Wednesday, February 27, 2013

March Flintknapping Workshops in Edmonton

Hafting stone tools
The Strathcona Archaeological Society is sponsoring a pair of flintknapping workshops at the University of Alberta in Edmonton during the first half of March.  On Saturday, March 9th, Sean Lynch will be instructing a day long Beginners Workshop (I'll be in Calgary) and on Saturday, March 16th I'll be leading an Advanced Workshop focused on making and using hafted stone tools.  You'll pick up the skills you need in the beginner workshop on the 9th to participate in the advanced workshop the following week.  Its going to be modeled along the same lines as the advanced workshop that I did in Calgary in 2010 - with a quick tutorial on making a Hoko knife and then you'll be using that simple flake knife to create a more complex haft for one of your stone scrapers or knife blades.  (Incidentally, I'll be offering an evening version of this workshop through MUNArch here in St. John's later in March or early April... details to follow.)

Contact Kurtis Blaikie (kurtis @ treetime . ca) for more information and to register.

Photo Credits:
1) Michael Turney
2) Poster, Kurtis Blaikie

Monday, February 25, 2013

Plans and Profiles: Bob Muckle Researching Japanese Logging Camps in British Columbia

Bob likes beer. After a day in the field, 
or the lab, or the classroom, Bob likes
 a beer. His favorite is Dead Guy Ale.
Bob Muckle is a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia.  You might recognize the name Robert Muckle from the cover of one of your anthropology textbooks or his regular online column for Anthropology News: Archeology in North America.  But were you aware that for more than a decade he's been running Capilano University's Archaeology Field School in the Seymour Valley, north of Vancouver? Or that through those field schools Bob and his students have uncovered a previously undocumented series of early 20th century Japanese logging camps?

Later this May, Bob will be reporting on this project at the Canadian Archaeological Association's Conference in Whistler, B.C..  Here's a sneak peak...

Plans and Profiles #11. Bob Muckle, Japanese Logging Camps in British Columbia

1) Tell me a little bit about your project.

Fireplace in the forest. In the 1940s workers were
apparently instructed to destroy all buildings in the valley,
 and almost all were completely demolished and burned.
A worker left this fireplace intact though. It was rather
 strange to walk through the forest and come across this.
 Not quite like Stephens and Catherwood coming across
 Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, exciting nevertheless.
The Seymour Valley Archaeology Project focuses on locating, recording, and excavating historic period sites in the now heavily forested Seymour River Valley, close to Vancouver, BC. For seven weeks each May and June, I direct 15 students enrolled in the Capilano University archaeology field school on the project.

The primary historic period activity in the valley was logging, but there were also permanent homesteads, cabins for recreational use, small stores and cafes, a ranch, mining ventures, a cattle trail, and some work camps. A dam was built across the river in the early 1900s to create one of the three main reservoirs of Greater Vancouver, which also created the need to build access roads and lay pipes through the valley to carry water. It was decided to restrict use of the area and beginning in the 1930s commercial activity was curtailed, residential and recreational properties were bought or expropriated, all buildings were burned, the area was closed to the public, and the forest grew over most evidence of human occupation and activity. The area was re-opened for non-vehicle recreation use in the late 1900s, but except for very large tree stumps from first-growth logging, little evidence of human activity is visible on the surface.

Sawblade in logging camp. Not surprisingly, we sometimes
 find logging related artifacts in the logging camps. The context
 and warping of the blade indicates this one was probably in a
camp workshop that burned.
Over the past 12 field seasons we have located and recorded several homesteads and about a dozen cabin locations. We have excavated at one residential location. We have also discovered and excavated three logging camps, all with a Japanese component. The Japanese presence in the valley was surprising.

The primary research component focuses on the Japanese presence in the valley during the early 1900s. Secondary research components include contributions to local history, Asian-American archaeology, and the archaeology of camps.

Study Area (click to enlarge)

2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?

Visiting a logging camp. 2012 students visiting a previously
 excavated Japanese logging camp last occupied about 80
years ago. The entire camp burned. The wooden planks are
 likely the floorboards of a mess hall. Photo by Mark Galvani.
Rather than being research-driven to start, the project was initiated as an opportunity to conduct field work locally, with students enrolled in a field school. After a number of years of running my own archaeology consulting company, by 1999 I was into several years of teaching full-time year round and a whack of kids on the home front (six kids in a blended family), with little time for field work. I missed it. Then in a span of a couple of months in 1999, three important things happened. I attended a conference in Boston where I learned of an excellent low-cost model for running a community archaeology program based at a small college or university. I clearly remember thinking that would work for me. That was followed almost immediately by my accepting an invitation to bring my so-called expertise on bivalve shell taphonomy to a field project in Alaska, which I enjoyed immensely. It confirmed for me that I really wanted to get back to doing field archaeology. The third thing was, shortly after returning from Alaska, I decided to follow a dirt road leading from the north end of my campus into the forest to judge the potential for conducting archaeological work there. Within an hour I had roughed out a general plan for the project involving a field school, public education, and research. I thought of it as a one field season project. I am now getting ready for the 13th field season in the valley.

3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?

