The Path to Pointe-aux-Vieux

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A flashback to the Archaeological landscape in 2011 at the Acadian homestead site, Pointe-aux-Vieux (1728-1758).
Field crew, volunteers and visitors, from near and far, all followed this path to arrive at the Provincially designated archaeological site and stunning vista at Low Point, Prince Edward Island.

A Brazen Love for The Brae(s)

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My mind often wanders to a little white-washed stone house on a winding road. Its bright red door perpetually welcomes me home. I sit with a good book beside a roaring peat fire drinking tea. The house is in a … Continue reading

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AWOL

We’re sorry.  We’re very sorry indeed.  In fact, if you could see our faces right now, they would probably look a little something like this:

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A little over a month ago now, we brought this blog back from the dead and for about a two-week period gave you, our devoted readers, a fair chunk of fresh content (albeit from last field season).  And then we just up and went all incommunicado after the first week of July.  And for that we apologize.

The thing is, right after Canada Day, our field season kicked into high gear, and has remained there for the past month.  Because of that, we’ve had to place blogging on the shelf for a little while.  And now we’re (hopefully) going to make up for it.  While our field season is by no means over, with the rest of August and some of September yet to play out, we are going to attempt to make a concerted effort to get some new material posted.  And when I say new, I mean stuff that’s been happening this year.  We won’t make you wait so long this time.  Pinky swear.

I won’t spill the beans here, but I will say that there should be some good posts coming your way soon, including an update on our second field season at Orwell Corner, an investigation of a shipwreck, and a brief (and perhaps somewhat inglorious) return to Pointe-aux-Vieux, with a few odds and ends tossed in along the way.  I might even start harassing some of our other crew members to provide us with their own commentary on the field season, and their research.  We’ll see how it goes.

Well, I guess that’s it for the moment.  See you guys in the next post!

P.S. – About the title:  As I’m sure you know, AWOL is an acronym for Absent Without Leave; however, I’ve also decided that it can stand for Archaeologists Will Occasionally Lag (when it comes to writing).  It kindasorta works.

We’ve Got the Moves Like Quixote: Tilting at a (Acadian) Windmill

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

The 17th century work Don Quixote by Cervantes is a literary classic.  But what the heck does Don Quixote have to do with PEI archaeology?  Well, it was in the dog days of August last year when we decided to go looking for an Acadian windmill not that far removed from our site at Pointe-aux-Vieux.  It was noted on period maps of the area, and the landowner was more than willing to have us take a look.  Although we did not have any previous experience with windmills in an archaeological context, we thought that finding evidence of such an important community structure would be a nice addition to our work at PAV.

On a Wednesday (15th), we piled into our rental, along with all our field gear, and hit the road for the Low Point region.  After being shown to the site by the landowner, we set up a base line, after which we marked off two areas, a 5m x 1m trench parallel to the line, and a 5m x 3m grid (broken up into ten 1m x 1.5m units) perpendicular to the line.  We decided to begin with the 5m x 3m area, and after struggling to remove the sod, we struggled even more to trowel.  PEI had been experiencing a bit of a heat wave at that time, and as a result, the soil was baked almost to the point of impenetrability.  Even when it was decided to bring out the shovels to move past this baked layer, we quickly discovered that 1) the going was not much faster, and 2) that the stratigraphy of the soil was showing it to be completely sterile, reflected also by the lack of artefacts uncovered.  By the end of that first day, we were dirty, sunburned, and completely worn out.

The next day (16th), we were back at it with more shovel testing, but the situation had not improved, and with essentially nothing to show for our work (aside from blisters), it was decided to wrap up the project until a later date, when conditions might be more conducive to excavation.  We took records of our work, packed up the gear, and set our sights on the Gold Cup Day long weekend.

It might seem strange to write about a project that was less than successful, but in archaeology, as in life, you just can’t win them all.  We went looking for a windmill and came up empty (although the futile shoveling was pretty dang character-building, in my opinion).  In the end, you simply have to take an experience like this and learn from it, put it behind you, and move on to the next project.  But now I’m just rambling, so here are a few pictures to put a stop to that.

P.S. – In case you’re wondering about the title, it’s a take on the song title “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5.

Pinette 2012

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One of our objectives last field season was to complete several archaeological survey and testing projects across the Island. Here are a few snapshots from our work in Pinette. We were hoping to find the site of one of the … Continue reading

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Good Things Come in Small Sizes

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I’d be “lion” if I said that I drew this myself.

