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Students dig in to commemorate War of 1812

Group from Wilfrid Laurier plan first-ever archaeological dig at key Ontario battle site.


As the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812 fast approaches – it officially began when the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18 of that year – students at Wilfrid Laurier University will be marking the event with the first-ever archeological dig at one of the war’s key sites, Fort Erie.

Starting in mid-May, a team of 20 Laurier students will carry out the dig at the fort, located on the Canadian side of the Niagara River across from Buffalo, New York.

Fort Erie “figured very prominently” in the war, says John Triggs, associate professor of archaeology at Laurier, who is leading the work. It is the site of the bloodiest battle ever fought on Canadian soil, a six-week siege in August and September 1814, during which the British tried to recapture the fort from the Americans. More than 1,500 combatants, including soldiers, Native allies and militia, died in the fighting.

The dig will focus primarily on the American defensive positions during the battle. “We could easily find 10,000 artifacts on a dig like this, of all shapes and sizes, from smaller than a thumbnail to as large as a cannonball,” Dr. Triggs said in an interview with the university’s communications department. The Laurier dig could also turn up new discoveries about the Native allies who fought alongside the British; records about them are scarce.

What Dr. Triggs doesn’t expect to find are any human remains, since all bodies were likely removed from the battlefield and buried elsewhere. But just in case, a Laurier professor who specializes in the archeology of human remains, Bonnie Glencross, will be on hand to examine any possible cases.

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