Neal Ferris

Neal Ferris

Professor - Archaeology
Lawson Chair of Canadian Archaeology

PhD 2006 (McMaster University)
Office: Social Science Centre 3215
Tel: 519 661-2111  ext. 85059



Research Interests

I hold the Lawson Chair of Canadian Archaeology and am cross-appointed between the Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. My research focusses on the archaeology of the last 1000 years related to both the Indigenous and Industrial Eras, including the contemporary practice of archaeology in society today. I particularly focus on archaeology from Ontario, Northeastern North America, and the Caribbean.

My research interests focus on three main themes that, at least in my head, all overlap and braid together into broader interconnections through the research I do myself, in collaboration with others, and through supervision of student-led research:

1) The archaeology as trans-generational histories of lived human experiences interpreted through the materiality of craft, settlement-subsistence, social organization, interaction, and identity, as reflected across the Late Woodland part of the Indigenous Era, and through the Industrial Era in southern Ontario, Northeastern North America, and the Caribbean. This focus allows me to explore the fluid social-material process of always becoming and changing continuities as they are reflected through deep time, and across material borderlands for Indigenous communities, between the colonial metropole and its peripheries, and between class, gender, aged, and other temporally transient and socially constructed notions of difference that play out in time and place. I am particularly focused on how the archaeological record materially offers insights into the global colonialism of the last half millennium and how it has shaped trans-generational understandings of self within and across communities of colonizer, colonized, and diasporas. That interest, in turn, also leads me to explore the continuing legacies of that European colonial legacy in shaping notions and values over this always contested heritage, locally and globally.

2) I also explore archaeology as contemporary social practice and praxis, including the Statecraft of policy, regulation and bureaucratic administration; the ethics and identity of the archaeo­logical community; and the commercialization of practice through Archaeological Heritage Management (AHM). This includes research on the intersection of archaeology and Descendant community treaty and resource claims, and capacities for collaborative and differing uses and interpretations of the archaeological record.

3) Those two research themes also overlap in work exploring the contemporary uses and consumption of archaeological information and of the material record. This work has been shaped by Sustainable Archaeology (, which explicitly seeks to transform contemporary archaeological practice and research through collections care, digital data management and preservation, imaging and virtual reality, all in order to facilitate research, collaboration, and the deconstructing of exclusionary knowledge and ownership claims over the archaeological heritage. This includes facilitating dual consensual decision making between archaeologist and descendant community values with respect to the use and care of collections arising from the output of contemporary archaeological activity. The aim of the facility, and of building the long term repository of the archaeological record in Ontario compiled primarily through commercial archaeology, is to help work towards a sustainability of archaeological practice by re-conceptualizing the role archaeology in society, and shifting archaeological sensibilities away from archaeologist-centric agendas to finding research value and fulfillment while being “in the service of” those larger social values that come to bear over the archaeological heritage today.


Recent Research

New Research

The Archaeology and Heritage of Colonialism and Colonial Legacies in St. Kitts Nevis

Exploring the colonial landscape and legacy of the Lower Bath Stream/Bath House-Hotel on the Island of Nevis. This project explores the materialities of late British colonialism on Nevis, and the legacies of that colonialism in the ongoing shaping and valuing of heritage legacies on Nevis, as reflected through an ongoing community engagement with the communal heritage of wellness and bathing, the popularization of a colonial elite heritage of recreational spa tourism, and the contemporary valuation of that heritage through a world heritage nomination and inscription of the Bath House-Hotel and Stream. This research also explores the archaeological expression of colonial metropole class materialities in the colonial periphery, the archaeology of health and wellness, and the archaeology of tourism and recreation.

Develop a Baseline Demographic and Economic Profile of Commercial Archaeological Practice in Canada

Tied to ongoing research in applied archaeological practice, I am developing and will be implementing a survey of archaeological consulting firms in Canada, profiling the industry and its practitioners. This information has never been compiled for Canada, though similar surveys in Europe, United States, and Australia have provided a wealth of information and insight into the practice of archaeology globally. I will be seeking to create a baseline profile of this industry in Canada, one that would serve to help advance more longitudinal studies over time.


Ongoing Research

At the Museum of Ontario Archaeology I continue research on the following topics:

Sustainable Archaeology:

Innovating how the archaeological record can be cared for, documented, conceived of, made accessible, and managed in Ontario. This includes advancing a digital archaeology to achieve those aims.

Working Together to develop a practice of archaeology that is consensually co-managed and in the service of the Indigenous descendants of this archaeological heritage, and accessible broadly across Ontario.