Logging camp garden. This area is presumed to be garden
 for a Japanese camp occupied from about 1918 to perhaps
as recently as 1942.
The project began with primary foci on contributions to local history and education – both in training students in field methods and public education. Most of the initial work concentrated on documenting areas of residential and recreational activities. By the third field season I was more interested in the remnants of a logging camp we found in a fairly remote part of the forest. Once we started excavating it became clear it was a Japanese logging camp, which was quite a surprise since there were no references to any such camp in the area. I have since discovered and excavated two other camps, one which likely included but was not solely Japanese, and the other entirely Japanese. I have found one of the camps particularly intriguing for a few reasons which have directed my research for the past few field seasons. One camp, dating to about 1918-1921, appears to be laid out in a typical Japanese manner. Rather than having a typical bunkhouse, mess hall , and single large midden, it shows evidence of several small cabins where the Japanese loggers probably lived with their wives and children. The site also has evidence of a typical Japanese style bathhouse, a garden, and perhaps a shrine. Interestingly, the other Japanese camp only a few km away, probably dating to about 1921-1924, has a very similar artifact assemblage (eg. Japanese ceramics and bottles), but is set up as a more typical Pacific Northwest logging camp. I think this may reflect an adaptive strategy of the Japanese logging camp operators who may have decided to run their camps the Canadian-way when moving camps about 1921. The other intriguing thing about one of the camps that drives my research interest is the indications that the camp abandoned by loggers about 1921 may have continued to be used as a sort of secret residential camp from the early 1920s until Japanese internment in 1942.

4) If you could ask the people who lived at your site(s) one question what would it be

Work boot. Almost all artifacts at the logging camps are 
subsurface but we occasionally find something above the 
ground surface, including this workboot. Workboots 
often show signs of substantial repair, and preserve well.
I have been fortunate insofar that some of the people who lived in the area in the 1920s and 30s are still alive and I have been able to ask them all sorts of questions about life in the valley at that time. In the early days of the project I had a female student who wanted to know more about the logging camp life in the area so she would spend Saturday afternoons at drinking establishments catering to the older gentlemen – dancing and drinking with them to get the stories.

I have also been fortunate to have several elderly Japanese folks visit the camps we have been excavating. They have provided insight into such things as how the bathhouse would have been constructed and used, and generally are supportive of my interpretations of camp layout. I often ask elderly Japanese what would have been in the aqua-coloured bottles that are ubiquitous in the camps, but they only guess – beer, wine, sake, or soya sauce.

One of the most interesting finds is part of a camera within what would have been the walls of a bathhouse used in the early 1900s. If I had only one question to ask, I would ask “Where are the photos?” 

5) Have you ever found anything in the field or lab that you wish you hadn’t?

At one site logging camp we get quite a few visitors, stopping
 by on their hikes or rides through the forest. Consequently,
we put signs around. We can tell that people often walk
around on weekends, but nothing has ever been disturbed.
Well, after not excavating at one particular camp for about five years, I decided to do some more excavations. The first day back at the site I had some students try to re-locate the site datum (a length of re-bar buried vertically). They initially couldn’t find it where it should have been but eventually they found it slightly subsurface, laying horizontal, a few meters away from its original location. In the original location we found several pieces of flaked obsidian with a few coins from recent decades mixed in. I wish I hadn’t found these because I wish they didn’t exist in this context. I imagine whoever placed the obsidian and coins there thought it was funny. But I don’t. I didn’t like the idea of contaminating the site with flaked obsidian and since I spend so much time on the ethics, I found it disturbing that it was probably one of my former students that did it.

At another site, we found evidence of a very recent outdoor marijuana growing operation. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not. It makes archaeology storytelling interesting, but I learned that some of my students knew a bit too much about grow ops. I wonder how much the operators disturbed the deposits, and I always had the feeling we were being watched. 

6) You’ve written books, articles and a lot of online material – do you have any advice for archaeologists who may be struggling with their own writing?

Working in the lab. We have cataloged about
2,000 artifacts over the years, including many
 bottles, cans, ceramics, and personal items
such as toothbrushes, costume jewelry, clocks,
and items related to clothing like garters, clasps,
buttons, and boots. I walk around and point
at things while the students do the real work.
Thanks for the plug. I do like to write – mostly books for the textbook and trade markets and I’ve written archaeology and anthropology columns for three on-line periodicals. For those thinking about submitting something to journals or publishers with editors, have faith in the editors. They can make you look to be a much better writer than you really are. For writing on-line, without the benefit of editors, be aware that readers of on-line material tend to be very forgiving. People tend to think the occasional error in spelling, punctuation, and grammar is an acceptable trade-off for immediacy and being free. There are so many errors in some of my on-line writing I have recently suggested to some that they turn reading my columns into a drinking game. 

7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?

I like beer. I like tasting new kinds, especially those from Oregon and California. My favorite is Dead Guy Ale. I am learning to like scotch. I also like camping and hiking. Several years ago one of my kids and I hiked the Chilkoot Trail from Alaska to the Yukon. That was a blast. Generally, I like the outdoors. I live in the suburbs but still like to have outdoor fires in my yard year-round. The fire department has only been called once.

I’m starting to get a bit into organic gardening. I started a few years ago and think I am getting better at it. I got into it because I wanted to eat more things with less chemicals and more taste. I wanted a carrot that tasted like the carrots when I was a kid. And I wanted to be able to pull something out of the ground, brush off the dirt, and just eat it without having to wash it. 

8) What archaeological discovery of project do you wish that you could have been part of?

I would have liked to be part of the discovery of KNM ER 1470 in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya. It is Homo habilis to some and Homo rudolphensis to others. Ever since learning of this particular hominin, it has been my favorite. Some years ago I received a large cheque for archaeological services rendered years before (and which I had already written off). So I decided to go to visit the site of discovery with the money. To get there I had to run past alligators (or was it crocodiles, on the shores of Lake Turkana), sleep in a cage at night while hearing lions roar, trek for hours with a machete for protection, and lost 40 lbs through diarrhea and vomiting, but I have no regrets.

