Canada Day

Sunday, July 1 is Canada Day. This public holiday marks our second festival of the summer. Traditionally this festival is liberally seasoned with multiculturalism. In addition to ethnic exhibits by some of the cultures which have arrived in Steinbach more recently, there will be a solid entertainment package under the tent. Well-known local entertainers include 3 Mol Plaut, Reimer 6 and Island Breeze. The Kids’ Tent will feature Mr. Ken and Mr. Ben, stories by Marlene Reimer and face-painting. Horse drawn wagon rides, pony rides and barrel train rides will again be available.

Mennonite Heritage Village is a museum that preserves and interprets stories of the first Mennonites to emigrate from Russia to Canada. These migrations began in 1874. Some of the heritage buildings in The Village were built shortly after 1874. Many of these buildings will have interpreters in them to provide information about where they came from, how they were used and what their significance was in that era.

This year being the two hundredth anniversary of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC), formerly known as the Kleine Gemeinde, and July 1 occurring on a Sunday, we asked the EMC to plan and deliver a historically significant worship service that morning. The service will begin at 10:30 AM and will be held in the Old Colony Church. We are grateful to Henry Fast for the work he has done in planning the service. Come and join us.

Interesting Finds

We had another scorching hot day out at the site today. With high temperatures, high humidity, and barely any wind we have to do what we can to stay cool and not over heat. We soak our hats in cold water before we go out, we hide in the canola for a little shade, or we run to our cars for a blast of A/C. Whatever we can do to prevent us from burning out, we do it.

But despite the intense heat, we have kept our chins up and have been making great progress at the dig. In one area, pieces of pottery have dominated the artifact collections and the pieces have been relatively large. But what is so great about the pieces that we have been finding is that a lot of them have fit together. Finding pieces that fit together can give us a really good idea of what the complete ceramic might have looked like; what the pattern would have been and what the shape would have been.

Six individual pieces all belonging to one purple stamp printed plate.

As well, we've found some ceramic pieces with maker's marks on them, including one complete maker's mark. The maker's mark can tell us about who manufactured the ceramic, what it was made of, and where it came from.

This maker's mark shows a lion and a unicorn around a crest.

In addition to these amazing ceramic finds, we have also found two shotgun casings, one of which still has a visible serial number engraved on it, which will help us in identifying it.

We are nearly half way through our course already, and we are optimistic that the second half will be just a great as the first has been.

Small Pieces Tell a Big Story

Today's blogger, Arielle.

Ceramics - usually the first image that many think of are images of intricately carved or painted pottery that one finds on display, whole and intact. Often this is where the story ends for most of us. For Archaeologists, ceramics take on a larger role. We apply ceramics as a general term for a substance that is fired to hold its shape, which are usually made of sand. The higher the temperature and the cleaner the sand, the better the product.

Generally when we find ceramics it’s as small broken pieces, which we call sherds. These sherds tell us what kind of ceramic it was. Earthenware (low-grade), Ironware (medium- grade) or Porcelain (high-grade). Some pieces are hand- painted, others have transfer prints and some have no protective coating on them (such as glaze – this protects the piece from water). Each piece we find gives us an insight into the lives of the people that lived there. This insight allows us to ask look at these pieces and ask questions that frequently give us bigger questions later on. As we say, “smaller pieces always form bigger ones.”

Things like parts of cups and bowls tell us whether the people that lived there were poor or well- off, what they were eating (through residues), if there were children around (Porcelain doll). And sometimes if we’re lucky we might find pottery with a maker’s mark. This can help us narrow down the date of a site. You can still find them on the back of plates and cups today.

The Importance of Context

Today's author, Evan.

Archaeology is inherently destructive. Once we dig up a site that part is gone forever; we may have gathered artifacts, but we have also removed them from their context, which can be more important to our interpretation than the artifact itself. This is why we go through so much paperwork. We try to recreate the context on charts so tomorrow, or even a decade from now, when another archaeologist finds a interesting ceramic in a collection which I pulled from the ground, they can look up my unit and see how the soil looked and the artifact distribution from where it was found, as well as the unit as a whole. We chart in every artifact we find and how deep it is in centimetres, and the layers of soil we move through, as well as any features we find. Features are immovable artifacts, like a plank of wood, or a collection of artifacts which would lose part of its meaning by moving it, such as a hearth. We chart and record everything of value so the context is not lost and some of what we destroy is preserved in another fashion. For example, if an old building was to be torn down for parts then taking pictures would preserve it in another form. The intact building is the context, the parts are the artifacts, and the pictures are our paperwork. The building needs to comedown to get at the valuable parts within but the pictures preserve the building for future generations.

