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!
This is the fourth 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 fourth and fifth weeks are highlighted below.
Day 15: June 5, 2017 (by Curtis Garde)
My best find this year was the biggest, most intimidating creature you’d ever see… I mean, as far as glow-in-the-dark plastic Halloween decorations go. So I’m digging away trying to get into the depths of Root City (AKA Unit 17H) and I see this circular white thing sticking out of the ground. Dr. Triggs came over and thought it might be part of a reenactor’s tent post – a reasonable guess since it was still mostly buried. I dig a bit deeper in that area and before I know it, I see what looks like three spiny white tendrils protruding from the pile of loose dirt in my unit. After a brief moment of panic, I brush away the dirt (praying that it’s not alive) and let out a slight chuckle to cover my embarrassment after being scared by a plastic spider. I show the professor, and a few minutes later… A scream in the distance – Dr. Triggs had fulfilled that spider’s purpose in life.
The next morning I finished excavating the second layer of my unit, got the elevations, did some drawings of Root City, and got a photo done; all the standard stuff. Following a nourishing lunch of literally just ham on bread, I harvested the vast wood source that I had discovered beneath the soil and practiced my carpentry. After constructing approximately 136 birdhouses for my pal Burdis who lives in the tree above (the guy likes options), I had finally exhausted the plentiful supply. I was excited to get back to digging into the newly cleared soil, when within two inches of dirt, I discovered that Root City has had a longer period of occupation than originally believed. A second plentiful wood source from which I could create not just the entire inventory of IKEA, but an IKEA building itself. Really though, maybe a chainsaw next time, this took days to get out. Don’t worry though, once the mother of all roots was finally dislodged we hosted a funeral, said a few words, and stood it up half-buried in our back dirt pile as an effigy to the tree spirit.
When I wasn’t at my unit, I was up the hill over yonder working on a metal detecting survey as a part of the advanced field course. To summarize that process: we walked around a big square in what might as well have been a tick sanctuary and stuck in flags when the thing beeped. We ended up coming across what seems like a huge variety of metal types. The detector really only gives you a number, and the interpretation is up to you.
For example, a low 50 might be a gold coin… or a pop can tab. I’m pretty sure a good portion of our readings were pennies. But here is where I stress the reason why we are interpreting instead of just ripping it out of the ground to literally see what the thing is. Archaeology isn’t about looting a site for all its shinies, it’s about using those shinies (and the not-so-shinies) to learn something about the people who were there before us. If we dug up all our detector hits, we’d be taking the artifacts out of their context and permanently destroying any opportunity to use their precise location within the soil to learn about more than just the object itself. All of our flags have been mapped on a grid system so we can study their distributions and look for concentrations without ever having to dig. The hope is that the data we collected will be useful information for planning where to place systematically dug units in a future field school. I think we have some rich areas based on our readings, but future field school students will need to be wary of the neighbours.
That stump? Yeah, we don’t call it “The Real Snake Hill” for nothing.
The conversation went a little like this: “Oh wow there are animal burrows all around this tree stump.” Followed by: “Hey Ty there’s a snake behind you.” Ty hates snakes. So it turns out, Snurtis—Like Burdis, this one is also named after me—likes to come out to bask in the sun on the rare day that it’s not raining in Fort Erie. But if you see any snakes, I’d advise against picking them up for a Snelfie. They tend to evacuate everything they’ve got when they’re scared. I know that now.
Day 16: June 6, 2017 (by Kelsea Miller)
T’was a rainy morning at Old Fort Erie, like many days previously, though this morning differs slightly from others for the simple fact I have low key lost my glasses (the 2019 field school may find them). Lt. General Kim (Jong Il) Tobin has started the morning by changing out her typical military issue beret for a Canadian woolen toque and the no-shanking rule is still imposed despite days of negotiation in Area Three. The ShawSHANK Rebellion 2017 continues into Week 5 of the field school. For her first ruling of the day, Kim has low key changed her name to Kim Jong Sun due to the fact she preaches of being the light of Area Three. Her second ruling however was a minor temporary treaty between Father Owen of Area One and Overlord Triggs from Area Two over whether June 6 should be the third lab day of the dig, or whether we wait for the weather to clear up. Sadly, for the tired, wet, and sore archaeology students, we all saddled in for a rainy and cold field day. Its quite a good thing that us archaeology students like to play in dirt and actually highly enjoy the hard work, despite having to get up before the rooster crows in the morning. As a treat, Overlord Triggs provided us all the gift of an early lunch in the pavilion on site.
