J. Norman Emerson 1917 - 1978

The Dean of Canadian Archaelogy

John Norman Emerson (1917 – 1978) grew up in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto. ‘Norm’, as he was always called, attended Rosedale Public school from 1924-1936 and then continued on at the University of Toronto schools from 1932-1936 where he was not only successful in academics, but became an accomplished fencer, winning several medals. He then entered the University of Toronto (Trinity College) and obtained an Honours B.A. in Sociology ‘Summa cum Laude’ in 1940. It was during this period his commitment to archaeology was established.

His graduate studies commenced in the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, where he obtained an M.A. in 1941. He then enrolled in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and graduated in 1942 with a thesis on Ontario archaeology. Continuing on at Chicago, he embarked upon a Ph.D. which he completed in 1954 with a dissertation entitled The Archaeology of the Ontario Iroquois.

In 1943, he married Ann Elliott of Buda, Illinois. They had three children: Neil, Lynn and Bruce. The same year he was married, he was drafted by the American Army, but transferred to the Canadian Armed forces. He saw combat and was discharged in 1945 to continue his dissertation.

J. Norman Emerson had many accomplishments and held many professional positions. In 1946, he joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto as a Lecturer. During his thirty-two year tenure he achieved Full Professorship. He was the supervisor of Archaeological Studies and developer of the archaeological laboratories at the University as well. In 1951 he founded the Ontario Archaeological Society and established archaeological field schools. The greater part of his research was focused upon the archaeology of the Huron nation. He did, however, venture into earlier Ontario prehistory and Arctic prehistory. In his final years he pioneered Intuitive Archaeology (the use of psychics to find and/or identify an object’s past) working with one of the best psychics, George McMullen.

Dr. Emerson’s greatest commitment was to his students and he was often quoted saying, “I produce the thinking student”. Archaeology was his tool. He was interested also in oil painting, chess, music, and camping.

A fund has been created by the Department of Anthropology for the purpose of the curation, preservation and exhibition of the Ontario archaeological collections housed at the University of Toronto, in honour of John Norman Emerson.

Emerson HomeBack in the late 1800s, the Emerson home – and the former home of his grandparents, Harry and Eliza Emerson – was an imposing, three-story, semi-detached house that stood at 94 Howard Street near where Parliament Street came to an end. The yard behind extended out and down a ravine and there were orchards and a tennis court on the long slope of the lot. On the opposite side of the ravine was Rosedale, the elite part of Toronto with big estates that were (and many still are) the homes of Toronto’s wealthy.

Gathered from the writings of both
Helen Devereux and William C. Noble, archaeologists and former students of J. Norman Emerson.



Photos courtesy of Ann Emerson, wife of Norman Emerson, and family.

Photos courtesy of Ann Emerson, wife of Norman Emerson, and family.

“Intuitive Archaeology”

Dr. Norman Emerson was widely known and respected as a teacher for his archaeological work with the Hurons, the Ontario Iroquois. He was, in his own words, “a stones and bones” archaeologist for 30 years until his association with George McMullen and others gifted with paranormal abilities who demonstrated that there were other less traditional means of obtaining provable information about man’s prehistory. The book titled One White Crow chronicles Dr. Emerson’s research into territory seldom explored by academics and the study he eventually called “Intuitive Archaeology.”

In the Preface of One White Crow, Dr. Emerson states, “Although I do not claim that my studies have achieved the status of being scientific, neither can they be ignored or dismissed as nonsense, imagination or hallucinations. The key to the matter appears to lie in the concept of intuition. I found for my purpose a workable definition of intuition is that individuals exist who have ‘an immediate knowledge or knowing of events without the obvious use of learning or reason.’ Intuitive or psychic individuals can tell about past events and circumstances by a poorly-understood process of ‘immediate knowing.”

“It has long been a rationalization of the discipline of archaeology that for man to cope with his unknown future he will be better equipped if he has detailed understanding of his own past. I propose to use an innovative approach to this understanding by combining the disciplines of archaeology, science and psychic studies.”

“I believe that the experiences I have been privileged to have are but a small part of what is available to humanity. I hope there are significant signs of a snowballing revolution of evolution of the increased spiritual nature and awareness of human beings that is everywhere evident to those who will but look at it with an open mind. This should have great impact on the future of mankind at a time when we so evidently require change in positive directions.

In 1974 Margaret Mead persuaded the American Anthropological Association that parapsychology was a legitimate study for anthropology since it was a study of man, and a symposium on parapsychology was added to their annual meeting in Mexico City. Dr. Emerson felt that this step should be supported and travelled to Mexico City to give a report of his research into the paranormal up until that point.

His work in Intuitive Archaeology included the psychometry of an argillite carving found in the Queen Charlotte Islands; readings on silver coins dated 1845 found in Holland Landing; psychic location of a palisade around an indian site when an archaeological excavation of a one hundred foot test trench would not locate it; trips to the Middle East with the Edgar Cayce Foundation; and much, much more.

Courtesy of Lynn Emerson (daughter of John Norman Emerson)


1) Canadian Archaeological Association

2) University of Toronto Partners in the Past

3) University of Toronto J. Norman Emerson Fund

See also: W.C. Noble, “J.Norman Emerson: Contributions to Canadian Archaeology”, in Bringing Back the Past: Historical Perspectives in Canadian Archaeology, by P.J. Smith and D. Mitchell, 1998

One White Crow, by George McMullen, Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc. 1994

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