Lawson Site:

Advancing and revising our understanding of the human history of the Lawson Site – a vital Indigenous cosmopolitan community that existed for about 50 years around 1500 AD and that has been subjected to continuous archaeological investigation for close to 150 years.

Exploring, revising and adding multiple voices to our interpretations and understanding of the 15th and 16th century human history of southwestern Ontario, and how the human history of the Lawson site fits into that broader archaeological landscape.

In addition, I have ongoing research interested in:

Southwestern Ontario Late Woodland Borderlands and the revising of material identity across generations and across cultural historical “borders” of artifact trait expression.

Archaeological Practice as Statecraft, in particular how the Archaeological Resource Management Industry, and the archaeological record itself, is regulated through State policy and bureaucratic practice, and how that shapes the ethics, attitudes, and logics of commercial archaeology.


Selected Publications

You can access most of my publications through my Academia Page or ResearchGate Page:


2014       Rethinking Colonial Pasts through Archaeology. Edited by Neal Ferris, Rodney Harrison (University College London), and Michael Wilcox (Stanford University). Oxford University Press, Oxford.



2019      Unraveling Identities on Archaeological Borderlands: Late Woodland Western Basin and Early Ontario Iroquoian Traditions in the Lower Great Lakes Region. Amy St. John and Neal Ferris. Canadian Geographer 63(1):43-56.

2018       Objects as Stepping Stones: Sustainable Archaeology. Neal Ferris, Aubrey Cannon & John Welch. Canadian Journal of Archaeology 48(1):4-12.

2018      Research Spaces from Borderland Places – Late Woodland Archaeology in Southern Ontario. In Engaging Archaeological Research edited by Stephen Silliman, pp. 99-108. Wiley-Blackwell Books.

2017       Flint, Feather, and Other Material Selves: Negotiating the Performance Poetics of E. Pauline Johnson. Manina Jones & Neal Ferris. American Indian Quarterly 41.2:125-157.

2015       New Worlds: Ethics in Contemporary North American Archaeological Practice. Neal Ferris and John Welch. In Ethics and Archaeological Praxis, edited by Cristóbal Gnecco and Dorothy Lippert, pp. 69-93. Springer Books, New York.

2014       Being Iroquoian, Being Iroquois: A Thousand Year Heritage of Becoming. In Rethinking Colonial Pasts through Archaeology, edited by Neal Ferris, Rodney Harrison, and Michael Wilcox, pp. 371-395. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

2014       Introduction: Rethinking Colonial Pasts through the Archaeologies of the Colonized. Neal Ferris, Rodney Harrison, and Matthew Beaudoin. In Rethinking Colonial Pasts through Archaeology, edited by Neal Ferris, Rodney Harrison, and Michael Wilcox, pp. 1-34. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

2014       We Have Met the Enemy and it is Us: Transforming Archaeology through Sustainable Design. John Welch and Neal Ferris. In Transforming Archaeology: Activist Practices and Prospects, edited by Sonja Atalay, Lee Clauss, Randall McGuire and John Welch, pp. 91-114. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.

2014       Beyond Archaeological Agendas: In the Service of a Sustainable Archaeology. Neal Ferris and John Welch. In Transforming Archaeology: Activist Practices and Prospects, edited by Sonja Atalay, Lee Rains Claus, Randall McGuire and John R. Welch, pp. 215-238. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.

2014       Sustainable Archaeology through Progressive Assembly 3D Digitization. Namir Ahmed, Michael Carter, and Neal Ferris. World Archaeology 46(1):137-154.


Permit Reports

2019      Aspirational Heritage: The History & Archaeology of the Bath House-Hotel and Bath Stream-Spring Landscape, Nevis. Permit Report Prepared for the Nevis Historical Conservation Society, Charlestown. Available on Academia and ResearchGate


Guidelines and Databases

2019       Sustainable Archaeology Online Collections Management and Research Database. Comprehensive guide and lexicon to material glossary and classification, temporal schema, and query engine. SAIP Ver Neal Ferris, Colin Creamer, Heather Hatch, Joshua Dent.

2014       Sustainable Archaeology’s Collections Procedures and Practices. Version 1.0 (June 1). Kira Westby, Neal Ferris, Rhonda Bathurst, Alexander Ray.




I can be asked to teach a number of graduate and undergraduate courses, and often find myself teaching different courses year to year, which gives me the chance to engage with students over wide range of archaeological topics. The following are courses I have taught more than once over the last few years. Note that usually the graduate courses I teach are cross-listed and open to senior undergraduates, too.

