Thursday, August 15, 2013

Unearthing our past at Orwell Corner

Archaeology students at the dig site in Orwell Corner.

     There is a very special thing happening at Orwell Corner Historic Village this summer.  
     Birds are singing in a canopy of old trees, citronella incense is billowing in the air and you can hear continuous scraping sounds.
     On their knees, a team of archaeologists are unearthing a two-storey, six-room wooden, 1870s house, trying to piece together the lives of the people who lived in it before it caved into the ground a hundred years ago.
     And they’re opening the site – and its wonderful historical artifacts – to the public as part of the province’s Public Archaeology Project.
Archaeological Dig at Orwell Corner
Highlights from a public archaeology dig at Orwell Corner Historic Village. The dig explored the remains of a 19th century house and was led by Dr. Helen Kristmanson, Director of Aboriginal Affairs and Archaeology for Prince Edward Island. 
Dr. Helen Kristmanson shows some artifacts to an aspiring archaeologist.
To date, thousands of artifacts have been excavated from this half-acre parcel of land behind the main building. Everything from fragments of window glass, floor and ceiling planks and hardware to personal items like buttons, boots, jewellery, hat pins, hair combs and smoking pipes, to everyday household items  like bottles, spoons, china and ceramics have been unearthed.
     Summer staff are on site with photos, historical information and dowels to hand to curious passersby interested in joining in.
     Children are encouraged to get their hands in the dirt and see what piece of history they can dig up.
     “Archaeology connects us to our history, to the lives of the people who lived before us, and helps build pride in our Island heritage,” said Archaeological Intern Meghan Ferris.
     One of the most significant finds on this site was the old coal stove, which fell through the floorboards and dragged many well preserved artifacts with it.
     Provincial archaeologist Dr. Helen Kristmanson feels the project helps visitors understand archaeology and connect with the Island’s rich history and human heritage.
     You feel a very personal connection, when you unearth someone’s comb, which has been buried for 150 years, she said.
     Site manager Tom LeClair, said the open dig is really helping visitors feel a part of the unique “going back in time” experience that Orwell Corner offers.
     “We’re getting a lot of good feedback, people are really enjoying it,” he said.
     The team found a looking glass, its warped glass surface crusted with red clay. It has since been catalogued using national codes that identify such remnants of the past and stored in a container showcasing the dig’s greatest hits. 
     Imagine if the person whose eyes peered through that looking glass almost 200 years ago could have spied the painstaking work being done on the spot they once lived, the careful and meticulous reconstruction of their once-loved possessions to help retell the story of their lives.
     For more information, follow the public archaeology program on Twitter (@ArchaeologyPEI) and read more and
     If you think you’d like to try your hand at archaeology, visit the site or contact Tracy Power ( to volunteer.

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