I would also like to have been part of Bill Rathje’s Garbage projects in the 1970s and early 1980sIn which he had students sort contemporary household waste, both from trash cans and landfills. I have always been fascinated by the study of contemporary trash, and have recently incorporated a campus waste audit in my own archaeology classes. 

9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?

Rock feature at 1920 Japanese camp. This may be a small
shrine. Excavation revealed horizontal planks within the rock
walls, near the top. Besides nails, the only artifacts in and
around the feature were fragments of green curved glass and
 twisted  wire, which I interpret as remnants of a lantern. The
feature is on the edge of the site, beside a creek.
I am starting to work on a book on the Seymour Valley Archaeology Project but it is a few years from publication yet. Two students in recent years have blogged the project for the seven weeks they have been on the field school. Both are quite good, with lots of visuals, and provide a good sense of the day to day activity and finds.

The 2010 blog can be found at Capilano University Archaeology Field School 2010.

The 2012 blog can be found at Capilano University Archaeology Field School 2012 

Folks are also encouraged to follow me on Twitter @bobmuckle (where I provide links and make comments on things related to everything archaeology, contemporary waste, and Indigenous Peoples of North America), and read my monthly ‘Archaeology in North America’ column (

My most recent book, Indigenous Peoples of North America, came out in 2012; and I am currently working on revised editions of both First Nations of British Columbia and Introducing Archaeology.

Excavating in hail. Muckle's crew work in all kinds of weather, including hail. If you aren't willing to work in inclement weather in BC, you probably aren't going to work much. These excavation units are at a cabin where a Japanese logger probably lived with his wife.


Is there an archaeology field school or research project that you are interested in knowing more about?  Perhaps one that you were on or that you run yourself?  Let me know:

Photo Credits:
Bob Muckle, unless otherwise noted in the photo caption.
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White

Friday, February 22, 2013

Plans and Profiles: Dominic Lacroix Researching Maritime Archaic Indian Landscapes and Collections

Dominic Lacroix visiting the
multi-component site of
Stock Cove, eastern Newfoundland
(photo by John Erwin 2010)
Dominic Lacroix is working towards a PhD in Archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He's trying to make sense of the Maritime Archaic Indian presence in Newfoundland through the artifacts that they left behind and by reconstructing the landscape that they occupied.  Its cool work, and whenever Dominic speaks about his research I try to listen.  Now, after reading his responses to the Plans and Profiles questions, I look forward to reading about his efforts as well.  You don't have to be an archaeologist to appreciate Dominic's search for answers to his many questions about the Archaic period in Newfoundland, so pour yourself a coffee, get comfortable and enjoy...

Plans and Profiles #10. Dominic Lacroix, Maritime Archaic Indians in Newfoundland

1) Tell me a little bit about your project.

A variety of objects dating to the Archaic period from
 various regions of the island. (photo by Dominic Lacroix 2013)
My project focuses on the very first Newfoundlanders, a group of Amerindians we call the Maritime Archaic Indians (MAI) that settled and made the island of Newfoundland their home for thousands of years starting some 6000 years ago. Although a number of amazing sites dating to this time period have been excavated on the island, we actually know very little about these people in contrast to other groups that have since followed in their footsteps. Through my research, I’m attempting to flesh out our understanding of what it was like to live on the island of Newfoundland so long ago, in a world very different from our own. To do so, I blend artifact analyses with historical and palaeoenvironmental data, and computer models to explore notions of group identity, homeland, mobility, and interaction amongst various Archaic communities. In contrast to other Archaeologists you’ve featured so far in your Plans and Profiles, my project does not rely on an excavation program. Instead of focussing on a single site, I’m interested in the big picture, landscape patterns present at the scale of the entire island. So for my project, I’m relying on data that already exists, whether it is to be found in digital form, in historical records, or as items now curated in various local, provincial, and federal collections.

An important aspect of looking at the big picture is putting all the information we have in its proper historical and cultural context. One factor strongly affecting our understanding of the Archaic is sea-level change, which has had a dramatic impact on certain coastal regions of Newfoundland over the last 6000 years. To use an example right out of Tim’s MA thesis, the sea has risen by more than 10 m along the south coast since the Archaic. The coastal landscape people would have inhabited in this region is now almost completely submerged, except for high points which are now islands. In contrast, the Northern Peninsula has been rising out of the sea over this same period, so Archaic coastal sites in this region are now hundreds of metres inland, like the Archaic sites from Bird Cove that have already been featured in this blog. As a result of these changes, the location of a site today may be extremely different from the location that was selected by the families who occupied it so long ago. By incorporating palaeoenvironmental data, including records of sea-level change, the physical landscape inhabited by these people can be reconstructed using computer models and a bit of imagination.

