Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Indy archeology: Amateur explorers unearth Acadian history

They couldn't keep what they found, and carrying a bullwhip in the style of Indiana Jones would have been frowned on, but that didn't stop more than 100 amateur archeologists from descending this summer on a public dig in northern Nova Scotia.

The Beaubassin site, close to the boundary with New Brunswick, was home to an Acadian village settled in 1672 and was recently declared a National Historic Site. The digs have been open occasionally to volunteers willing to pay a small fee. The spot has yielded a trove of artifacts, including a coin depicting King George III and what appears to be a decorative clasp for clothing, both found by amateurs.

The silver clasp was unearthed last week by Fredericton resident Jim Estey at the end of the final day of this summer's public digging. But it could turn out to be the last such find for any of these amateurs - government funding for the program runs out this year and it is not clear whether new money will be forthcoming.

Story continues below advertisement

If the program ends, said Geraldine Arsenault, a Parks Canada manager with the field unit that oversees the site, it will be a loss not only to local tourism but also to the many diggers descended from families who settled the area.

"It was a very deep experience for some of these people," Ms. Arsenault said.

The amateurs do the same work as the professionals, and there is plenty more excavation to be done. Ms. Arsenault plans to spend part of the fall looking for community partners to help raise the roughly $30,000 needed to continue the program next year.

Although his one day of excavating gave Mr. Estey a glimpse of the tedium that archeology can involve, he's already looking forward to the chance to do another dig. He's been interested since he was 18, which was the year the first Indiana Jones film came out.

"Let's face it, that's a pretty exciting movie," he said.

He knew even then, though, that poison arrows, traps triggering giant boulders and face-melting relics were more Hollywood than reality. Another career path eventually beckoned, taking him instead to a soil lab at the University of New Brunswick, but he never lost his interest in archeology.

So he jumped this month at the chance to try his hand at the less glamorous side of the profession, paying $36.70 to participate for a day in the Beaubassin dig. Along with the other amateurs, he spent hours sweating under the hot sun, painstakingly unearthing relics from the centuries-old site.

Story continues below advertisement

"We basically sat in this little square pit, and with little trowels and a bucket we scraped the soil off and looked for objects," Mr. Estey said. "It takes a long time to do these digs. You look at it and say, 'That's all I did in a day?' "

It was only at the end of the day, after spending hours unearthing and cataloguing numerous fish bones, that he found the piece of jewellery he's still bragging about.

"I thought, 'Holy jumping, that's not a fish bone,' " Mr. Estey said. "Somebody treasured this and valued this a long time ago. To be able to hold a piece of local history ... that is what's exciting."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.