On May 16th fifteen resolute Wilfrid Laurier undergraduate students, three staunch instructional assistants, and one plucky instructor embarked on their long awaited archaeological field research trip to Tay Point. Tay Point, in Penetaguishene, Ontario is a peninsula roughly 25 km2 that extends into the reaches of Georgian Bay. It contains the archaeological remains of at least six Huron-Wendat villages that are believed to represent the movements of a single community over a 250 year period (A.D. 1400-A.D. 1650). There is a strong possibility that two of the village sites, Ahatsistari and Chew, are the remains of the historically referenced villages Carhagouha and Quieunonascaran. Both villages were described in the early 17th century by Samuel de Champlain and Recollect missionary, Gabriel Sagard while residing there.

Field work at Ahatsistari (BeGx-76) began with a flurry of activity and finds! Students have opened ten units in the hopes of locating the elusive triple palisade thought to bound the east side of the village. Progress through their units continues but students have already recovered a variety of pipe bowl fragments, glass trade beads and pottery. Students of the WLU field school were also treated to a trip to the well-known Thompson-Walker site near Cold Water, Ontario where they were hosted by Ontario Heritage Trust Archaeologist, Dena Doroszenko and Dr. Alicia Hawkins of Laurentian University. The Thompson-Walker site also contains the remains of a Huron-Wendat village dating to A.D. 1625-35, and some archaeologists have suggested that it is the site of French Jesuit Mission, St. Joachim.


trade beadstudent screening


Metal detectors and their association with artifact hunting and site looting is probably the main reason for metal detector under-utilization by archaeologists. However, metal detectors are valuable remote sensing tools that are minimally invasive and help to diminish destruction of archaeological remains. When used systematically and coupled with traditional surface survey, shovel test pits, and test excavation, metal detectors provide an inexpensive and less time consuming means by which to identify sites and plan excavation strategies. The detected distribution of metal artifacts across a site can aid in determining artifacts missed by shovel test pits as well as the location of site boundaries, midden deposits not visible on the surface, and pre-existing buried structural remains. Virtually any archaeological site containing metal artifacts can benefit from the use of metal detectors.

During the 2014 Tay Point field school, metal detector work was undertaken to determine the location and distribution of European contact era metal artifacts in middens. Finds and metal types were confirmed when a limited number of test units were excavated. Metal detecting was also applied to a small test area in the middle of the site and our findings, while not ground-truthed suggested a pattern in the distribution of iron objects. We hypothesized that any patterns that were revealed may help to define the internal structure of the site such as, the location of buried middens, and the location and interior of longhouses. As a result, we proposed a systematic metal detector and shovel test pit survey of trade period indigenous archaeological sites on Tay Point.

Senior students of the 2016 Tay Point field school are currently conducting a test of metal detector use on Ahatsistari, a Huron-Wendat village site dating to the early 17th century. The students’ main objective is to record the spatial distribution of all detected metal objects within a 10m wide strip that extends across the site from east to west. Students have created a grid of 10m2 areas that are further divided into 1m wide corridors. Each area is systematically swept with a metal detector by walking the corridors. Detected subsurface objects are flagged on the surface with orange straws marking iron, green straws marking copper and white indicating other types of metal objects (i.e. modern composites). Each location is ground-truthed, and all material remains recovered are tagged and bagged. Locations of all detected objects are being recorded using a total station and the distribution of detected objects mapped. Friday proved exceptionally exciting with the excavation of a flagged cluster of detected iron objects. The cluster was comprised of period artifacts including two 17th century trade axes and a trade knife, as well as a clay pipe stem.

student metal detecting

students setting up grid

students holding trade axe


What better way to experience life as it was in Ontario during the early 17th century than to visit the iconic site of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons. Students of the 2016 Tay Point field school took a break from their trowelling and sifting of sand at Ahatsistari to visit Sainte-Marie and become immersed in period culture. Our daylong visit included a movie, a guided tour through the reconstructed community, and plenty of time to view the new exhibits in the on-site museum.

The original fenced community of Sainte-Marie was the centre of operations for the French Jesuit mission to the Huron-Wendat people. Occupied from 1639 A.D. until abandoned and burned in 1649 A.D., the remnants of Sainte-Marie lay hidden for almost three centuries. Archaeological investigations during the 20th century (including those conducted by our own Dr. John Triggs!) and information from historical documents have provided the blueprint for the reconstructed village which now celebrates the story of Sainte-Marie, Francophone and Huron-Wendat cultures.

This world-renowned reconstruction features, a church and cemetery, blacksmith and carpentry workshops, Francophone and Huron-Wendat residences complete with period costumed interpreters. Our WLU Archaeology students having experienced Sainte-Marie are now better able to understand and visualize early pioneer life in Ontario, and exchanges between the French and Huron-Wendat nations. With the cooperation of the weather a fantastic time was had by all!

entrance to Ste. Marie among the Hurons

students in longhouse

Dell Taylor explaining the art of canoe building










This month marks the publication of the Chew Site (BeGx-9): A Case Study in the Value of Archived Collections, in Ontario Archaeology (volume 95, 2015) a peer-reviewed journal of the Ontario Archaeological Society. Students and faculty of the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies (Waterloo), and Society, Culture, and Environment and Indigenous Studies (Brantford) collaborated in the analysis and reporting of the Chew site collection. Originally excavated in 1972 and shelved until 2014 when the analysis took place, the collection provides supporting evidence for the provocative idea that the Chew site is the location of the historically important Huron-Wendat village Quieunonascaran.

Quieunonascaran was one of the principle villages of the Attignawantan (Huron-Wendat People of the Bear) from ca. 1620 until 1637. At the height of occupation, Quieunonascaran was the home of Huron-Wendat headmen who claimed to control the trade route east to Quebec City. Quieunonascaran is also referenced in historical documents as host to French Recollect priests and traders that had travelled from Quebec to Huronia, and that resided at the village for extended periods of time.

In May and June of 2014, in the context of an archaeological field school, students Katherine Anderson, Stefanie MacKinnon, Shannon Millar, and Samantha Patterson catalogued and examined a total of 4,277 artifacts from the Chew site. Students and faculty discovered that the Chew site was occupied by the Huron-Wendat during the late 15th and early 17th centuries. The early 17th century artifacts suggest a date for the Chew site of ca. 1620-1640 (based on trade bead chronology) that is consistent with the recorded occupation of Quieunonascaran, as well as evidence for a strong European presence.

Most telling is a metal finger ring, found in 1972 and now curated at Sainte Marie among the Hurons. Iconographic finger rings were distributed by Europeans during the 17th century as trade items, and appear to be restricted to archaeological sites dating to A.D. 1625-1650 in southern Ontario. This period corresponds with the arrival of French Jesuit priests that established missions and resided amongst the Huron-Wendat. A recent study by Mercier (2011, Jesuit Rings in Trade Exchanges Between France and New France, Northeast Historical Archaeology, 40:21-42) suggests that most trade rings from this period likely originate from the commercial port of La Rochelle, France, which played a dominant role in transatlantic trade with New France.

2015 OAS journal cover volume 95

students conducting analysis

Stefanie MacKinnon

trade ring

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