Thursday, August 2, 2012

Archaeolgical dig at Stanhope

This appeared on today's Guardian Newspaper website:
Shalen Trask, from Kensington, helps with an archaeological dig of a British 
settlement basement in the Stanhope Farmlands in the National Park.

Archaeologists continue discovering evidence in Stanhope of early British farm homestead

STANHOPE — An archaeological dig here continues to provide a window to Prince Edward Island's earliest days.

Parks Canada, together with the Stanhope Historical Society, resumed a dig that began in the park back in the summer of 2008.

The dig is taking place this week (they only dig for a week at a time every summer) on the Farmlands Trail and the public is welcome to drop by.

Archaeologists are uncovering the remnants of a British farm homestead from the late 1700s in Stanhope, the site of the first British settlement on P.E.I. Towards the end of the dig in 2010, they discovered what appeared to be a cellar.

This week they found something else.

"There's two foundation stones sitting in there,'' said John Palmer, with the historical society, pointing to a series of stones in the cellar. "We think that's a chimney base and that goes back under (the ground) but the trees have since grown in.''

A lot of trees have grown up over the past few centuries in what used to be farmland, for which the trail was named after. All that reminds people today of the old farmland is the flat terrain.

The dig aims to answer some questions about who lived there because the site has remained a mystery to Parks Canada since it acquired the land back in the 1970s. There are no historical records to indicate the presence of a structure in that particular area.

Palmer said they suspect there were two French families in the area around the 1750s, before the deportation.

So, originally we asked Parks Canada if we could do an exploratory dig to find out what was in there,'' he said.

The first dig found nothing but they're onto something with the current effort. Bits of pottery and bottles have been unearthed prior to discovering what appears to be the base of a chimney. That led experts away from the French theory.

"It was dated to the British period, around 1780 to 1790, so it wasn't French.''
Helen Kristmanson, director of aboriginal affairs and archaeology for the province, brought along four of her students to help.

"One of my main objectives is to give my students some exposure to another archaeological site. This is part of their archaeological education so we're here to assist Parks Canada in the excavations and learn from it,'' Kristmanson said.

They're learning about early British architecture on the Island and about the material culture of the period.

On Wednesday, they also found what appears to be a metal rivet and a threaded screw that seems to be attached to a piece of fabric.

"We'll have to get that back to the lab to have a better look at that,'' Kristmanson said. "We left it excavated in the soil matrix that it was in because it was very delicate. The flagstone foundation for the fireplace is very interesting.''

Archaeologists tend to work in small sections measuring one metre by one metre square. The work is slow, requires lots of patience and care.

"We're very careful that we don't step on any ground where artifacts are so we don't break them.

"We want to find everything exactly where it was left so it's very important that we don't disturb the artifacts so that's why we trowel like this so when we find an artifact it's exactly where it was deposited and we put that information together later. It will tell us what happened to the house after it was left and then, at the deeper level, what happened to the house when people were living there,'' Kristmanson said.

It's painstaking work but necessary in order to open that window into the lives of people who lived here in those early days.

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