Oh the thinks you can think! – Trinity and Ryan’s Store

Within five kilometres of the community of Trinity there are 39 recorded archaeological sites. These include sites with European (English, French) and European descendant components (Newfoundlander) dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries. There are also a few sites with Precontact components and one with a Dorset Palaeoeskimo component.

Known archaeological sites within 5km of Trinity
Known archaeological sites within 5km of Trinity

Those sites include the remains of an English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war which dates from 1702 – 1713. The site includes the remains of several buildings such as a house and a barn as well as traces of an earthen parapet wall and a number of bastions.

Structure from English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war
Structure from English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war

At Fort Point there is another major English fortification built in 1745/46.  The structures were abandoned and reused several times up to about 1815.  The site also has a Dorset Palaeoeskimo component. Various European structures and earthworks, including a storekeeper’s hut, gun batteries, a gunner’s hut and the remains of a stone military foundation have been identified.

Fort Point
Fort Point

There are underwater sites in the area including several shipwrecks and a few artifact scatters that would have come from old finger piers or objects falling over the sides of ships. At least three of the shipwrecks date to the 20th century but there is another wreck near Fort Point that is thought to date to the 18th century. This vessel is believed to be the Speedwell, a British merchant vessel, which was lost in ice in 1781. This site was partially excavated over several years by members of the Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS) in the late 1970s.

Speedwell anchor (NMAS)
Speedwell anchor (NMAS)

There was a whaling factory in the early 20th century at Maggotty Cove south of Fort Point. In 1904 the Atlantic Whaling and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Job Brothers of St. John’s) built a substantial whaling factory at Maggotty Cove. In its period of operation, the factory processed a total of 472 whales taken by its two catchers, the Fin and the Hump. The factory closed in 1914.

Maggotty Cove whaling factory
Maggotty Cove whaling factory

Perhaps the largest and most complex series of sites in the Trinity area are those associated with the various mercantile firms which operated on the Trinity waterfront from the early 1700s to the early 1900s. Through those centuries the firms were run by the Taverners, Lesters, Garlands and Lester-Garlands and in the twentieth century the Ryan Brothers. In Trinity today the firms are represented by the Lester-Garland Counting House and the Garland (Ryan) Shop. Several of these buildings have been reconstructed and are part of the Provincial Historic Site system in Trinity.

Archaeological work has been conducted several times at the Lester-Garland premises over the years. We have learned though archaeology and historic documentation that the current standing building (reconstructed) is a three story Georgian style brick house modeled after the original which was constructed around 1819-1821. From archaeology in particular we have learned that within and under the ruins of this house is the foundation of the Lester house constructed in 1760 and possibly earlier remains. Archaeology work was first conducted on the site in 1993 before the structure was rebuilt. Since then the site was revisited for various reasons archaeologically nearly 10 times.

1993 excavation within and under the Lester-Garland building.
1993 excavation within and under the Lester-Garland building. Portions of the original early 19th century brick walls are still standing (McAleese)
Lester-Garland building today
Lester-Garland building today

The Lester-Garland building is reasonably well understood from an archaeological stand point. The same cannot be said of the Ryan’s store. There were excavations at the building in 1978, conducted by a Memorial University of Newfoundland archaeology graduate student. Unfortunately the student never completed the graduate program.

A 1940 photo looking at the Lester-Garland building in the back (left) and the Ryan's store building (back, red roof)
A 1940 photo looking at the Lester-Garland building in the back (left) and the Ryan’s store building (back, red roof)

In the intervening years it seems as though the graduate student’s notebooks and maps were misplaced. However, there are a tremendous assortment of artifacts in storage at the Rooms. Most of the artifacts appear to have been labeled and catalogued.

Fortunately there are 13 slides from the excavations which have been scanned and converted to an electronic format. Using these slides and the catalogue sheets I believe a map of the excavation units could be reconstructed.

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In total for the Ryan’s store site, there are some photos of the excavations, a lot of artifacts and most of the original catalogue forms. Taken together with the extensive historic documentation available for these mercantile establishments, including numerous diaries written in the 18th and 19th centuries, much information could still be learned about this important site. In a shameless plug at furthering research at this site I’ll end with this – if only there was an enterprising young archaeology or history student willing to take on this incomplete project. To quote Dr. Seuss ‘Oh the thinks you can think!’

