

This is the first in a series of posts that will highlight student participants in the excavations at Old Fort Erie. Students have been asked to discuss each day of the project and the first week is highlighted below.

Day 1: May 15, 2017 (by Antiy-Demian Savov)

Fort Erie_3
Antiy-Demian Savov at work in his excavation unit in Area 3 – the presumed location of an officer’s quarters dating to the late 18th century.

Day 1 of the Fort Erie field season was pretty successful.  Initially my group and I got lost on our way there but after an exciting encounter with the border patrol we managed to get back on track.  Shortly after we got transported to Bertie Hall to settle in.  The house itself is quite grand with many elements from its Victorian past highlighted.  I especially liked how spacious it was, however it is quite cold.  It feels like it belonged to a member of the local elite during the 19th century.  After lunch came the first task of the day.  We had to mend broken equipment such as dirt screeners and the tripods that go with them.  The crew I was working with was fairly good at carpentry.  After an hour of figuring out how to repair the equipment efficiently, we were able to make good time.  In total, we fixed over five screens and two tripods.  I would say that it was a successful first day.

Day 2: May 16, 2017 (by Lauren Yates)

Fort Erie_4
Gotcha!  Lauren Yates digging in during test pitting with partner Karolina Brozy.

Today was officially the second day of our field school at Old Fort Erie. It was the first day actually working in the field. The interpreters who run the Fort gave us a tour in the middle of the day, after lunch. It was a great way to provide context to what we were looking for and some insight on what life was like for people who inhabited the Fort in the 19th century.

When we left this morning at 8:15 am, we were told it might rain. It began to rain as soon as we stepped on the site. It never really poured or did anything more than a drizzle, but the rain combined with the wind that comes off of the lake meant my partner and I were freezing and had two sets of hoods over our hats all day. This is when I learned the lesson to wear hiking boots regardless of the weather. Rain boots do not provide the same support in an archaeological dig setting.

We started today with test pitting. My partner and I had managed to do four test pits and as a combined total, the group had managed to tackle around 60% of the pits we had set up for us. We were told that tomorrow we would finish up before moving on to our designated spots where we will work for the remaining 5 weeks.

In general, my partner and I did not have the best luck when it came to our pits. The first pit was great and very exciting; right away we found lots of pieces of brick and mortar. We also managed to find a few small fragments of different types of ceramic. The most exciting artifact we managed to find all day also came from this pit, a modified musket ball. The next pit however did not go as well. The second pit we tested was about 1 meter in depth which was deeper than our first and had considerably less in it. The pit was predominately charcoal, which was found near the top, but also featured a few pieces of ceramic. Despite not finding as much we ended up spending just as much time on it as the first and towards the end it was just clumps of dirt and rocks being found. Our professor noted that this pit in particular pit was part of a hill, which explained the lack of different layers found in it.

The third pit we tested was much smaller than the first two, only being around 40 cm deep. It also had a clay subsoil which differed from the sandy subsoil of the previous two pits. If we thought the last pit was disappointing than this one would set a new standard. In this pit we found only a piece of glass, a nail, creamware ceramic, and two pieces of brick. This is also the point in time that it stopped raining which meant for most people, thankfully not me, got sunburns. Our fourth and final pit ended up being the very last pit of the day. As I was digging it there were a few roots that one of the supervisors had to help me with. In the end we had found a piece of glass, and  a “classic fragment” of chert in the words of my Professor. This dig also was short in depth, around 30 cm, and had a clay subsoil. This was a pattern among all of the pits as we moved west downhill. This pit was by far our fastest because we got help digging it.

Some final thoughts about Day 2 include that I am very glad to finally get out in the field even in my body is already hurting (which I am sure will only get worse). Also tomorrow is going to be 30 degrees and I’m not too excited for that, but anyway: on to day 3!

Day 3: May 17, 2017 (by Steven McPhail)

Fort Erie_5
Steven McPhail on the edge during test pitting.

