ASI at the SHA Conference in Quebec City

The 2014 Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) Conference happened last week (January 8 – 12) in Quebec City, Quebec.

Many of the staff here at Archaeological Services Inc. were not only in attendance, but were among the many presenters of new and interesting research in the field of historical archaeology, archaeological site management and 15th and 16th century acquisition by Ontario Iroquoians of European trade objects or commodities exchanged by eastern Ontario and St. Lawrence Valley Indigenous populations. Below you will find a list of presentation titles and abstracts from the ASI staff. If you have any specific questions, or would like to learn more, please get in touch with or ask us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

[quote title=”ASI at the SHAs” Text=”

While I was of course focused in preparation for the meetings on the research I was presenting for the session on early exchange and the St. Lawrence basin, I had looked at the paper that David Robertson was presenting based on ASI’s management plans and was aware of the session that Eva MacDonald was chairing on small finds on the various historical archaeological sites that ASI had excavated over the past fifteen years. I certainly had read the abstract of the session and had noted that many of our staff had accepted Eva’s challenge to participate in the conference and her session in particular. I was not prepared, however, for the scholastically rigorous and entertaining nature of every single presentation in the session. Indeed, Martin Cooper, Debbie Steiss and I have been present at many conferences and themed sessions for the past 40 years and we thought this one was one of the best sessions that we had ever attended. While I should not admit to any surprise on this front, because of the excellence of the staff, we were, nevertheless, impressed by the obvious amount of research that every presenter had undertaken beyond that presented in the site reports.

This session in fact embodied one of the core values of ASI; that we disseminate the results of our work.

From Eva’s framing of the session to each participant’s explanations and stories about a particular artifact, together these papers represented a truly anthropological event (as Eva had hoped) focusing as they did on gender, class, ethnicity, politics and the archaeology of small finds. As Mary-Cate stated in her treatise on recently abandoned objects documented in heritage homes that had been expropriated, “there is a delicate dance between context and meaning” and these papers all danced the dance. Every audience member learned from and was entertained by these papers and as the leader of ASI, the research centre from which almost all of the session papers originated, I can think of no more fitting tribute than that.

” name=”Ron Williamson” name_sub=”Chief Archaeologist & Managing Partner, ASI”]


Session – Small Finds, Big Implications: The Cultural Meaning of the Littlest Artifacts
Organizer & Chair: Eva MacDonald (ASI)

Session Abstract: Why do the smallest artifacts found during the excavation of a site elicit the most visceral response from those who find them and study them? Is it because they are portable items that can be tied to people, such as coins, smoking pipes, and children’s toys, or is it because often they are visually appealing? While the range of small finds discussed in this session will be diverse, the presenters in this session all share a passion for deriving cultural meaning from the context in which they were found. It will be proven that small finds can have big implications when an anthropological framework is employed during analysis.


‘A delightful odour to the breath’: Toothpaste in Late Nineteenth Century Toronto
Caitlin Coleman (ASI)

The Bishop’s Block site (AjGu-49) in downtown Toronto contained the almost untouched foundations of four urban townhouses dated from the mid-to-late 19th century. The 2007 salvage excavation uncovered how these buildings transformed from upper middle class houses to mixed-use dwellings and working class homes by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Bishop’s Block site offers many completely intact and intriguing artifacts, one of which is a white ceramic toothpaste container. This artifact, which is labeled ‘Atkinson’s Celebrated Parisian Toothpaste’, is an excellent example of the class tensions at play in Victorian Toronto. Toothpaste has been around in a variety of forms for millennia, but commercially made and packaged toothpaste is a product of the nineteenth century. The marketing of toothpaste fed into worries about needing a bright smile, sweet breath and impeccable hygiene. Cleanliness and social acceptability became ever more intertwined, while epidemics remained a grim reality. Fear of disease combined with an increased desire to define one’s social standing through personal appearance and cleanliness created a perfect market for manufactured toothpaste.


