{President's Report 2003}
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Digging into the past

From finding artifacts to making history, Memorial lent its support to the town of Placentia this past year as it dug into its past. Two mid-17th century French forts were home last summer to three Memorial University students, 13 workers from Placentia, and Amanda Crompton, principal investigator, as a world-class archaeological dig transpired in our own backyard.

In 1996, two archaeology students from Memorial discovered what is now known to be the site of the first fort built in Placentia by the French, Vieux Fort, believed to have been inhabited between 1662 and 1685. Five years later, through the diligence of Placentia's Heritage Advisory Committee and the Placentia Area Historic Society, funding was secured through Human Resources Development Canada and Memorial's Newfoundland Archaeological Heritage Outreach Program (NAHOP), run by Dr. Peter Pope. This funding allowed for a large-scale dig that would incorporate Vieux Fort, a second fort by the name of Fort Louis, and a fully equipped lab.

“The advisory committee really saw the potential for tourism and community growth, and pursued that vision,”said Ms. Crompton.

As supervisor of this extensive uncovering, Ms. Crompton ran the Vieux Fort site, delegating Fort Louis to Blair Temple, a graduate student in archaeology. The stories of these forts, and the people who inhabited them, came to life for these researchers.

“Several years after the initial fort was built for protection by the French, Fort Louis was created. This second fort was built closer to the opening of the Placentia harbour, and was later reestablished by the British when they took over ownership of the community,”Ms. Crompton explained. “These sites are rich with remains that allow us to catch a glimpse of how these people really lived, beyond historical maps.”

Last summer, a vast amount of diverse artifacts were discovered and pieced together, attesting to the rich historical roots that run deep into Placentia's ground.

“We found everything from fancy French pottery to hand-blown glass, some coins that date back to 1630, and a French spigot, used to draw beer from a keg,”said Ms. Crompton. “We could tell that the forts were most likely home to the French officers, we found domestic materials that would normally be used for fine dining and entertaining.”

The search and preservation of such artifacts attracted interest from locals and tourists. During the summer, people flocked to the dig sites, as well as to the old Placentia drugstore that housed the lab, to see the unfolding story of their past.

“People love to watch other people dig,”commented Ms. Crompton. “The community was really great, and the people truly saw the benefits of research.”

Projects like the Placentia dig have served as the subject of honours dissertations for students in the past, and it's hoped that this work unearthed increased interest in this field of study for others.

“Interest in archaeology has really only taken off in the last 30 years,”Ms. Crompton said. “Memorial's archaeology unit has been instrumental in developing this interest, making research opportunities such as this one possible.”

All of the pieces found were accessible for further research at the Newfoundland Museum, and distributed to local museums. “The students and community crew were critical to the dig,”Ms. Crompton stated. “The research really lent itself to looking at the lives of people in the past, and the people I worked with really made it happen.”

To find out more about Memorial's archaeology program and research, see www.mun.ca/archaeology/program.htm.