Dig unearths picture of early Markham pioneers

After uncovering approximately 12,000 shards of pottery concealed underneath a small undisturbed strip of land, the Markham Museum, now has the evidence to tell the story of area pioneers and their relationship to the land.

On Feb. 15 the Markham Museum opened its new archaeology lab. Excavating a piece of land on the north side of the museum’s property, archaeologists uncovered a midden. This midden was a pit designated for pottery that didn’t meet the potter’s production standards.

The dig revealed the pottery of Markham’s early East European settlers. Crafted by William and Cyrus Eby, Samuel Burns and Philip Ensminger, the artifacts date back to 1855-1885, according to archaeologists.

In an effort to add new programs to the museum’s curriculum, the museum teamed up with Archaeology Services Inc. (ASI) for this project.

Typically ASI would take the excavated material to its labs for examination. In a unique partnership with the museum, however, the new lab, led by trained staff Kimberley Busato and eight museum volunteers, the artifacts are kept in the museum.

“It’s the dawn of a new era in understanding our history,” Busato said. “The things that we find here are giving real depth and colour to our story and giving us a new storyline to interpret for our public.”

In July 2009, the museum began construction of a $9 million facility to store its artifact collection and accommodate visitors’ parking.

Cathy Molloy, director of the museum, hopes that the pottery shards will offer visitors a unique family and education experience.

“It’s so exciting. Every day we put together a life. We have a tangible impact on the community history,” she said.

The focus here is to draw evidence from the pottery pieces that were found. It’s hope they will depict the economics, technologies and physical factors that played a part in the lives of the first Markham residents.

Molloy stressed the importance of figuring out how Markham pioneers connected with the land and how they used the local soils to craft household pottery.

“We can draw inferences about consumer preferences, the way that people stored things… It also tells a lot about their household economies and the things they needed,” Molloy said. “We can use this pottery as a fulcrum for the history that we tell the community. To me that’s the most important story.”