Today was a day of heat.  We learned how exhausting digging in hot weather is.  Thankfully for us, the final test pits tend to be in shaded areas, at least for my partner and myself.  Although test pit digging was fun the day before, we quickly realized that the entertainment was due mostly to the plethora of interesting finds from those initial pits.  For my partner and I, the major finds were chert, chert, wet clay, and surprisingly more chert.  Another digging duo found a piece of earthenware that had patterning resembling the “Butterscotch” pattern.

Additional test pits were marked, which gave us all a short break, leading to a much-wanted Tim Hortons break, giving us a chance to enjoy a respite before finishing the final test pits.

Today, however, was the day that marked the first day in our excavation squares.  We didn’t get as much time in them as we probably all hoped to.  We did get to begin stripping off the sod layer on our squares.  Coming to the site, there were only two areas (which contained the two metre by two metre and two metre by one metre), but from the test pits, to my understanding, a third area was plotted based on the frequency of artifacts found.

Day 4: May 18, 2017 (by Brooke Harrison)

Fort Erie_6
Retro- Brooke Harrison in Area 1 investigating the blacksmith shop.

The day started with finishing sod stripping the units and since Graham and I finished sod stripping our unit the day before, we helped others until they finished. When all units had their sod removed we plotted unit points for the units of Area 3. This was done using the Pythagorean Theorem and finding the sweet spot of the 2m and 2.36m point of our right triangle. A little math in the morning never hurt anyone. Doing this I along with Kelsea, Graham and Simonetta contributed to plotting what would become Unit 17R of Area 3 with the help of Owen. Dr. Triggs gave us two lessons today, one was explaining how the lot forms work and the other later in the day on properly sharpening your trowel and how to effectively use it during excavation. Owen also showed us the proper information to put on our artifact bags and how to do a nifty and effective archaeology fold. To make further progress on our units today we took opening and closing elevations of our Lot 1. After this we had photographs of out Lot 2 taken and when this was completed we began excavation. A lot of prep work finally completed. There was not anything to exciting to happen in Graham and mines unit, other than his unexpected nosebleed. There was an interesting find in Karolina and Dawns unit, a possible British Royal Navy button.

The soil that my Unit 17D and the rest of Area 1 were working in was sandy loam, and although I can’t speak for everyone else, I do believe that this is what the majority of us were working with today as we were all working just under the sod layer. The weather today was quite nice, however, quite hot and a little troublesome while working in it for the full day. The high was around 28°C, and there was a nice cool breeze that came in off the lake every now and then in which we all enjoyed. When this breeze wasn’t present however, we often attempted to stick to the shade as much as possible. There were plenty of sunburns as a result of the day.

Day 5: May 19, 2017 (by Ty Martinec)

Fort Erie_7
Ty Martinec looking on as Instructional Assistant, Owen Harvey, conducts a metal detecting test. A controlled metal detecting survey will be carried out by senior students Ty and Curtis Garde in the ‘field of fire’ from the British bombardment of the fort in 1814.

Today was a much needed shortened day to end the first week of digging. Weather has cooled off from the previous few days to a much more cool and comfortable temperature which made it much easier to work, especially while adapting to the physical workload of a dig.

A 10 year old boy named Chase also joined the dig for the day and made the day more entertaining. His bright smile and squirrel-like cheeks had most of the girls talking about how cute he was all day, although a few people had arguments with him over how talented of a battler Ash, the main character from the Pokemon anime, is. Perhaps they didn’t find him as cute as the argument heated up.

For me digging went much slower than the earlier days. I didn’t have any gloves yet for the earlier day so the hands had gotten pretty blistered from troweling so hard all day. So now that I have gloves I went a little lighter, hoping that over the long weekend they will get the time needed to at least somewhat heal. My unit has been fairly interesting, although definitely not the most exciting. My unit was placed with the goal of finding the outside wall of the officer’s quarters, and based on the findings it seems that this is the case. I have found a large amount of brick, mortar, nai ls, and some window glass – all building materials. Additionally, I’m finding these materials in a certain area of the unit which would outline the shape of a wall. So the early findings are indicating that I have found the wall, something very important for the site, but unfortunately, a little less exciting than the coins and buttons found in other units.