The old saying “size doesn’t matter” couldn’t be more true when it comes to the artefacts excavated from an archaeological site.  Thanks to Hollywood and romantic notions of archaeology, people in general are under the impression that bigger is always better.  But while large artefacts might seem like they’re more important to the overall understanding of a site – and depending on what they are, they very well could be – the small stuff often seems to go unnoticed and under-appreciated in the grand scheme of things.  I suppose it makes sense in a way, given the fashion in which the human brain is wired; however, if you’ll recall your Aesop, it was the mouse that rescued the rough and tumble lion from the net.  And the lion was pretty dang grateful for it.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this.  Well, this time last year I came to learn just how valuable teeny tiny artefacts can be in the interpretation of a site, and how much information you can actually extract from them if you’re willing to give them a chance.

If there were two artefact varieties that characterized our final season at Pointe-aux-Vieux in 2011, they were faunal and lead shot, both of which were uncovered in (exceptional) abundance from an uber-organic patch of soil first exposed in 2010.  Whether we were finding them in situ or in the countless bags of soil we waterscreened, there just didn’t seem to be any end to them.  It’s almost as if everyone one that we found spawned about ten more.  Anyway, following what I can only assume was a hectic fall/winter/spring of cataloging thousands of artefacts (since I managed to escape that task), the next step was to divvy up the different categories of artefacts and compile an analysis for the site report.  That’s how I ended up dealing with everything arms-related (eg. Gunflints), including a few thousand pieces of lead shot.

I was going to say that I got “stuck” with everything arms-related, but I was only too happy to have that be the focus of my analysis.  The study of weapons, especially firearms, is a big passion of mine, so it was a natural fit; however, I really didn’t have any experience with analyzing lead shot, and had to spend quite a bit of time reading up on it.  I have to say, it’s fascinating stuff, and my new best friend in the world of artefacts.  It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

The thing about lead shot, however, is that it is a term that encompasses literally anything made of lead that is fired out of a gun barrel, ranging anywhere in size from a diameter of less than 1mm to a cannon ball fit for Mons Meg.

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Me ‘n Mons Meg (Edinburgh Castle – 2012)

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Lead shot fit for Mons Meg (Edinburgh Castle – 2012)

The lead shot I have been asked to analyze is the really small stuff, sometimes referred to as “buckshot” or “swanshot” or “birdshot”.  When you think projectiles, it certainly isn’t the first variety that comes to mind, unless you’ve grown up with BB guns.  Many people don’t think of projectiles being much smaller than the standard .69 cal musket ball, but they do exist, and they have a fascinating history to boot; however, if I get into that topic we’d be here all day, so to save on time, here’s the skinny:

Pre-1665:  Firearms (and their ammunition) have been continually evolving since the advent of the hand-held cannon in the 14th century, and are becoming increasingly popular on the battlefield.  As time has gone on, gun bores have become smaller, as has the ammunition.  The oldest variety of the small shot as we know it seems to have been made by cutting lead into small cubes, and then tumbling them in a barrel to (attempt to) get a more rounded shape.

1665:  Prince Rupert (yes, the Prince Rupert) devises a new and improved method for making small shot.  His idea?  Pour molten lead through a sieve, letting it fall into a container of cooling water.  Thanks to gravity (something they wouldn’t realize until after it was “discovered”), much more rounded shot was now able to be produced.  This process gave rise to the term “Rupert” shot.

1782:  William Watts, of Bristol, decides that he likes “Rupert’s” method.  He likes it so much, in fact, that he decides to take it to new heights – quite literally.  Realizing that the more time the shot is in freefall, the more spherical it will become, he builds the first shot tower, and thus is born “drop” shot.  Prince Rupert probably would have sued him for copyright infringement if such a thing existed at the time – and if Prince Rupert had still been alive, of course.

1665 and 1782 are really the key dates in the history of small shot.  In fact, not much has changed in the manufacturing process since 1782, and shot towers are still very much in use today.  Contemporary with “drop” shot was another method (or two depending on how you look at it): moulds.  If this was your method of choice, then you had two options.  You could either pour molten lead into a gang mould, which would make “stem” shot, so called because of the stem created by the manufacturing process.

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This isn’t the “stem” shot recovered from PAV. I got it from the Internets.

Or, you could use a two-part mould that would leave your shot with a seam around its circumference, and thus referred to as “seam” shot.

On the other hand, here's an example of actual "seam" shot recovered from PAV.

On the other hand, here’s an example of actual “seam” shot recovered from PAV.

As with shot towers, moulds are likewise still in use.

Alright, time to flash forward to the present.