I was however blinded by my bad luck (Pun intended) and the lunch of Brooke and I was cut short, as was our field day, due to the minor inconvenience of a compressed Ulnar Nerve in Brooke’s left arm. This injury is an injury that archaeologists will face for millions of years from trowelling too hard. While we rushed through the prison of a hospital servicing the Fort Erie locals, the rest of the students ended up being rained out. They packed their tool boxes in a rush, much like that of an angry stampede of cows, and drove like Lightning McQueen away from the Old Fort into the slightly haunted Bertie Hall (or Tim’s in Colleen’s case). With the day cut short, we began work on our Fort George Report and our Final Excavation Report to be handed in to Overlord Triggs by next Monday.
Lt. General Kim also has some undisclosed medical training (low key, Dr. House), that was put to use when Carli’s oven burns from last week began to get a bit weird. Though no amputation was performed, Dr. Lt. General Kim Jong Sun proved to be a God to Carli by preventing further infection with a light wrap around the burn held in place by actual medical tape. Impressive Kim, Impressive.
As for the rest of the blog, the information is derived from reliable (sometimes) sources. As for Area One, Father Owen supervised as Caitlyn and Laura extracted a 29-inch Ram Rod from their unit. Overlord Triggs continues to do “the Triggs”, which is when he enters your unit, digs up all your nicely cleaned soil that was perfect for the pictures that need to be taken, and walks away while giving you a sly smile since you now have to clean up the catastrophe he has left in your unit. As annoying as this sounds, all the students understand that Triggs does not have a unit to himself so he must feed his trowelling addiction through the units of young, impressionable archaeology students who have no defensive mechanisms. Area Two had some trouble with an archaeologist’s worst enemy, clay. As most students learn (especially us) clay is the worst sediment to sift through and all would choose a root (also kind of hellish) going straight through the middle of their unit, disturbing artifacts rather than sift the clay masking important artifacts in a hard, 5YR 4/2 Dark Reddish Grey, clay soil that could possibly be sent directly from the metal detectors looting sites all over the world to protect their precious metal being scavenged by us archaeologists.
Still boasting about their find from the previous day, Carli and Stephen still continue to talk about their cooking hook that was found in their unit, and are continuing the tales of William and Prudence. Karolina, Dawn and Jesse (aka. Papa Jesse) of Unit 17G discover what was thought to be a very heavy tie. They were disappointed to learn that the metal tie they found was but a barrel hoop contorted into the shape of a neck-tie. As for the Rebellion in Area Three, negotiations continued today between Antiy, Brianagh, Jordan, Kelsea (me), and (Dr.) Lt. General Kim. A resolution has been reached and the rebellion has been crushed through the dictator-like way of ruling by Lt. General Kim. Though she turned to a democracy for today and brought back the ability to shank, just not with modified artifacts, there is no telling of what tomorrow might bring to dictator-ruled Area Three.
Day 17: June 7, 2017 (by Brianagh Pagazani)
Today we woke up this morning to no visible rain and name brand cereal, so we were all in pretty high spirits. The clear sky lured some of us into a false sense of security however, as we arrived on the site to freezing temperatures. Over in Area Three, where we were previously bragging about being the only shaded area on site, we were having a rough time. Even Kim moved her supervisor chair over to the sun, where she commanded us to do push-ups to keep warm. We got much more work done without the torrential downpour of the day before.
In our unit, Kelsea and I found subsoil in a pit and we’re just about done this unit. We started it on Monday and its basically been Archaeology: Turbo Edition because we only have one week to do the whole thing.
We also found a nice base shard of carved black basalt, dating to the 18th century, that was much better and cooler than the piece that Ty found a few weeks ago that he kept bragging about.
We dethroned the basalt king and stole his basalt crown.
At lunch we met a group of cyclists from Kitchener-Waterloo who were very enthused to find out we were from Wilfrid Laurier. As the weather gets warmer, more and more people are coming out to see what we’re doing. They’re all very interested in what we’re finding and some of them even have backgrounds in related fields. One girl was going to school to be a pottery archivist, and we also met a paleontologist who pointed out that he uses the same tools that we do. Some people are just curious about what we’re doing digging in the ground surrounded in snow fencing like some sort of petting zoo.
Once excavation was done, we had an early dinner so we could attend a lecture at the fort from Dr. Triggs and Dr. Robert MacDonald.
