Principal Investigator Ben Ford
The Lake Ontario Maritime Cultural
Landscape Project
10 September 2009
By Ben Ford

Most of the results presented in this journal have been anecdotal, that was the nature of the data we found. Rather than finding the same kinds of sites in multiple survey areas, the results included many different types of sites that did not form clear patterns. This data provided ample touchstones for a discussion of the historical development of the Lake Ontario littoral landscape but did not lend itself to statistical analyses and quantitative study. Future research will attempt to address this shortcoming by incorporating previously recorded archaeological data in a GIS database and applying statistical methods.

Specifically, this analysis will utilize a modified predictive model approach, whereby the positions of known sites will be compared to predictor variables, both environmental (e.g., topography, bathymetry, soil types, prevailing winds, proximity to raw materials, etc.) and cultural (e.g., proximity to other sites, cultural preferences drawn from historical literature, visibility, etc.), in order to determine the importance of each variable in the placement of a site type. These data will then be used to address past decision-making priorities. This type of analysis lends itself to a synthesis of Lake Ontario as a maritime system, taking into account the economic, political, and cultural development of the lake and its margins and expanding this study beyond the northeast portion of the lake.

It will also be possible to explore the roles of small ports such as Long Carrying Place through “cost surface analysis.” In archaeology, cost surface analysis is generally applied to terrestrial landscapes through an analysis of ruggedness, slope, barriers, and related variables to determine how much time or energy it would require a person to cross a certain space. These analyses give a more realistic view of how people may have viewed space than is provided by simply measuring the distance between two points. A similar analysis can be applied to a water surface by correlating prevailing winds, water depth, currents, and obstructions. Harbors where the terrestrial and maritime least-cost surfaces intersect are natural locations for ports. If the easiest route by land and the easiest route by water intersect at a location with evidence of docks then the ease of accessing the harbor was likely the primary consideration in its selection. If there is a significant difference, however, then some other cultural or environmental factor, such as visibility, may have come into play and additional research is warranted.

I would also like to explore the human impact on the environment. Much of this project focused on human reactions to the environment. In some cases these reactions were to environments that had been modified by previous groups, but in general the relationship went from environment to humans. However, humans also impact the environment and these impacts are often most notable at the shore where both lake and land changes tend to aggregate. For example, as early as the 1820s there were noticeable changes in fish species, and logging, agriculture, urban development, and industrialization have all had overlapping effects on the shore environment. Most human ecological studies, however, only go back a few decades. The time-depth particular to archaeology and its ability to consider the long-term effects of human actions, gives it the potential to fill this gap and genuinely contribute to bettering the human condition. One of the long-term goals of this research is contribute to the larger interdisciplinary field of global change science by providing the time-depth that other specialists require to more effectively address pressing environmental concerns. I see this as part of archaeology’s responsibility to reciprocate with the community not only though increased education and heritage studies but also through information that address current concerns. Correlating past actions with current conditions in a meaningful way is going to take significantly more research and will likely require a combination of focused interdisciplinary field-testing, data mining, and GIS analysis.  

Much of the above can be done from the comfort of my office, but like most maritime archaeologists I still want to get wet, so I hope to be back on the lake next summer. This dissertation work opened the possibility of many additional projects that will take this work into a new phase of more focused investigations. Maybe we’ll be out looking for the wrecks of American War of 1812 battleships or maybe we’ll return to Carleton Island for more intensive work. Check back with the MUA next summer to find out.




Please feel free to contact Ben at with any comments, questions, or suggestions during the weeks to come.

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