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.

About Face: Iroquoian Effigy Pipes in Ontario

Inspiration for this post comes from the “Pinched Face” effigy pipe recovered at the 2016 Tay Point field school by AR219 students Nicholas Pauls and Kathleen Schupp.  The appearance of Iroquoian effigy pipes is a phenomenon that begins around A.D. 1300 and continues throughout the historic period in Ontario.  Made of clay or stone, clay effigy pipes far outnumber their stone counterparts.

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Side view of Pinched Face effigy pipe recovered at Ahatsistari, BeGx-76.  Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Pauls.

Effigy pipes can be divided into three broad design categories, those with zoomorphic or animal characteristics, those with anthropomorphic or human attributes, and pipes that incorporate both animal and human features.  The animals represented in effigy pipes have remained fairly constant through time.  Birds are the most commonly identified animal form with a large number depicting owls.  Other often identified animal forms include: salamanders or lizards, snakes turtles, bears, and dogs or wolves.

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Pinched Face pipe modified from Noble (1979), Ontario Iroquois Effigy Pipes, Canadian Journal of Archaeology (pg. 76).

Effigy pipes showing human forms, far outnumber those with animal features, and show considerable variation and change in design from the 14th through 17th centuries when designs become more uniform.  A small number of human effigies show atypical characteristics i.e. multiple faces.  “Pinched Face” effigy pipes show human attributes i.e. closed eyes, sunken cheeks, with hand(s) raised to mouth.  Thought to originate among the Huron-Wendat, the “Pinched Face” design dates from the late 16th to early 17th century.  Researchers have suggested that these human figures are imbued with curing qualities, and reflect the historical context of illness and sustained European contact in Huronia during the first half of the 17th century.

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Front view of pinched face effigy pipe recovered at Ahatsistari, BeGx-76.  Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Pauls.


Life at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons!

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Entry to Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.

What better way to experience life as it was in Ontario during the early 17th century than to visit the iconic site of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.  Students of the 2016 Tay Point field school took a break from their trowelling and sifting of sand at Ahatsistari to visit Sainte-Marie and become immersed in period culture.  Our daylong visit included a movie, a guided tour through the reconstructed community, and plenty of time to view the new exhibits in the on-site museum.

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Inside a reconstructed longhouse, Karin Taylor, Curator speaks to the students of the 2016 Tay Point field school about life in the longhouse.

The original fenced community of Sainte-Marie was the centre of operations for the French Jesuit mission to the Huron-Wendat people.  Occupied from 1639 A.D. until abandoned and burned in 1649 A.D., the remnants of Sainte-Marie lay hidden for almost three centuries.  Archaeological investigations during the 20th century (including those conducted by our own Dr. John Triggs!) and information from historical documents have provided the blueprint for the reconstructed village which now celebrates the story of Sainte-Marie, Francophone and Huron-Wendat cultures.

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Dell Taylor, Coordinator of Public and Education Programs describes the complexities of building a bark canoe.

This world-renowned reconstruction features, a church and cemetery, blacksmith and carpentry workshops, Francophone and Huron-Wendat residences complete with period costumed interpreters.  Our WLU Archaeology students having experienced Sainte-Marie are now better able to understand and visualize early pioneer life in Ontario, and exchanges between the French and Huron-Wendat nations.  With the cooperation of the weather a fantastic time was had by all!

The (Ground-) Truth About Metal Detecting!

Metal detectors and their association with artifact hunting and site looting is probably the main reason for metal detector under-utilization by archaeologists.  However, metal detectors are valuable remote sensing tools that are minimally invasive and help to diminish destruction of archaeological remains.  When used systematically and coupled with traditional surface survey, shovel test pitting, and test excavation, metal detectors provide an inexpensive and less time consuming means by which to identify sites and plan excavation strategies.  The detected distribution of metal artifacts across a site can aid in determining artifacts missed when shovel test pitting, site boundaries, the location of midden deposits not visible on the surface, and pre-existing buried structural remains.  Virtually any archaeological site containing metal artifacts can benefit from the use of metal detectors.

Tay Point_3Conrad Gates, senior student of AR452 conducting a metal detector survey at Ahatsistari.

During the 2014 Tay Point field school, metal detector work was undertaken to determine the location and distribution of European contact era metal artifacts in middens.  Finds and metal types were confirmed when a limited number of test units were excavated.  Metal detecting was also applied to a small test area in the middle of the site and our findings and, while not ground-truthed, suggested a pattern in the distribution of iron objects.  We hypothesized that any patterns that were revealed may help to define the internal structure of the site such as, the location of buried middens, and the location and interior of longhouses.  As a result, we proposed a systematic metal detector and shovel test pitting survey of trade period indigenous archaeological sites on Tay Point.