Dr. MacDonald had an excellent presentation about the excavation at Snake Hill in the 1980s, which was super interesting because of the proximity to our site and how the events of Snake Hill fit in with the history of the area. Dr. Triggs did a brief history of the fort, and talked about the history of the field school on the site. He showed some really cool maps and he also showed a breakdown of the areas with pictures of our units arranged spatially. This was super interesting because it allowed us to see our units in a wider perspective. After this awesome presentation, Dr. Triggs ended it by showing embarrassing pictures of us working on the site. Overall it was a very enjoyable night, and it was a full house. All of us came out, as well as most of the interpreters from the fort and more than 50 locals as well.
As I was sitting at the table writing this, I heard a commotion from the kitchen. Apparently, Carli has metal rods all throughout her leg, so she convinced Curtis to break out the metal detector and it set it off. So it turns out that whenever the detector said that a test pit would contain metal and it didn’t, it was probably because of our titanium cyborg Carli Perri.
Day 18: June 9, 2017 (by Serena DiBiase)
Captain’s Log, Day 20: Food is scarce, kamikaze birds are in full effect, the tick fear is still growing, and we have reverted to the days where sundials were the only measurement of time. I’m just kidding; about the food anyway (we have plenty of snacks to keep us going) as the tick fear is still alive and grows everyday. As for the kamikaze bird, she has calmed down but still taunts Area Three. And we did actually make a sundial. Today was the last day of excavation and the weather definitely held out and was nice and sunny for our last day of excavation.
It has been a wild four weeks in the field and I think it’s safe to say we have all learned so much. This dig was an amazing experience and I have learned things that I will carry with me throughout my archaeological career.
My goal for this dig was to find a button and today, on the very last day, I found my button with a 5 written on it representing the 5th regiment. I was also pretty excited about the ring we found in our unit as well (Dr. Triggs likes to take credit for digging it up but I totally found it). After a week of digging through rubble with a grapefruit knife I was quite excited to find things other than rocks. Another interesting find in Area Two was an almost full intact ox horn (found by Karolina, Dawn and Jesse). Our double fireplace that extends from our unit to Carli and Steven’s unit is coming together quite well. We have found the foundation of the fireplace after digging through countless layers of rubble. Just today, we found the floor foundation which means we are getting close to the end of our pit. We have to dig a bit more next week but once that is done we will be moving on to mapping our walls. I can already foresee our walls being difficult to map because of all the rocks in them.
Although it was the last day of our excavations, the work is far from over. Within the house this week, you could feel the stress in the air as our deadline for the report is looming above our heads. I can sense that everyone will be having a stressful weekend as we all rush to write our final reports. I expect the house will be filled with zombies on Sunday night.
All in all, Fort Erie has treated us well. With no Wi-Fi, we do have to make our own fun whether that’d be making a pathetic clothes line in the front yard to use when the dryers don’t work or trying to knock down a giant fungus from the tree with a frisbee. The Fort Erie locals also provide us with entertainment such as Short-Shorts McGee who is still walking across our front lawn, Pig Lady’s pig is still alive and well, Mark the Clairvoyant is still telling us the house we’re staying in is haunted, Brick-House still eats the same sandwich everyday, and I haven’t really seen him again but, I hope Scuba Man finds whatever he was looking for in the water. We seemed to have survived the field school with minimal causalities even when someone had to give up their basalt throne.
Day 19: June 12, 2017 (by Caitlyn Roe)
So Monday was a long day, it was not the auspicious beginning to lab week that we all wanted. Along with the hot sticky weather came the dreaded summer cold. Jesse is suspected of being patient zero, as he was sick first, but almost everyone is now coughing and feverish. Some of us (me included) haven’t caught this particular plague yet but it’s only a matter of time since we live with our classmates.
Laura, our lucky IA was the only one to supervise us because Owen and Kim were in Waterloo at their convocation. We wish them best in their future endeavours!
The day began early, rising with or before the dawn to do the much needed Tim’s run or finish assignments. Due to the aforementioned cold, many people coughed all night, so everyone was extra tired. Some people, I’m sure, didn’t sleep at all.
The lab consists of washing and cataloguing artifacts. So most people washed outside in the nice weather during the morning while a few of us washed and catalogued inside. Lunch was extended so people could run to the print shop or the library to print those assignments. The due date seemed to sneak up on us.
After lunch everyone had to come inside, as we had run out of room to place artifact trays. Cataloguing wet artifacts is not a fun activity. We’ve made good headway though so it’s possible we may go home a day early.