Interactive 360 degree panorama showing the major
landscape features surrounding the site of
Stock Cove in eastern Newfoundland.
(panorama by Dominic Lacroix 2010)
However, working with sea-level alone only tells us about the places people inhabited, not the people themselves. These reconstructed environments must be placed into their proper cultural context, as far as it can be inferred from the practices of those who inhabited them. These practices include things like technology, foodways, campsite selection, burial rituals, and travel. Technology is an integral part of people’s identity and tools can tell us many things about the people who left them behind. Tools are part of our daily life. They are extensions of our body and, as such, make various statements as to the type of person we are. Just think of people using a Mac instead of a PC, or having a set of chopsticks instead of a fork as their main table utensil. Artifact collections allow me to look at the similarity and differences between large numbers of tools people have made and used across vast regions. They provide an important background from which to compare human-tool relationships between various regions. Food is another aspect of daily life to which we identify strongly. It also tends to be very culturally specific and is usually linked to a variety of social rules. Think how uncomfortable you may have felt the last time you were placed in front of a new food, especially if it came without instructions on how to proceed. I’m using the various food opportunities that different regions of the island offered to explore the variety of foodways that may have been present in each region. Home is where we choose to live, and how we connect with these particular places is also an integral aspect of who people are, so the way Archaic families chose specific places to inhabit and the way they interacted with these places is yet another source of information I am exploring. Death can be a difficult transition to deal with. The loss of loved ones, old or young, changes our lives. How people approached this important transition during the Archaic and the way they interacted with their departed ancestors is another important aspect of my research. Movement is also something we do every day and impacts where we get things and how we keep in touch with others. Since Newfoundland is an island, I’m exploring how this would have impacted families moving across the Island itself and to adjoining mainland regions when all they had was their feet and people-powered watercraft.

Circular panorama showing the major landscape features surrounding the site of Stock Cove in eastern Newfoundland. This is a 2D image of the interactive Quicktime panorama above. Click to Enlarge.  (panorama by Dominic Lacroix 2010)

2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?

Ever since I took an undergraduate course on the Archaeology of Eastern North America at the University of Calgary, I’ve been fascinated by the impact sea-level change has had on our collective cultural heritage. Throughout the majority of human history, global sea-levels have been on average 40 to 60 m lower than they are today! In places along the Atlantic seaboard of North America, as elsewhere in the world, this can translate into many kilometres of submerged landscapes, one example being that coastal places that were inhabited during these periods are now underwater. Until a few decades ago, it was generally believed that coastal resources only begun to be a major source of human focus roughly 5000–7000 years ago, as evidenced by a sudden worldwide increase in the number of sites with a clear coastal focus. We now know that this actually corresponds to the period when sea-levels began to stabilize near their current position. These observations have remained in the back of my head ever since, waiting to materialize in the form of a great research project.

I actually selected the topic of my MA with the purpose of gaining invaluable experience in interpreting geophysical data, an important skill for submerged archaeological landscape research. For my PhD, I wanted to combine my new interpretive skills to a context that involved sea-level change. Parks Canada has been involved in very interesting work incorporating sea-level change into our understanding of the early history of the West Coast for a few decades already, but in eastern Canada few projects have combined modern ocean mapping technologies to archaeological knowledge in order to gain a better understanding of the landscapes inhabited by our earliest predecessors. Archaic Newfoundland seemed like a perfect case study to reflect on the impact of sea-level change on archaeological preservation and site visibility, as well as the effects such coastal changes would have had on the lifeways of those who experienced it first hand.

Dramatic changes in landscapes due to sea-level change. This is Atlantic Canada around 8000 years ago, roughly the age of the oldest Archaic sites in Labrador. PEI is part of the mainland, the Magdalen Islands are quite large, and areas of the offshore banks are dry land. Newfoundland’s west coast is highly indented, with other important changes at a more local scale. (image by Dominic Lacroix 2012)

3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?

Most definitely yes! In all fairness, when I began this project I only had a very fuzzy idea of what I wanted to do other than to somehow blend sea-level change with people. As I became more accustomed to the models used to describe the Maritime Archaic period, I began to realise how the type of research I wanted to do could be used to answer new questions about these people. In Newfoundland, interpretations originally proposed for a few well-excavated sites have often been recycled and applied everywhere on the island, often without proper justifications, leaving us with very limited and sometime simplistic ideas about how Archaic people lived on the island. By taking a landscape approach and looking at the big picture, it allows me to see varying patterns of landscape use at a regional scale. This gives me the opportunity to test if things were done differently in different regions and better positions me to understand the regional context of any given site, without having to over-stretch my interpretations. So my project rapidly began to expand (perhaps too much according to my supervisors!) from a fuzzy blend of sea-level and people to incorporate more recent social theory, and integrate sea-level change with other forms of landscape patterns, like the type of relationships people had with their food, their ancestors, their places, and their routes of movement. As a result I’m now able to target questions that had previously been neglected to flesh out aspects of life during the Archaic.

Dominic conducting a ground-penetrating radar survey at the
site of Point Riche, northwestern Newfoundland.
(photo by Rob Anstey 2010)
Just like Mike Parker Pearson mentioned with regards to the Stonehenge Riverside Project, the changes to my project didn’t come all at once, and I think this is true of most projects. They were gradually incorporated as I stumbled into some new observation that raised a number of new questions. In order to do any form of submerged landscape archaeology, you need a cultural context in which to place the landforms you are studying. This context is currently very thin for Archaic Newfoundland. One of the first things I did was to visit a large number of sites to get a better ‘feel’ for their location and better understand how the model of site location developed by my two co-supervisors, Trevor Bell and Priscilla Renouf , actually translates itself on the ground. During these visits, I realised that Archaic families from different region of the island seemed to bury their dead differently. The importance of this particular observation was actually pointed out to me by a colleague after a presentation I gave at a conference (Thanks Chris Wolff!). I then realised this pattern extended to adjoining mainland regions of the Maritimes and Labrador. While going through the literature on the Archaic, I started noticing that certain types of objects also tended to be concentrated in certain regions of the Island, regions that roughly overlapped with the two separate burial patterns I had already observed. This is when I began to realise that Newfoundland was likely shared by more that one group, and that although they were closely related to each other and adjoining mainland groups, they did things their own way. If all the worldviews of these groups were slowly morphing into each other from northern Labrador to New England, this means that people had to stay in touch, even if infrequently. Because Newfoundland is an island, this turned my attention to seafaring and the skills involved in maintaining these networks of relations. While looking at artifacts, I also became aware that some of the most unusual material came from interior regions. This got me to look more closely into the vast landscapes of interior Newfoundland. Even if people focussed their living on the coast, the interior would have played an important role as a travel corridor between various coastal regions of the island. Finally, a paper written by my co-supervisors suggested that a link may also have been present between resource concentrations and site locations during the Archaic. This led me to include foodways into my research in order to compare how regional patterns of food procurement interplayed with my other observations. So my project has progressively increased in complexity to better explore how the first Newfoundlanders interacted with their close and distant kin, their ancestors, their homeland, the sea, and how climate change impacted their lives.

