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Digging up the past

June 2011
Courtesy of Archeological Services Inc.

Archeological discoveries often emerge from a magical mixture: intimate knowledge of the territory to be studied, a healthy dose of perseverance…and just a bit of good luck. After days and months of digging and sifting, a hole in the ground suddenly begins to yield its historical secrets. Piece by piece – the remains of dwellings, pottery shards, tools and projectile points – a portrait emerges and the past comes to life.

Come join us on a fascinating archeological tour of southern Ontario.

Let’s travel 11 000 years back in time to the Early Paleo-Indian period. A few hundred people are scattered across Ontario in small communities of nomadic hunters. The glaciers around them have begun to melt, revealing numerous pockets of land and creating enormous lakes – including the vast Champlain Sea to the east. A new land is emerging – and today, some of its early secrets are coming to light.

Seek and ye shall find…

The adventure began with a highway construction project in Hamilton – the Red Hill Creek Expressway. Provincial law requires that digs be undertaken to ensure that the roadwork does not destroy an important archeological site. Several specialized consulting firms were engaged to conduct excavations and to preserve any artifacts that might be discovered.

The Paleo-Indian camp found at the Mount Albion West site where the highway was to be constructed has been the subject of exploration for over 25 years. The last phase of study, undertaken between 1998 and 2004, was a wonderfully rich source of discoveries, yielding an impressive number of stone tools made from chert and chalcedony. These tools were used for hunting, for scraping hides and for working wood and bone. Stone projectile points were often fluted at the base to allow them to be mounted on a shaft and serve as a knife, a scraper, a perforator or borer. Such artifacts give us important insights into the lifestyle of the province’s first inhabitants.

But what to do with all these artifacts? Once examined and catalogued, they joined a trove of treasures taken from other sights in the region which were stored in the warehouses of Archeological Services Inc., the company in charge of the excavations. Until one day…

Recovered memories

Anyone who is familiar with the Canadian Museum of Civilization knows that its work goes far beyond simply presenting exhibitions. In fact, its mandate stipulates that it must work to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge of Canada’s heritage for current and future generations.

This is why, through the collaboration of Ronald Williamson, Ph.D., the founder of Archeological Services Inc. and Jean-Luc Pilon, curator of Ontario Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the thousands of artifacts from three important sites in southern Ontario (Including the Mount Albion West site) are now in the good care of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The museum will assure their preservation and make the artifacts available to other museums, to researchers, to First Nations and to the Canadian public.

The artifacts found in our Paleo-Indian camp will join others from the site of the residence of an important loyalist military leader and Indian Affairs agent, Col. John Butler, near Niagara-on-the-lake. Others come from a large Huron village inhabited just prior to the arrival of Europeans: the Mantle site in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

In taking on the stewardship of these impressive collections and in making them more widely accessible, the Museum is doing its part to shed new light on an important piece of our collective history.


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Canadian Museum of History
100 Laurier Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M8
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