Monday unfortunately never seemed to end. Assignments were being handed in after 11, so Tuesday is also going to be a sleepy day. Tomorrow is the last official day in the field, so hopefully it won’t be as uncomfortably hot.
Day 20: June 14, 2017 (by Graham Costain)
Thursday was the last day in the field, and the entire crew was working feverishly hard in order to complete every remaining task so that we could go back to Waterloo on Thursday morning (as opposed to Friday morning). The day started with half the crew (of which I was part) going to the field to backfill the excavation units, while the others stayed behind to wash and catalogue artifacts. The field group worked until 12:30PM with the help of a backhoe (far better than a wheelbarrow) so we were able to move large amounts of soil without backbreaking effort. Unfortunately, some of the units may end up as slight divots in the sod, as there wasn’t quite enough soil to go around. On a positive note, the fledgling bird and its mother that had been terrorizing the crew for the last week were nowhere to be seen. Hopefully this means that the fledgling had successfully learned to fly and that they are both living full and satisfying lives in the sky. When the field group returned, we were all pleasantly surprised to see how many artifacts the cleaning crew had gone through. By 4PM all the remaining artifacts had been cleaned, and only a few remained to be catalogued, these were to be completed after a lovely barbequed chicken dinner. In the evening, everyone pulled together and completed all remaining tasks before heading to the alley bar for a well deserved frosty beverage. I would call this day a qualified success as the crew had never worked together with such precision and cohesion. For a final after thought I would like to state that this field school was an immensely rewarding experience, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet and work with people that I’m sure will remain long time friends.
Day 20: June 14, 2017 (by Kim Tobin)
Before I begin let me just state that yes, I am that Area Three supervisor who has been dubbed “Lieutenant General Kim Jong Sun”, “Tobin”, “Miss Kim”, “The Dictator” or merely, “Hey, you”. If you are curious as to why these nicknames have stuck then I apologize but these mysteries will remain mysteries… or will they? Find out by reading my dear friends.
We have officially finished our excavations so instead of talking about the intricacies of backfill, why don’t I just explain my job.
Being an Instructional Assistant or IA for short gives me a different perspective than those of the students who have written before me. For one, I am not actually digging per se. Instead I am merely the middle man for any and all questions people have for me from how to properly trowel to what an odd object can be. The latter proved to be an ongoing battle for me and a hilarious game for my Area Three charges who created the game “Kim, What is This?” to pass the time… It was a game I did not win.
My day would begin like everyone else’s; waking up, brushing my teeth, eating breakfast and dressing tick-appropriate. Yes, I said tick-appropriate. This is an important element at Fort Erie.
However, I also had to pack the van which proved to be a constant game of Tetris that I have discovered is not among my favourite games. Buckets, mapping boards, hammers, forms, the transit and drone as well as multitude of odds and ends would have to somehow be shoved into my rented Grand Caravan every morning before we left for the field. To say I often had to drive back to the house because something was forgotten would be an understatement but luckily it was never too much of a problem.
The rest of the day would be simply Dr. Triggs, Owen and myself monitoring our areas whilst simultaneously taking unit photographs, taking elevations, keeping track of unit progress and anything else that needed doing. Basically, as an IA, I do all the work that revolves around the dirty work done by the students and just make sure everyone stays on task. Or generally. It’s amazing how off topic archaeologists can become when the fatal name “Trump” is casually brought up in conversation. It goes from being morning to lunch-time in a heartbeat.
Area Three was my area of supervision and had to deal with the blistering heat, the freezing cold and a mad mother bird named Cynthia who has now instilled a fear of small birds into me. I finally understand why Alfred Hitchcock’s “Birds” was so scary. Having a little three pound bird of pure anger diving at your face for two straight days will change any idea you have on birds. Trust me. It was both annoying as it was horrifying. Even the tourists that would come to the site stayed clear of Area Three for a while due to Cynthia’s dive bombing tactics which just made us both lonely as well as terrified.
Despite the constant terror of Cynthia’s reign, Area Three proved to be interesting. Initially we had no idea what we were going to find in Area Three. We knew about the blacksmith shop and we knew about the officer’s quarters but past that, it was a bit unknown. So it was Area Three’s task to figure out if there was anything else out there. We had at first only five single units but due to our greatness, we were able to add another single unit and a long trench. While unsure as to what we would discover, it did not take long for us to realize we were in the right place. Lucky for us there was discovered two different buildings built on top of each other dating to the earliest fort of 1760.
