Underground discoveries

An offset awl

Photo: An offset awl


Dena Doroszenko

Archaeology, Cultural objects

Published Date: Feb 15, 2007

In a wooded area near Coldwater, an archaeological site known as Thomson-Walker lies beneath the forest floor. The property on which the site is situated was donated to the Ontario Heritage Trust by Douglas and Margaret Tushingham in part to ensure the preservation of this Huron village dating from AD 1625 to 1635. Archaeological investigations – performed on the site in the 1990s by Dr. Martha Latta of the University of Toronto – uncovered the remnants of several longhouses, middens (privies) and a defensive feature called a palisade.

In August 2006, Dr. Alicia Hawkins operated an undergraduate field school in archaeological methods for Laurentian University, in conjunction with the University of Toronto, on this site. It was during this field school that one of the students uncovered a rare artifact called an offset awl. This artifact is composed of a sharp point metal awl inserted into a small animal leg bone which served as the handle. The awl was used for punching holes in leather.

Awls found on archaeological sites are often manufactured of bone. A ferrous metal awl with a bone handle signifies contact, most likely, with Jesuit missionaries in the area. This rare artifact – dated at approximately 400 years old - is undergoing conservation treatment at Queen’s University.