Tay Point_4Senior students, Tamara Graham and Taylor Parliament establishing grid system for the systematic metal detector investigation of Ahatsistari.

Senior students of the 2016 Tay Point field school are currently conducting a test of metal detector use on Ahatsistari, a Huron-Wendat village site dating to the early 17th century.  The students’ main objective is to record the spatial distribution of all detected metal objects within a 10m wide strip that extends across the site from east to west.  Students have created a grid of 10m2 areas that are further divided into 1m wide corridors.  Each area is systematically swept with a metal detector by walking the corridors.  Detected subsurface objects are flagged on the surface with orange straws marking iron, green straws marking copper and white indicating other types of metal objects (i.e. modern composites). Each location is ground-truthed, and all material remains recovered are tagged and bagged.  Locations of all detected objects are being recorded using a total station and the distribution of detected objects mapped.  Friday proved exceptionally exciting with the excavation of a flagged cluster of detected iron objects.  The cluster was comprised of period artifacts including two 17th century trade axes and a trade knife, as well as a clay pipe stem.

Tay Point_5Senior students Conrad Gates and Jordon MacArthur holding a trade axe recovered during the test pit survey.

Town of Nebo Archaeological Project, 2016

Nebo_1The Town of Nebo Archaeological Project is concerned with investigating the sacred landscape around the site of Khirbat al-Mukhayyat in central Jordan. Mukhayyat is located about 2.5 km from the biblical site of Mount Nebo which today boasts the remains of a large Byzantine monastery and a basilica dedicated to the Prophet Moses. Mukhayyat has a long history of occupation that may date back to the Early Bronze Age (4th millennium BCE). For most (if not all) of its history, Mukhayyat has been associated with religious or cultic activity, indicating that this location and the landscape that surrounds it are imbued with a ritual importance that transcends time and cultural tradition.

Thirty-one WLU students participated in our first season of excavation in 2014. Everyone’s hard work produced some surprising finds, including a plastered ritual bath, bedrock-carved installations, and a collection of complete cooking pots all dating to the Late Hellenistic period (1st century BCE). Six students from this initial season returned in the summer of 2015 to participate in a study season that concentrated on documenting and analyzing the artefacts recovered in 2014.

Twenty-two WLU students will be participating in the second season of excavation at Mukhayyat in the summer of 2016. We will be focusing on excavating the area around the ritual bath and, time permitting, exposing more of the complete cooking pots found in 2014. You can keep up to date with our progress in the field by checking out the Town of Nebo Archaeological Project Facebook page or following us on Twitter (@neboarchaeology). We will also be posting weekly blog posts, written by students and staff, on our project website (

Hello from Tay Point

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Photo courtesy of Bonnie Glencross

On May 16th fifteen resolute Wilfrid Laurier undergraduate students, three staunch instructional assistants, and one plucky instructor embarked on their long awaited archaeological field research trip to Tay Point.  Tay Point, in Penetaguishene, Ontario is a peninsula roughly 25 km2 that extends into the reaches of Georgian Bay.  It contains the archaeological remains of at least six Huron-Wendat villages that are believed to represent the movements of a single community over a 250 year period (A.D. 1400-A.D. 1650). There is a strong possibility that two of the village sites, Ahatsistari and Chew, are the remains of the historically referenced villages Carhagouha and Quieunonascaran.  Both villages were described in the early 17th century by Samuel de Champlain and Recollect missionary, Gabriel Sagard while residing there.

Field work at Ahatsistari (BeGx-76) began with a flurry of activity and finds!  Students have opened ten units in the hopes of locating the elusive triple palisade thought to bound the east side of the village.  Progress through their units continues but students have already recovered a variety of pipe bowl fragments, glass trade beads and pottery.  Students of the WLU field school were also treated to a trip to the well-known Thompson-Walker site near Cold Water, Ontario where they were hosted by Ontario Heritage Trust Archaeologist, Dena Doroszenko and Dr. Alicia Hawkins of Laurentian University.  The Thompson-Walker site also contains the remains of a Huron-Wendat village dating to A.D. 1625-35, and some archaeologists have suggested that it is the site of French Jesuit Mission, St. Joachim.

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Photo courtesy of Nicholas Pauls.