Now to the stuff that most of you lovely readers have been for weeks probably wondering what in God’s name all these odd nicknames and pseudonyms mean. I will keep it brief.
Firstly the little ode to a certain leader comes from my hopes in working in South Korea as an English teacher this coming fall. At first it was believed I would be moving to North Korea which confused quite a few students before it was cleared up however the idea was formed.
So there we have it. The day in a life of a IA and the tasks that come with it. It is not the easiest work, and sometimes its hard to have several people looking up to you for answers that you may not have but I would do it again in a heartbeat. It not only makes you appreciate archaeology more, but trust me, the urge to simply jump into a unit and trowel like everyone else versus attempting to create several Harris Matrixes is strong. Until next time!
This is the third 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 third week is highlighted below.
Day 10: May 29, 2017 (by Joseph Iyengar)
The remains of the settlement surrounding the first Fort Erie; we didn’t dig them today. Thinking that it would be a rainy day, we headed north instead to visit Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Queenston Heights. The weather actually turned out to be quite lovely, which was much appreciated for this War of 1812 inspired field trip. Fort George, we dug it, despite the fact that we had to take tons of photos for a Scavenger Hunt assignment. It was very neat to observe what the types of structures and artifacts we are excavating look like during their life, prior to their destruction and burial. Specifically, those of us excavating in Area 1 are unearthing a blacksmith’s shop, the contents of which are found at Fort George within the Artificer’s Building. Those of us in Area 2 are unearthing an officers’ quarters, which is one of the most prominent buildings at Fort George. We also got to view a soldiers’ barracks, powder magazine, guardhouse, kitchen, and blockhouse, as well as a live artillery demonstration in which a musket was fired (with blanks, of course).
The penny whistles on sale at the Fort George gift shop, some of us dug them enough to buy one, unfortunately for the rest of our ears…and those of a pig-owning neighbour who later yelled at them to, in perhaps nicer terms, quiet down.
A little harsh—maybe—but they deserved it.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, we dug it, especially because we got the opportunity to dig into food that we didn’t have to make ourselves (like the sad ground beef casserole my crew made for dinner tonight), including gelato and saganaki (“cheese on fire”). Some of us also enjoyed browsing and purchasing from a store called Just Christmas (to each their own, I suppose).
Willowbank School of Restoration Arts in Queenston Heights, we dug it, some of us with a genuine interest in applying to attend their unique program after graduating from Laurier. As someone with a keen interest in seeing heritage buildings preserved and maintained in their authentic state, the goal of the school, the hands-on-skills they are teaching their students, and the work their alumni and staff are doing is very applaudable. As an example, they are currently in the process of restoring a large two-story home dating to 1834, as well as constructing a blacksmithing shop with dry stone masonry walls.
Lastly, we dug the monuments at Queenston Heights—the famous one commemorating Sir Isaac Brock, and the recent installation commemorating the First Nations allies. Some of us were evening willing to pay to climb a dizzying spiral staircase to the top of the Brock monument for a great view.
Anyways, we clearly dug a lot today on our excursion. Hey, we’re students of archaeology—we can’t help it!
Day 11: May 30, 2017 (by Dawn Chan)
Today we returned to the field to continue our work on the different areas.
The weather today changed throughout the day. The morning was absolutely terrible, cold and the moisture in the air making writing outside incredibly annoying and messy and sifting through dirt even more difficult. Thankfully, this was short-lived and the weather improved considerably when the sun came out.
As for the work accomplished today, it was your average work day. Different units were encountering different features, ranging from floorboards in one, to a collapsed double fireplace in another. As for my unit, we found what we suspect to be part of a kitchen, storage-house or garbage pit given the sheer amount of animal bones, teeth, and ceramic we’ve found so far.
Other units have had far more fascinating and interesting finds than us; like the one unit that found part of a bayonet or the unit (which was actually in our specific area) that found part of two military buttons; a gaiter button and the fastener of another. Another unit found some Native American pottery, a buckle and some musket balls and buck shot. Probably the most interesting find of the day today was the part of a bayonet blade someone found in their area; it was an artifact that we had not yet seen before, so we were all excited to see it.
All in all, not a very eventful day, but still fairly productive. Given that we don’t have much time left before we have to leave, we should hurry. Because who knows, our next find could be the most interesting of the dig!
