February 19, 2013


Lost & found: artifacts to be housed in new facility to preserve past, prevent loss of history


Hamilton, Ont. February 19, 2013Hundreds of thousands of ancient artifacts, chronicling 12 thousand years of human history, will be housed at a new centre designed to solve a problem which has troubled researchers for decades: how to track and preserve vast collections.


More than 90 per cent of archaeological excavations in Ontario are carried out by private consultants who unearth countless items of historical significance.


“Those artifacts often end up scattered in basements, offices and storage lockers,” says Aubrey Cannon, who is director of Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster, and its principal investigator.


“These kinds of materials, still rich in information, are ultimately lost to researchers,” he says.


The $9.8-million project is a joint venture with Western University. Each institution has set up its own repository and labs and both will share a database.


A massive warehouse and lab facilities located at McMaster Innovation Park are designed to process, preserve and digitally document artifacts including stone tools, historic metal items and animal remains.


The collection features pieces such as an arrowhead fragment dating back more than 9 thousand years, ancient ceramics and the skeleton of a 16th century Iroquoian dog, believed to have been infected with tuberculosis.


“This kind of facility will allow researchers from all over the world to have access to materials and data across hundreds of sites and thousands of years,” explains Cannon.


“Anyone can conduct a comparative analysis of artifacts on an unprecedented scale. For example, we can study climate change by examining changes in the chemistry and growth structures of deer teeth over many, many years,” he explains.


The McMaster facility has the capacity to house up to 30 thousand boxes, each containing up to hundreds of artifacts.


While the sheer volume of pieces may be daunting, radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) will be used to manage the collections.


“This is a new way to organize, manage and curate Ontario’s archaeological resources,” says Meghan Burchell, operations manager and PhD candidate in anthropology. “We can track every movement of every box: when it leaves the warehouse, enters the lab or exits the building, both here at McMaster and at Western University”.


First Nations communities will be key partners in the management and operation of the facilities, ensuring Indigenous researchers have access to their own past.


Att. editors: A high resolution photo of Meghan Burchell at the facility can be found at: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/7319416/meghan%20b.jpg


A high resolution photo of a 16th century Iroquoian dog skeleton can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/b9mo5dn


To view a video of Meghan Burchell discussing the facilities please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjzgfXk8ISY&sns=em


McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is renowned for its innovation in both learning and discovery. It has a student population of 23,000, and more than 156,000 alumni in 140 countries.





For more information, please contact:


Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869



Wade Hemsworth

Public Relations Manager

McMaster University

905-525-9140, ext. 27988