The context we capture in our paperwork shows us the layout of the site overall. To use a real example from my first unit on the site, it has a modern plough zone of 10 centimetres or so, filled with artifacts of varying sorts. I found two pieces of bone (probably pig), three pieces of glass, 4 pieces of differently decorated pottery, and a nail. Then the next layer is 7 centimetres or so of a sandy soil interspersed with rodent holes, where a piece of cobalt blue pottery and half a rats jaw was found. We then come to a rich black organic soil which has never been farmed which goes all the way down to about thirty centimetres where I ended the unit and I started to hit clay. All of this information has been diligently put into standardised forms. So if another archaeologist wanted to analyze my unit they would look at my artifact distribution and soil stratigraphy and could come to some conclusions without ever being at the site themselves. They would understand that all the artifacts in the plough zone could have been hundreds of feet from where they were originally laid down from countless seasons of having the soil tossed around by ploughing; and as such disregard their modern context. In the next layer rodents could have moved artifacts from their original position through digging and this layer may have also been a plough zone, although much older and as such the artifacts would have been closer to their original position. Finally once we find the next layer which is sterile of artifacts and hit clay we know that no other artifacts will be found in this unit and can move to another unit to start the search anew.

More than Excavation

When most people think about what archaeology is, they are likely thinking about excavation, or the process of retrieving the artifacts, but archaeology is so much more than that. Interpretation of a site in order to gain new insight and knowledge about who once lived there is key to a successful archaeological dig. As part of our field school, we have to practice the interpretation side if archaeology and learn to think critically about what we are finding.

On Friday we had our first general crew meeting. All of the students and the instructors came together to discuss what we've been seeing so far at the site and what that might mean. Since each student is in charge of excavating an individual 1mx1m unit at a time, it can be easy to lose site of the bigger picture, so a constant dialogue between all the excavators is very important. By getting together and laying out what we've each seen, we can look at the site as a whole and determine where to go next.

Another benefit of getting together as a group is being able to brainstorm ideas, and to get the perspective of multiple people. For example, one of the students, Kate, had found a woody material in her unit under a layer of clay. In the field we had thought that it might have been reeds or woody plant material, but once it was examined under a microscope in the lab we saw that it was, in fact, tree wood of some kind. So at the general crew meeting we were able to talk about what it could be, and decided that the wood material could have been wood shavings from when the housebarn was being built.

The students gather at MHV to discuss what's happening at the site so far.

By working as a team, we can get a broader sense of what is happening at our site and we can pool our resources in order to draw stronger conclusions. Starting on Monday you'll get a chance to hear from all the students on the excavation team, who are all very excited to share their stories with you.

A Beautiful Day for Archaeology

After a couple of days of rain and cooler weather, the sun came out in full force today. One thing that we as archaeologists have to deal with is the often unpredictable weather. A little bit of rain can make the earth softer and easier to dig with our trowels, but a lot of rain can make things muddy and make it hard to pick out artifacts from the mess. And, as much as we enjoy a sunny day, the sun can bake the earth hard making it almost impossible to cut with our trowels. The weather is a major factor when working on an outdoors archaeological site.

Kayleigh on day one, measuring the depth of her unit.

Today was a very warm and sunny day, which made opening up some new units a bit more difficult. A handful of students have completed the excavating, mapping, and initial deciphering of their first 1mx1m units and are now continuing to excavate in other areas. Determining when a unit is done includes looking for culturally sterile soil and patterns in the artifacts, or lack there of, which might indicate there is nothing more of significance deeper below the soil in that unit. Not all units will be dug to the same depth, and must each be considered on an individual basis.

As everyone starts to get the hang of basic excavation techniques, we are starting to be able to look at the archaeological site in a more critical way in order to gain new information about the people who once lived here.

Kleine Gemeinde/EMC Exhibit

The EMC is celebrating.

This week we opened a new exhibit in the Gerhard Ens Gallery. Jessica McKague, one of our Assistant Curators, commented on the content of this new exhibit.

“The Mennonite Heritage Village Museum presents a new exhibition celebrating the bicentennial of the EMC, opening this Thursday, June 21. Discover the life and times of the church from its emergence more than 200 years ago in New Russia (now Ukraine) to the present day, with never-before-seen artifacts, documents, furniture, and portraiture.

“In 1812 the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, then the Kleine Gemeinde or ‘small Church’ broke away from the Grosse Gemeinde (main Mennonite church). The renewal movement was led by Klaas Reimer, an elected Minister of the Mennonite Church. Among the many authentic Kleine Gemeinde artifacts on display in the Temporary Gallery are the ‘Klaas Reimer’ Bible and his own cane that he carved by hand.

“The Kleine Gemeinde has greatly shaped the history and development of the East Reserve. After their emigration from Russia, the members of the Kleine Gemeinde settled in Nebraska, Kansas, Mexico, and the largest number (sixty families) settled in Manitoba. Some settled in the West Reserve in Rosenort and Rosenhof, but most settled in the six towns of Blumenhof, Blumenort, Grünfeld, Kleefeld, Rosenfeld, and Steinbach. Eighteen of the founding families of Steinbach were a part of the Kleine Gemeinde.

