35,000 Indigenous artifacts discovered at Fischer-Hallman construction site

Wood PCL, the environmental company leading a stage four archaeological assessment ordered by the Region of Waterloo, said they’ve excavated 35,000 artifacts so far.

The discovery includes 'very rare' carbonized bean and corn seeds

Carbonized maize and bean seeds are among the thousands of artifacts discovered at the dig site. (Submitted by Kristy O'Neal)

Carbonized seeds, pottery and spearheads are among thousands of Indigenous artifacts that have been discovered at a road construction site in Kitchener over the past few months, according to the company in charge of the project. 

Work slated to begin along Fischer-Hallman Road in the spring was put on hold after evidence of a longhouse and a village, as well as nearly 1,000 artifacts, were discovered in the area. 

Wood PLC, the engineering and environmental consulting company leading a stage four archeological assessment ordered by the Region of Waterloo, said they've now excavated 35,000 artifacts, 25 features and an additional 20 longhouse post moulds as of October 9.

"A feature would be a settlement pattern, it provides you evidence of the actual human activity," explained Barbara Slim, archaeological lead with Wood PLC. "In this case, it would have been a hearth, a fire pit." 

The company also said it found evidence of walls, posts and storage pits. A list of artifacts discovered so far includes chipped stone, pottery, animal bone remains, stone tools, arrowheads and knives. 

Projectile points, like the arrowheads, date back the Late Archaic and Late Woodland time periods, said Slim, while the pottery is typical of a Late Woodland Middle Ontario Iroquoian village site. 

Lauren Zapishny, an archaeologist with Wood PLC, screening soils for artifacts. (Submitted by Kristy O'Neal)

The carbonized corn and bean seeds are "very rare," she said, and date back to sometime between 1300 and 1600.

Reminder to non-Indigenous people

Although the site might seem to be a relic of the past, an Indigenous historian says there is a contemporary connection. 

"Things like corn and beans that were found on the site, these are really important connections to our ongoing relationship to the land for our communities," said Heather George, a Mohawk woman and PhD candidate in the University of Waterloo's history department.

Archaeologists with Wood PLC complete excavations on Fischer-Hallman Road. (Submitted by Kristy O'Neal)

"When you think about a longhouse excavated, you're thinking 'okay well a longhouse, people lived in those' and we think it's so far removed from contemporary housing structure. But even the way we're talking about our creation story is really reflective of this physical structure."

Discoveries like this, she said, are important to Indigenous peoples because "they tell us good things about ourselves." But they're also an important reminder for non-Indigenous people, she added. 

"Don't forget, we've been here all along, this isn't ancient history … I hope that by having these artifacts accessible to community and interpreted by community that it gives that space for those conversations to happen." 

But right now, Slim said the artifacts are being carefully catalogued. 

"We take the artifacts back to our lab and in the winter, we analyze and catalogue every single artifact that we find and try to make sense of what we're finding," she said.

The information will be put into a report submitted to the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. 

"We are removing that cultural feature, that evidence of a site," said Slim. "So it's very important that we document everything very carefully." 

35,000 artifacts have been found so far, as well as features that indicate human life, like walls, fire pits and posts. (Submitted by Kristy O'Neal)

As for how the discoveries impact construction, Slim said the firm will continue archaeological work in the new year and that the road project will both take longer and be more expensive. 

The firm is "optimistic" that a temporary two-lane road will be completed before the end of 2020.