Canadian Archaeological Association: 47th Annual Meeting

The 47th annual meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) was held in St. John’s last week. The CAA was founded in 1968. Membership includes professional, avocational and student archaeologists, as well as individuals of the general public of any country, who are interested in furthering the objectives of the Association. These objectives are:

  • To promote the increase and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge in Canada;
  • To promote active discourse and cooperation among archaeological societies and agencies and encourage archaeological research and conservation efforts;
  • To foster cooperative endeavours with aboriginal groups and agencies concerned with First Peoples’ heritage of Canada;
  • To serve as the national association capable of promoting activities advantageous to archaeology and discouraging activities detrimental to archaeology;
  • To publish archaeological literature, and;
  • To stimulate the interest of the general public in archaeology. (CAA 2015)

This year’s conference was organized by the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University and in my opinion the conference was excellent and went off without the slightest problem. I had the privilege of attending sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The best thing about these conferences is being able to sit in a room with peers and colleagues and learn from them. You get to learn from the people who are in the field and doing the work, bringing the past alive through archaeology. I saw a lot of great presentations. What follows, in no particular order, is a brief description of what were some of the more interesting topics to me.

William Gilbert did a presentation entitled “Dwelling There Still”: Historical Archaeology in Cupids, Newfoundland. I’ve attended presentations by Bill a few times and I always enjoy them. He knows his topic so well that his presentations are more like him telling stories off the top of his head. This presentation was about the true significance of the founding of Cupids in 1610 and the role the Newfoundland Company, who funded and founded the Cupids colony, played in establishing other early Newfoundland colonies.

Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony
Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony (Gilbert)

After Bill presented, Barry Gaulton did a presentation on archaeology at Ferryland entitled How much can a big hole in the ground tell you?: Preliminary investigations into the 1620s builder’s trench associated with Lord Baltimore’s Mansion House at Ferryland, Newfoundland. This presentation focused on Sir George Calvert’s Mansion House at Ferryland; its size, the nature of its construction or how this building functioned within the physical and social confines of seventeenth-century Ferryland. In 2013-2014, investigations directly south of the Mansion House’s stone hall revealed a deep and wide builder’s trench infilled with approximately 6 feet of compacted, sterile clay and rock. At the very bottom of the trench was a thin layer of refuse associated with the construction of the stone hall and, more importantly, the activities of the ordinary colonists and craftsmen who built it. Barry then went in to a discussion of what was found in this trench and how those discoveries allow us to better understand the builders and how they lived.

Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)
Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)

Another interesting presentation was by John Erwin which was titled Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics from Newfoundland and Labrador. This study was based upon the measurement of over 3600 soapstone vessel fragments and it resulted in some interesting conclusions. Some of those conclusions include, there seems to be more soapstone vessels on the Island than in Labrador; Regional distinctions between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland can be seen in rim finishes; and with few exceptions, almost every vessel in the province could have been manufactured at the Fleur de Lys Quarry.

Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador
Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador (Erwin)

Laurie McLean gave an interesting presentation titled Observations on the Morphologies and Distribution of Beothuk Housepits. Laurie took Beothuk housepit data from excavated sites and data that he has gathered from work he has done at the Beaches site and along the Exploits River and found patterns in the data. Those patterns include that the Beothuk initially modified their traditional conical wigwam template into similar-sized more substantial housepits and that those housepits became larger through time. The data, according to Laurie, indicate that early Beothuk housepits were easy to see and had a diverse toolkit indicating a productive economy that included trade with Europeans. This preceded a breakdown in Beothuk-European relations, resulting in a whole scale Beothuk shift to the Exploits Valley. Larger, multi-family houses became the norm in the interior with the most recent structures placed among tree cover and further from the river to avoid discovery by Europeans.

Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)
Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)

There was also an interesting presentation by Blair Temple called Urban Archaeology as an Archaeology of Governance: Examples from 19th Century St. John’s, Newfoundland. His presentation examined the impact and role that the various applications of governance have had on the creation of the archaeological record in St. John’s. He focused specifically on major fires in St. John’s past arguing that they were possibly the most prominent event providing impetus for government action and regulation.

Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. Not only were all the buildings you see here destroyed by the fire, but the course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire, to straighten out this curve – which, incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. The course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire (per government regulation), to straighten out this curve – which incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)

I also sat in on a session called How we talk about the past. Differences in seeing, learning, knowing and telling about indigenous heritage and history as viewed from Nitassinan and Mi’kma’ki which was hosted by Stephen Loring and Chelsee Arbour. I didn’t see all the presentations in the session but I did get to take in three and an Innu film by Christine Poker. One of the presentations in this session was by Richard Nuna entitled Reflections on Innu History. Richard spoke about how to reconcile aboriginal knowledge and country-based experiences with scientific knowledge, principles and practice.

