KNOWLEDGE – Research at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

April 21, 2006

Research at the Canadian Museum of Civilization

Spring 2006

Knowledge features news briefs on research at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The texts can be used integrally, or can be expanded upon by adding information gathered through interviews with the researchers.

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Digitizing wax-cylinder recordings saves priceless cultural knowledge
Before digital media, Mini and Compact Discs, cassettes or 8-track recorders, it was common to record audio on wax — or wax cylinders, to be more precise. During the first half of the 1900s, an entrepreneurial anthropologist travelled the nation to record and archive the many voices of Canada on the then state-of-the-art cylinders. During a period spanning 38 years, Charles Marius Barbeau, employed by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, recorded some 3,300 cylinders to capture a staggering amount of songs, traditional stories and languages. These fragile recordings (wax cylinders deteriorate with each listen and break easily when dropped) helped many aboriginal and French Canadian traditions from disappearing altogether.

In 2003, the Museum started digitizing this brittle ethnological collection with an archeophone (a modern cylinder-playback machine), thanks to funding from Canadian Heritage’s Canadian Culture Online program. Digitizing the recordings, often one-of-a-kinds, is a great way to preserve invaluable sound documents. Now, this ethnological material will not only survive the test of time, it will also be easily accessible to and shareable with generations to come. The catalogue of sound clips and the Museum’s collection is searchable online at

Charles Marius Barbeau dedicated his life to preserving, disseminating and studying Canadian folklore. In doing so, he became one of Canada’s earliest ethnologists, and quite possibly its first ethnomusicologist.

Contact: Benoit Thériault, Team Leader, Library, Archives and Documentation Services, Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Canadian carbon dating web-database unlike any in the world
It may be hard to believe, but until recently, using outdated punch cards was the standard method of chronicling archaeology. Fortunately, in the late 1990s, the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) finally started to compile radiocarbon dates in one, useful web-accessible database. The Canadian Archaeological Radiocarbon Database (CARD) is now the most popular web-based radiocarbon dating resource in North America. It’s mostly used by archaeological and paleontological researchers, students and other curious minds.

While the website features primarily Canadian and U.S. dates, it also includes dates from Russia and Asia and is constantly growing. Matthew Betts, Research Associate and CARD project leader, cannot praise the database enough: “I would say, without hesitation, that it really is the premier database of its kind in the world.” Closing in on 30,000 dates, CARD’s appeal isn’t just sheer volume. It’s also an invaluable research tool; with lots of search options, general carbon dating information and interactive ap