Dundurn Castle (Canada): What archaeologists are finding in the dirt

Archaeologists are working on the largest dig site in 25 years on the grounds of Dundurn Castle

Kelly Bennett

Source - http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/what-archaeologists-are-finding-in-the-dirt-near-dundurn-castle-1.3262939

DundurnArchaeologists on site at Dundurn Park use a grid to note where individual fragments and artifacts are found. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Archaeologists are sifting through the largest dig in at least a generation on the grounds near Dundurn Castle.

They've already found arrowheads, shards of stone that hint there was a stone-tool-making area on the site and broken clay pigeons suggesting the now-picturesque mansion and park played host to skeet-shooting in a different era.

The dig started because the city of Hamilton is building a new driveway and traffic light for people to get in and out of the Dundurn Castle parking lot from York Boulevard; an interchange that has been tricky to navigate, and sometimes dangerous, for years.

Before the construction could begin, samples were taken from the ground. And sure enough, they found stuff, as they usually do at Dundurn. 

"Pretty much everywhere in Dundurn Park there's a very high probability that you're going to find archaeological resources," said Ian Kerr-Wilson, who runs the city's Heritage Resource Management department.

'9,000 years of native people using this landscape'

The city hired Heather Henderson, principal archaeologist for Historic Horizon, Inc., to bring a team to do the dig.

Some of her crew uses a grid to map where resources are found in relation to each other. Others use sifters to sort through piles of dirt. Still others use shovels to descend, layer by layer, into history.

And it's all happening within a few hundred metres of the landmark castle, built in the 1830s.

"Sir Allan MacNab built a big, huge, fabulous mansion, which is the reason that this has become a historic park, and the reason the park's been preserved," Henderson said. "But that's also preserved the archaeological landscape and all of the 9,000 years of native people using this landscape prior to Sir Allan (MacNab) coming in."

And if there wasn't a park here, who knows what would've happened to the 9,000 years of human history the team is working to piece together.

Some person, thousands of years ago, was the very first to find this good spot, on a high bluff at the head of Lake Ontario, Kerr-Wilson said, and there's been a "continuum of use" ever since. 

"They found this good place, and people have been using the landscape and modifying the landscape ever since," he said. 

"It's a very humbling thing to be the steward of this landscape," he said. "We have to act with honour and respect the people who've come before us on this landscape."

'Back to the beginning'

You can see the layers in cross-section as the team digs down. The top sod layer goes back to the late 18th Century. 

Underneath there's a plowed field from Sir Richard Beasley, the first European settler on this site.

And underneath that is evidence, in arrowheads and pottery and stone fragments, of aboriginal history going back even earlier. 

"By earlier I mean back to the beginning of people being on Burlington Heights," Henderson said.

Watch video above to hear Henderson discuss the dig and see her team's team at work on the site. Below, project archaeologist Jacqueline Fisher shows some of what the team has found. 

VIDEO = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIYYj3MWa50