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Pandemic Pastimes

William Fox

When the pandemic “became a reality” in March, our family responded in the standard fashion – stocked up, self-isolated and rescued our son from university residence.

However, once we had settled in, life for me continued much as it had before. I worked at home on research and writing. Luckily, I was not teaching during the winter semester, but I did have some thesis supervision responsibilities (which did not require face to face meetings). A trip to “curb-side” pick up and drop off of artifacts in Kitchener and Hamilton provided some relief from the daily routine. And, after some effort, I was even granted limited access to our lithic reference collection at Trent.

glass bead assemblages from the North shore of Lake Ontario

My writing “albatross” has been the assigned chapter for a volume to be published in the Canadian Museum of History Mercury Series concerning the “Iroquois du Nord.” I had been researching glass bead assemblages (then, “why not do the shell; oh yes, and the stone beads?” …) from a variety of sites along the north shore of Lake Ontario with David Harris (historical researcher extraordinaire) and April Hawkins of the ROM for a year.

As a seasoned Royal Ontario Museum employee, April’s assistance as a team member was critical, because virtually all the relevant collections are housed in her institution (and she knows the collections!). Another important institution was the Rochester Museum & Science Center, which holds the extensive Wray and Cameron Seneca collections, so critical to our understanding of the late 17 th century Ontario sites. Access was granted in April of 2019, thanks to the support of the peerless New York State scholar, George Hamell of Rochester. Despite the exceptional Wray Series of publications on the Seneca site sequence, a personal visit was required because the final volume in that series (describing Seneca material culture in minute detail) ends at c.1630, three decades before the Ontario occupation. Enough data had been collected and analyzed by last November to permit the presentation of our bead paper at the Iroquois du Nord session of last Fall’s OAS symposium in Toronto. But, that was only the start, as more intense scrutiny of the Ontario collections continued to raise unexpected questions which we hope to resolve prior to publication of the volume!

Last year’s visit to Rochester was also enlightening (read “mind-boggling”!) in terms of post-1650 evidence for firearm use by the Seneca. While I had never been completely convinced of Indigenous gunflint production, I was confronted by a massive industry based on Onondaga chert bifaces – what a shock! George also shared a story about Wray and Cameron’s suspicions concerning a potential chert quarry adjacent to the production site. Plans to analyze and describe the collection and document the quarry in March were cut short by the pandemic. In fact, the return of three steatite pipe specimens to the Rochester Museum collections is also “on hold”, following a courier lunch in Buffalo on March 10 th with George and Bill Engelbrecht, just prior to the border closure! The vasiform pipes are part of a multi-year geo-chemical study involving similar artifacts from Ontario held by a variety of institutions, undertaken by Brandi MacDonald of the University of Missouri; as we have attempted to locate the steatite source with Ontario Geological Survey support and to understand their social significance during the early 17 th century. Obviously, writing of those papers could proceed only so far, but at least, they have provided a respite from the bead paper!

cut stone in hand

Some other studies and papers have been initiated to pass the time over the last four months; including, the distribution of Archaic era native copper gaffs from the bottom of Lake Superior, the identification of antler harpoon “beaver spears” in the very late 16th and early 17th-century archaeological record of upstate New York and southern Ontario, coordination of an article for the “Mammoth Trumpet” magazine on arctic fluted points from the north Yukon (see figure 2 above), arranging for thin sectioning and geochemical analysis of chert samples collected from eastern Mongolia in 2018 (and just received in January!), and initiation of a co-authored paper with Neal Ferris on 16th-century villages in Chatham, delayed since the 2018 OAS symposium.

A Brantford Late Woodland ceramic study completed for Archaeological Research Associates last winter resurrected questions concerning the exact chronology of early “Glen Meyer” villages in the region, and suitable carbonized seasonal plant remains have been assembled for modern AMS dating of the (now destroyed) Porteous site and Van Besien village, courtesy of Scott Martin of Sustainable Archaeology at McMaster. Similar AMS dating samples from the 16 th century Clearville village will also be submitted to the A.E. Lalonde lab, as part of our Chatham research.

Other communications concerning red ochre, chert and argillite sources in Northeastern Ontario, osteological analysis of the 17th century Neutral Misener cemetery population, a doctoral study of Onondaga chert sources in Haldimand-Norfolk, and, of course, my decades-long research into the 17th century “Barton site” continues.

As Forrest’s mother would say, “Life is like a box of chocolates…”.