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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1

Archaeological Investigations of the National Historic Sites Service, 1962-1966

by John H. Rick

Excavations in Nova Scotia

Port Royal Habitation

The author, assisted by Ian C. Rodger, carried out brief excavations during the summer of 1962 at the Port Royal Habitation National Historic Park near Lower Granville Ferry. This is the site of a reconstruction of the trading and colonizing settlement built in 1605 under the leadership of the Sieur de Monts, and used as headquarters for about two years by Samuel de Champlain. Reconstruction was under the direction of Kenneth D. Harris (1940; see also Jefferys 1939) largely on the basis of documentary information, but supplemented by archaeological investigations conducted by C. Coatsworth Pinkney (1938).

In the autumn of 1960, in the course of digging a posthole at the southwest corner of the Habitation, workmen uncovered a layer of stones approximately eighteen inches below ground surface. As far as they could determine from the limited area exposed, the stones were regularly laid and represented a drain. On the assumption that this feature might be associated with the original Habitation, the hole was immediately filled in and the discovery reported to the National Historic Sites Service in Ottawa.

The 1962 excavations began with a 10 ft. x 10 ft. square surrounding the original posthole. The stones were uncovered and it was soon apparent that they formed part of a layer extending throughout the pit at 1.0 ft.-1.7 ft. below the surface and going down to an unknown depth. With the greater view afforded by the larger excavation unit, it was obvious that the rocks were randomly deposited and did not represent some sort of construction. Since Pinkney (1938) reported encountering filled-in cellars during his excavations at the site, it seemed likely that these stones might also represent cellar fill.

A series of trenches extending outward from the original pit proved this supposition by revealing three walls of a cellar. The final wall, to the south, seems to have been obliterated by the modern road and ditch running past the front of the Habitation. The walls are randomly-laid rubble incorporating several large boulders that must have been encountered in digging the cellar and found too large to move. It is likely that this structure was built in the late 18th century, but a definite date has not yet been established. A coin from the reign of George III, found in the rock fill, provides a terminus post quem for the filling of the cellar. No trace of superstructure was apparent.

Fort Anne

The Port Royal of Champlain and de Monts was taken and burned by the British in 1613. However, the captured territory was returned to the French by treaty in 1632 and, about 1635, the French governor built another fort (also called Port Royal) on the south shore of the Annapolis River across the Annapolis Basin from the original settlement. The new fort changed hands several times before its final capitulation by the French to a New England force under Colonel Francis Nicholson in 1710. Nicholson changed the name of the settlement from Port Royal to Annapolis Royal. The present Fort Anne is the outgrowth of two French fortifications built on the same site plus later British additions.

Concurrent with the digging at the Habitation, excavations were carried out at the Number 2 Powder Magazine in Fort Anne. The magazine, built by the French in 1708, is located within Berry's Bastion, and is at present separated from the fill of the bastion by a stone wall which holds back the earth and forms a narrow passageway around three sides of the magazine. On the fourth side of the magazine, the front, the passage walls terminate in a flight of steps leading from the level of the fort square down to the much lower level of the magazine door. Although the building itself seems never to have been subjected to basic alterations, 18th-century plans indicate that the retaining walls around it were remodelled many times and that the passageway varied in width from 2.5 ft. to 6 ft. Documentary sources also suggest that the magazine had once been entered directly from the square, rather than being several feet below the level of the square as is now the case. Since the magazine was scheduled for a certain amount of restoration, it was considered necessary to determine the number and position of previous retaining walls (and, hence, the accuracy of the various plans), and to locate the level of ground surface in the 18th century.

Excavation established that the magazine had once been entered directly from the square without the necessity of steps. A trench was dug to the west of the powder magazine, running from the side of the magazine through the retaining wall and extending some ten feet into the fill of the bastion. It would appear, from this latter trench, that the present retaining wall may actually represent two construction phases, the first wall being of rubble stone in mortar and the later wall consisting of a brick facing added to the original; no traces of other walls were uncovered. In the course of excavations, a shallow brick drain was found extending around the sides and back of the magazine at the level of the top of the retaining wall; this drain may have been put in as part of a series of alterations proposed in 1795.

In 1963, the author, again assisted by Ian C. Rodger, began the summer field season with a brief excavation at Fort Anne. Documentary sources had suggested the location of a midden near the officers' quarters, and it was hoped that excavation would yield a stratified series of artifacts which would facilitate dating at other sites. Artifacts were abundant, but the stratigraphy did not live up to expectations since the entire area had apparently been badly disturbed by the construction of a road into the fort a number of years ago. The only find of interest was a stone wall, possibly the remains of a French-period gateway.

