Res­cue arche­ol­ogy be­gins at Louis­bourg

N.S. gravesites face threat from coastal ero­sion


HAL­I­FAX • The for­mer res­i­dents of a mas­sive 18th-cen­tury fort in Cape Bre­ton have long since died, but David Ebert says they still have plenty to tell us.

Ebert, a strate­gic ad­viser with Parks Canada, is part of a team ex­hum­ing hu­man re­mains from a large grave­yard out­side the gates of the Fortress of Louis­bourg Na­tional His­toric Site.

“We have un­cov­ered five sets of skele­tal re­mains al­ready and we’ve found a num­ber of ar­ti­facts to go with them,” Ebert said in an in­ter­view.

“One of the skele­tons had eight but­tons that were ly­ing on top of it. Clearly, some­body had been buried in a fancy coat ... When you see some­one buried in a fine piece of cloth­ing, it ob­vi­ously shows some love and re­spect for that in­di­vid­ual.”

Up to 1,100 res­i­dents of the French fort are buried at the site, which must be ex­ca­vated be­cause it is threat­ened by coastal ero­sion. Parks Canada has re­ferred to the project as res­cue arche­ol­ogy.

“Skele­tons can tell you a lot of things,” Ebert said, cit­ing the fact that mal­nu­tri­tion as a child can leave per­ma­nent marks on one’s teeth. “They are marks you’ll see right un­til the day you die ... There’s lots of lit­tle hints that the skele­ton gives you about what sort of life they led.”

A dozen Univer­sity of New Brunswick depart­ment of an­thro­pol­ogy stu­dents started dig­ging last week. The five-year project will doc­u­ment and pro­tect the burial grounds at Rochefort Point, where the shore­line has re­treated about 90 me­tres over the past 300 years.

Ebert said the staff and stu­dents are well aware they are in a sa­cred space.

“Science isn’t our No. 1 pri­or­ity,” he said. “It’s the re­spect and dig­nity that all peo­ple de­serve in death ... I tell the (stu­dents), ‘Re­mem­ber, this is some­body’s great, great, great grand­fa­ther or grand­mother.’ ”

The fort, which is so big it is a for­ti­fied town, was built in 1713 and aban­doned in 1760 after decades of fight­ing be­tween the French and Bri­tish. Even though only one-quar­ter of the for­ti­fi­ca­tion has been re­built, it re­mains the largest of its kind in North Amer­ica. Ev­ery year, about 82,000 peo­ple visit this site, a half-hour drive south of Syd­ney, N.S.

Amy Scott, project direc­tor of the bioarche­ol­ogy field school, said the project is giv­ing stu­dents the best kind of hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s so very spe­cial for us to be able to have this part­ner­ship with Parks Canada,” said Scott, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of New Brunswick. “It’s a very rich arche­o­log­i­cal site out here.”

The stu­dents will stay in the field un­til Aug. 20, when the re­cov­ered re­mains and ar­ti­facts will be taken to Scott’s lab­o­ra­tory for fur­ther anal­y­sis.

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