An interesting discovery on Parliament Hill

Abishnabemo

A person wearing a hard hat sorts through soil with the Centre Block in the background.
An archaeologist at work on the eastern side of Centre Block in 2019.

Before the Centre Block project had even begun, important archaeological research was undertaken on what was originally called “Barrack Hill.” This area, to the east of the building on Parliament Hill, was used by Lt.-Colonel John By as a military outpost in the early 19th century. Doing this archeological work was necessary to ensure that undiscovered ruins or artifacts would not be damaged during reconstruction. The area surrounding Centre Block speaks as much to Canadian history as what's inside the building.

Archaeologists unearthed hundreds of thousands of artifacts, such as buttons, animal bones, fragments of ceramic dishes and pieces of military artifacts likely worn on clothing. One object that stood out resembled a projectile point, which is an arrow-tip shape, carved in stone. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), in partnership with members from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Algonquin of Pikwakanagan First Nations communities, invited archaeological specialists from the University of Montréal to investigate and provide further analysis of this object.

A dime next to a carved, pointed stone.
A photograph of the mòkomàn, with a dime next to it for scale.

These specialists are experts in stone materials and tools that are precontact, before settlers arrived. A graduate student and an archaeologist with specific experience conducting excavations in the Outaouais area also worked on the project. Each member of the group conducted their own assessment. They then came together to discuss this discovery and concluded that the stone point was, in fact, a mòkomàn (pronunced mo-ko-mon). A mòkomàn is a knife commonly referred to as a biface because both faces have been worked.

The original palm-sized blade would have been attached to a handle and resharpened until it was worn down. The mòkomàn is believed to been fashioned in the late Archaic to early Woodland Period, making it approximately 2,500 to 4,000 years old. Like other similar objects, it would have travelled over long distances to this area, which lay at the heart of an extensive precontact trade network, thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

A conceptual drawing of an ancient knife handle and blade.
A rendering of how the mòkomàn may have been used.

Working with Algonquin Communities

Two Algonquin communities, Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, have been collaborating closely with PSPC to determine how to preserve, interpret and display this important artifact. This collaboration will ensure the appropriate interpretation of the mòkomàn will reside with the Algonquin Nation, as it is an artifact related to their history and culture. They also worked together to develop an Indigenous Archaeological Field School, partnered with Algonquin College, to support Indigenous Peoples in conducting archaeological work.

A person sifts through soil samples in a forested area.
A member of the Indigenous Archaeological Field School inspects soil samples.
An older person shows a younger person a small stone sample.
An elder and a student discuss one of the samples found.
A person wearing a mask sorts through small stone samples while seated at a table.
A student inspects samples found at an archaeological site and takes notes.

The community-led and community-driven school will help inform future work in the National Capital Region. By building their capacity in archaeology and related disciplines, the school and its students will be able to participate actively and directly to protect and preserve Indigenous archaeological resources. This includes artifacts, features and site locations, as well as ancestral knowledge. Check out this video about the Indigenous Archaeological Field School to find out more.

To learn more, visit the Centre Block project.

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