Removes All Obstacles: The Place of Abortifacients in Nineteenth Century Toronto
Johanna Kelly (ASI), Andrea Carnevale (ASI), Denise McGuire (Newcastle University)

A bottle embossed with ‘Sir J. Clarke’s Female Pills’ was found during the excavation of the original location of Toronto’s first hospital, which opened in 1829 and was in operation at the corner of King and John Streets until 1854. The commonly accepted perception is that abortion was frowned upon and prosecuted. In reality abortion was a wide-spread practice and, if not explicitly, then covertly practiced at the major medical facility in the city. The Toronto General Hospital was intended to service the poor and emigrants and ‘female pills’ is an example of the types of abortive medicines which were widely accessible to those who could not afford a procedure with an abortionist. Where do these abortive medicines fit into the larger framework of reproductive health operating within the social, political, and cultural frameworks of the time?


Concerns at Home, Concerns Abroad: Irish and English Political Ephemera in Southern Ontario
Katherine Hull (ASI)

Although uncommon, a few artifacts reflecting an unambiguous connection with a particular political ideology, social movement, or politician/activist have been recovered from archaeological sites in Southern Ontario. Often these items do not reflect local Upper Canada concerns, but rather ‘concerns at home’– socio-political issues from the Irish and English homelands of immigrant families. Items such as moulded or stamped smoking pipes, buttons and pins with various slogans carried meaning for the user, but also served to forge and strengthen bonds with like-minded individuals within the community. Artifacts supporting the Repeal movement (Ireland), opposing Home Rule (Ireland), and supporting the Great Reform Bill of 1832 (England) will be discussed.


Lost in the Move: the Material Culture of Leaving
Mary-Cate Garden (ASI)

The places and spaces that we mark as ‘home’ are filled with ‘’stuff’–objects imbued with value that make up our lives and help to define our spaces. From treasured objects to clutter, this is the material culture of everyday life (e.g. Miller 2009). This paper will ask what happens to these objects when people are compelled to leave their homes? What is kept and what is lost? A major infrastructure project currently underway in the Province of Ontario is resulting in the displacement of century farms and communities as land is being expropriated and residents relocated. In the process, most of the visual and spatial connections to ‘the past’ and to ‘home’ are being severed. Looking at these empty houses and farms as archaeological sites this paper, drawing in part on work by Buchli and Miller, will discuss new research that uses these ‘lost’ objects–’the small finds left behind when residents are compelled to leave–in order to explore ideas of value, loss, the connection between people/ place and the process of ‘leaving’.References: 2001 Buchli, V & Lucas, G Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past Abingdon: Routledge 2009 Miller, D Stuff London: Polity.


From Goose Drops to Special Ops: A Pinfire Shotgun Shell Cartridge at Fort York, Ontario
Blake Williams (ASI)

In 2011, during a salvage excavation at the Fort York National Historic Site, Archaeological Services Inc. recovered a pinfire shotgun shell cartridge. This unique small find tells a story of the changing firearms technology used by armed forces around the world. These developments would lead to dramatic changes in the military’s treatment of the militia as revealed by the British response to the Trent Affair. This international incident during the American Civil War, risked a return to hostilities between Britain and the Union States and sparked a defensive rearmament across the Colony of Canada. This artifact also highlights the military evolution of the shotgun from a hunting tool brought to the battlefield by ragtag Militia, to cutting edge weaponry used by military Special Forces around the world.


Power in Numbers: The Anthropological Implications of Horse Shoe Nails on Blacksmith Sites
Miranda Brunton (ASI)

During the nineteenth century, almost all general smiths also acted as farriers. Horse shoe nails offer the best evidence that the smiths practiced shoeing on site. However, the remnants of these nails can function as more than indicators of shoeing practices but also aid in both understanding the intensity of shoeing practices and in pinpointing features. For example, horse shoe nails recovered from Kilmanagh Crossroads site excavated by Archaeological Services Inc. in 2009, not only represented shoeing activities but the sheer quantity indicated the intensity of the practice and the nails distribution throughout the site pointed to the entrance of the blacksmith’s shop once stood, which was not known at the time of the excavation. This paper will explore the untapped anthropological potential of horse shoe nails by comparing and contrasting collections of horse shoe nails recovered from blacksmith shops from urban and rural contexts throughout southern Ontario.