4) What’s the one question about your research that you never want to hear again?

Humm, I don’t think there is one! I like chatting about my project and each person I talk to seems to take something a little different from my research, depending on what their particular interests are, which often leads to very different types of question. I think the one question I maybe get the most is not really related to my project at all. On hearing that I used to be an engineer, people want to know why I switched to archaeology. I have all sorts of ideas as to where my burgeoning interest in archaeology came from (see below), but really, the switch just felt right. I have never regretted it.

5) Has your research taught you anything about yourself? What?

Dominic, in company of Dominique Lavers at Point Riche, 
northwestern Newfoundland. 
(Port au Choix Archaeology Project Photo 2010)
By looking into various aspect of people’s life in the past, I couldn’t help but to analyse my own life and dwell further into what makes us humans. I have become increasingly aware of my own connections with the world, from the particular experiences, feelings and memories tied to my landscape, to the particular flukes of history that brought me to where I am today, and even to the way the food and the products I routinely use are made and arrive at my house. Through this constant dialogue between past and present, I have learnt to apply my own brand of critical thinking to all sorts of information, archaeological or not, and, as a result, I have become progressively more critical of the way we do certain things today. Our ‘modern’ society has adopted a very special and detached view of the world we inhabit, a way of seeing things that has come to artificially separate us from and put us above the world we inhabit. The more I think about the past, the more I realise how connected everything truly is and that we need to rethink, as a society, how we approach a number of things. As feedback into my own research, I now realise that even simple questions cannot be explored without having to follow connections into multiple directions, and that, however much data we may have, we’ll only ever expose part of the story. I now see my job as an archaeologist as presenting the glimpses of our shared heritage I have uncovered to the public and use those to nudge people into rethinking some of the assumptions and the pre-conceived ideas that remain an integral part of our modern identity.

6) Why did you choose MUN?

Given the particular blend of ocean mapping technologies and archaeology I was looking for in a PhD project, very few places in Canada were able to match what MUN had to offer. The Department of Geography is a leader in coastal geomorphology and marine habitat mapping which offered the expertise and access to data required for the more technical aspect of my research. The Department of Archaeology is a leader in North Atlantic archaeology. But, when it really comes down to it, it is my two co-supervisors, Trevor Bell and Priscilla Renouf who really tipped the balance for me. I knew of Trevor through a few scholars from Ireland I had been in touch with. They were part of the Submerged Landscape Archaeological Network (SLAN), which Trevor was instrumental in creating. This network brings together researchers in academia and government agencies from both sides of the North Atlantic with expertise linked to submerged landscape archaeology. In turn, Trevor put me in touch with Priscilla. The two of them had already been working together on a number of projects that combined archaeological site location with sea-level change. The more I talked to and read about them and their research, the more excited I became with the idea of collaborating with such amazing people. Plus St. John’s and Newfoundland are such beautiful places that after our first visit to the Island, my wife and I fell in love with this place, it felt like home, so the choice was an easy one!

7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?

I like how you use the word unwind, because you can never really get away entirely from your research. As Patty Wells was mentioning in her profile, even when she drives around she can’t help but keeping an eye out for things that relate to her research. I think this is especially true when you study people and their landscape and all you do in your own life is interacting with other people and your surroundings! For me, it seems that some of my best thinking occurs when I’m not focusing on a task directly related to my project, like shovelling my car out of a snow bank. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately! However, I find that putting my research in the background is quite easy these days. I have young children that are extremely good at making sure they remain the centre of my attention as soon as I’m in the room, so as soon as I get home, I’m taken to a fantastic world filled with princesses, pirates, fairies, and knights, quite removed from my own work! I also love to cook, or just sit back and read or watch interesting stories, real or not.

8) When did you realize that you might be an archaeologist?

