More than 200,000 artifacts unearthed in digs on Parliament Hill

Over 200,000 artifacts dating back to 1827 have been uncovered by archaeologists during digs around the Center Block on Parliament Hill.

Excavations of Barrack Hill, a military outpost that included three barracks, a jail, stable, kitchen and guardhouse located on what is now Parliament Hill, began in the spring of 2019. The military outpost was created by Lieutenant-Colonel John By in 1827, and used until 1858, by British soldiers building the Rideau Canal.

« This collection is what the rank and file soldiers had, » said Stephen Jarrett, Archaeological Lead for the Center Block Renovation. « It’s very interesting to see what they have the economic capacity to buy. »

Vintage finds include a largely intact white and blue chamber pot, coins from the early 1800s, British military uniform buttons, dice, a bottle of wine, a bottle of gin, the remains of leather shoe soles, as well as many plates for adults and children. Jarrett said the artifacts provide insight into life and the level of economic prosperity soldiers must have to buy alcohol and children’s toys.

« It gives them a personal connection over time with us, » Jarrett said.

Some of the artifacts, including the glass bottles and table clothes, are in better condition than others for one reason: the toilets. Without modern plumbing, people in the early to mid-1800s disposed of organic and inorganic materials by dumping them in outhouses. Jarrett said most of the time the work of recovering these items wasn’t too serious, although he said an old outhouse was still « wet ».

A large white and blue chamber pot sits on a table next to two colored glass bottles. (CTV National News)

« The toilet context allows for the survival of inorganic remnants like clothing and leather, » he said, adding that disposing of ceramics and other breakable objects in this way helps ensure they are not not trampled. « They survive better. »

While not surprising, Jarrett said finding over 200,000 artifacts was a record for him.

artifacts 3 1 5982145 1657504908884A pink child’s cup, held together with duct tape, was discovered at the Barrack Hill site. (CTV National News)

« It’s less about what they found, but what we found that tells us how the military used the site and lived at the site, » Jarrett said. Barrack Hill was built to house approximately 150 soldiers and their families.

It remains to be seen what happens to the artifacts now that they have been cleaned, glued and cataloged.

artifacts 4 1 5982147 1657505075300A copper military badge rests on what appears to be a plastic kitchen tray. The image of what it would have looked like is displayed next to the artifact. (CTV National News)


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