Unfortunately there were lots of sessions and presentations that I was unable to attend because they were running back to back with other sessions. Despite this it was a great conference and a great learning experience.


2015 Canadian Archaeological Association Conference Program and Abstracts

Erwin, John
2015 A Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics
from Newfoundland and Labrador. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

McLean, Laurie
2015 Observations Concerning Beothuk Housepits. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

Penney, Gerald
2010 “Under the Street:” Archaeology and the Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project.
An illustrated talk delivered at The Rooms, 24 February 2010

Just another day for archaeology

Recent construction activity in downtown St. John’s around Temperance Street has generated a lot of interest in archaeology. There have been at least three stories on various media websites as well as reports on the radio and the local evening news. I suspect this heightened interest is due to the recent demolition of two historic homes in St. John’s. As a result, everybody seems hyper-aware of any construction related activity and its potential impact on heritage. While the removal of the homes was outside the jurisdiction of the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO), any below ground activity that could disturb an archaeological site, particularly in the oldest part of the city, is exactly what the PAO is here for.

In St. John’s there is an agreement between the PAO and the City. In 1997 the St. John’s accepted a recommendation from their Planning Committee stating that they would notify the PAO of any development in the downtown in an area deemed to have significant potential for archaeological resources. The area extends from Springdale Street to Temperance Street, from Duckworth Street down to the harbour front and includes the Southside and Quidi Vidi Lake.

Prior to the 1997 agreement between the PAO and the City of St. John’s, archaeology in downtown St. John’s was well represented with nearly 20 recorded sites in the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential. Those sites include:

  • Newman Wine Vaults (CjAe-01) – Wine storage vaults used from the 18th century
  • Anchor Point 1 (CjAe-03) – Military fortifications, the construction of which began as early as the late 17th Century.  It was destroyed and reconstructed several times up to the 19th Century
  • Duckworth Street East (CjAe-15) – This site contains a portion of Fort William which dates to the 17th century
Interior of the Newman Wine Vaults prior to excavation in 1973 (Barakat)
Interior of the Newman Wine Vaults prior to excavation in 1973 (Barakat 1973)
Excavating floor of the Newman Wine Vaults to in 1973 showing remains of wooden floor (Barakat)
Excavated floor of the Newman Wine Vaults in 1973 showing remains of wooden floor (Barakat 1973)

Prior to the 1997 agreement between the PAO and the City of St. John’s there was a decent understanding of the archaeology in downtown St. John’s. Since the agreement, our understanding has only gotten better. In the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential there are now more than 80 recorded archaeological sites. What follows is a brief summary of some of those sites.

In 2000, the Grand Concourse Authority proposed to construct a lookout and rest area at Waldegrave Battery (Fort Waldegrave) (CjAe-36) overlooking St. John’s harbour. A highlight of the rest stop would be the remnants of the stone parapet surrounding one of the gun positions from the 1810 battery. Prior to construction an archaeological assessment was conducted on the site to determine whether buried cultural resources would be impacted by the proposed work. Structural remains of military emplacements dating between 1810 and 1916 were discovered beneath several fill deposits dating to the 20th century. Using the information gained from the archaeological investigation, the Grand Concourse Authority altered the original design of the rest area so the newly discovered structural features could be incorporated into the rest stop design (Mills 2001).

Interior of Waldegrave Battery showing the 1916 gun platform on right and the cement platform in centre
Interior of Waldegrave Battery showing the 1916 gun platform on right and the cement platform in centre (Mills 2001)

The remains of the 17th century Fort Frederick, (Frederick’s Battery) (CjAe-37) are found across the Narrows of St. John’s Harbour from Waldegrave Battery. In 2003 this area was proposed as a location for the Fort Amherst Community Cultural Centre by the Grand Concourse Authority. The location fell within the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential and an archaeological assessment was carried out. As a result of the assessment portions of walls inside Fort Frederick were found and the Grand Concourse Authority altered the plans for Fort Amherst Community Cultural Centre to ensure the remaining resources were protected (Mills 2004).

Water colour of "HARBOUR, TOWN AND NARROWS OF ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND" by Major General Sir John Harvey, circa 1845. (Image courtesy of Parks Canada, ref. 3 19008XII)
Water colour of “HARBOUR, TOWN AND NARROWS OF ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND” by Major General Sir John Harvey, circa 1845. (Image courtesy of Parks Canada, ref. 3 19008XII) (Mills 2004)
Masonry wall exposed during testing of the area in 2003
Masonry wall exposed during testing of the area in 2003

The Harbour Interceptor Sewer project in St. John’s has been a boon for archaeology. Throughout the whole project, the City of St. John’s and the construction company worked with archaeologists and supported their work. As a result of this multi-year project nearly 60 archaeological sites were added to the Provincial Archaeological Site Inventory in the area of downtown deemed to have significant archaeological potential. Two of those sites have 17th century components, 18 have 18th century components and the rest are at least 19th century.