Day 12: May 31, 2017 (by Carli Perri)
Today was quite a great day of work, the sun shined all day long and we made substantial progress. It was overall wonderful to be out at the fort, I mean apart from the ever-present fear of ticks and contracting Lyme disease of course, because that still exists and will whenever I spot a patch of long grass. In fact, for most of the day our two advanced students, Ty and Curtis, trekked in the much-feared tick zone, carrying out their metal detector survey, mapping out where they located metal readings which will determine where students dig next field season. Another focus of the day was Owen’s topographic map survey with the RTK. After demonstrating for us how to use the equipment we worked along side him using it to plot out points every two metres and man was that an upper body workout and a half, but a good skill to learn nonetheless. Another exciting addition to our squad was Dr. Triggs’ sister Kathy who came out for part of the day. Dr. Triggs brought her on a tour of our site and the area and I hear he did it all for free, what a steal!
Throughout our three areas we recovered some neat finds, including five buttons, a ceramic finial from a serving dish, arrowhead and blonde musket flint just to name a few. I’d say we all made some significant headway in our units, highlights of the day include exposed floorboards in an area one blacksmith unit, the emergence of the double fireplace in area two officer’s quarters units and the first completed unit of the site located in area three.
Special shout-outs of the day go to Ty for his flawless, clean and pristine walls, Sean and Emma for recovering five buttons, Jesse for most aesthetically pleasing unit (I’d say someone deserves a 10/10 for neatness), and a two-way tie for Serena and Joseph’s, and Graham and Brooke’s units for maneuvering their excavation around the most rubble. At one point during the day a reporter form the local newspaper came out to Area 2 to interview Dr. Triggs about our work and a few of us even got in the picture for our article, we’re still debating how we will ever handle our fame.
Overall the dig is going very well and it’s always a good time with great people. In Area 2 for example, we enjoy formulating soap opera worthy stories about the units we’re digging; disclaimer though, these stories are based on no evidence so please do not use this for a project if you are a grade 6 student doing a research assignment.
Essentially, we like to imagine an officer named William lived in our quarters. He had a wife named Prudence and two sons named Jeremiah and Jedidiah, they lived back home in Kingston. Jeremiah was the favourite son though passed away tragically from polio, leaving Jed behind. William’s brother, we also like to fantasize, was a blacksmith named Bartholomew. Prudence was betrothed to Bartholomew though changed her mind for his higher-ranking brother. She was a woman of taste and enjoyed the high-quality porcelain we have found while William is perfectly ok with more low-quality ceramic; he’s a man of humble tastes after all.
None of this is based on evidence and is complete fiction, but these stories help us through hard times like finding a particularly rocky layer or watching someone unearth five buttons in an hour. Plus, if this whole archaeology gig doesn’t work out at least we know we could write for telenovelas. We seem quite gifted.
Other breaking news comes from Area Three where a supposed “Shawshank Rebellion” has begun. No news as to when this rebellion will end however we shall be sure to let all of you lovely readers know when it does.
Day 13: June 1, 2017 (by Sean Horricks)
To dig or not to dig, that is the question that is pondered and asked during our early mornings at the Fort Erie field school of 2017. Luckily, we have our fearless leader Dr. Triggs and as his budding archaeology students we were able to head out into the field and continue the excavation without any regrets.
The weather was quite pleasant today as although the sun was out a nice breeze blew through our sweaty hair as we dug. We had our volunteer Don present today and he dug in his unit in Area 3 while our resident groundhog Antiy was able to finish digging his unit after only two weeks.
There were many super-duper artifacts in today’s excavations including two arrowheads found by Brianagh that a correspondent at the site stated, “could be as old as Jesus”. Other interesting finds came from the unit of the terrific duo of Emma and I who found a 34th regiment button, A Royal Artillery button, a gaiter button and an unidentifiable button.
On a darker note, the reason why there are no more Bambi movies was also answered during today’s excavation as a mandible and other bones from a deer were found in one of the units.
Also for those who are interested, the two advanced field school students continued their metal detection survey in the tick infested grassland close to the main excavation area. No ticks were found however the growing fear amongst the students mounts.
Day 14: June 2, 2017 (by Colleen Tamblyn)
I won’t pretend that I wasn’t excited that it was Friday. Fridays mark the end of the week, Fridays mark when we get to go back to Bertie Hall a little bit early. For me, it means dinner out. I wanted to get Pita Pit, I wanted to stick around for pizza. But not this week. And not this weekend.
I don’t remember what a non-confusing Friday is like.
