Monday, July 09, 2012

"Curse of the Axe" on History Television

History Television is so awful that one seems compelled to notice when it carries something that might actually be interesting. (Is this a marketing ploy?) Anyway "Curse of the Axe" premieres on History tonight, 8:00 PM.

Toronto archaeologist Ron Williamson, was doing a rescue project on the "Mantle site near Stouffville, in the greater Toronto area, before a housing development went in. He encountered a very large Huron or proto-Huron townsite dating to about 1500-1530 -- a good hundred years before any Europeans came to that area of southern Ontario.  Among the artifacts from that site is a piece of European iron, an axehead forged in the Basque country of Atlantic Spain or France. "Curse of the Axe" is a documentary inspired by the Mantle site and that particular find.

The Mantle find confirms and expands a well-understood historical/archeological description of the region and period. Given the scope and ubiquity of aboriginal trade routes, it was inevitable (and now reasonably well documented) that European trade goods would reach far into the interior of North America long before Europeans themselves did. The Mantle axehead expresses that reality particularly well, because it was found insitu in a good archaeological context, because it was early, because it seems to have been ceremonially buried on the site with some care and perhaps reverence, and because the researchers have gone to unusual lengths to determine its precise provenance.

"Curse of the Axe" is a movie, and because it's on History Television maybe, the story has become, well, dramatic. The film-makers have developed a possibly lurid story about the axehead being cursed, about its being a symbol of the coming destruction of Huronia.  Some of the publicity describes the archeologists as "stunned" and "shocked," and declares the find "confounds everything known about the Huron-Wendat." "How did a piece of European iron.... Where did it come from?" asks the History Television PR breathlessly.

So make some allowances. It could be an interesting film despite the hype. It comes from Yap Films who have been making a number of interesting historical films lately.  Nice to see that History Television can accept that programming about, well, history, can be part of its mandate once in a while.
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