Archaeology In Oshawa

What is archaeology? Archaeology is the study of how humans lived in the past through the analysis of their tools, food remains, architecture, and other objects that have survived the passage of time. These remains are known as material culture and they help archaeologists to reconstruct the lives of the people who used them.

Beginning a Dig

Before anyone begins digging you need to get permission from the proper authorities. The Ontario Heritage Act tells us that no person shall carry out archaeological fieldwork without a license that has been issued by the Ministry of Culture. This law even applies to surface collecting! This means that even if you find something lying on the ground or buried in your garden you should contact the authorities and hand the artifact over to them.

A site may be found in many different ways. The ancient city of Troy was found by using the ancient writings of Homer and his epic poem the ‘Iliad’.  Oshawa’s own MacLeod site was discovered after a farmer who owned the land sold some soil with artifacts hidden within! However, most sites are found through research. This includes scouring written records, information gathered from nearby sites and studying the area itself. Studying the area may include aerial reconnaissance, which involves using an airplane to look for unusual features on the land surface that may only be visible from the air; or ground reconnaissance. Methods of ground reconnaissance involve walking the area to look for unusual patterns as well as the use of ground penetrating radar, electrical resistivity and magnetic survey.

The site must also be carefully measured before digging begins. The measurements are used to divide the site into grids and quadrants, usually 3 x 3 metres square. This is the neatest and easiest way to keep the excavation organized.

There is so much to be done and we haven’t even started digging yet! Finally, once your site has been found and carefully researched, the decision must be made about where and how much to excavate. Archaeology is a permanent action that ends up destroying the site. Today, many archaeologists leave portions of sites unexcavated for future archaeologists who may be using improved methods or tools, to complete the excavation.

A team must be assembled with people who can draw maps, those who can organize the artifacts found and those who will remove the artifacts out of the ground. Once this team has been assembled, you are ready to begin!

While a quadrant is being dug, the archaeologists must keep in mind the Law of Superposition. This Law states that “where one layer lies above another, the lower layer is deposited first.” Essentially, the further down in the ground you find an artifact, the older it is. This is known as stratigraphy. Then the archaeologist must carefully sift through all of the dirt that is removed to ensure that no small artifacts are accidentally thrown out. When an object is removed, the archaeologist uses a variety of tools to carefully remove the dirt. Once the object is uncovered, its precise location is marked on a site map and a photo is taken while the object is still in the ground. Many different measurements are recorded, including how far the object is from each side of the quadrant and how far down it was found. Only after all of these measurements are recorded can the object be removed from the ground. These measurements ensure that the proper context is established – the way the object is found in the ground. This can be very important when interpreting objects from the past!

When the objects are removed from the ground they are handled by a conservator and placed into proper storage. This is done so that the objects are not damaged before they can be studied. The conservator makes sure the artifacts do not get too dry or become moldy and rot. Once the excavation is complete a report must be written and finally the artifacts can be examined to determine what they will tell us about the people who used them.

Oshawa has undergone five archaeological digs, as well as the moving of one cemetery. Each of these digs helps to tell the early history of Oshawa.  We learn more about the people who helped shape the foundation for what Oshawa would become.