Dr. D. Brian Deller

Date award received: 

Dr. D. Brian Deller has been awarded the Canadian Archaeological Association's Margaret and James F. Pendergast Award, an award that was set up to recognize "exemplary contributions to Canadian archaeology by an avocational archaeologist."  While Brian has advanced degrees in Anthropology (and Education), and has made major contributions to our archaeological knowledge, he has never held a professional position in the field.  He has always worked in other fields and done archaeology as a hobby for the simple love of the discipline and the consuming desire to find out about Ontario's ancient past.

Brain Deller was raised in the rural community of Mount Brydges located just west of London, Ontario.  As a youngster he became interested in archaeology due to the finds of local residents in farmer's fields.  This interest brought him into contact with other individuals who had artifact collections, notably the late Dr. W.V.V. Pardy, a local M.D. who had amassed a large artifact collection from the area.  Brian became enthralled with the local history and geology and began combing ploughed fields in the Mount Brydges area for artifacts.

Brain's early activities of this nature eventually brought him into contact with a number of prominent individuals interested in archaeology such as Wilfred Jury of the University of Western Ontario and Dr. James Fitting of the University of Michigan.

Upon high school graduation, Brain began his long career teaching public school in the Mount Brydges area, a career he would follow for over 35 years.  Students from all over this rural area, knowing his interest in archaeology, began to report sites to him that he dutifully recorded and many of these students still maintain a real interest in archaeology to this day.  In the 1960s, Brain began part-time, to do a B.A. degree in Anthropology at the University of Waterloo, a degree he was awarded in 1972.  This university choice proved to be a fortunate one as it brought him into contact with an expert in Paleo-Indian archaeology, the late Dr. WilliamB. Roosa.

Brian always had an interest in these early occupations as the complex late glacial history fit in more closely with his passion for geology and Paleoindians were a major interest of Dr. Pardy who found fluted points in the Mt. Brydges area.  But with encouragement from Dr. Roosa, from this time on he began to focus more and more on finding those elusive sites.  Together they began to excavate a number of sites, notably the supposedly Late Paleoindian "Satchell Complex" Brodie site near Delaware on the Thames River, the Welke-Tonkonoh and Stewart Late Paleoindian Hi-Lo sites west of Mt. Brydges and eventually,. starting in 1972, the fluted point sites known as Parkhill and McLeod.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Brian had begun to plot the location of Paleoindian sites on detailed geologic, topographic and soil maps of southwestern Ontario.  Commonalities that were revealed in known site locations led him to target certain favourable localities.  Despite the fact that one can argue finding these sites is like finding a needle in a haystack, Brain was able to still locate other sites.  He also, in locating these sites, began for the first time to recognize that Paleoindians in the area had distinct patterns of raw material preferences and to recognize several other distinctive kinds of stone tools that went beyond the points themselves -- these insights facilitated even more the locating/successful identification of sites.  No one in Ontario, and perhaps all of eastern North America, has found as many Paleoindian sites and few can match Brian in initially recognizing them based on meagre evidence.  As if he did not have enough to do, in 1974 Brian also obtained, via part-time study, an M.Ed. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit.

The 1970s saw the appearance of Brain's earliest publications on Paleoindian settlement patterns in Ontario beginning with a series of articles in the journal Ontario Archaeology that, although written in the early 1970s, first began to appear in print in 1976.

Such work was a major factor in putting Ontario at the forefront of Paleoindian studies in eastern North America.  By the late 1970s, his success led him to numerous survey and excavation grants from the Ontario Heritage Foundation (but I also know that he has used substantial amounts of his own personal monies to fund/support archaeological work).  He also completed an M.A. thesis, again part-time, at Wilfred Laurier University that reported on the surface collections, both from Paleoindian and later occupations, at the Parkhill site.  That thesis was completed and defended in 1981.  In the late 1970s Brian began a collaboration with Dr. Chris Ellis, working on Paleoindian sites and this fruitful collaboration led to several excavation projects between 1979-1997 period and, continuing to this day, in publications, on several sites that area very well known internationally including not on Parkhill, but Thedford II, Crowfield and Caradoc - they still have others in progress.

The continuing success of Brian's survey and other Paleoindian work led him to begin in 1983, and again largely as a part-time student, a PhD in Anthropology at McGill University. His dissertation, written under the direction of that eminent archaeologist the late Dr. Bruce Trigger, provided a synthesis of the work he had done for almost thirty years on Paleoindian sites and was successfully defended in 1989.  While Brian's archaeological work, especially fieldwork, has slowed down in more recent years due to a need to attend to business interests, his marraige and raising a family, he has not lost his enthusiasm for archaeology.  He continues to work with Dr. Ellis in publishing many reports on their Paleoindian work and, via an adjunct position at Western, he has served as an advisor and examiner (and a tough one) on several thesis dealing with Paleoindian topics. He also continues to provide information, advice and encouragement to numerous students and researchers from Ontario and beyond, a most recent example being his going to considerable trouble to assemble a collection of Hi-Lo points for a student that will be analyzed via a use-wear study as an MA thesis at Trent University.

As noted, Brain has received university degrees in archaeology, but with the exception of his first year at McGill, where he took a leave of absence from his teaching duties to study full-time and meet residency requirements, he did these degrees part-time while working full-time in other jobs or after retirement from teaching and managing his substantial business interests.  He has always done archaeology as a bobby and fuelled strictly by his real desire to contribute to our knowledge of Ontario's past.  However, he has still made many contributions to the field.

He is well known internationally for his research because of papers he has given at scholarly conferences and through his numerous publications.  He has been involved in excavations on a list of sites that would be the envy of any archaeological researcher and he has recorded numerous other sites, Paleoindian and non-Paleoindian alike, to preserve them for posterity.  He has through he careful recording and accumulation of data, provided assistance to numerous others in their research.  In addition, he has always gone out of his way to publicize the value of archaeology to the general public. This work has included: the giving of innumerable popular talks to local historical and archaeological societies or participating in many local heritage events (such as leading a 2008 bus tour of geological and archaeological heritage sites in Middlesex County that was funded by an Ontario Government program); the writing of popular works in the 1960s-1970s for the local Middlesex County Board of Education on the area's pre-contact history; and direct involvement in the development of heritage projects such as the  establishment of the Ska-Na-Doh reconstruction Iroquoian village in the Longwoods Conservation area near Deleware, Ontario.

To conclude, we believe that Brian is most certainly deserving of accolades for his archaeological work.  We are not alone in this belief as Brian has already received other awards for his archaeological contributions including two citations from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture in the 1970s and notably, the receipt of the J. Norman Emerson Award in 1966 from the Ontario Archaeological Society.  The Emerson award description reads:

The Medal is intended to be awarded on occasion to an outstanding Ontario non-professional archaeologist whose work has been consistently of the highest standard, who has made an exceptional contribution to the development of Ontario archaeology, and who has earned acclaim for excellence and achievement.  It is the highest recognition that the Society can bestow.

It is fitting to note in the context of this Pendergast Award nomination that Brian was the eighth recipient of the Emerson award and that the seventh recipient, in 1994, was James Pendergast himself.

We believe that in the quality and scope of his research, Brian represents the highest standards of general archaeological, not just avocational, achievements