Anthropology 2229 - Principles of Archaeology

This course provides an overview of the goals, theory and analytical methods of archaeology as practiced by anthropologists. The course serves to provide a basic exploration of how archaeologists study the material remains of past peoples to interpret their cultural systems, and also how the practice of archaeology is shaped by the contemporary world archaeologists are a part of today.

Anthropology 3324 - Archaeological “Un” Field School – Site Management and Service

The aim of this course is to undertake archaeological field methodologies that are designed to manage a significant archaeological site through non-invasive and minimally intrusive methodologies. In Ontario, most sites are managed through a process of removal - including large scale excavation and preservation as collections and records, in order to allow for modern land development activities. But what if the aim is not to dig up and remove a site, but to protect and manage it over the long term? That is the case for the Lawson site, a nationally listed and provincially designated Indigenous site dating to the 16th century AD located on the grounds of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, the majority of which is undisturbed within a woodlot. A very different set of aims and field methods are required in such settings and will be the focus of this course needed to preserve the site, and rehabilitate it form past fieldwork. Students will undertake field investigations that are designed to protect the heritage value of this Indigenous archaeological heritage, and consistent with the site’s management plan.

Anthropology 9112 - “i”-ing the Past: Digital Archaeology and Digital Heritage

This course explores the implications of digitizing the practice of archaeology, and interacting with the past digitally. What are the possibilities and issues when a material, tangible past is interacted with and “handled” intangibly and online? What does it mean for archaeological datasets to be “borne digitally”? How does this digital world change methodologies, analyses, and even how we interpret and think about the archaeological heritage? What are the implications for understanding the past and making the archaeological heritage accessible beyond archaeology, as it becomes engaged with, challenged, and re-imagined online and within social media and a global digital community?

Anthropology 9110 - Principles of Applied Archaeology

This course examines the principles and concerns that are integral to the practice of applied archaeology in North America, and the role of applied archaeology in heritgae management in general.  The course will review legislation and profesional practices that govern applied archaeologist, and in particular the form of archaeology carried out by consultant archaeologists hired by third parties to undertake archaeological investigations in advance of land development or resource extraction (commonly called Cultural Resource Management - CRM).  While the readings will draw on the experience of applied archaeology from across North America and beyond, the course will focus on applied archaeology as currently practiced in Ontario.


Graduate Supervision

I welcome students interested in Indigenous and Industrial Era archaeology, especially those interested in working on dimensions of the Nevis colonialism research project, or on dimensions of research focused on the Lawson site and 15th-16th century archaeology in southwestern Ontario. I am happy to consider supervising research projects related to applied archaeology and contemporary practice, the Ontario Late Woodland, and dimensions of 17th-20th century era archaeology. I am particularly happy to consider and encourage applicants from the consulting industry who wish to enroll in the Department’s Applied Archaeology MA option.

Current Students

Phil Woodley, PhD candidate: Memory and Tradition at the Christie Site (AhHa-61)

Beth Compton, PhD candidate: Engaging with Archaeological Collections in Community Archaeology: examining the value of digital representations and physical replicas. Joint supervisor with Lisa Hodgetts

Amanda Suko, PhD Candidate: Communities of Practice and Assemblages Within a Material Late Woodland Borderland

Sydney Rowinski, MA Candidate: Surveying the Industry: A Professional Profile of Cultural Resources Management in Canada

Sarah Bolstridge, MA Candidate: CRM Approaches to Valuing Late 19th century sites

Former PhD Students

Amy St. John:  "Late Woodland Ceramic Borderlands Using a Micro-CT Scanner." Joint supervisor with Andrew Nelson

Michael Carter: “Virtual Archaeology, Virtual Longhouses And “Envisioning the Unseen” Within the Archaeological Record.”

Joshua Dent: “Accounts of Engagement: Conditions and Capitals of Indigenous Participation in Canadian Commercial Archaeology.”

Matthew Beaudoin: "De-Essentializing the Past: Deconstructing Colonial Categories in 19th-Century Ontario"

Former MA Students

Hillary Kiazyk: "Digital Indigenous Community Archaeology"

Corbin Berger: "19th century Cellar Standards in Ontario CRM"

Kelly Gostick: “If Pits Could Talk: An Analysis of Features from the Figura Site (AgHk-52).”

Adria Grant: “The Roffelsen Site: A Late Woodland Place of Transition between Life and Death.”

Chelsey Armstrong: "Ancient DNA in Archaeologically Charred Zea MaysL. : Prospects and Limitations".

Joshua Dent: "Past Tents: Temporal Themes and Patterns of Provincial Archaeological Governance in British Columbia and Ontario"

Ellen Brown: "Borders of Knowledge: Cultural and Political Borderlands, Identity and the Ironsdies in the Great Lakes (1790-1863)."