Curse of the Axe is a television show about the discovery of a five hundred year old Huron village found in Ontario. The site existed from 1500-1520. However, the show mainly focuses on this small, singular piece of iron found in the site. Now what seems so odd about a piece of metal? It's something that is commonly used as a tool throughout history; however, this piece of iron predates European contact in the area by one hundred years. Etienne Brule, the first European to come in contact with the Native Americans in this area, did not encounter these people until 1610. The past is not always as clear as we would like it to be; it can actually be quite opaque at times, or it can be changing shape so we are second guessing what we were told and what we believe, leaving us scratching our heads. It seems that new questions are always coming up about history. This show follows how the questions like what the piece of iron was, where it came from, how it got there and what it meant to the people, were answered. These are answered like a puzzle with different pieces coming together to form the whole picture. Places like Mantle also show us that the history of Canada is not necessarily as new as we like to think; it was the homeland and country to the Native Americans before it became Canada. And these questions and changes in history all started with a little piece of iron.
I enjoy watching shows that document the discovery of historical sites and follow the process of understanding the site. It is almost like you are figuring out the meanings of artifacts along with the archaeologists. We, the audience, are a part of the process of discovery. I sometimes like to come up with my own theories about the site and the objects before the outcome is determined. With this format of a show we can experience the emotions, especially the excitement, from others when it comes to history. The archaeologists on the televisions show make the audience almost just as excited as they are. Ron Williamson, the lead archaeologist on the Mantle dig, was practically bubbling over with excitement through the whole hour of the programme. My mother happened to be watching the show with me, and she was never one for historical shows, but she said she was intrigued and engaged with the show. She even was paying attention enough to give my grandmother a summary of the what happened in the show.
The Native Americans believed that all things, even inanimate, had a spirit. The archaeologists who found the iron tool felt it necessary to involve the descendents of these historical peoples. It was an important choice because it would help provide a cultural perspective on the find, to see what it might have meant to the past Hurons and what it might have been used for. Not only was the involvement of the present-day Hurons helping the archaeologists, the find was also helping that group of Native Americans. The group had been transferred to Quebec many years ago. They saw this find as a way to regain their past. This find from Mantle, their ancestral home, was a way for them to know who they were as a people, but a lot of their past and culture has been lost over the years. This loss is partially attributed to the Native Americans' lack of literary material, thus leaving their descendants to rely on oral traditions and archaeological remains. I also think involving the present day Hurons in the project and in the show allows for a more human connection to come from the site. We see that these are the descendents of the people that lived at Mantle, and we can see what it meant for those people of the present to reconnect with their past culture and their ancestors.
Part of the mystery of the iron object is where it came from. It was wrought iron so it would have came from a place that had that type of technology, and that pointed to the Europeans. Through the use of science and new techniques they were able to distinguish where this piece of iron came from. They had used a high power x-ray to examine the form of the iron to tell how it was formed. Since they distinguished that it was wrought iron, and not caste iron, they were able to tell it was a much older piece of iron rather than a something left behind by a farmer. Science was used to understand history.
This show presents the piece of iron as something that changed history. Half of the show focuses on the mysterious piece of iron while half of the focus was on the advancement of the village. It is now believed to be the most complex Native American settlement in north-east North America. It was a planned village. It had even rows of over ninety longhouses centered around a plaza; this mirrors European towns of the same period. There is even evidence that they may have been the first farmers in the north. There were acres and acres of corn fields that could even be close to the size of present day New York City. These fields of corn would have provided food and items to trade; it is possible that they traded that corn for the iron object. There were other various artifacts, like pottery that were abound with different tribes' styles, such as a style matching that from their enemy, the Iroquois. This shows the people from Mantle had a very large trade network. But it was never just about the objects found in the remains of the village, it was about the people who owned them. The objects and village would not be there if it was not for the community that had settled there, created their way of life, and traded with other groups for items that may have came a very long way.
Ron Williamson, the lead archaeologist on the Mantle dig, said that history is a mystery, a secret that is trying to speak to us. With the surfacing of this piece of iron broken off from an axe, it was history's way of finally showing something that it had kept hidden and kept secret for five hundred years. Even little pieces have big stories in history. The axe was shaped in Spain, travelled across the Atlantic with a group of fishermen, then to be stolen by a group of Native Americans, and travelled and traded all the way to Mantle where it found its resting place with the Huron. The emotions of the archaeologists and the present day Huron community make the history of Mantle all that more tangible and exciting. The use of science also expands the appeal of history. Shows, like the Curse of the Axe, that document the archaeological process of discovery, allow us to see something new in history; even if it is a bit of an oxymoron. But this shows us that history keeps moving and shifting with new discoveries and new theories of the past.