Beginning with Area 3 because I don’t even think they knew what was going on half the time today: they’ve gotten to the bottom of all the units there, and spent the entirety of the morning mapping out the walls on GIGANTIC clipboards, bigger than the width of their laps. They were shouting numbers at each other for the entirety of the day all the way over in no-man’s land, and not having to deal with artifacts or the stadia rod or anything like that. Much of their day was spent hiding in their one-by-two units in the shade. (This is the place where you can insert an unsavoury euphemism of your choice. I got sunburn. I am an unhappy camper. I want to sit in the shade for more than half an hour at lunch.)
As far as I’m aware, there was very little found in the third area today other than a few artifacts that fell out of walls as they were being neatened up. There were so few of those huge exciting finds that I didn’t hear about them at all over in Area One.
Moving from Area 3 to Area 1, today was the great day of finding floors. Floorboards. Stone floors. Sleeper boards, which hold up the floorboards that would have once sat on top of them. (I still don’t get why a blacksmith shop of all things would have wooden floors – aren’t they a fire hazard? The one in Fort George had a weird mixture of stone and brick floors.) In her Unit, Caitlyn found a funny cache of buckshot and grapeshot. I found my first musket ball today when I helped her sweep up at the end of the day. Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to move it.
In Brooke and Graham’s unit, they found floorboards, with buttons resting just on top of them. I didn’t get a good look at the button, as both me and my partner Simo were busy measure out the million pieces of brick and stone that are rearing ugly heads in my unit (I never want to see a brick again. I hated them before I started digging. I hate them now. I am going to live in a glass house so I don’t have to deal with bricks.) In my gigantic steel toe boots I keep stepping into the unit and kicking bricks and rocks around, driving Simo into conniptions.
I’m not doing it on purpose.
I’m not taking out my rage on the bricks.
Father Owen would make me say 20 ‘Hail Harrises’ for confessing something like that.
Now, in Area Two… I was actively called over when something very odd was discovered. It was made of lead, and as such was heavier than expected, circular in shape and flat like a coin, but with a piece missing from the middle. Letters, big letters were visible all the way around the edge reading “Mauduit London”. I was called all the way over from Area 1 to confirm the French on top, which is somebody’s name. Dr. Triggs said it was a lead bale seal that would have gone on a shipped parcel, and when Kim googled it, apparently Mauduit was a man who imported from England to get goods in Pennsylvania, before shipping them north to Fort Erie. The kicker? He was probably one of the traders that supplied the builders of the original fort in the 1760’s and 1770’s because his business tanked before the turn of the century.
So that’s pretty neat.
Other than all the excitement happening across the site, and the ridiculousness of bricks and rocks in Area 1, that seems to be the atypical non-average Friday. I didn’t even get Pita Pit. I had to drive home.
Lesson of the day: even in steel toed boots – don’t drop a plumbob on your foot. They’re heavy. And they hurt.
This is the second 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 second week is highlighted below.
Day 6: May 23, 2017 (by Simonetta Pallotta)
Today my partner, Colleen, and I excavated Lot 3! It was extremely hot outside and lucky for Area 1 there was a tree nearby that we could write our notes under and be protected from the sun’s harmful rays.
A man came to watch us dig and seemed quite enthusiastic about what our progress was like! It’s always wonderful seeing the public take interest in their local history.
Not much was found in our lot today aside from clay, brick, mortar and other inclusions. We perfected our trowel sharpening methods and this made it much easier to dig through the clay that made up this lot and here, we did find small artifacts such as pieces of glass, slag, chert, nails and more! Our area was thought to have been part of a blacksmith’s shop, so we’ve been looking for evidence of that. Jesse found a metal smoking pipe, and buttons as well as slag and coal, which all could be a sign of a blacksmith’s shop.
Today was a great day and despite the hot weather, the team worked well and stayed hydrated.
Day 7: May 24, 2017 (by Emma Walsh)
Today, Queen Victoria turned 198. To celebrate, Dr. Triggs bought us all Timbits. It may have been this that gave us all luck. Curtis, an advanced student, found a Spanish silver coin which had been turned into a pendant. Dr. Triggs told us that last season, he also found a Spanish coin. Caitlyn and Lauren found a good chunk of long bone, one of many bones found across the various units.
In the area my partner and I have been digging, many fire pits have been found. Some are even from the 1800’s. Sean and I found a fire pit today, though it was a modern reenactor’s fire pit. We could tell based on the duct tape and tinfoil in the pit. Also, Dr. Triggs told us.