Although our work at Pointe-aux-Vieux has finished, we’re still working on fine-tuning our artefact analysis for the final report, to be completed (hopefully) some time before 2013 comes to a close.  After last summer’s work with the lead shot from 2011, I thought that would be it; however, last October Claude, our most intrepid of volunteers who continually monitors the site, discovered on the beach directly in front of the site an enormous cluster of small shot, somewhere in the vicinity of five thousand pieces.  Because of the large amount found essentially in one spot (even if it wasn’t within the excavation proper), it was decided that they warranted analysis.  That’s where I came in, and where I’m at right now as I type this.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  Five thousand pieces of lead shot?  What the heck does that look like?!  And how would you ever go about getting information from it?  Well, to answer your first question, here’s a picture of Claude with the lead shot:

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Lead shot, anyone?

And as for your second question, one piece of shot at a time.  You might think it painstaking, but as Marcus Aurelius was fond of saying:  Σπευδε βραδεως (that one’s for you, Shalen).

When I first found out that I would be taking on this analysis, I came up with a methodology to keep things organized.  A quick examination helped to determine the presence of at least three varieties of shot (“drop” shot, “stem” shot, and “seam” shot), so I decided that I would break the collection up according to type.  And because I’m a masochist, I then thought that it would be even better if they could be further divided according to size, so on top of the three categories of type, I added 7 for size:

Diameter of:

<1mm

>1mm – 2mm

>2mm – 3mm

>3mm – 4mm

>4mm – 5mm

>5mm – 6mm

>6mm

If you’re keeping track of the math, we’re sitting at

3 (shot varieties) x 7 (size varieties per shot variety) = 21 different categories

(I have absolutely no idea if this is how it’s done by professionals.  All I know is that I’m anal about organization.)

When I started back in April, I decided to tackle division according to size first, given that it seemed to present a more daunting challenge than division according to type.  And I was right.  In fact, it was only at the end of last week that I was officially able to start on phase two (type).  While I’ve had to split my time between other projects along with this analysis, individually sizing five thousand pieces of shot takes some time, as you might imagine.  Especially when you’re using a homemade set of calipers:

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Post-It Notes to the rescue!

(Note:  We aren’t so impoverished that we can’t afford actual calipers.  It’s just that I didn’t have them at my disposal at the outset, and by the time I got my hands on them, I had become quite attached to my Frankenstein creation.)

Anyway, like I said, I’ve recently moved on to the second phase, and dividing by type is proving far easier than size.  I still have a ways to go yet, and with our field season just around the corner, I don’t think it likely that I’ll be working on my analysis much in the next few weeks.  I also don’t find it likely that you’ve appreciated having to read all of this, so I’ll finish this post by captioning a few pictures of my work with shot.  I promise my next entry won’t be as long.

Sincerely,

Isaac

a.k.a “General Danger”

a.k.a the guy from the 2011 pics with the bucket hat and God-awful tan lines.

From the Trenches: PEI Archaeology 2011-2012

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Following the establishment of the Provincial Archaeology Office in 2009 and the positive work completed in 2010, the 2011-2012 year has continued to build upon these accomplishments while further establishing the role of Archaeology in the Province of Prince Edward Island.

Field Work 2011- 2012

 2011 was the third and final year of excavations at the early Acadian homestead, Pointe-aux-Vieux. This Officially designated Archaeological site yielded over 14,000 artefacts dating between 1728 and 1758. Post-excavation processing, cataloguing, and research was completed and the historical significance of the site continues to be affirmed. In 2011 a committee was formed to plan a state-of-the-art exhibition showcasing this amazing site.

The completion of the P-A-V excavation in 2011, opened the door for a variety of new, exciting projects in the 2012 field season.

Excavations

 2012 Field Crew included summer students; Dawne Knockwood and Isaac Stewart from UPEI, Shalen Trask from University of Guelph, and Research Assistant Meghan Ferris. The 2012 Field Season began at the end of May with a small excavation of the Pitawelkek (Hog Island) Shell Midden site.

During July and August the crew worked on a large excavation project at McPherson Site in Orwell Corner. This late 19th Century Scottish site was rich in artefacts, with several thousand recovered in two months. This site drew widespread interest from locals and tourists and has presented exciting possibilities for public archaeology experience, interpretation, and exhibition. The Provincial Archaeology Office hopes to return to the McPherson site in 2013.

 Archaeological Testing and Surveying

 In June 2012, Archaeological testing was conducted in Pinette for signs of an early Acadian settlement. In July surveying and testing was conducted in Grand River for signs of an early Scottish Settlement. In August testing was also conducted in a field in Low Point, near P-A-V, in an attempt to identify the location of an early French windmill. While these areas are rich in history, further survey work and research is necessary to identify the exact location of any archaeological sites. Archaeological research and survey of the Brae successfully identified the area as having high potential for early 19th Century Scottish and Acadian sites. Another area identified as having high archaeological potential is Tryon.

