Bones of the Ancestors: The Archaeology and Osteobiography of the Moatfield Ossuary


351 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 0-660-19077-X
DDC 971.3'0049755




Edited by Ronald F. Williamson and Susan Pfeiffer
Reviewed by John Steckley

John Steckley teaches in the Human Studies Program at Humber College in
Toronto. He is the author of Beyond Their Years: Five Native Women’s


The Bones of the Ancestors is about the Moatfield site, which was
discovered in 1997 in northeastern Toronto. Judging from the ceramics
and from carbon 14 dating (both of which are discussed in the book), it
was determined that the site was occupied between 1280 and 1320 A.D.,
which would make it part of Middle Iroquoian culture. The people there
were ancestors of the Huron.

This is a very important work on the period, the place, and the people.
The quality of the research and careful and insightful nature of the
analysis reflect well on the contributors and editors involved.
Particularly interesting are the various writers’ explorations of the
osteobiography of the people (i.e., how their practices and the events
in their lives affected their bones and teeth). The book’s insightful
analysis of the fish bones sets a high-water mark for investigations
into riparian Aboriginal cultures such as the people of Moatfield.

The writers/editors have made little effort to reach a larger audience
of educated non-archaeologists. Most of the writing is very dry and
esoteric, and the book as a whole reads like an extended site report.
Still, The Bones of the Ancestors will be a much-valued reference work
for students of archaeology and Iroquoian peoples. Unfortunately, there
is no index, but a CD at the back of the book helpfully lists each


“Bones of the Ancestors: The Archaeology and Osteobiography of the Moatfield Ossuary,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,