Digging Up The Past – Archaeology Day 2016

This post was originally shared last year, but we thought it was worth sharing again for Archaeology Day 2016!

Archaeology is an important part of the interpretation at the Oshawa Museum.  Our Grandview Gallery in Robinson House helps tell the story of the Lake Ontario Iroquois, a group of First Nations who called this area home over 500 years ago. For far too long, the history of Oshawa began with Benjamin Wilson, an American who settled here in 1790 with his family, and so on and so forth.  By saying our history begins with Wilson, we are completely omitting the Lake Ontario Iroquois, who were settled with 10-15 longhouses, who hunted, who fished, and who farmed for a period of over 70 years.  Archaeology and the evidence it has given us helps us challenge the ‘traditional story,’ and we do so on every tour, through our interpretation and through the artifacts we have on display that were discovered during the excavation of the Grandview site in 1992.

015 copy
Inside the Grandview Discovery Gallery

Fun fact: there were over 11,000 artifacts unearthed during that salvage dig excavation, and all 11,000 are part of our collection at the Oshawa Museum.  Not all 11,000 are on display of course, but you can view exceptional examples when you visit!

018 copy
Tools on display from the Grandview Archaeological excavation

There were two Aboriginal villages discovered through archaeological excavations; theMacLeod Site at Rossland and Thornton was discovered in the late 1960s, and the Grandview Site, around Grandview and Taunton, was discovered in 1992.  Both sites provide valuable information about the lives of the Lake Ontario Iroquois and have helped us at the Oshawa Museum shift how we tell the history of our City.

When people think about archaeology, ancient ruins, Egypt, Greece, Maya, or early First Nation settlements is what frequently comes to mind.  At the Oshawa Museum, we are fortunate to have two collections from late-historic archaeological sites: the Farewell Cemetery Collection and the Henry House Collection.  These two sites date to the mid to late 1800s and they provide information about Victorian lives and culture. Artifacts from the Henry House excavation will be on display in Henry House.

20150507_154034 copy
Coffin handle found during the removal and excavation of the Farewell Cemetery

Curator Melissa Cole gives information on the Farewell Cemetery excavation in her June 2015 Podcast.

Archaeology is a fascinating field, and Archaeology Day is an event where we get to celebrate and showcase the amazing history that has been unearthed here in Oshawa!


Archaeology Day 2016 is happening on October 15 from 12-3pm.  Proud partners for this year’s event are Trent University Durham and Scugog Shores Museum who will be joining us with interactive displays, engaging activities, lectures, and sharing in their knowledge of and passion for the field of Archaeology.

arch-day-2016

Archaeology in Oshawa – the MacLeod Site

The MacLeod archaeological site, located at the corners of Thornton and Rossland Roads in Oshawa, is a Lake Ontario Iroquois village dating from 1450 A.D.   It is one of the first known settlements in the Oshawa area.   It was first discovered in the fall of 1967 on the property of Howard MacLeod.  Several groups excavated in different areas of the site until 1972.

The MacLeod excavation, c. 1969, Rossland and Thornton Roads
The MacLeod excavation, c. 1969, Rossland and Thornton Roads

The village was located on 3-4  acres  and  consisted  of  five  longhouses  surrounded by a high protective  wall  or  palisade.   During the excavation, portions of two of the longhouses were uncovered.  The larger of the two, the Alpha house measured 58 metres in length and 8.2 metres in width.  The interior was arranged to allow several families to live together.  A row of hearths was located down the centre of the house and holes in the roof allowed smoke to escape.  Sleeping benches were located down either side of the longhouse.  A replica of one of the longhouses is on display at the Oshawa Community Museum in the Grandview Site Gallery.

Model longhouse, on display in Robinson House
Model longhouse, on display in Robinson House

The inhabitants of the MacLeod site were agriculturists and did not generally hunt large game.  They subsisted on diet of corn, beans, fish, small game and wild plant foods which were gathered.  Charred remnants of corn and beans were discovered at the site.  The women were responsible for planting, tending and harvesting the crops as well as gathering foodstuffs such as nuts and berries.

EX992.35.1 - Rim Shard found at the MacLeod Archaeological site
EX992.35.1 – Rim Shard found at the MacLeod Archaeological site

Over  18 000  artifacts  were  uncovered at  the  MacLeod  site  of  which  the vast majority were ceramics,  lithics  (stone)  and  worked faunal specimens (bone).  A large number of ceramic pipes were found at the MacLeod site.  Pipes were generally made of clay and shaped around a grass core which burned off once the pipe was baked leaving a hole in the middle.  An interesting specimen from the MacLeod site is the reptile effigy pipe bowl.  Lithics or stone tools were prominent amongst the artifact assemblage.  Projectile points were the major hunting tools of the Lake Ontario Iroquois and were roughed out from pieces of chert or flint by striking them with a large stone.  Most of the stone tools found at the MacLeod site were made of chert found on the north shore of Lake Erie or in the Trent Valley.  The natives used bone to make a number of tools and ornaments including beads, awls (used to pierce skins) and scrapers (used to scrape bits of fat from animal hides).

The MacLeod excavation, c. 1969
The MacLeod excavation, c. 1969

Archaeologists believe that MacLeod site was abandoned after a period of twenty years possibly due to the fact that the fields had lost much of their fertility.  In addition, game and trees from the surrounding forest had probably been depleted as well.  The majority of the artifacts from the MacLeod site are housed at the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus while some remain a part of the educational collection of the Oshawa Community Museum.

 

The Oshawa Community Museum is proudly hosting Digging Up The Past: International Archaeology Day on October 18, 12-3PM.  Please Join Us!