Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 9, 2009

An interesting turn…

Often, archaeologists who work on sites of the historically-documented period will get asked why we dig these sites.  People often comment that “we know all that stuff already, don’t we?” because we have access to a written record.  We have written documents, oral histories, maps, sketches and photographs… so why bother to dig?

Well, we can add the archaeological record to these other forms of evidence to really enhance what we know of the past. We can learn more about people who don’t always get written about in great detail– generally, the ordinary people who weren’t thought to be important or worthy of note. So in our case, we’re hoping that the artifacts that we find will tell us more about the life of the ordinary early- to mid-nineteenth century soldier.

And sometimes we learn that the archaeological evidence doesn’t fit what is supposed to be there, according to the historic evidence.  Right now we’re puzzling over the stone wall that we’ve uncovered at the North Range Barracks. Based on previous evidence from older excavations, we thought we should be digging at one outside wall and corner of the structure… but if you compare what we’re finding to the historic maps of the site, something doesn’t look right.


The stone wall at the North Range Barracks came into sharper focus today. Yet this sharper focus has led to some head-scratching...

The wall seems to be developing another straight edge, down at the bottom of the photo. The problem is, the historic maps that we have don’t indicate that the wall should be taking a straight edge here.  Now, it’s early days yet, and it may well be that as we dig further down, we’ll find that the wall picks up again further below the surface of the ground.  But for now, it’s a little bit of a mystery. Is the historic map incorrect? Are we digging in a different location on the historic structure than we thought we were? Or are there more remains buried that have yet to be found?

Only time and more digging will tell. But it’s mysteries like this that make us collectively scratch our heads, pore over the maps yet again, and start to come up with theories and interpretations to explain these discrepancies.

Though I have to say, having beautiful weather and a beautiful view like this means that we don’t mind spending half an hour in deep though puzzling over our conundrums.  This is the view from our ‘office’, and I have to say it’s a nice place to sit down and do some thinking.

View from Ladies' Lookout

View from Ladies' Lookout with our excavations in the background.

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)



  1. […] An interesting turn Archaeology at Signal Hill, Newfoundland, Canada Why would you want to conduct an archaeological dig when you already have the historical records? Here’s an answer from another blog that’s new to me. […]

  2. […] site has been marked by some twists and unexpected “discoveries”. As outlined by Amanda in a previous post, the walls we found are basically not doing what we expected them to do. From the 1984 dig, it […]

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