Dig Down Dig Back

Dig Down Dig Back

Question: What do water, trees, ants and humans have in common?
Answer: They all bury things! 

Going Under Cover

Ants bury things as they work and tree roots push up the ground. Water shifts and entombs things as it freezes, and humans conceal things on purpose to hide them from view or for safekeeping.

Imagine you drop a set of keys while going for a walk. Unless someone else picks them up they soon get covered with dead leaves or dirt. Burrowing insects and rodents will move the ground and bury them deeper. Then frost and rainwater might cause the surrounding soil to shift. No one would know the keys are underground unless they go digging for some reason.

Archaeologists dig — excavate — for all kinds of things that have been lost or buried. These items are called artifacts. The science of archaeology is important because it teaches us how to properly recover artifacts. And as all archaeologists know, the most ordinary places sometimes reveal the most extraordinary things.

There’s a lot going on under cover.

Uncovering the Treasures of the Little Bonnechere River

A shard. A broken saucer. A projectile point. Today, little remains of the human history along the Bonnechere River. A century ago, the lumber companies left their shanties to rot as they pursued fresh stands of timber. Then with the expansion of Algonquin Park most of the original buildings were reused, removed or burned.

Therefore, much of what was known about this time and place came from interviews with former residents, and from old photographs, papers and stories that have been passed down or carefully preserved in archives.

Then we started digging. Staff from Bonnechere and Algonquin Provincial Parks, with support of the Ontario Archaeological Society Ottawa Chapter, developed a public archaeology program along the Little Bonnechere River. It offers visitors and school groups interested in the science of archaeology and history of the waterway opportunities to dig down and dig back.

To date, both professional and amateur archaeologists have made some amazing discoveries, ranging from broken bits of bottles and plates along the foundation of a former stopping place, to tools dating to the late Archaic Age. One projectile point is estimated at 5000 years old!

Online Archaeology

Who hasn’t wanted to search for buried treasure? Travel to exotic lands, learn about other civilizations, and uncover long-lost artifacts – both ancient and modern?

Online archaeology offers both experienced archaeologists, and the newly interested opportunities, to do just that – with the click of a mouse from the comfort of home. The Dig Down, Dig Back virtual excavation teaches the science and shares the principles of hands-on archaeology. This means that more of us can enjoy the archaeological experience without affecting fragile locales.

By using the technology of today, you are about to reach out to the people of yesterday. What a wonderful way to build a bridge to our past.

To get the most out of this virtual excavation:

  • Take time to work through Archaeology 101 to learn the basics of archaeology.
  • Then, as in preparation for a real dig, print the Field Notes and Artifact Catalogue sheets on which you will record your findings.
  • Proceed to virtual dig site.

Archaeology 101

Anyone can become an online archaeologist, but there are a few things you need to know first. Archaeology 101 illustrates the basics of what it takes to dig in.

Dig Down Dig Back: A Virtual Dig

graphic of the basin depot virtual dig site

Excavate the Artifacts in this Square

Welcome to Dig Down Dig Back. We’re at Basin Depot, the site of an abandoned logging depot in Algonquin Park, excavating a square at the Big House. This is one of several squares at Basin Depot identified by archaeologists as containing artifacts.

As mentioned above, have your Field Notes sheets ready so that you can plot the position and details of the artifacts we will uncover. 

As you watch the first video, note the square on the left and the archaeological tools on the right. Archaeologist Ed is along to guide us.

In this phase of the process, we will excavate several layers using the following process: trowel, brush, measure, remove, store and screen. Finally each artifact will be bagged for transport.

Clean and Label the Artifacts

Now that we have recovered the artifacts, we will clean and label them. Be sure to have your Artifact Catalogue sheet ready.

Sort the Artifacts

Next we will sort the artifacts by type of material: metal, ceramic, glass, mineral and bone. Describe the artifacts on your Artifact Catalogue sheet.

In Closing 

Often when archaeologists have finished excavating a site, they close it back up again, covering it over so that the site is protected from the elements. In the years ahead, as new researchers and technologies come along to dig down, dig back, the site may be excavated further and provide more clues about the past. 

That’s what archaeology is all about!

Browse Land of the Spirits Artifact Exhibit > 


Dig Down Dig Back was developed for Virtual Museum Canada and funded by Heritage Canada.

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