Session Abstracts

Oral Histories and Archaeology

Chair: Chris Kerns

Personal Histories of the Archaeologist: Contextualizing the Practice of Archaeology

Christopher Kerns, Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc., London, ON

Personal histories obtained through “Oral History” interviews can provide vital context when constructing disciplinary histories of archaeological inquiry. Personal histories produced through semi-structured interviews, when used in conjunction with published and unpublished documents, provide useful insight into key decisions and interpretative choices undertaken during the course of archaeological investigations. Such “Oral History” interviews were recently incorporated in an examination of archaeological investigations into the Orcadian Neolithic. As a result, a better understanding emerged surrounding the influence of Orkney on wider interpretations of the British Neolithic. This research demonstrated that incorporating personal histories derived from oral history interviews can benefit any archaeological project seeking to contextualize past interpretations within contemporary discourse.  

Twisted Tales: Fact and Fiction in the Oral Histories of the Elgin County Jail

Holly Martelle, Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants Inc., London, ON

Historic jail sites are often the topic of local lore. That lore can be one of the most critical pieces of information for guiding archaeological work at former institutional sites. Shrouded with secrecy, conspiracy, and intrigue, many of the unwritten accounts of people seem larger than life and events unimaginable. However, the truths of jail stories are often stranger than fiction. Relocating long-lost burials of those executed in Ontario’s old jails can be a challenging and a totally FUN exercise of comparing multiple lines of evidence to sort out the truths, partial truths, and outright lies. This presentation provides a summary of the use (and value) of oral history in sorting out life and times at the Elgin County Jail before 1900.

Through the Thick Wood:  Wahbanosay’s Band and Indigenous: Settler Connections at the Head of the Lake

Scott W. J. Martin, Sustainable Archaeology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON

Nursery (AhGx-8) in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton, Ontario, has been a locus of activity at least sporadically for millennia. It was one of a plexus of sites positioned around Cootes Paradise. Located on the east-west waterway and overland portage route from western Lake Ontario (the HeadoftheLake) to the Grand River and westwards, this site was likely known to many generations of travelers and traders. Several exotics and pseudo-exotics have been recovered at the site (and others in the Dundas Valley) along with many more ‘everyday’ items pertaining to life between the wetland and the escarpment. Recently, what is believed to be evidence of a hitherto unknown Mississauga camp of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century has also been recognized. It is suggested that the occupants were members of Rev. Peter Jones’ (Kahkewaquonaby’s) maternal grandfather’s band. Chief Wahbanosay’s people have been mostly forgotten. For the Mississaugas at the Head of the Lake, the years around AD 1800 were a time of great transition- the waning of the fur trade and unrelenting settler encroachment. Some documentary evidence remains, however, and this will be explored in the context of archaeological finds from the area.

Archaeology’s Place in Reclaiming and Reconciliation: Supporting Indigenous Archaeologies and Paths to Healing 

Paulette Steeves, Algoma University, Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Indigenous Peoples early histories on Turtle Island have been denied for over a century. Archaeologists’ denial of Indigenous links to the land prior to 12,000 years ago has cleaved First People’s links to their homeland and created them as recent immigrants to the Americas. Yet, in many oral traditions, Indigenous people say that they have been here forever, since time immemorial. Archaeologists discuss First Peoples of the Western Hemisphere as The Clovis People, however, the only place a pan-hemispheric cultural group the so-called Clovis People ever existed was in the wildest imagination of the archaeological mind. Links to ancestors, land, identities, and history are essential to all people, to their health, healing, and well-being. For people who have survived attempted genocide, erasure of their histories, denial of their links to the land, and forced assimilation, it is vital to their health and well-being to reclaim their histories and links to the land. Reclaiming history is a path of revivance and healing, a detour off a colonial road to extinction, a journey from a painful past to a future of growth and renewal. Knowing and discussing links to land across time and space, family, identity, and culture are fundamental human rights. This discussion is based on over twenty-two years of research, a database of hundreds of pre 12,000 ybp archaeological sites, and weaves paths to reviving, reclaiming, healing and reconciliation.

Dating Oral Traditions: Radiocarbon and Bayesian Statistical Analysis

Carlton Quinn Shield Chief Gover, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, USA

Recent advances in computational analysis have provided archaeologists the means to analyze large sums of information covering broad spans of space and time. Bayesian statistical analysis of radiocarbon data has been primarily utilized to refine cultural chronologies and produce greater precision in identifying cultural shifts in the material record. However, this method of producing highly accurate and precise radiocarbon age determinations can be used to provide absolute dating for events recorded in Indigenous traditions. Using information saved in Indigenous oral traditions has long been heavily criticized in archaeological research for the purpose of interpreting the archaeological record. Furthermore, when Oral tradition data is utilized, it is largely only mentioned in passing to support the author’s interpretations. Indigenous oral traditions should be critically examined, as any other source of information, to provide greater understanding of the pre-Columbian America’s. Using case-studies that focus on dating Indigenous historical events in the Great Plains. 

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