Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 15, 2009

Excavation Update

We’re approaching our third straight week of excavations (…how exactly an archaeology field season manages to compress time never fails to amaze) and so it’s time for a larger overview of what we’ve done and what we still have left to do. This will be a long post, because we’ve done so much, so please bear with me!

One group of students and I finished work on a remote site in the brush on Signal Hill, called the Emberley site in honour of its discoverer.  This was a recently-reported site, and we weren’t sure of its date or function, and the historic record provided little information.  Archaeological excavation was the key to figuring out the site.  It appears to be a stone-walled structure dating to the mid-twentieth century, that served some sort of industrial function on the hill- a large number of electrical insulators and wires suggest that this might perhaps have been a building that served as a power or communications waystation.

Working at the Emberley site. Excavation here was challenging, due to the presence of large jumbled rocks. The dirt around them held wire nails, traces of asphalt shingles, plywood and electrical insulators. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson, Parks Canada.

Working at the Emberley site. Excavation here was challenging, due to the presence of large jumbled rocks. The dirt around them held wire nails, traces of asphalt shingles, plywood and electrical insulators. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson, Parks Canada.

Since those excavations have been completed, we’ve now re-united the entire crew at the North Range Barracks site. Since Stephane’s excavations have demonstrated that the structure there differs from what we observe on historic maps and plans, we need all hands on deck at this site to figure it out before the field season finishes!  So, expect an increase on posts regarding the nineteenth century soldiers’ barracks…. the excavations have proved thought-provoking so far.

Digging, as the barracks site gets deeper and deeper-- long arms are an asset for the archaeologist!

Digging, as the barracks site gets deeper and deeper-- long arms are an asset for the archaeologist!

We think at this point that we are digging some sort of platform / stone outbuilding beside the barracks (though we reserve the right to change our interpretation as the field season progresses!).  We have expanded our excavation to the north, to see if we can figure out the shape of the foundation– does it continue to the north? Or does it terminate? If so, how does this change our interpetation of the site?

The artifacts we find are fascinating. Every day, we bring them down to the lab where the ever-patient Danielle supervises their cleaning, labelling and cataloguing.  Here you can see racks of artifacts drying:

All in a day's work-- each and every artifact we find gets cleaned, labelled, catalogued, and packed safely away for further study.

All in a day's work-- each and every artifact we find gets cleaned, labelled, catalogued, and packed safely away for further study.

It’s hard to pick a favourite artifact– each day, we find artifacts that make us really excited, or alternatively make us scratch our heads, or squint as we try to figure out what the heck that thing is, anyhow.  But this has to be one of my favourites:

A bone domino from the Barracks site.

A bone domino from the Barracks site.

This domino, painstakingly handmade, is intact and in great shape. It reminds us that soldiers housed at the barracks site would have had to fill their spare time somehow, and gaming was probably one way they kept themselves busy.  And during the long winter months spent at the summit of Signal Hill (it’s a very windy spot- which is lovely in the summertime but would have been extremely cold in the winter), soldiers would likely have relished amusements that could be enjoyed indoors.

But I have to say, having had the pleasure of working at Signal Hill in the summertime, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to work. Today, as we were digging in the beautiful sunshine, we were entertained by humpback whales exhaling and occasionally breeching not far offshore.  Now that’s a fringe benefit of doing archaeology.

–Amanda Crompton (Instructor)

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Responses

  1. I like the bone domino!

    • Hi Tim,
      Yeah, the bone domino is really amazing. I’m working on a post about more of our curious and interesting artifacts 🙂

      • They must have had A LOT of time on their hands. With 9 dots on one side, that domino would come from at least a Double Nine set which would have 55 tiles. Most sets you buy today are Double Sixes, which only have 28 tiles. That’s a lot of cutting, scraping, and polishing without power tools.

  2. That Domino is a beautiful artifact. I’m really excited that you are expanding on the North Range Soldiers’ Barracks. Tell me more! I’m basking in glorious sun at Grand Pre in the Annapolis Valley, but our testing (for 18th-century Acadians) is all negative so far. Your work is inspirational. I’m glad to see the students are so excited – but then they’re easily conned aren’t they? Tom Sawyer got people to work for free. You actually make them pay to do it.

  3. LOVE the domino!


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