The Muddle in the Middle: New Insights into Manitoba's Past

Session Hosting Format: 
online session
Thursday, May 4, 2023 - 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Virtual Room
  • Benjamin Collins, University of Manitoba
  • Laura Kelvin, University of Manitoba
Session Description (300 word max): 

Last year in a call to action for provincial heritage funding, Manitoba was referred to as a “Black Hole of Archaeology” in reference to challenges with engagement, practice, and research in the province. While intended as a polemic, this description of the state of archaeology in Manitoba finds some resonance among students, archaeologists, communities, and the public within the province and especially considering the better described and engaged archaeological archives seen with our provincial neighbours to the east and west. The aim of this session is to highlight new and ongoing research and archaeological and curatorial practices that are being undertaken in the province. Themes within this session will encompass transforming curatorial practices, incorporating geochemical, geochronological, and proteomic approaches, extending community-based archaeological practices, furthering the resolution of the province’s archaeological archives, and developing novel, accessible, and engaging strategies for public engagement. In this respect, the goal of this session is to create a space for people with a passion for Manitoba’s heritage, including archaeologists, members of descendent communities students, researchers, and CRM practioners, to discuss Manitoba archaeology within the broader Canadian and North American contexts and with our CAA colleagues.

01:00 PM: A Conversation on Research Dissemination: Making Research Accessible and Engaging with Indigenous Youth
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Brandi Cable - University of Manitoba
  • Benjamin Collins - University of Manitoba
  • Colin Wren - University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • Kent Fowler - University of Manitoba

The research dissemination process in academia seems cut-and-dry most of the time. Researchers publish an article, present at a conference, then move on to the next project. However, how does or should research dissemination be approached when working with Indigenous communities, particularly those who are located far away from urban centres, who deserve to be included in this process of dissemination? Indigenous peoples, whether in the field of anthropology/archaeology or not, often have limited access to academic journals and conferences. Research needs to be made accessible, especially to those who have contributed their knowledge to make it happen. As an Indigenous woman who grew up in Northern Manitoba, making research accessible and engaging with Indigenous youth is a priority for me. In my life and experience as a researcher, I could not fathom only publishing and presenting without giving consideration to the communities that I come from. Anthropology/archaeology is not only a fun or interesting field of study, but it has real world impacts on the lives of Indigenous peoples every day.

01:20 PM: An Undergraduates Introduction to Heritage Preservation in Manitoba
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Caleb Cantelon - University of Manitoba

What is considered ‘acceptable practice’ in archaeology may have changed over the last 4 decades, however in Manitoba, legislation has not. As a young person entering the field for the first time, the transition from what was learned in an academic setting to what the reality of professional heritage mitigation is in the province has been jarring. Legislators have not adequately engaged with Cultural Resource Management in recent years, and adequate work to assess and preserve archaeological sites cannot or simply has not been done in many cases as a result. I believe that through ensuring future archaeologists are informed and engaged on issues as crucial as this, as well as through reaching out to the public and ensuring people are informed on issues surrounding cultural heritage, we will move towards spurring real change. Ensuring legislators and public officials are aware of the need for this improved legislation, and that they are held to account when the current laws are not followed, is the first step.

01:40 PM: Archaeological collections management at the University of Manitoba: institutional history, current challenges, and the path forward
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Rachel ten Bruggencate - University of Manitoba
  • Chelsea Meloche - University of Manitoba

Like many institutions housing significant archaeological collections, the University of Manitoba faces considerable challenges in implementing best practices for collections management. These challenges make it difficult to meet the ethical obligations of a curatorial facility, including responsible collections care, sharing collections with descendant communities and the public, and repatriation. The current curatorial landscape in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Manitoba is a result of 61 years of practice that emphasized archaeological collection with little planning for long-term collections management. Today, the collection at the Department consists of roughly 250,000 pieces of material heritage at various stages of post-field processing supported by metadata of varying completeness and quality.

This presentation will include a frank discussion of archaeological curation at the University of Manitoba, the barriers these present to meeting the basic ethical obligations of a public facility housing archaeological heritage, and our plan for addressing these challenges. We hope this discussion will be helpful to others working through similar issues toward responsible, ethical curation.