 Research and Data Management

 Archaeological Research continues to support Duty to Consult and is also contributing to a comprehensive view of past, present, and future areas of archaeological and historical importance in this Province. Research supports current archaeological work being done in the Province. Research is also necessary for the identification of areas of archaeological significance. Newly identified and previously known sites are mapped, surveyed, and monitored. In 2011 a new mapping system, MapInfo, was selected to aid in the management and practical application of this information. MapInfo has become an integral tool for tracking, storing, organizing, and sharing Duty to Consult and Archaeological research and data.

 Community Involvement

Starting in Autumn 2011 several volunteers were trained to participate in artefact processing and cataloguing. We also hosted a student volunteer placement as part of the University of Prince Edward Island’s Public History course. Interest in volunteering with us continues to grow, and we are ever so grateful.

Public Archaeology Experience

Over the past three years the site at Pointe-Aux-Vieux had many visitors from near and far. However, the excavation at Orwell Corner this summer saw an unprecedented number of visitors. Never before has Prince Edward Island Archaeology been so visible and accessible to the Public as it was at Orwell. The site was inundated with curious tourists and locals who took great interest in the excavation. Visitors ranged in age from children to seniors. The site’s exposure to visitors prompted the installation of a temporary interpretive table with artefacts and maps set up on the edge of the site to help us educate visitors. The large amount of drop-in volunteers in the 2012 field season has created a demand for a more formal registration and scheduling of volunteers for future field seasons. The location of the excavation, in a Provincial Museum and Heritage site, led to a discovery of another sort – there are many exciting possibilities for successful Archaeological and Heritage collaborative interpretations.

 A number of factors contributed to the popularity of this site. The depression of the house we were excavating was located just off the main path at the entrance to the interpretive centre at a popular PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation site. The excavation also received media coverage which attracted many local visitors and volunteers. The site was particularly popular with tourists who were curious to learn about the history of the Province. Children and students were also very keen to see archaeology in action, and PEI history being unearthed before their eyes.

 Climate Change and Archaeology on PEI

Climate Change continues to be a threat to Archaeological sites in the Province. Our objectives for information-sharing and networking with other concerned parties (Environment, Wildlife, etc) were addressed by attending Climate Change Scenario Modeling workshops and other workshops hosted by the UPEI Centre for Climate Change Research, as well as East Coast Environmental Law conferences. Going forward, the knowledge and contacts gained from these events was helpful, in helping us accurately assess and protect Archaeological sites at risk along our coastlines.

 Presentations/ Publications / Awards

Dr. Helen Kristmanson, Provincial Archaeologist and Meghan Ferris, Research Assistant, both presented on Prince Edward Island Archaeology at the Canadian Archaeological Association annual conference in Halifax in May 2011. Several other archaeologists also presented papers on Prince Edward Island Archaeology including; Scott Buchannan; Pat Allen, on her work in Mount Stewart; Kevin Leonard, on his analysis of Archaeobotanical remains from a mid-18th century Acadian well in Greenwich National Park.

Dr. Helen Kristmanson and Crew were awarded the 2010 Gilbert Buote Award for the Excavations at Pointe-Aux-Vieux. The annual award recognizes outstanding projects in the fields of Acadian history and Prince Edward Island.

Hog Island Visit


I had the pleasure of visiting Pitawelkek (Hog Island), in Malpeque Bay this August and was astounded by its beauty and unique ecosystem. After spending the past couple of months processing and cataloguing artefacts found on Hog Island during a dig last year, it was great to be able to see the shell midden site where they came from. We were visiting, not digging, but Dr. Kristmanson surveyed the erosional bank surface, and we took some new soil samples which I look forward to processing. I hope to return to Hog Island in the future.

Pointe-Aux-Vieux dig inspires float

The Port Hill Women’s Institute float in the Tyne Valley parade was inspired by the dig at Pointe-Aux-Vieux!!

p.s. the float won 2nd place :)

photo credit to Andrew Ramsay, who scrambled to get a shot as the float went by

A big crowd!

I am happy to write that Provincial Archaeologist, Dr. Helen Krtismanson’s presentation on August 10th at the Acadian Museum in Mischouche drew an audience of 100 people! The audience spilled out into the hallway and consisted of people of different ages from all over the Island, and beyond.

It was the last in this edition of the Museum’s ‘Tuesday Talks’ lecture series. Dr. Kristmanson’s presentation about the Pointe-Aux-Vieux project was titled “Archaeological Investigations of an 18th Century Acadian Farmstead at Pointe-aux-Vieux (near Port Hill).” It was a great presentation (and I’m not just saying that because she is my boss)!

It is awesome that the excavation at Pointe-Aix-Vieux has stirred so much public interest!

Speaking of that, my blog has drawn over 1800 views to date…

Beautiful beads & the last 2 dig days

See the Soil

Pointe-Aux-Vieux July 12, 2010:

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