Off-site Outreach

As most of you are already aware, last year marked our first field season in which we managed to incorporate a public archaeology experience. While in the past we had the occasional volunteer or two at our Pointe-aux-Vieux site, 2012 at Orwell Corner represented the first time our work became uber-accessible to one and all, a fact on which we capitalized (as did the general public!); however, it was not the first time we attempted to reach out and bring Prince Edward Island archaeology to the people of Prince Edward Island (and possibly beyond). You see, while we always like to engage people on-site, every so often we like to take the opportunity to seek them out off-site. To paraphrase that iconic line from Field of Dreams: Present on it, and they will come.

Well, that’s the hope anyway.

While it’s been a busy and somewhat hectic (ongoing) field season in 2013, we’ve managed to carve out more time to present our craft to the public, an activity we typically reserve for the off-season. Below is an account to date of our presentations/workshops. As you’ll see, we’ve spent quite a bit of time working with kids, and I know I don’t need to tell you that it has provided for some interesting experiences.

Prince Edward Island Provincial Heritage Fair 2013

Each May, some of the best and the brightest elementary and junior high school students on PEI gather at the Confederation Center of the Arts in Charlottetown for the Provincial Heritage Fair. What is that, you ask? Well, here’s what the Department of Tourism and Culture has to say on their website:

The Provincial Heritage Fair is a grand celebration of Canada’s heritage, in the form of student history projects. Students in Grades 5 to 9 have an opportunity to explore the history of their families, communities, province and/or country.

Anyway, this year (May 16), as in previous years, we were asked to put on just one of the many heritage-related workshops that are offered to students throughout the day. It was my first time involved with this venture, and I have to say, it was a blast. We presented to about thirty students on the basic theme of “What is Archaeology”. Essentially, we would ask them questions along the lines of “What is an artefact?”, “What is an archaeological site?”, “Why do archaeologists excavate sites?” and so on, allowing them to provide us with their own answers, after which we would then deliver a more professional answer (although to be fair, there were a lot of times when it wasn’t even needed, as kids can be really perceptive). We also included an artefact guessing game, and capped the presentation off with a workshop on how to make Mi’kmaq clay pots, giving them a chance to get their hands dirty. All in all, a tonne of fun, and illuminating for them, and for us as well.


(While making clay pots)

Student: “I’m going to go home tonight and tell my mom and dad that I learned how to make pot today!”

Me: “‘A’ pot. You’re going to tell them how you learned to make a pot. The ‘a’ is very important. Please don’t leave it out, or I’m going to get fired.”



Isaac Stewart taking students through an archaeology slideshow presentation.


Believe it or not, this photo actually captures the “learning how to make pot” moment.


Clay pots in progress.

University of Prince Edward Island Day Camp

On July 11, we participated for the first time in the Panther Academy, a summer day camp program put on by the University of Prince Edward Island. They were looking to do something with archaeology, and when we found out, we eagerly offered our services. We gave the same presentation as the heritage fair, this time to a group of slightly younger students. We weren’t sure how they would take to the material, but they were quite energetic, and relished the question-answer format, which took us a bit by surprise. Because of time constraints, we held off on the clay pot-making portion of the routine, but opened the floor to extended answers on some of our questions. Again, a good time was had by all.


1) An elaborate and epic one-sided discussion of evolution by a seven-year-old, from trilobites to dinosaurs to humans.

2) Being taught the many ways in which a shipwreck can be exposed, including – but not limited to – a beaver that dams up a river.



Meghan Ferris (back row, far left) and Isaac Stewart (back row, far right) with day campers at UPEI.

Orwell Corner Historic Village Public Archaeology Presentation

Because we’re currently into our second year at our site in Orwell Corner, we decided that it was time to get a presentation together on the work we’ve been doing and let people in on some of our findings to date. On July 30, we crashed the Community Hall in Orwell, and presented to a not-so-numerous crowd of about eleven people, taking them through our public archaeology program, as well as our research into the material culture and human history of the site. Although it wasn’t the most well attended of presentations, it was still a success, and a great opportunity for us to fine-tune our public speaking skills, as well as refine our presentation, which we hope to give again at some point.

