Canadian Archaeological Association: 47th Annual Meeting

The 47th annual meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) was held in St. John’s last week. The CAA was founded in 1968. Membership includes professional, avocational and student archaeologists, as well as individuals of the general public of any country, who are interested in furthering the objectives of the Association. These objectives are:

  • To promote the increase and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge in Canada;
  • To promote active discourse and cooperation among archaeological societies and agencies and encourage archaeological research and conservation efforts;
  • To foster cooperative endeavours with aboriginal groups and agencies concerned with First Peoples’ heritage of Canada;
  • To serve as the national association capable of promoting activities advantageous to archaeology and discouraging activities detrimental to archaeology;
  • To publish archaeological literature, and;
  • To stimulate the interest of the general public in archaeology. (CAA 2015)

This year’s conference was organized by the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University and in my opinion the conference was excellent and went off without the slightest problem. I had the privilege of attending sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The best thing about these conferences is being able to sit in a room with peers and colleagues and learn from them. You get to learn from the people who are in the field and doing the work, bringing the past alive through archaeology. I saw a lot of great presentations. What follows, in no particular order, is a brief description of what were some of the more interesting topics to me.

William Gilbert did a presentation entitled “Dwelling There Still”: Historical Archaeology in Cupids, Newfoundland. I’ve attended presentations by Bill a few times and I always enjoy them. He knows his topic so well that his presentations are more like him telling stories off the top of his head. This presentation was about the true significance of the founding of Cupids in 1610 and the role the Newfoundland Company, who funded and founded the Cupids colony, played in establishing other early Newfoundland colonies.

Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony
Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony (Gilbert)

After Bill presented, Barry Gaulton did a presentation on archaeology at Ferryland entitled How much can a big hole in the ground tell you?: Preliminary investigations into the 1620s builder’s trench associated with Lord Baltimore’s Mansion House at Ferryland, Newfoundland. This presentation focused on Sir George Calvert’s Mansion House at Ferryland; its size, the nature of its construction or how this building functioned within the physical and social confines of seventeenth-century Ferryland. In 2013-2014, investigations directly south of the Mansion House’s stone hall revealed a deep and wide builder’s trench infilled with approximately 6 feet of compacted, sterile clay and rock. At the very bottom of the trench was a thin layer of refuse associated with the construction of the stone hall and, more importantly, the activities of the ordinary colonists and craftsmen who built it. Barry then went in to a discussion of what was found in this trench and how those discoveries allow us to better understand the builders and how they lived.

Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)
Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)

Another interesting presentation was by John Erwin which was titled Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics from Newfoundland and Labrador. This study was based upon the measurement of over 3600 soapstone vessel fragments and it resulted in some interesting conclusions. Some of those conclusions include, there seems to be more soapstone vessels on the Island than in Labrador; Regional distinctions between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland can be seen in rim finishes; and with few exceptions, almost every vessel in the province could have been manufactured at the Fleur de Lys Quarry.

Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador
Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador (Erwin)

Laurie McLean gave an interesting presentation titled Observations on the Morphologies and Distribution of Beothuk Housepits. Laurie took Beothuk housepit data from excavated sites and data that he has gathered from work he has done at the Beaches site and along the Exploits River and found patterns in the data. Those patterns include that the Beothuk initially modified their traditional conical wigwam template into similar-sized more substantial housepits and that those housepits became larger through time. The data, according to Laurie, indicate that early Beothuk housepits were easy to see and had a diverse toolkit indicating a productive economy that included trade with Europeans. This preceded a breakdown in Beothuk-European relations, resulting in a whole scale Beothuk shift to the Exploits Valley. Larger, multi-family houses became the norm in the interior with the most recent structures placed among tree cover and further from the river to avoid discovery by Europeans.

Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)
Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)

There was also an interesting presentation by Blair Temple called Urban Archaeology as an Archaeology of Governance: Examples from 19th Century St. John’s, Newfoundland. His presentation examined the impact and role that the various applications of governance have had on the creation of the archaeological record in St. John’s. He focused specifically on major fires in St. John’s past arguing that they were possibly the most prominent event providing impetus for government action and regulation.

Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. Not only were all the buildings you see here destroyed by the fire, but the course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire, to straighten out this curve – which, incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. The course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire (per government regulation), to straighten out this curve – which incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)

I also sat in on a session called How we talk about the past. Differences in seeing, learning, knowing and telling about indigenous heritage and history as viewed from Nitassinan and Mi’kma’ki which was hosted by Stephen Loring and Chelsee Arbour. I didn’t see all the presentations in the session but I did get to take in three and an Innu film by Christine Poker. One of the presentations in this session was by Richard Nuna entitled Reflections on Innu History. Richard spoke about how to reconcile aboriginal knowledge and country-based experiences with scientific knowledge, principles and practice.

Unfortunately there were lots of sessions and presentations that I was unable to attend because they were running back to back with other sessions. Despite this it was a great conference and a great learning experience.


2015 Canadian Archaeological Association Conference Program and Abstracts

Erwin, John
2015 A Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics
from Newfoundland and Labrador. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

McLean, Laurie
2015 Observations Concerning Beothuk Housepits. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

Penney, Gerald
2010 “Under the Street:” Archaeology and the Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project.
An illustrated talk delivered at The Rooms, 24 February 2010

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One thought on “Canadian Archaeological Association: 47th Annual Meeting

  1. Neil Burgess

    It was a great conference! It was wonderful to hear from such a wide range of archaeologists on what they are working on. A big thank-you to the conference organizers and volunteers!

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