Monday, March 25, 2013

Should Newfoundland and Labrador have an Archaeological Society?

Archaeology at Signal Hill
There is a lot of archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador, but no Archaeology Society.  There are many organizations dedicated to specific archaeological research projects or subsets of archaeology in the Province, but we don't have a Provincial Society that is designed to link the profession as a whole to the interested public at large.

MUNArch Flintknapping workshop
Last week, I led a pair of flintknapping workshops geared towards undergraduate archaeology students at Memorial University that was organized by MUNArch, the archaeology student society at MUN.  I attended a St. John's premiere of a film chronicling the archaeology and history of Labrador's Southern Inuit people, that was shown as part of a seminar for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and was promoted by a SSHRC funded research project in the Department of Archaeology.  Mike Parker Pearson spoke on Friday about a remarkable decade of research at Stonehenge, which was advertised by the Faculty of Arts and through the MUN Archaeology graduate student's Friday Afternoon Beer Session (FABS talks).  A friend made a trip to Placentia on Saturday to talk about her PhD research to the local historical society.

I don't think we need an archaeological society because there is a lack of archaeology being done in Newfoundland and Labrador, In fact, I think its the opposite.  There is so much going on right now that its difficult to keep track of it all, and unless you happen to be on the inside of multiple specific organizations I think it would be impossible to keep track of everything that's going on.  I try to pay attention to what is going on in archaeology in the Province, but last week I needed to 1) be a member of MUNArch, 2) be on the mailing list for former and current archaeology graduate students, 3) be friends with an archaeology research project on Facebook, and 4) attend an evening reception to find out about all of those different archaeology events which were of interest to me.  They were all open to the public and all advertised to the people most interested in attending, but I think there may be room to draw together all of those sorts of separate happenings and all of the interested members of the public and archaeological community into one Archaeological Society for the Province.

At the moment, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are the only Provinces in Canada that do not have Archaeological Societies.  These societies are generally organized and led by professional archaeologists, either from academia, the government, the consulting sector or students and the membership is made up of avocational archaeologists or other members of the public who are interested in the archaeological past.  The goals vary from province to province, but generally the function of the society is to promote an understanding of the past among the general public and encourage an ethical and legal interaction with archaeological sites and artifacts by those who are passionate about archaeology, but may not have made a career out of it.

The shovel was a loaner, but I think I still have that trowel.
I have a few specific examples from my own life that illustrate how a strong, active archaeological society can benefit both interested members of the public and professionals.  I joined the Archaeological Society of Alberta (ASA) as a high school student, because it was the only avenue available to me at that age to interact directly with the profession in my home province.  I attended ASA talks and conferences in Lethbridge, Calgary and Red Deer and found projects to volunteer on that gave me my first field experience.  That opportunity isn't available to interested High School students in Newfoundland and Labrador.  In 1994, as I went through the undergraduate program at the University of Calgary, the Archaeological Society of Alberta awarded me a $500 student award and I got my name on a plaque in the archaeology department office, which was a huge boost to a young student.  Now that I've settled into making some sort of living as an archaeologist, my relationship has evolved with the ASA and for the past four years, they've been flying me from St. John's to Alberta to help teach flintknapping workshops and give demonstrations in centres across the Province, which has been a tremendous benefit to me personally and professionally.

 I can't really think of a reason why we shouldn't have an organization in Newfoundland and Labrador that has similar goals and offers similar opportunities to our own public, students, and professional members.  This province did have avocational societies during the 1980s dedicated to land-based and underwater archaeology, but they have become defunct (a new underwater organization has formed within the past year).  Times have changed and I think there are probably more archaeologists doing more archaeology in the Province now than at any time in the past.

What do you think?  Is it necessary?  Would it be beneficial? Are you interested in being involved? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail:

To see what we are missing, here are links to Archaeological Societies in other provinces across Canada:

Photo Credits:
1,2: Tim Rast
3: Screen grab from the Manitoba Archaeological Society website
4: Doris Rast
5: Screen grab from Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1985


  1. I think it's a great idea, and I would be willing to help get one off the ground. It was the Manitoba Archaeological Society (MAS) that gave me my first paying gig in archaeology, it was an amazing opportunity that I'll never forget!

    1. They do make a difference. I'll send out an e-mail to everyone who has expressed interested in getting something going soon. I think we should meet for "coffee" and do some background work to present to the interested stakeholders and then move forward from there. There are a lot of related organizations and community groups who would have an interest in something like this and we should try to get their input.

  2. Replies
    1. You're on the list, and as I understand, will be taking the lead on the T-Shirt Committee.

    2. Without a good t-shirt we have nothing.

  3. Hi Tim: I think a society is a great idea - Have been a member of the Ontario group for longer than I want to say - offers opportunities, interactions, publications, newsletters, keeps one up to date in what is happening in the rest of the province etc etc etc. I would contact various executives (all of whom I am sure would be glad to help) for some ideas in pros and cons of setting up a society. Societies also allow the public to get involved and that is a bonus of you have to interact with politicians (God forbid) If I can be of any assistance, please let me know

    1. Thanks Bill. I'm sure we'll be in touch if we get this ball rolling. Being able to reference well-established societies, like Ontario's, will make creating a road map for an NL society much easier than starting off blind. We need to start with baby steps, but I think there are ideas that are working in other Provinces that we could begin to slowly implement in this part of the country.

  4. Saskatchewan also has a professional association for archaeologists:

    and there are other underwater groups:

    1. Thanks Joe. I seem to recall an attempt to start a professional organization here several years ago, but unless I imagined the whole thing, it must have lost steam.


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