Around 2:00 our day finished, we drove back to the house to quickly pack things and then headed back to Waterloo for the long weekend. I’m looking forward to coming back for next week.

Archaeology at Old Fort Erie: A Guide for Archaeology Students and Interpreters

2017 marks the fourth season of excavation at Old Fort Erie by Wilfrid Laurier University students under the direction of Dr. John Triggs, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Waterloo.  This is a for-credit field school for WLU archaeology students conducted over a six-week period.  The course is designed to provide students with the skills and knowledge employed in modern archaeological investigations.  Skills learned include excavation, recording and survey, in addition to training in aspects of public archaeology.  Modern, research-driven archaeology projects, such as the one at Old Fort Erie, seek to address questions which are based on an evaluation of historical and archaeological information.

Any archaeological project is a team effort. This year there are 21 student participants, three student assistant supervisors, and one returning volunteer engaged in the work.

Context for the 2017 Excavation:  Fort Erie, and the community that grew up around the fort, was first settled in 1764 in the aftermath of the French and Indian War which marked the end of the French regime in North America.  This small frontier settlement is significant as the first permanent British military fort in the province.

The 2015 investigation focused on three structures: a blacksmith shop and two officer’s dwellings.  Although only a few centimetres below the surface, features such as a masonry double-fireplace, floorboards, wall trenches, a masonry forge, fence-lines, and various posts and pits indicated that the buried archaeological remains were intact and largely undisturbed.

The vast number of artifacts found during the 2015 excavations- more than 75,000 – included 18th and early 19th century ceramics, which are useful for dating archaeological deposits, food bone, container glass, smoking pipes, architectural debris such as window glass and hand-wrought nails, various pieces of hardware, personal items such as buttons and buckles, musket balls and flints, and other military paraphernalia.  Finds such as these provide direct evidence of past activities from which we hope to learn more about the people attached to the fort.  The first Fort Erie was a frontier community in the last third of the 18th century that included military and naval personnel (officers and enlisted men), together with civilians and First Nations people.  The material culture of these inhabitants is a primary source of information for this period – every much as valuable as historical documents.

The immediate goal of the 2017 project is to further investigate the buildings discovered in 2015 to determine the size, and interior layout of each structure.  The long-term research objectives are to investigate the diverse Fort Erie community by addressing how the inhabitants adapted to frontier conditions through material culture, diet, and architecture.  Adaptation also is viewed within the context of the many social, political, and economic negotiations necessary for survival in this isolated post on the fringe of the British empire.

As a part of their evaluation, students are assigned to write a blog for at least one day while on the field school.  It is my hope that the blogs will provide an on-the-ground perspective of daily activities.  Please enjoy!

Fort Erie_1
Students test pitting during the first week on site.  Placement of excavation units is based on an evaluation of frequency and type of artifacts found.  Old Fort Erie is in the background.
Fort Erie_2
Antiy- Demian Savov laying in excavation units under the watchful eye of John Triggs.


Schliemann Grad, 2017

Schliemann 2017

It is that time of year again at Wilfrid Laurier University. Classes have ended and exams are now in the rear-view mirror. For the Department of Archaeology & Classical Studies, this also means that we once again convened for our annual Schliemann Graduation ceremony. This is our opportunity to say farewell to our students in a much more personal setting than convocation in June.

One of our graduating students, Katie Schupp, did a masterful job of organizing the ceremony. Heather Robinson, a second-year student, and Owen Harvey, another of the graduating crop, took over the job of emceeing. For those unfamiliar with the adventure that is Schliemann Grad, each graduating student is called to the front to be toasted and roasted by one (or more) of the department’s faculty. We were thrilled to see 26 students willing to make that anxious trip to the podium as they wondered what stories the professors would bring to light in front of colleagues and family members.

