Scratching the Itch on the Cardigan River

One of the very few problems with doing archaeological work on Prince Edward Island is that for a good 5-6 months of the year, you have to spend it indoors thanks to this terrible thing called Winter.  In Canada, it’s a time when snow flies and temperatures plummet (to people living in equatorial or sub-equatorial locales:  Yeah, I know, you guys have this season as well.  But this is the real Winter, so spare me your horror stories of “frigid” 20-degree Celsius days/nights).  Of course, Santa Claus pays a visit during this time, but that’s about the only positive thing I can think of.  Anyhow, let’s get this thing back on topic.

I suppose in a way it’s probably good for us to have to spend some time inside, or else we’d never get anything done in the way of post-excavation processing, research, and report writing.  But when you turn that corner in April and things begin to warm up a bit, you get this itch, a really annoying one, and the only way to scratch it is to hit the field.  This year, we scratched that itch with time spent down at the river – the Cardigan River, to be precise.

For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Prince Edward Island, the Cardigan River is one of three major (Canadian heritage) waterways that form the Three Rivers, along with the Montague and Brudenell rivers.  These tidal estuaries have played a significant role in the history of eastern Prince Edward Island, beginning with the first Aboriginal peoples thousands of years ago and continuing into today.

Satellite image of Prince Edward Island with the Three Rivers system circled.

Satellite image of Prince Edward Island with the Three Rivers system circled.

Close(r)-up view of the Three Rivers.

Close(r)-up view of the Three Rivers.

Because of the importance of these rivers to Island history, we decided that it might not be a bad idea to begin a systematic survey to assess their archaeological potential.  Given the size of the rivers, however, a project like this is a massive undertaking, which we knew.  But if there’s one thing we’re used to, it’s big projects (*cough* PAV *cough*).

Remember that itch I was talking about?  Well, we had it real bad back in April.  It was so bad, in fact, that on April 23 we threw caution to a brisk northeasterly wind and hit the open road for Georgetown, 10-degree Celsius reading on the thermostat be damned.  The sun was shining as we sped along the Trans Canada in our red Dodge Caravan rental, and morale was surging.  All hail being in the field!

Anyway, we had decided on a jumping-off point at the end of the Earl Power Road, on the left just before you enter Georgetown proper.  I’ll admit, it may seem like an arbitrary place to begin a survey; however, we had been tipped off to an arrowhead having been found in the vicinity, and so we thought that that would be a good place to kick things off. After a quick bite to eat, the six of us (Dr. Helen Kristmanson, Meghan Ferris, Dawne Knockwood, Smantha MacKinnon, Alicia Compton , and myself) piled out of the van, artefact bags in hand, and made our way down to the shore.  We headed ENE towards the mouth of the river and straight into a relentless wind that chilled us to the core for the nearly three hours that we surveyed.  I won’t lie, it was rather brutal, and I’ll admit my snotsicles were pretty atrocious by the end. (FYI, “snotsicles” are “snot icicles”, an unfortunate reality of the cold Canadian climate.)  Anyway, here’s a Google Earth snapshot of our travels:

Our travels on April 23.  The arrows indicate direction, obviously.  I did them up in Paint, which is why they look so childish.

Our travels on April 23. The arrows indicate direction, obviously. I did them up in Paint, which is why they look so childish.

As you can see, we started out by walking the beach along the bank, and didn’t go all that far before turning back and investigating that largish spit of land you see above, essentially a big, flat sand dune.  Along the way, we encountered quite a bit of recent detritus, but also found numerous historic artefacts such as ceramic sherds, glass, and the odd chunk of metal here and there, probably associated with these residents shown in Meacham’s 1880 Atlas of Prince Edward Island:


Unfortunately, nothing Aboriginal was found, despite our insider information.

Entirely frozen, we finished off the day by putting in at the nearest Tim Hortons (coffee shop) in Montague in an attempt to stave off hypothermia, and decided to take stock of our artefacts and write up some field notes.  We drew quite a few furtive and sideways glances, so something tells me that people in deep discussion with Ziploc bags full of odds and ends spread out over two tables and poring over maps and aerial photos isn’t a very common sight at that establishment.

Well, that was the first day in the field for 2013, and also the first day of our survey of the Three Rivers.  Despite good intentions, we were unable to continue with that particular survey work because of other commitments, but it is definitely a project that we will be resuming in the future…hopefully when it’s warmer.

And now for a photo recap.

See you in the next post!


The Georgetown (Maybe) Shipwreck – Part One

For all you landlocked landlubbers (check out that alliteration!), one of the realities of living on an island is that you are constantly exposed to tidal action (literally from all sides, because you’re on an island, and that’s kind of how they work). Anyway, if you’re into beachcombing, it is one of your greatest allies, helping to shift the sands and bring things to the surface; however, if you’re into building multi-million dollar homes/cottages perched precariously close to the water…well, let’s just say you better enjoy them while you can, before Mother Nature has her fun.  And if you’re into archaeology like we are, that tidal action is a two-edged sword.  By times, it has proven detrimental to our sites located along the coast (notably in 2010, when three storm surges in as many weeks wiped out about half of our site at Pointe-aux-Vieux); recently though, as Dr. Kristmanson alluded to in her previous post, tidal action worked very much in our favor when it helped to expose the remnants of a ship off of Georgetown.

As Dr. Kristmanson mentioned, there was that whole super-moon thing in June, which resulted in abnormally high tides.  In early July, we received word that a shipwreck had surfaced at the entrance to Georgetown Harbor, and over a two-week period we spent about three days collecting what data we could to learn about the age and type of the vessel.  Because we rarely deal with shipwrecks (even though the entire coastline of Prince Edward Island could accurately be termed a graveyard of ships), we’re more than a little out of our comfort zone on this one, which is why we are currently compiling all of the data into a report.  When completed, this report will be sent to an Atlantic Canadian shipwreck/marine heritage expert we’ve been consulting, who will provide us (hopefully) with a few answers.  So this will be a two-part feature, with the second act being a more detailed discussion of our investigation that we’ll put up on the blog whenever our expert gets back to us with his interpretation – predicated, of course, upon us actually getting the data into a readable format, which has been proving challenging to say the least, especially with our field season in full swing.

Seriously.  This has absolutely nothing to do with us being lazy.

In the meantime, however, we thought it might be nice to tease you guys a little bit (alright, alright, thought it would be a good idea), so attached below are the links to all of the media coverage the shipwreck received.  Final count:  4 written articles, 3 radio segments (I could only track down two), and 1 televised news story.   As Dr. Kristmanson pointed out, the amount of interest in this shipwreck affair was intense.  We’ve never seen anything like it, and to be honest, we’re still scratching our heads a little bit (because we’re confused, not because we have lice).  I mean, the work we do typically (though not always) gets a modicum of coverage simply because it’s archaeology, which is still a relatively new concept/practice on the Island; but for some reason, this particular investigation garnered a tonne of interest.   The only caveat, however, is that you take the oral history you’re about to read/hear with a good pinch of salt.  A really good pinch, even.

Other than that, enjoy, and stay tuned for Part Two, headed your way at some point (but don’t hold your breath, by any means).

Newspaper Articles:

Television Coverage:

Radio Segments—mike-martell/

P.S. – I’m calling it the “maybe” shipwreck because the possibility exists that it isn’t even a shipwreck in the traditional sense of the word (ie the vessel went down in a storm/disaster at sea).

P.P.S. – And yes, I am aware that I used about the most unimaginative title out there for this post.  So you can either cut me some slack, or walk the plank.