Excavate and educate: Exhibit showcases Mi’kmaq and Acadian archaeological artifacts

You never know what you can learn until you go digging. Literally.

“Archaeology isn’t about what you find. It’s about what you find out,” says Matthew McRae, Executive Director of PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation (PEIMHF).

This week, PEIMHF will officially launch its exhibit Unearthing the Past: Archaeological Discoveries of Prince Edward Island’ at the Acadian Museum in Miscouche.

The exhibit showcases over 300 years of Mi'kmaq and Acadian cultural history on PEI.

Think about what you have around in your house and where it will be in 300 years, says McRae.

“That’s where archaeology comes in and digs up those artifacts – so we can figure out what happened many, many years ago and what people’s lives were like.”

The exhibit includes artifacts discovered at four sites on the Island, including an 18th century homestead believed to be the first Acadian settlement on PEI, Pointe-Aux-Vieux – as well as Pitaweikek, a site dating back 2000 years where Mi’kmaq gathered to harvest sea life.

“It’ll help people gain a better knowledge of Indigenous life on PEI and the early days of European settlement, over 250 years ago,” McRae says.

Visitors will get to see some of the tools and implements used in everyday life at the time – such as hunting tools like spearpoints, household items like pottery and utensils, as well as personal items like smoking pipes and jewelry.

“You’re going to discover everything that tells us how people lived and what they were doing.”

Matthew McRae standing in front of exhibit sign
Image caption: 
“Archaeology is one of many ways we can learn about PEI’s history,” says Matthew McRae.

Excavation of the sites took only weeks, says McRae. However, it took years for the project to come together as the exhibit visitors see today.

“There’s much work that needs to be done to restore and preserve the objects that were discovered.”

That journey – from dig to display – is another feature of the ‘Unearthing the Past’ exhibit, says McRae.

“Visitors will see how archaeologists prepare for a dig, the tools they use, how they record their findings, and how they prepare artifacts for preservation.”

He says many Islanders don’t realize just how much archaeology there is on PEI. 

“There’s 11,000 years of human history on PEI.” 

And some of it’s right under our feet, says McRae. 
That’s why part of the ‘Unearthing the Past’ experience highlights the process and the importance of PEI archaeology.

Anytime there’s new discoveries, there’s new stories to be told, says McRae.

“Archaeology is literally piecing those stories back together.”

The exhibit helps visitors understand what it’s like to be an archaeologist.

“They can learn what it’s like to search for the past – to dig for and discover the past and solve a mystery about what was happening back then.”

The interactive exhibit includes hands-on activities, displays, and videos – suitable for history and heritage lovers of all ages, says McRae.

“These stories are so interesting, we knew we needed to share them with everyone.”

‘Unearthing the Past’ will be on display at the Acadian Museum in Miscouche until September 4.

To learn more about PEI museums and Island history, visit PEI Museum & Heritage 
Hear interesting tales of PEI’s past by listening to the PEIMHF’s podcast: The Hidden Island


General Inquiries

Museum and Heritage Foundation
2 Kent Street
Charlottetown, PE C1A 1M6
Telephone: 902-368-6600
Fax: 902-368-6608

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