There was a new twist to the ceremony this year. One of the professors, Debra Foran, was unable to attend due to participation in a conference in Vancouver. She refused to let students that had worked with her over the past few years go untoasted (and unroasted), however. In a Schliemann Grad first, Deb prepared a voice-over Powerpoint presentation that highlighted a number of the graduating students.

This is always a time of mixed emotions for the department. While we are thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of another outstanding group of students, it is always difficult to say goodbye. We are a close-knit community and this ceremony is one of the highlights of the year for all of us. Once again, we offer best wishes to our graduating students as they enter the next stages of our lives.

Teaching Award!

Teaching Award 1

On Thursday, March 30th, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) held its annual Partner’s in Higher Education Dinner at One King West in Toronto. One component of this dinner includes honoring the recipients of the OUSA Award for Excellence in Teaching. The OUSA website describes the award as follows:

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance Teaching Excellence Award recognizes educators who excel at unlocking the potential of Ontario’s young people. Successfully engaging individuals in the learning experience depends on an instructor’s ability to spark students’ curiosity and desire to learn. It is our pleasure to give these remarkable professionals the recognition they deserve.

A good textbook and a high-tech classroom are not enough to provide a quality education.  An excellent instructor will be able to engage their students in the process of learning and discovery and help them develop the critical skills that form the foundation of a robust education. With this in mind, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance annually presents its teaching awards to professors from each of our member campuses who have taken this role to heart, and who have been selected by their students as examples of teaching excellence.

Of particular significance is the fact that nominations for this award come directly from undergraduate students. The professors have no idea that they have been nominated until they receive notice from their Student Union. One recipient is named from each of the member institutions of OUSA. The Department of Archaeology & Classical Studies can be proud that this year’s recipient from Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Scott Gallimore, is a member of the department. A description of why he was selected can be found on the OUSA website. Dr. Gallimore is proud and humbled to receive this recognition. The Archaeology & Classical Studies department values excellent teaching and this award reflects the efforts that every faculty member puts into this endeavor.

Changes to the AHS Program

The Department of Archaeology & Classical Studies at Laurier has just completed a revision of our course offerings. There are several reasons for this and the overall goal is to make the program leaner and better. We realize that several significant changes to our program have occurred over the past few years and this is meant to be the final, substantial modification.

Our motivations for reviewing the courses that we offer and thinking about ways to revise our curriculum to better suit the goals and needs of our program include attempting to better align the program with the University’s Strategic Academic Plan, aspiring to develop courses that build on the teaching and research strengths of the professors in the department, and responding to recommendations from the external review of the department completed last year. This includes adding new courses to the program, deleting courses from the program, and modifying existing courses.

Below is a link to a PowerPoint presentation created by the department’s undergraduate advisor, Bonnie Glencross, that summarizes these changes. Information about every course that the department will offer moving forward can be found on the Academic Calendar page of the website, which can also be accessed through the student portal of the new website. If anyone has any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Professor Glencross or any other member of the department.

AHS Course Changes 2017

Laurier Archaeology at the AIA

For four days in early January, archaeology took over downtown Toronto. The occasion was the 118th annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which was held from January 5-8, 2017. Over 75 research panels and workshops were part of the conference and the amount of information presented was thrilling and overwhelming.

The Department of Archaeology & Classical Studies at Laurier was well-represented at the meeting with several current and former students and two faculty members presenting their research. On Friday, Dr. Debra Foran discussed the first two seasons of excavations at her on-going project at Khirbat al-Mukhayyat in a paper entitled “The Town of Nebo Archaeological Project: Results of the First Two Seasons of Excavation at Khirbat al-Mukhayyat, Jordan”. That same day, Dr. Foran along with four students from the department who been active participants in her project presented a poster that examined a large assemblage of cooking pots recovered from the site.