Dominic recording an Inuit sodhouse’s architecture in 3D at 
the site of Guukbuuq, Northwest Territories. 
(photo by Charles Arnold 2007)
Let’s face it, what kid wouldn’t like to be able to search for ‘treasures’ in the sand for a living! However, I don’t think I ever woke up one day and suddenly decided I wanted to be an archaeologist. For me, it has been a long a gradual process, the culmination of a number of experiences spanning many decades. The earliest experience I can recall which stirred my interest about old things buried in the ground was finding an old toy truck while helping my dad work in our garden. I remember how strange it felt to hold something somebody had lost years before and wondering how it might have got to the place where we found it. Later, my brother and I also kept finding all sorts of things (e.g., a watch, old shoes, metal utensils) while swimming in the river in front of our cottage, where we spent most of our childhood summers. Meanwhile, I got really interested in ancient societies as a result of my TV education. As a kid during the 80s, I was watching this weekly cartoon called “Les Merveilleuses Cités d’Or,” which took place during the ‘discovery’ of the Americas. Although the plot line had absolutely no basis in reality, it was always followed by a short documentary on the real places, people and things we had seen in the episode, from Machu Picchu to Teotihuacán. This is what got me to begin reading about amazing things groups like the Mayas and the Incas had accomplished without the help of power tools! My interest in other cultures continued to expand from there and many years later I found myself in Southeast Asia and then in the Ecuadorian Andes towards the end of my undergrad degree. I remember getting shocked (in a good way) constantly by things I witnessed and this really got me thinking about how different communities around the world can do things very differently based on their people’s history. Then I got to learn more about archaeology through an Egyptologist I met while living in Toronto. This got me really interested in this profession. At the time I was working towards a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and, after hopping through some hoops, I was granted permission to take an out-of-program undergraduate introductory course in anthropology. I loved it so much I decided then and there that I was going to become a shovel bum on archaeological digs once I retired from engineering. Fast forward a few years and I’m in South Korea teaching English in a Middle School (Junior High) for a year, surrounded by amazing archaeological sites, and needing to figure out what I was going to do when I got back to Canada. My wife and I decided to move back to her hometown, Calgary, where one of the largest archaeology department in Canada is located. Once we were settled, I decided to retire from engineering early, enrolled at the University of Calgary, and began my training as an archaeologist. The rest is history.

9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?

For people interested in the Archaic period of Newfoundland, I strongly recommend Jim Tuck’s 1976 Ancient People of Port au Choix (published by Memorial University) is an insightful yet extremely approachable book on the excavation of one of the largest Archaic burial grounds in the Northeast. It offers very intriguing glimpses into various aspect of the life of the people who buried their friends and family in Port au Choix over 4000 years ago. It’s accompanied by beautiful pictures and drawings (if you can, get a hold of one of the original prints, the reprints just don’t do justice to the images), and remains unmatched for anything relating to this time period of Newfoundland, although a few chapters of Priscilla Renouf’s new edited volume The Cultural Landscapes of Port au Choix (published by Springer, 2011) add new interesting dimensions to the topic. For a quick source of information, The Rooms (Newfoundland’s provincial museum, archive and gallery) has a great overview of the Maritime Archaic, as does Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage, both written by Tuck. Newfoundland’s Provincial Archaeology Office also maintains a blog that has multiple interesting entries relating to the Archaic period.

For those interested in an exiting introduction to the possibilities of submerged landscape archaeology, I’d point them towards Europe's Lost World: The Rediscovery of Doggerland by Vince Gaffney and two of his colleagues (published by the Council for British Archaeology, 2009). It presents, in an approachable format, research relating to the vast regions of the North Sea that connected England to the European mainland until the early Mesolithic. For archaeologists looking to go further into this subjects, I’d suggest taking a look at the book Submerged Prehistory edited by Jonathan Benjamin and three of his colleagues (published by Oxbow Books, 2011). This one presents the results of a variety of recent research projects from around the world. The SLAN, of which I’m part, produces an online newsletter discussing our most recent endeavours and links to our publications.

For recent research done in Canadian waters, the volume entitled Haida Gwaii: Human History and Environment from the Time of Loon to the Time of the Iron People, edited by Daryl Fedje and Rolf W. Mathewes (published by UBC Press, 2005), is a wonderful example of submerged landscape archaeology. Parks Canada’s website also has multiple links to various research programs linked to underwater archaeology particularly and our National Marine Conservation Areas more generally.

My own research in just on the verge of beginning to be published so interested readers will have to be patient… any updates will be posted to my page.

Finally, visiting the various links provided throughout the text, many produced by Elfshot!


Would you like to see your work profiled here or the work of one of your colleagues or students?  Send me a note and I'll send you some questions.

Photo Credits: As noted in photo captions

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Plans and Profiles: Todd Kristensen Researching Birds in Beothuk Beliefs

Todd Kristensen
Todd Kristensen is one of two co-authors behind a fresh examination of Beothuk religious beliefs which was published in the current issue of the Cambridge Journal of Archaeology, entitled Birds, Burials and Sacred Cosmology of the Indigenous Beothuk of Newfoundland, Canada.  Todd is a Ph.D. Student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, but he's done plenty of fieldwork in Newfoundland and Labrador (you may recognize his name from several of the photo credits in Scott Neilsen's profile).

Todd's and Don Holly's ideas about the role of birds in Beothuk art and religion is generating a lot of interest at the moment.  I asked Todd about it...

Plans and Profiles #9. Todd Kristensen, Birds in Beothuk Beliefs

1) Tell me a little bit about your project.

Cape St. Mary's
Ecological Preserve
Don Holly and I looked at Beothuk burial goods from Newfoundland sites and museum collections and found that a lot of them are artistic representations of seabird parts (wings, feathers, and feet). We wondered why, of all the Atlantic animals, would the Beothuk choose birds to associate with their dead? And why represent body parts associated with bird movement (wings and feathers represent flight while webbed feet represent swimming)? With some help from historic records, we uncovered what we feel is a previously undiscovered religion, one in which birds were spiritual messengers that carried souls of the dead to an island afterlife.

Beothuk Pendant bone pendant drawings and the birds and bird parts that they resemble.

2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?

