Field school explores the ‘archeology of archeology’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You could call it a ‘non-field school.’ This spring, students in Anthropology 3396A – Site Management and Service are taking a different approach to standard archeology, learning how not to dig up a site.

The course focuses on non-invasive techniques, and how to restore a site explored by many previous archeologists and anthropology students. The Lawson site, located at the Ontario Museum of Archeology, is a Late Woodland Site and was inhabited around 1500 AD by ancestors of Iroquoian-speaking peoples. Up to 1,000 people may have lived in the village at a time and there were upwards of 30 long-house structures in the village.

Anthropology professor Neal Ferris explained that while the site has not been developed or plowed, it has been used for field schools and archeology for more than a century, so students are also able to see the approaches previous researchers have used, making it a course on the “archeology of archeology.”

Most archeology is conducted by digging, as most sites are in new developments. The practice is evolving, and with more input and collaboration with First Nations communities, there is a “sea-change in terms of sensibilities archeologists have and how they have worked for over a century in Ontario,” Ferris said.

Students in the course are involved in rehabilitating a site, including cleaning up old areas that have been excavated. They are also learning techniques using advanced technology, such as geophysical profiling, to investigate sites without needing to dig.

“These will be skillsets these students will increasingly need in the future,” Ferris said.

“I think it’s really interesting from an Indigenous perspective,” said Shauna Kechego-Nichols, a fourth-year Anthropology student, also a member of the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation.

Kechego-Nichols wanted to get an education that would benefit her community. “Not many First Nations people are involved in archeology or anthropology,” she said. “I enjoy the fact that I have a role in restoring a site. Historically, bones and artifacts of my people have been dug up without consultation. I appreciate that the museum and the institution work hand-in-hand with communities.”

Nadine Finlay, a fourth-year Anthropology/English student, enjoyed the hands-on learning aspect, but also liked “how we are doing something for the community. Instead of just repeating learning, I like how we are working to restore a cultural-heritage site.”

Along with new techniques, the course is also focused on changing the way students think about archeology and anthropology, seeing it more as a service, rather than research, Ferris said.

“It’s important to think about archeology not just as a play thing of archeologists, but also as part of a heritage that other groups deal with.”