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The eight-week excavation is taking place in an area once inhabited by members of the Huron-Wendat First Nation, as well as French colonists and the British army. (Nicole Germain/Radio-Canada) Archeologists have unearthed more than 50,000 artifacts dating back more than three centuries on the quiet grounds of a former Catholic church, just west of Quebec City.

The site in L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has revealed itself to be a real treasure trove of discoveries, said lead archeologist Stéphane Noël.

"We really have close to 350 years of history on the site," said Noël, who is working as part of an archeologist workers’ cooperative, GAIA, on the eight-week excavation.

A new community centre is expected to be built on the land, which has also since been used as a parking lot.

Members of the Huron-Wendat First Nation lived in the area with Jesuit priests in 1673, Noël explained, before the Bishop of Quebec City pressured them to leave the site two decades later to make way for French inhabitants.

They, too, eventually had to leave during the winter of 1759 and 1760 — to make room for the British army.

The objects each group of former inhabitants left behind have been exceptionally well-preserved within the soil, Noël said. The items being excavated are exceptionally well preserved, said lead archeologist Stéphane Noël. (Radio-Canada) "What’s exceptional is the integrity, the incredible preservation of the archeological layers, and the quantity of artifacts that we’ve been able to gather," he said.

In 2013, Noël excavated a nearby area that once housed a chapel, so he said he knew the area was rich with potential.

This time, he recommended bringing in a complete excavation team, getting 30 archeologists and other specialists to take part in the excavation.

As many as 70,000 artifacts could be discovered in the 400 square-metre area by the time the team’s work wraps up this week, he said.

"The presbytery grounds in L’Ancienne-Lorette is one of the region’s most important archeological sites in recent years." Important site for local First Nation community

The grounds provide a look at a unique period in Huron-Wendat history, as the First Nation’s longhouses were built around French colonists’ buildings there for 23 years.

"It’s a unique site in Canada," said Louis Lesage, director of the Nionwentsïo Office, which protects the ancestral territory of the Huron-Wendat in the area.

"A lot of French sites have been excavated in Quebec and Canada. A lot of English sites have been excavated in Quebec and Canada, but this is the only site where we have a fusion between a First Nation and the French epoch." Wendaki Grand Chief Konrad Sioui said the discoveries will more than double the Huron-Wendat Nation’s collection of traditional artifacts. (Radio-Canada) Lesage is able to trace his own family tree back 13 generations, starting at the L’Ancienne-Lorette site.

"All our genealogical trees start in L’Ancienne-Lorette," he said.

The current work has revealed stories the Jesuit priests who lived with the Huron-Wendat did not bother to write down, including how the First Nation people’s lives were changing.For example, archeologists — including two from the Huron-Wendat community — have dug up one of the largest collections of stone pipes in the province, demonstrating that they were still carving their own despite access to European goods.They were also repurposing European gun flints as scrapers and drills. Artifacts will be returned to the Huron-Wendat One of the most prized finds to date is a pendant carved into the shape of a beaver and made out of red argillite stone that likely came from Minnesota. Shaped like a beaver, a red argillite stone pendant (bottom left) is one of the most prized discoveries to come out […]

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