Has God signed my dollar store mug? (and other important questions)

Treasures on the cheap. / Photo courtesy of the Dollarware Project
Treasures on the cheap. / Photo courtesy of the Dollarware Project

By Mark Shainblum

Join us as we unearth the hidden gems and secret places on the websites of McGill University and its affiliated institutions.

The Dollarware Project


Some 15 or 20 years ago, Saturday Night Live aired a hilarious parody of TV science documentaries. A stuffy, self-important archaeologist of the far-future shows off her latest discoveries, and – among other things – insists that an ancient McDonald’s was a 20th century temple, and the life-sized plastic statue of Ronald McDonald at the door was the local god, who demanded ritual sacrifices of charred meat and strange wheatcakes called “buns.”

The Dollarware Project is on the same wavelength, except it’s all about dollar store coffee mugs instead of hamburgers. And, oh yeah, it’s real archaeology, not a parody. In late 2007, McGill lecturer Stephen Chrisomalis sent his Archaeological Methods students out to a dozen local dollar stores. Their mission? To rigorously and scientifically collect as many cheesy, one-buck coffee mugs as they could carry. Believe it or not, said Chrisomalis, “ceramic analysis is a central aspect of archaeological lab work, so dollarware is a useful stepping-stone for future research with more traditional collections.”  It’s fascinating (and not a little freaky) to see local Dollarama outlets treated like archaeological “excavations,” complete with the type of detailed “dig” photos and meticulous site descriptions usually reserved for Sumerian burial chambers. Studies published on the site include Andrea Wong’s “Going with the Flow: Determining the most ideal and average drinking vessel”; David Groves’ “The Dollarware Cultural Tradition: An examination of the connection between ideography, low-quality drinking vessels, and the globalization of consumption and production”; and “Has God Signed My Dollar Store Mug? The search for aesthetic ratios in the relationship between body and handle in assemblages of dollarware drinking vessels,” by Gabriel Kravitz.

W.H. Pugsley Collection of Early Canadian Maps


And while we’re on the subject of researching the past, have a look at this stunning, full-colour collection of 50 early maps of Canada, some dating as far back as the 14th century. They were donated to McGill by alumnus Dr. W.H. Pugsley in 1971-72.