Laurier students and faculty present their research at the 118th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. From left to right: Ashley Paling, Dr. Debra Foran, Grant Ginson, Laila Hack, Lauren Mason.

On Sunday, in the final session of panels held during the conference, Dr. Scott Gallimore also discussed results of recent research in a paper entitled “On the Banks of the Ancient Streams of the Inachos: The Western Argolid Regional Project, 2014-2016”, which was co-authored with Drs. Dimitri Nakassis and Sarah James of the University of Colorado, Boulder and Dr. William Caraher of the University of North Dakota.

Laurier alumnae were also active at the conference, including Rachel Dewan (BA 2013) who helped to organize a workshop on data collection, management, and analysis. Rachel is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art department at the University of Toronto. Dr. Megan Daniels (BA 2005), a recent graduate of Stanford University and current Redford Postdoctoral Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Puget Sound, helped to organize a panel entitled “God the Anthropologist: Text, Material, and Theory n the Study of Ancient Religon” and also presented a paper on sculptural evidence from Sparta.

Overall, the conference was very successful and we are all thankful for such a well-organized and vibrant event. The AIA annual meeting moves to Boston next January and we look forward to more contributions from Laurier’s many active student and faculty researchers.

The Chew Site

This month marks the publication of The Chew Site (BeGx-9): A Case Study in the Value of Archived Collections, in Ontario Archaeology (volume 95, 2015) a peer-reviewed journal of the Ontario Archaeological Society.  Wilfrid Laurier University students and faculty of the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies (Waterloo), and Society, Culture, and Environment and Indigenous Studies (Brantford) collaborated in the analysis and reporting of the Chew site collection.  Originally excavated in 1972 and shelved until 2014 when the analysis took place, the collection provides supporting evidence for the provocative idea that the Chew site is the location of the historically important Huron-Wendat village Quieunonascaran.


Quieunonascaran was one of the principle villages of the Attignawantan (Huron-Wendat People of the Bear) from ca. 1620 until 1637.   At the height of occupation, Quieunonascaran was the home of Huron-Wendat headmen who claimed to control the trade route east to Quebec City.  Quieunonascaran is also referenced in historical documents as host to French Recollect priests and traders that had travelled from Quebec to Huronia, and that resided at the village for extended periods of time.

Senior students and team members (from left to right): Katherine Anderson, Samantha Patterson and Shannon Millar, working on the Chew Site collection housed at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons during the 2014 Wilfrid Laurier University field school.

In May and June of 2014, in the context of an archaeological field school, students Katherine Anderson, Stefanie MacKinnon, Shannon Millar, and Samantha Patterson catalogued and examined a total of 4,277 artifacts from the Chew site.  Students and faculty discovered that the Chew site was occupied by the Huron-Wendat during the late 15th and early 17th centuries.  The early 17th century artifacts suggest a date for the Chew site of ca. 1620-1640 (based on trade bead chronology) that is consistent with the recorded occupation of Quieunonascaran, as well as evidence for a strong European presence.

Senior student and team member Stefanie MacKinnon at the 2014 field school.

Most telling is a metal finger ring, found in 1972 and now curated at Sainte Marie among the Hurons.  Iconographic finger rings were distributed by Europeans during the 17th century as trade items, and appear to be restricted to archaeological sites dating to A.D. 1625-1650 in southern Ontario.  This period corresponds with the arrival of French Jesuit priests that established missions and resided amongst the Huron-Wendat.  A recent study by Mercier (2011, Jesuit Rings in Trade Exchanges Between France and New France, Northeast Historical Archaeology, 40:21-42) suggests that most trade rings from this period likely originate from the commercial port of La Rochelle, France, which played a dominant role in transatlantic trade with New France

Trade ring. Photograph courtesy of Stefanie MacKinnon.