Archaeologists ponder diet
It was a round-about way. I was learning about Beothuk ecology by looking at animal bones from archaeology sites and I discovered that birds were a popular food choice. This was interesting because we thought the Beothuk lived mostly on caribou, beaver, and seal. From there, Don and I wondered, if birds were important foods, were they important in other dimensions of Beothuk life? After looking at burial goods, we realized that lots of the mysterious shapes of Beothuk pendants actually represent birds so we got interested in Beothuk religion.

Dawn at L'Anse aux Meadows

3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?

Fossilized Ripples
For sure. I first approached the past from a biological perspective: I looked at ancient humans as organisms interacting with plants, animals, and the landscape in interesting ways. When we looked at funerary practices, I realized that people don’t just respond to the world biologically; past relationships were created in peoples’ minds, in other words, we respond to and shape our world not as it is but as we perceive it to be. When I learned to appreciate that all adaptations are filtered through belief systems, it totally changed the way we looked at the project.

Detail of Beothuk Burial scene
painted by Rae Braden, 2012.
Pendants are being placed next
to an ochre covered skeleton.
4) If you could ask the people who lived at your site(s) one question what would it be?

I’m really interested in the connection between our thoughts about death and the way we live our lives. My question to a Beothuk person would be: what do you have to do while you’re living to make sure you have a happy afterlife?

5)  I can’t imagine doing this research without... wife’s patience!

Cape St. Mary's Ecological Preserve

6) Has your research taught you anything about yourself? What?

I’ve learned that archaeology interests me for two main reasons. I enjoy learning about adaptations and traditions different from my own: it’s rewarding to discover the diversity of religious beliefs that our Beothuk bird research contributed to. Yet there are very intriguing similarities: what do we draw on the backs of Christian angels? Wings! Lots of cultures believe that unknown worlds exist above and below the world we live in. And it makes sense to enlist help to reach those worlds from things we know; in the case of the Beothuk, through birds. Our research taught me that archaeology is fascinating because it reveals the uniqueness of human cultures as well as the amazing things we all have in common.

Todd, Nature. Nature, Todd.
7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?

Being outdoors. Nature can calm me down, perk me up, and stoke my enthusiasm to keep learning about the world around us.

8) What archaeological discovery or project do you wish that you could have been a part of?

I have ‘finger-in-too-many-pies’ syndrome so I wish I was part of every archaeology project, but in particular, the discovery of the fantastic Danish bog bodies.

9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?

To learn more about our specific research, here’s a cool piece on a popular British archaeology website: Past Horizons: Lost Beothuk Nation's Religion Takes Flight.

Randy Boswell wrote a nice article for Canadian media: Newfoundland birds were the heart of extinct Beothuk nation's religion, study says.

There are lots of interesting recent books about ancient religion, here’s a good one: An archaeology of the cosmos: rethinking agency and religion in ancient America (by Timothy Pauketat from 2013). The definitive book about the Beothuk is Marshall’s 1996 work: A history and ethnography of the Beothuk. Lastly, Don Holly’s book about Eastern Subarctic archaeology should be out soon; it promises to be perfect for summer beach reading, or to curl up with around the fire in mid-winter… fall or spring would also be good seasons to read it during.

Depiction of a Beothuk Burial Scene (painted by Rae Braden 2012)

Do you have an article coming out or a research project that you'd like to promote? Do you know an archaeology student whose research could use a boost?  Send me an e-mail:

Photo Credits: Todd Kristensen
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White

Monday, February 18, 2013

Plans and Profiles: Scott Neilsen Researching the Aboriginal History of Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador

Scott Neilsen strapping gear into
a canoe (Photo by Todd Kristensen)
Scott Neilsen is a PhD Candidate in the Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  He's dedicated his life and career to understanding the history and archaeology of the First Nations peoples who have lived, and continue to live, in Interior Labrador.  In 2008, he and his young family moved to North West River, Labrador to be closer to the land and work that he loves.  Alongside his research, Scott serves as the Operations, Facilities and Logistics Coordinator at the Labrador Institute's Research Station in North West River.

When I asked the other archaeologists profiled in this series whose research they'd like to see highlighted, Scott's name came up more than anyone else, so, by popular demand, Scott graciously agreed to participate.  I think the best way to understand Scott's work is over a beer.  I apologize if you are reading this over breakfast, but pour yourself a pint and enjoy the conversation...

Plans and Profiles #8. Scott Neilsen, Aboriginal History at Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador

1) Tell me a little bit about your project.

I have a few on the go at the moment, but I think I’ll try and focus on my dissertation project “Archaeology Beyond the Horizon” (in the hopes that this will give me some incentive to get the writing finished).

Ferguson Bay, north end of Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador.
The idea for the title came from a paper written by Anthropologist Jose Mailhot, called “Beyond Everyone’s Horizon Stand the Naskapi”. In this paper Mailhot wrote about the history of the cultural moniker Naskapi. She explained that although the Naskapi lived in the Lake Plateau Region of the Labrador Peninsula, they were actually the same as the Montagnais who lived along the Quebec North Shore (together they are the Innu). As she saw it, the European colonists who wrote about the Naskapi had little to no interaction with them, and because of this the tales they wrote were not accurate.

The isolation of the Naskapi in the interior and the assumptions that resulted from this reminded me of a problem I see in the archaeological history of the Labrador Peninsula. Which is, that we often make assumptions about what went on in the interior without looking to see what is actually there. For this reason I chose to do a survey of Lake Ashuanipi in western Labrador for my PhD research, to see what was actually there.

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador, FeDn-01. Late period biface tip, made out of Labrador Trough chert.

