Museum of Industry working to clean artifacts

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STELLARTON — First, there was the big dig.

Now comes the big cleanup, and the Museum of Industry is offering people the opportunity to clean artifacts made of iron and other materials that were uncovered last year.

“We’re cleaning artifacts and inviting the public to our workshop,” said Debra McNabb, the museum’s director.

People can drop in whenever they want between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday to help with the project, which is free.

“They don’t need to register but they need to be prepared to get dirty,” she said. “The objects are coated in mud. They’re encrusted in stuff, and we need to catalogue what we can and return the rest of the artifacts back in the ground.”

She said the project will put the museum much closer to identifying the objects that were found.

The Nova Scotia Archaeology Society and Industrial Heritage Nova Scotia (IHNS) are sponsoring the event with the museum. Archaeologists will be at the museum to instruct people on the work.

The relics to be cleaned were uncovered during a dig last September at a site of an ancient foundry downhill from the museum. They are similar to ones discovered during a dig in the 1980s. They were cleaned and categorized in a way the others will be this weekend.

Discovering the items has made the museum’s location all the more meaningful, McNabb said. The museum is situated near a pump house beside Highway 104 and on top of one coal mine that dates from 1827 and the famous Foord pit that opened in 1866, she said.

“We’re a national historic site, that recognizes the importance of Pictou County coal mining to the development of Canada.

“The General Mining Association from England started coal mining as an industry in Nova Scotia,” she said. “They brought the technology, the skilled miners and the money they needed. They spared no expense.”

She said the museum has been transformed by uncovering and identifying the items that were made at a complex of foundry buildings that no one knew existed when the museum site was selected.

“When they were going to build the museum, they did some archaeology and found an iron foundry on the site,” she said. “We did some digs in the 1980s and encountered thousands of metal and glass artifacts.”

IHNS sponsored the dig last September. Seven archaeologists and close to 110 volunteers of all ages took part.

“As soon as we took the sods off, there were metal objects,” she said. “It’s one of the richest areas they have ever seen for this kind of archaeology. They didn’t know what the buildings might be so we started researching that ourselves.”

One piece stands out from the many other smaller items discovered. It’s a seven-foot-long piece of what is called fish belly rail, considered the earliest of cast-iron rails used for railways.

McNabb said it’s most significant because it dates from the Albion railway, the first railway on iron rails in British North America that was laid along what are now the Albion and Samson trails.


Museum of Industry director Debra McNabb holds a pick blade, one of the artifacts cleaned up from a previous dig near the museum during the 1980s. People are getting a chance to help the museum clean up artifacts uncovered last year. (Goodwin photo)

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