New archeology exhibit shows what Island life was like hundreds of years ago

·4 min read
The exhibit includes findings such as stone tools and items used to prepare and serve food, as well as personal belongings. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
The exhibit includes findings such as stone tools and items used to prepare and serve food, as well as personal belongings. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

An Island archeology exhibit on display at the Acadian Museum in Miscouche has been extended until June to allow more people the opportunity to take it in.

It's called Unearthing the Past: Archeological Discoveries of P.E.I. and features artifacts, photographs and discoveries from digs at four different sites on the Island, including former Acadian settlements and a Mi'kmaw campsite inhabited for more than 2,000 years.

Former provincial archeologist Helen Kristmanson led the work and is curator of the exhibit, which she said represents 15 years of her work on P.E.I.

"It's very gratifying, you know, to know that people are interested in the work that we've been doing," said Kristmanson.

"It's a great educational opportunity. It's a great chance to highlight the contributions of volunteers and technical field crew, and just a great chance to share history."

Jessica Doria-Brown
Jessica Doria-Brown

13th-century beads

Kristmanson said the objective of the exhibit is twofold: to give Islanders a window into the archeological process, and to give people an idea of what life was like on P.E.I. in the 1700s.

The exhibit includes findings such as stone tools and items used to prepare and serve food, as well as personal belongings from four historic sites: Pointe-Aux-Vieux, Havre Saint-Pierre, Nikani-ika'taqank and Pituamkek.

Kristmanson said it's hard to choose a top find but said a highlight for her was the discovery of proterobas beads — which could date back as far as the 13th century.

"And so they are the first first beads identified as proterabas in North America. So a tiny little bead from a little site on the North Shore of P.E.I. has made a fairly significant contribution to the archeological discourse in terms of our bead studies, so that was very exciting for us."

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

The discovery of those beads was a highlight, too, for Robert Joseph, who worked on the digs, and is featured in the exhibit. He recently viewed it for the first time and said it was eye-opening to see the culmination of years of work.

He said being on-site as new items are discovered is extremely special.

"It's uplifting," said Joseph. "Like you're part of whoever was there in the past and you're just like, you're the last person to pick up this, this object, since it's been dropped there, you know, that hasn't touched human hands since that point in time."

'Shared history'

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

Joseph has spent decades working on archeological digs, as a way to learn more about himself and his people — he's Mi'kmaw with some Acadian heritage as well.

He's hopeful that Islanders will make time to visit the exhibit to learn more about their own history, but also take time to reflect on all that unites us.

"There is a lot of shared history, and I hope that we can continue to share this history together," said Joseph.

"It would give them a chance to actually discover a little bit more about our culture, as well as learning about our interactions from the past and I mean, hopefully re-establish old friendships and old alliances and, you know, rekindle whatever was lost," he said.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

Work on the digs included those trained in archeology and community volunteers from the local areas, and from Lennox Island First Nation.

For Claude Arsenault, spending time learning about the past, through archeology, helped him appreciate how much collaboration there's been between the Mi'kmaq and the Acadians for centuries now.

"It is our shared history and we all call it home, and the diversity, it is being embraced more today than it ever was in the past," Arsenault said.

"I think that's a real good positive sign because there was a time when, you know, depending on where you were from, it was almost like P.E.I. was territorial. If you were Acadian and you weren't allowed to live outside of the Evangeline area and so on and so on. I think that's really changing for the better."

Over the years, Arsenault spent countless hours as a volunteer on archeological digs and helped to process findings as well. He said once he experienced the joy of discovery, he was hooked. He's pleased to see some of that work now on display for all to see and learn from.

"Rediscovering artifacts puts you back in touch with the people that used these artifacts," said Arsenault.

"These utensils every day, and these pieces of pottery that we reconstruct, trying to get a better insight into the lives that were lived before us. So we have a better understanding of their hardships and their joys, and so that it would help us in the present and going forward to teach others."

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