The morning was perfect excavation weather: sunny, but not enough sun to burn skin, and enough of a breeze to keep us cool and awake. Then lunchtime came. Unfortunately, for the plebians who made their lunches, the cooler was left at the house. I was smart. I bought a grilled cheese sandwich today. It was really good: perfectly toasted, but not too burnt, with delicious cheese. I also bought some theme-appropriate candies: musket ball jaw-breakers and cartridge candy, which was similar to Pixie Stix.
After the disastrous lunchtime came the disastrous afternoon. The sun came out. It managed to burn everyone, and we all look like lobsters. On the plus side, we have spaghetti: the perfect meal for growing archaeologists!
Day 8: May 25, 2017 (by Jesse Hume)
Rain delay! With heavy rains overnight and throughout the day today, we were rained out of the field and stayed at Bertie Hall for a lab day. It was a nice reprieve from the heat and sun on Wednesday, but most of us were anxious to get back to excavating our units as soon as possible. The hope was the rain would lift and we could go to the site after lunch, but the stubborn rain clouds stuck around. Hoping for clear skies on Friday!
The morning started with half the group washing and half cataloguing the artifacts. The washing stations had buckets, mesh sieves, and toothbrushes at the ready, washing and scrubbing each individual nail, sherd, bone, etc. (not the charcoal!), and laying them on trays to dry. Some lot bags had upwards of 90 nails and over 100 pieces of ceramic – lots of scrubbing with a toothbrush! The water had to be replaced frequently as it quickly turned to a muddy sludge. Those doing the cataloguing filled out forms, organized, and bagged the artifacts for lots that had already been washed and dried on previous days. Maintaining the provenience is key, so careful consideration to keep the lot collections in order and properly labelled at every step was taken by everyone. If an artifact were to find itself out of context, we would have no way to interpret it correctly, and the archaeological significance would be lost.
At noon we took a lunch and coffee break, and after lunch we finished washing and cataloguing. Most of the washing was complete before lunch, so the majority of the afternoon was devoted to cataloguing the artifacts. Again, context is critical and every lot collection was delicately handled as it was sorted, catalogued, and bagged.
Although we miss being in the field on these rain days, it is a good chance to learn and practice crucial skillsets for an archaeologist. Additionally, it gave people a chance to have a peek into other units and areas of the site. In the field, we are often zoned into our specific area so seeing what is being found throughout the 3 areas can help give us a better context of the site as a whole.
By the end of the day Lab Boss Laura seemed pleased to get caught up with washing and cataloguing of the artifacts found to date.
Day 9: May 26, 2017 (by Jordan Streb)
I think the whole house woke up this morning feeling a little less prepared for the day not only because it was Friday but also because we had a nice day yesterday tucked in at the house cleaning artifacts from the field in our PJ’s. The morning routine was very uneventful if not a little slower, but we were all promptly at the site at 8:30, because archaeologists are nothing if not punctual. When we arrived, we were not only greeted by soaking wet grass that went through our hiking boots right away but a nice combination of both fog and mist (which was half rain but a little worse). On nice days, our site has amazing views, because of the scenic location right beside the Niagara River, but this also means on bad weather days the weather is amplified.
I’m one of the few chosen who work in Area 3. When I first heard about where I was excavating I was a little nervous, everyone was saying we would either get a lot of stuff or nothing at all, and a situation like that you totally expect your luck to give you nothing. Our area though has actually turned out to the be the one that so far has uncovered a lot of unusual artifacts. My unit, 17N, was its own struggle at first. I’ve been digging through a rubble layer and then a burnt rubble layer. Let me let you in on some inside information; the only difference is the charcoal inclusions and some burnt artifacts. And now, I’ve gotten down to my lot 5, which ended up being a mortar feature which could indicate floorboards. The whole day today was spent defining the edge of the feature which means troweling around the edges until there are no more mortar inclusions in the soil, and at the bottom it would mean reaching a new layer. Unfortunately I only got through three of the ‘floorboards’ and so the rest will have to be dealt with on Monday.
Everyone had a really productive day today, if a little muddy. We all powered through some drizzle and rain to keep digging which was really impressive although a lot of notes waited until we were all back at the house before they were filled out. The areas are really muddy, so hopefully by Monday they will have the weekend to dry out before we all get back in there. A lot of the squares are getting really deep and a lot of people are reaching past the modern occupation to hopefully get back to the artefacts from the original 18th century fort. Guess we’ll have to just wait and see what else we find!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.