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Sustainable Archaeology


Sustainable Archaeology is a joint project between McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario (UWO), supported by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. This 9.8 million-dollar initiative to physically and digitally consolidate Ontario archaeological collections facilitates current and future use by any and all interested researchers.

The McMaster facility focuses on materials analysis, including petrographic, biogeochemical, zooarchaeological and geoarchaeological studies. The focus of the UWO facility is on 3D digitization and virtual environments. Combined, the facilities provide cutting-edge laboratories and equipment, accessible research collections and a database of digital data and macroscopic and microscopic imagery of archaeological materials.

This collaborative venture provides a sustainable future for archaeological research in Ontario.

Located at McMaster Innovation Park, the Sustainable Archaeology McMaster focuses on the long-term storage and analysis of Ontario archeological collections, with the goal of providing collections access and research space for academic and commercial cultural resource management archaeologists.

The facility also welcomes collaboration with other researchers with an interest in studying the past, whether the focus is cultural, environmental, or biological.

Resources and Equipment

Archaeological Repository

Located adjacent to the processing and microscopy labs to provide easy access, the repository space is approximately 9000 square feet, equipped with high-density electronic mobile shelving. This maximized storage capability enables the secure storage of 30,000 boxes of curated, managed and digitally inventoried artifacts and other archaeologically recovered materials.

Access to the materials is facilitated through a radio-frequency identification system (RFID), which allows researchers at McMaster and UWO to identify the precise location of specific artifacts and boxes within and between the facilities.

Repository space
Sustainable Archaeology Repository

Processing Lab

Exclusively designed for archaeological applications, the processing lab features ample space for efficient processing of soils, sediments, faunal and floral materials and artifacts. In the processing lab, equipped with industrial sinks, an exhaust hood, and custom drying racks, archaeological materials can be quickly cleaned and sorted prior to cataloguing, accessioning and analysis.

The wet lab facility also houses analytical equipment, specifically for materials preparation and analysis. The versatility of the equipment will enable archaeologists to prepare materials for a wide range of applications, including, but not limited to:

  • Sectioning and polishing of hard biological tissues, including animal bones, teeth and shell, and of non-organic materials, such as ceramics and lithics.
  • Micro-drilling and milling across incremental growth structures in shell and teeth to facilitate light stable isotope and trace elemental analysis.
Current Equipment Available:
  •  Manual Grinder Polisher (Buehler Metaserv 250) with 8" platen capacity, variable speed control from 50 to 500 rpm, and aluminum platen to offer a flat, hard grinding-polishing surface for most medias.
  • Vacuum Mounting (Buehler Cast N' Vac 1000) with high strength vacuum chamber, built-in synchronous motor and rotating turn table pouring mechanism.
  • Buehler IsoMet 1000 Precision Saw with counterbalance sliding load weight system (0-800g), 1/8 Hp DC motor, 7" blade capacity, variable speed from 0 to 975 rpm and inch/mm digital micrometer from 0.001" or 100 micron.
  • Minimo high precision rotary tool mounted on a drill press or handheld for cutting samples such as bone, ceramic, antler, or shell.
Processing Lab 1 Processing Lab 2
Sustainable Archaeology microscopy

Microscopy and Analytical Lab

This lab is specifically designed for the analysis of archaeological materials. It is equipped with state-of-the-art microscopes to produce high-resolution digital images, as well as to facilitate the analysis of micro-artifacts. In addition to the microscopy equipment, this spacious lab allows researchers the space to access, organize, and analyze large numbers of artifacts, and to select samples of materials for analyses conducted at outside facilities.

Current Equipment Available:

  • Zeiss V8 8:1 zoom range stereomicroscope with 5.0MP digital colour camera and stand alone monitor, including transmitted light base with BF, DF, oblique light and polarizing LED ringlight and a total magnification range with 1.5x objective is 15x-20x.
  • Zeiss V8 apochromatically corrected stereomicroscope with adjustable clamping ring to hold microdrill and reflected light LED. The 1x objective with 81mm working distance provides total magnification range of 10x-80x.
  • Minimo high precision rotary tool mounted onto a microscope for high resolution microdrilling and micromilling, ideal for material preparation for geochemical analysis (i.e. stable isotopes, trace elements).
  • Zeiss V8 stereomicroscopes with polarized LED ringlights. The 0.63x objective provides a total magnification range of 6.3x to 50.4x
  • Zeiss 12.0MP high resolution colour digital camera with ZEN imaging software for easy control of microscope, camera, and automatic Z focus, Z stacks and EDF single infocus images. High quality 64-bit imaging computer and monitor.
  • Zeiss Axiozoom V16 high resolution manual microscope with motorized zoom, manual transmitted light contrast techniques and variable LED ringlight with DF and polarizing accessories as well as dual polarized light pipes. Total INTELLIGENT magnification range 3.5x-258x.

Dry Lab 1
 Sustainable Archaeology microdrilling Sustainable Archaeology Microscope


Dr. Aubrey Cannon, Principal Investigator at McMaster
(905) 525-9140  ext. 23912

Dr. Catherine Paterson, Operations Manager
(905) 525-9140  ext. 21970

Related Links

Sustainable Archaeology

McMaster Innovation Park

University of Western Ontario Sustainable Archaeology Blog 

Department of Anthropology, University of Western Ontario 

Museum of Ontario Archaeology 

Canada Foundation for Innovation 

Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation

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