02:00 PM: Assessing the radiocarbon record for pre-contact archaeology across Manitoba
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Benjamin Collins - University of Manitoba
  • Brandi Cable - Independent Researcher
  • Kent  Fowler - University of Manitoba
  • Colin Wren - University of Colorado – Colorado Springs

The Canadian Archaeology Radiocarbon Database (CARD) is an excellent resource for recording the locations and radiocarbon ages of archaeological sites across Canada and parts of the United States. However, the potential for CARD to inform past Indigenous land use practices in Manitoba pre-contact contexts has not been realized, or even approached. In this respect, we undertook a study of the pre-contact radiocarbon dates available for Manitoba from CARD to assess how they map out across the province through time. Our study demonstrates that although only 256 dates for pre-contact Manitoba are present in CARD, they reflect a continuous and dynamic pattern of landscape use across the province over at least the past 8,000 years. Of note, our study also identified bias within the data set, with the majority of the dates coming from sites in southern Manitoba, sites being located within 50-100 km of modern a population center, and sites reflecting modern development and infrastructure projects. We summarize the potential for better understanding the pre-contact landscape use in Manitoba through leveraging radiocarbon data, as well as some of the current issues and biases present Manitoba’s radiocarbon record. 

02:20 PM: Doing More with Less: The realities of chronic underfunding at the Manitoba Museum
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Amelia Fay - Manitoba Museum

The Manitoba Museum houses the largest human and natural history collections in the Province of Manitoba. Unlike the funding structure for the majority of Canadian provincial museums, the Manitoba Museum is a not-for-profit rather than an arm of the government. While the Museum receives operational funds from the Province, this funding has not increased in over 15-years, which has resulted in staff lay-offs and unfilled vacancies. Despite an incredibly small staff, the Museum continues to produce exceptional exhibitions and programs, remains well-loved by locals, and is a top tourist destination. That said, the costs of stagnant funding are beginning to catch up. This presentation will highlight the challenges of working in an underfunded museum, but also showcase the incredible work we accomplished through a recent capital campaign (demonstrating how when properly-funded we can do amazing things!), and discuss future directions for the museum during uncertain times.

02:40 PM: kiskêyihtamowin asiskîy (Learning the knowledge of clay)
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • KC  Adams - University of Winnipeg

Winnipeg artist, activist and educator KC Adams considers ways to research, make and reflect on Indigenous pottery of the woodland period. She is reviving her Inninew (Cree) and Anishinaabe (Ojibway) ancestor's tradition of vessel-making by pedagogical methods such as archeology research, waking dreams, experimentation, fractured oral histories, and Indigenous knowledge systems from elders. Adams' focus is to make clay pots using materials that hold land-based, cultural, ceremonial, and relational knowledge to uplift her Indigenous community by reconciling Indigenous knowledge systems.

03:00 PM: Preliminary Results from Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) and ancient DNA (aDNA) in Manitoba Archaeological Contexts
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Kayla Shaganash - University of Manitoba
  • Camilla  Speller - University of British Columbia
  • Laura  Kelvin - University of Manitoba
  • Rachel  ten Bruggencate - University of Manitoba
  • Benjamin  Collins - University of Manitoba

Identifying animals in archaeological contexts is crucial for providing direct evidence of past human-animal relationships, as well as past environmental information. Proteomics and ancient DNA (aDNA) are increasing popular methods for identifying animal taxa, complementing traditional zooarchaeology approaches and providing insight into the less identifiable components of faunal assemblages. We discuss the use of Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS), including a minimally invasive ZooMS approach, and aDNA in Manitoba. Our project consists of 29 samples from six sites, Seahorse Gully, Duck River/Jalowicka Site, Seven Oaks, Tail Race Bay, Avery Site, and Bowsman River. These sites reflect the varied environmental regions across Canada and provide samples from across a long period of Manitoba’s history. This project demonstrates the applicability of these research approaches for the Manitoba context, and especially for fragmentary bone assemblages. Of the 29 ZooMS samples analyzed, 25 samples were successful and 8 of 12 minimally invasive ZooMS samples were successful and there was a lot of faunal diversity. ZooMS and aDNA have strong potential for contributing to our understanding of past human-animal relationships in Manitoba, as seen in other archaeological contexts across the world.

03:20 PM: The Skeletons in our Closet: Addressing the Ethics of Indigenous Casts in Collections
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Drenna  Lameg - University of Manitoba
  • Benjamin Collins - University of Manitoba, University of Cape Town

Human remains play an integral part of research and education across multiple disciplines such as biological anthropology, archaeology, and anatomy. The access to reference and teaching collections can be incredibly beneficial to professionals and students with the determination of sex, ancestry, or cause of death. The acquisition of anatomical and skeletal collections today follow standards that have an emphasis on the consent of the individual. This has not always been the case and institutions across the world are engaging with the importance of ethical conduct, repatriation, and reconciliation. 

The University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology recently discovered skull casts of Indigenous peoples from southern Africa and Australia within their collection. Likely obtained by the department in the 1960s, preliminary investigation indicates a lack of documented consent from the individuals or their descendants, transgressing the boundaries of modern ethical curation standards. 

Tracing the journey of these casts and developing a narrative for their arrival at the University of Manitoba has been the primary goal of this project, with a focus on the roles that Samuel Morton, Charles Ward, and their institutions had in the acquisition, distribution, and reproduction of human remains for profit.