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador, FeDn-01. Showing excavation 
profile. Note buried paleosol in profile, and hold down rocks
for canvas tent at surface.
From historical documents I knew going in that Lake Ashuanipi was part of an Innu travel route between the Quebec North Shore and the Lake Plateau, but I didn’t know if it had been used prior to European settlement on the coast or to what degree the Lake had been inhabited. Overall we spent three summers surveying portions of the lake (it is huge so we couldn’t cover the entire area). We identified recent enthnographic sites, and pre- and post-contact archaeology sites. And in some cases, these components were stratified within the same site.

Ashuanipi Travel Routes. Map showing location of Archaeology Beyond the horizon Study Area, with travel routes. (image created by Edmund Montague)

2) How did you become interested in this particular problem?

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador, FeDn-01. Excavation complete. 
Note multiple components visible, i.e. tent hold-down stones
at original surface as well as hearthstones in profile and 
at base of excavation. (photo by Todd Kristensen)
Two ways, really. First, during my MA I did research on the Intermediate period (ca.3500 – 2000 BP) in Labrador. Specifically, I was focused on the culture-history of First Nation populations at this time. It was during this research that I first came to realize that although archaeologists had talked about a generalized subsistence pattern for First Nations at this time, spending summers on the coast and winters in the interior, very few archaeologists had actually looked for, or excavated any Intermediate period sites inland, away from the coast and inlets.

Second, my supervisor, Dr. Lisa Rankin, introduced me to Ed and Joyce Montague from Labrador City. They were both members of the heritage society there, and had been the primary forces behind establishing the Gateway Museum in that community. They were interested in having someone do archaeological research in the area, and were just too damn nice for me to be able to say “no”. It also didn’t hurt that Ed was very knowledgeable about the regions geography and history.

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador. FeDn-01. 19th century HBC trade knife (?), in situ.

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador. Baking Innu bread in
the beach sand. Note colouring of heated sand.
3) Has your project changed since you originally began working on it? How?

I’m not sure that the project has changed much. However, I have come to realize that the long-term history of the Labrador Peninsula is much more complicated than it is traditionally portrayed. And I am finding that it is rather difficult to convey this complexity within the traditional culture-history terminology that has been used. Living in Labrador since 2008 has given me a totally new perspective on the social and cultural climate of the sub-arctic.

4) If you could ask the people/person who lived at your site one question what would it be?

How come you aren’t using Ramah chert like all your buddies?

Menihek Lake, Labrador, GaDq-2. Large chunk of Labrador Trough chert.

5) Have you ever found anything in the field or in the lab that you wish you hadn't?

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador, FeDn-01. Test pit,
with two components visible in profile.
Can lid near surface and FCR near base. 
Also note buried paleosol.
Not that I can think of. It’s usually the opposite…I wish I had found stuff that I didn’t.

6) Why did you choose Memorial University of Newfoundland?

To be totally honest, they were the only ones who’d take me when I decided to do an MA. UNB wanted me to do a qualifying year. (I wasn’t the greatest student in my undergrad). I had worked with Dr. Lisa Rankin in Labrador in 2002 and she saw something in me that led her to take a chance on me (I still don’t know what that something was). Also, I had fallen in love with Labrador when I was there and MUN seemed like the obvious choice to be able to get back…and here I am, still. Things seemed to work out well during the MA, so when it came time for the PhD it seemed best just to stay put. I don’t regret it for a second. I had/have an awesome cohort, the faculty is smart and nice, and St. John’s is a great city.

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador, FeDn-01. 19th century aeolian pipe, in situ. (photo by Todd Kristensen)

7) How do you unwind when you need to get away from your research?

Menihek Lake, Labrador. Medicine ball sized boulder
of chert along the Shore of McPhadyen River.
I work full-time for the Labrador Institute of Memorial University, looking after the research station in North West River, so I actually have to find time to do my research, rather than get away from it. However, I do play darts every Wednesday night at the community centre in North West River…it’s loads of fun. Not because I’m good at darts…it’s byob.

8) What is one thing that you can’t imagine doing fieldwork without?

Hmmmm, I’ll say a good hat. My favorite one wore out in 2010 and I’ve been looking for a suitable replacement ever since.

Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador. Matt Beaudoin and I (right) loading canoe at FeDn-01 (I miss that hat…it had dragons on it!). (photo by Toss Kristensen)

9) What books or websites would you recommend if people want to learn more about your area of interest in general? Or your project in particular?

In relation to my PhD research I’d suggest they get Jamie Brake’s book: The Ferguson Bay 1 Site and the Culture History of Western Labrador (available from Copetown Press) and Henry Youle Hinds book: Explorations in the Interior of the Labrador Peninsula.

If they are interested in the Intermediate period in Labrador they can check out the facebook group “Archaeology in Sheshatshiu” (this page is for a community archaeology project I oversee in Sheshatshiu), or my MA thesis: Intermediate Indians: The View from Ushpitun 2 and Pmiusiku 1.

More generally, I recommend people read Stephen Hull’s blog: Inside Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology. It covers a variety of topics in the NL archaeology, and I think he sometimes includes references and recommended readings on the subjects.

Portage trail (FcDm-06) between south tip of Kapitagas Channel and Riviere aux Esquimaux. Part of historic travel route between Sept Iles, Quebec and Lake Ashuanipi, Labrador.


Are you part of an archaeological research project or perhaps you know an archaeology student who could use a boost in exposure.  I'd love to hear your recommendations for future interviews.

Photo Credits:
Scott Neilsen, unless otherwise noted in the captions.
Plans and Profiles Banner, Tim Rast based on a linocut by Lori White
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