Session – Revisiting Facts and Ideas of Contact in the St. Lawrence Basin During the 16th Century
Organizer: Claude Chapdelaine, Universite de Montreal; Chair: Brad Loewen, Universite de Montreal

Session Abstract: The word ‘contact’ is often written but rarely defined. What do authors mean when they refer to ‘intercultural contact’ or ‘the contact period’? Is contact an operative concept in archaeology? If so, what is its sphere of meaning? Does it connote a specific time, place, group or culture, and what are the facts to understand the mechanics of contact? In its projection onto the pre-colonial period, is it a reflection of postcolonial thought, ideals and practices? Many contexts across North America enrich the idea of contact, but in the St. Lawrence basin, the 16th century remains an enigmatic example. This session will revisit ideas and facts of early contact with special reference to the St. Lawrence basin, from the lower Great Lakes to the Atlantic.

Looking Eastward: Sixteenth Century Exchange Systems of the North Shore Ancestral Wendat
Ron Williamson (ASI), Meghan Burcehll (Memorial University), William Fox (Trent University), Sarah Grant (ASI)

Appearing on Great Lakes sites as early as Archaic times, marine shell artifacts are only present sporadically in southern Ontario, with the exception of rare mortuary contexts, until the sixteenth-century. By the end of the century, large numbers were entering Ontario as evident at the Skandatut site and its associated Kleinburg ossuary, thought to represent the last Wendat occupation of the Humber River drainage. The presence of European metal and beads made of steatite also increases with time throughout the sixteenth century. Preliminary source data suggest a Jefferson County or more broadly eastern Ontario origin for steatite pointing to eastern-directed exchange patterns along the north shore of Lake Ontario prior to Champlain’s visit to the Wendat in 1615. Sometime before that visit, the movement of European goods and marine shell shifted to the Ottawa-French River route to the Wendat, perhaps occasioned by their move to Simcoe County and by a resurgence of hostility with the Iroquois.

“In Order to Bring Them to Trade”: Neutral Exchange During the 16th Century
Martin Cooper (ASI)

This paper examines the evidence for the earliest European contact among the Neutral Iroquoians, who in the seventeenth century occupied a large portion of southern Ontario, from Milton in the northwest extending through the Niagara Peninsula into New York State. Despite five decades of contact with Europeans, we do not know by what name this large amalgamation of tribes called themselves yet the first Europeans called them the Neutral. This referred to their position both politically and economically to the surrounding Nations. The Neutral were involved in far reaching trade alliances with the Susquehannock, Seneca, Erie, Huron-Wendat, Tionontate and Odawa. Through these spheres of interaction the Neutral had the opportunity to obtain European trade goods from multiple sources. The archaeological record will be examined to identify the genesis and nature of trade during the sixteenth century.


Session – Municipal Archaeology: Linking Archaeology, Urban Planning and Heritage
Organizer(s): Douglas Appler, University of Kentucky; Sherene Baugher, Cornell University; and William Moss, City of Quebec; Chair: Douglas Appler, University of Kentucky

Session Abstract: Improving the relationship between archaeology and local government represents one of the next great challenges for public archaeology. Not only do local governments have access to powerful legal tools and policy mechanisms that can offer protection for privately owned archaeological sites, but because local government exists at the grassroots level, it is also often closer to people who have deep knowledge about the community itself, about its values, and about the local meaning of the sites most in need of protection. This partnership between archaeology and local government can also provide visibility and public programing for heritage sites. This session will explore then experiences, both positive and negative, of cities in the United States and Canada that have created space for archaeology in their local land development processes.


Archaeological Management in Ontario: Legislation and Development Planning
David Robertson & Ron Williamson (ASI)

The legislative requirements for archaeology related to public and private development in Ontario must be counted among the most comprehensive in North America. How decisions related to archaeological resources are made at the municipal level, where the role of development approval resides, is not necessarily uniform across the province, but many of the areas experiencing the greatest development pressures seek to ensure that planning decisions are informed by detailed archaeological management plans. These plans consider the known and potential archaeological resource base, and when and by what means sites are identified, evaluated and mitigated. Some of the more recent of these plans more explicitly recognize the role of descendant communities and other local interest groups in these archaeological resources in decision-making and the importance of public interpretation and commemoration of these sites. This paper will explore a variety of issues related to these emerging trends.