Museum Madness 2013

This past Wednesday (August 21), we hit up the Garden of the Gulf Museum in Montague the Beautiful for Museum Madness 2013. (Fun fact: the Garden of the Gulf is the oldest museum on the Island, established in 1958.)  Back in June, we were approached by staff there about getting involved with an annual summer program called “Museum Madness”, a series of fun and informative weekly activities aimed at exposing children to history.  We used our by now tried and true presentation, taking a group of young kids between ages six and twelve through the basic aspects of archaeology. Afterwards, we took them outside the museum and taught them how to make clay pots – no marijuana jokes this time, thankfully!


Watching the transition from intense clay pot-making focus to about a dozen kids taking their clay and mashing it every which way against the brick exterior of the museum in an attempt to make cool impressions.



Isaac Stewart and Meghan Ferris presenting on archaeology, with Dawne Knockwood manning the slides.

MM2013 2

Dawne Knockwood giving a step-by-step workshop on how to make a Mi’kmaq clay pot.

See you in the next post!



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:


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.

Orwell Corner Historic Village, 2012

While we worked on a number of smaller projects last summer, our big one was an excavation at Orwell Corner Historic Village that spanned nearly two months, beginning in July and wrapping up at the end of August.  If you’ve never been, Orwell Corner (part of the Prince Edward Island Museum and Heritage Foundation’s museum system) is a fantastic site that provides a glimpse into life in a late 19th c. agricultural community on PEI, complete with general store/Victorian-era home, blacksmith’s shop, and working barns, and an awesome interpretive center that focuses on the history of agriculture in the area.  It’s a very popular site, and a must-visit if you get the chance.

The site we worked on was located behind the interpretive center, and just outside the village.  It was brought to our attention by the site director, who had been keeping his eye on it for some time.  Consisting of a large depression obscured by vegetation, it certainly looked like a promising site, and although we had only planned to spend 1-2 weeks excavating, we quickly changed our minds when we began to dig in and realized that it was chock full of artefacts.  We don’t have an exact number yet, but it’s definitely in the thousands.

At the outset, we weren’t exactly sure what we were excavating; however, subsequent archival research helped to determine that the depression was associated with a house dating back to the 1870s.  I’ll spare you the nitty gritty of the research, and say that the house was occupied by numerous families between its construction and the late 1920s, when it looks to have been abandoned.  Here is how the property appeared in Meacham’s Atlas of Prince Edward Island (1880):


Aside from the wealth of artefacts uncovered, this site proved unique in two other respects.  The first is that, for the first time, we’ve actually been able to conduct archival investigation into a site and its occupants, attaching names (no faces…yet) to it.  It might seem a strange thing to say; however, the other sites we’ve worked on (Acadian and aboriginal) simply do not present this opportunity.  We might know who the people were in a general sense, but with the site in Orwell, we were able to take things to a whole new level.  Knowing the names of past inhabitants really helped to enhance the experience, and although we didn’t find any artefacts we can attribute with confidence to particular individuals, the artefacts we’ve found have taken on added significance because of it.

The second thing that makes this site unique is its location.  Not only is it situated in a historic village, but it is also extremely accessible to the public, being just off the road on the way into the village.  As a rule, the sites we’ve worked on have tended to be in the middle of nowhere (yes, even PEI has those places), and as a result, the public has been largely cut off from archaeology.  But at Orwell, this barrier has been smashed to pieces.  In the time that we were there, there was almost always a constant stream of visitors stopping by to see what we were up to.  Many were content to watch us work and ask questions, but for those who wanted more, we managed to get a bit of a public archaeology program set up, albeit an ad hoc one.  Still, it was a great opportunity for us to present our craft to the public, which ranged in age from young children to seniors, our oldest visitor being my then 95-year-old great-grandmother.

This week, we resumed excavations at Orwell for 2013, and have opened it up to the public again.  We’ve already had people stop by to visit and try their hand at archaeology, so if you’re interested, be sure to check us out!    Here are a number of pictures (field season 2012) to give you a sense of the site and the artefacts uncovered.

From the Trenches: PEI Archaeology 2011-2012



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.


 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.