“Now, as a result of focused missions activity, church movements have been established in Mexico, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Burkina Faso. Holistic ministry and foreign missions continue to be greatly valued by the EMC, and are likely to be an integral part of their expanding work in the future.”

Welcome to Blumenhof!

This year, the University of Winnipeg has once again partnered with the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum for their archaeological field school. The 2012 field school is a six week course in which students from the University of Winnipeg, as well as the University of Manitoba, are developing their practical archaeological skills by getting out into the field and excavating and are learning about it really entails. This week marks our first full week of excavations. Last week we spent two days at the University of Winnipeg learning about Mennonite culture, the background of the site, and how to prepare for an excavation before we headed out to the site on Wednesday, June 13th to begin excavations.

The students digging in their units (front) and screening soil for missed artifacts (back).

Our excavation site is a Mennonite homestead that once belonged to the Unger family. The Unger’s were a family of modest means who lived in the village of Blumenhof from 1875 to around 1889. Previous excavations have been held in Blumenhof by the museum and the university, which were focused primarily on the Plett homestead. One of our research goals is to see if there are any differences in the material culture, or the objects left behind, between the two homesteads and what these differences might mean.

There are fourteen students who are attending the field school this year, all of whom will be contributing to this site and will be sharing their insights and their experiences over the next six weeks. The first day on site we mapped in eighteen 1mx1m squares in and around the area in which we believe the Unger homestead to be. From there we sharpened our trowels, picked a unit, and began excavating. We’re excavating in a series of 10cm levels, mapping out locations of artifacts and soil types as we go in order to gain a better sense of what the site may have once looked like. We’ve encountered all kinds of soil so far; some students got lucky and are troweling through soft, rich soils, while others have had nothing but sticky clay. Whatever the case, each unit can tell us something about the site.

We have already found quite a few artifacts including pieces of broken ceramics, metals such as nails, and animal bones, as well as what appear to be wooden beams and other organic materials. In addition to the soil, the artifacts can help us to determine where exactly we are digging and where we can dig next. We have to look for the subtle clues and develop our “archaeologist eye” so that we can learn as much from the site as it can teach us.

We are all looking forward to sharing our adventure with you, and hope that you will enjoy learning about archaeology and Mennonite heritage as much as we are!

Guest Author

Danielle Unett at the Blumenhof site.

For the next 6 weeks this blog with be priveledged to have a guest author. Danielle Unett is going into her fourth year of studies at the University of Winnipeg, with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Classical Studies. She is participating in her second archaeological dig at the site of the former village of Blumenhof this summer through the Mennonite Heritage Village. Danielle will be submitting daily blogs on the dig which is currently underway.

This year's excavation is being conducted as a University of Winnipeg field studies class under the direction of our Senior Curator, Roland Sawatzky, and Val McKinley from the Department of Anthropology at the U of W. We are delighted to have this opportunity to partner with the university in this ongoing archeological research.

Welcome to the blog, Danielle.

Tractor Trek Successful but Cancelled

Off to Blumenort

A great lunch at LaBroquerie

I am pleased to report that despite the fact that we had to cancel much of the Trek due to the thunder showers, we did enjoy some considerable successes.

The first success was breakfast. The Livery Barn Restaurant provided an energy filled breakfast of “jreeve,” scrambled eggs, hash-browns, and home-made brown bread with jam. At 9:45 we gathered for announcements, a prayer for safety and a song to send us on our way. Joel Klassen, an employee of Eden, wrote event-appropriate words to the tune of Gene Autry’s song, “Back in the Saddle Again.” Gerry Sapinsky, an MHV volunteer, sang the song, “Back on my Tractor Again.”

We left for Blumenort at 10:00 with a view to remaining on the east side of a north-bound weather system. As we approached Blumenort it became obvious that we would not likely avoid the storm. And we didn’t. Shortly after leaving Blumenort the electrical storm was upon us and a decision was made to terminate the trek and head back to MHV. A number of drivers took shelter along the way. The rest braved the elements and arrived back at MHV wet and covered with sand. The west wind ensured that all drivers of these south-bound tractors were doused by the sand and water being raised by the tractor tires.

After some clean-up the group made their way to the La Broquerie Park for a great lunch and some silent auction prizes. Despite the cold damp conditions, we were received warmly and well fed by this community.

Supper was served in the Village Centre Auditorium at 5:30. By now everyone had found dry clothes and some had even enjoyed a nap in the afternoon. The food, the stories around the tables, the entertainment by Matt Zimmerman and Maria, and the prizes all combined to create a very enjoyable evening. Al Hamm, committee chair, reported that 55 drivers took up the challenge raising $39,000. This compares to last year’s trek of 47 drivers and $34,500. The Trek has grown each year and we hope to see continued growth next year.

The views expressed in Community Blogs are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.

About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.