While working at Fort Anne, it was decided to reopen the previous year's trench on the west side of the Number 2 Powder Magazine on the chance that deepening that excavation might reveal stubs of earlier retaining walls. No walls were found, but a skeleton enclosed in a rotted wooden coffin was uncovered. Much of the coffin lay directly under the retaining wall so that the lower limbs could be reached only by tunneling. Most of the bones were recovered, but it was not possible, in that confined space, to remove all of the foot bones, some of which were cemented into the mortar of the bottom of the wall. Casual inspection suggests that the skeleton is that of a Caucasian female, but a more detailed examination is being made. A few coffin nails were the only artifacts found.

Stratigraphic evidence indicates that the burial took place some time before the construction of Berry's Bastion about 1702. When the Number 2 Powder Magazine was built six years later, its construction necessitated a deep cut into the earth fill of the bastion and, in the course of this excavation, the French workmen cut through the grave shaft and into the top of the coffin. By this time, the body had been in the ground long enough for the coffin to have rotted and been compressed into a space about 0.4 ft. high. The lower jaw and the atlas vertebra were not found in association with the remaining bones, but seem to have come from higher up in the bastion fill; one femur, the skull and the remaining cervical vertebrae could not be located although all backdirt was screened three times through quarter-inch mesh. The missing bones, like the atlas and the jaw, may have been thrown back into the pit fill in 1710 and remain to be discovered, or they may have been carried off by the French workmen as souvenirs.

The excavation leaves little doubt that the present retaining wall is the only such wall to have been built around the powder magazine. Early plans showing a variety of walls would seem to be erroneous.

4 Surrounding the Number 2 Powder Magazine at Fort Anne and just below present ground surface is the shallow brick drain shown in this photograph. The drain is constructed of one layer of bricks embedded in sand and is probably associated and roof modifications made during the British period. In the foreground, below the drain, is the top of the French retaining wall which held back the earth from contract with the magazine walls.
(John H. Rick.)

Halifax Citadel

The City of Halifax was founded in 1749 as a major British military base against the French. Four successive forts were built on the summit of Citadel Hill, the present Halifax Citadel being the latest of these. Since the later and larger forts occupied a greater area, their construction was preceded by the levelling of the earlier works and the cutting down of the summit of the hill to form a lower and broader base. The hill was reduced nearly thirty-two feet in height in the course of two centuries and, consequently, construction of the present Halifax Citadel has resulted in the obliteration of almost all traces of its predecessors. Work on the latest Citadel began in 1828 and was completed only a short time before the advent of rifled ordnance rendered the fortifications obsolete.

Because of the extent of above-ground construction and the absence of earlier remains, restoration at Halifax Citadel is properly a problem for historians and architects rather than archaeologists. However, where digging for restoration or maintenance purposes has threatened areas in which it was felt that some stratigraphic evidence might survive, archaeologists were called in to supervise the excavations.

Early in 1965, Richard B. Lane and later, Urve Linnamae were temporarily transferred from Louisbourg to supervise salvage excavations along the northwest face of the redan which contains the exterior entrance to the Citadel. This work exposed a complex series of drains near the salient of the redan as well as three underground casemates abutting the northern areaway wall. The drains appear to be contemporaneous with the casemates, both dating from about 1843 (Lane 1965).

During the late spring of 1965, Karalee A. Coleman carried out excavations to locate and record the original drainage system in the Citadel's dry moat. Much of this was due to be destroyed by the proposed installation of new and more efficient drains and in various other repairs to the fort. Although a good deal of the stratigraphic evidence had already been destroyed by 20th-century activity, it was found that the early drainage system had consisted of a narrow, open ditch circling the fort and the ravelins; the moat bottom had originally sloped gently downwards from escarp and counterscarp into this ditch. The main ditch was joined by subsidiary channels which led from the firing stations behind the counterscarp and from those few casemate drains which did not connect with the complex interior drainage system of the fort. The whole system emptied into six strategically located stone catch basins which conducted the water via underground drains through the counterscarp to the bottom of the glacis. Very few artifacts were found in the moat and no early specimens were uncovered in the drainage ditches, suggesting that maintenance of the drains was stressed during occupation, and that garbage was not disposed of haphazardly. One dump area was found near the north ravelin, but elsewhere it appears that the moat was periodically cleaned, contained well defined, restricted ash pits, or else was simply forbidden for garbage disposal.

Also exposed in the moat was an unexpected defensive feature in the form of a wooden palisade extending from the southwest demi-bastion escarp to the southwest corner counterscarp. Presumably this was built to restrict the movements of the enemy should he gain entry into the moat; similar structures probably existed in other corners as well (Coleman 1965).

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