Water Street East 14 (CjAe-87) is located at the extreme eastern end of Water Street, at the base of Temperance Street. Secure cultural strata were investigated at the western boundary of the site, opposite the northwest corner of the St. John’s Port Authority building. Cultural materials from two separate 17th to early 18th century components were found (Penney 2008).

View of CjAe-87, from just below Battery Road (Penney 2008)
View of CjAe-87, from just below Battery Road (Penney 2008)
Base sherds from a Spanish heavy jar from CjAe-87 (Penney 2008)
Base sherds from a Spanish heavy jar from CjAe-87 (Penney 2008)

Riverhead, St. John’s Test Trench 3 (CjAe-55) was recorded during initial testing for the Harbour Interceptor Sewer in 2004. The site is located on the southern side of Water Street from the east side of Springdale Street to Hutchings Lane. Its most extensive aspect is a “fish flake layer” at 1.6-1.7 m depth below surface, dating to the late 18th to early 19th century. Three features were recorded; two foundations and a stone-walled sewer (Penney 2010).

View of south profile, CjAe-55, with two flake layers (Penney 2010)
View of south profile, CjAe-55, with two flake layers (Penney 2010)
Base and partial bowl from a late 18th early 19th century wine glass. Lot 8, CjAe-55 (Penney 2010)
Base and partial bowl from a late 18th early to 19th century wine glass. Lot 8, CjAe-55 (Penney 2010)

While all of the interest from the media and public in archaeology over the last little while has been great, the events and discoveries on Temperance Street are just another day for the PAO and the archaeology of St. John’s. Artifacts and walls have been found at Temperance Street which have been measured, recorded and photographed in accordance with standard archaeological practices. Parts of the foundations of the Standard Manufacturing Company and Matchless Paint Factory have been found which was constructed around 1902, and demolished in the late 20th century. Archaeologists have found parts of the A. Harvey and Co. buildings (a grist mill, biscuit factory, warehouses and offices) which were built around 1865 and lasted until the Great Fire of 1892. Prior to the 19th century it appears there was little development in the area and the archaeology seems to agree with that.

East end of Water Street, mid 1880s, showing Maggotty Cove. The two large buildings (A. Harvey and Co.) at far right are within the study area. The catwalk crossing Water Street is visible (CSJA 1-11-001) (Penney 2015)
East end of Water Street, mid 1880s, showing Maggotty Cove. The two large buildings (A. Harvey and Co.) at far right are within the study area. The catwalk crossing Water Street is visible (CSJA 1-11-001) (Penney 2015)
Various foundations found at Temperance Street in the last few weeks
Various foundations found at Temperance Street in the last few weeks

Having said all that, no agreement or process is perfect, unexpected discoveries happen. So if you see something that you think the PAO should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to contact them.


BARAKAT, Robert  1973  Report of an Archaeological Excavation at the Newman Wine Vaults, St. John’s, NF.

MILLS, Stephen  2001  Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment of Waldegrave Battery (CjAe-36), St. John’s, Newfoundland.

MILLS, Stephen  2004  Stage 1 HRA of Frederick’s Battery (CjAe-37), St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. 03.50

PENNEY, Gerald 2008 Construction-Excavation Monitoring Harbour Interceptor Sewer, Phase III St. John’s.  08.03

PENNEY, Gerald 2010 Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project, Phase I Construction – Excavation Monitoring 2008-09. 08.39 and 09.01.

PENNEY, Gerald 2015 Water Street-Temperance Street (CjAe-140) Historic Resources Overview Assessment Additional Geo-technical Monitoring, 2014 Archaeological Investigation Permits #14.32 and#14.32.01

Northern Peninsula Heritage Inventory

I recently came across the photos and slides from a survey I led in the summer of 2000 that I thought would be interesting to share. I spent that summer surveying a large area of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland extending from Crémaillère Harbour in the south to Quirpon Island in the north and as far west as Raleigh. The survey was Phase 2 of a larger Northern Peninsula heritage inventory that was initiated and led by two Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) professors. Phase 1 of the survey was conducted the previous summer by a local Northern Peninsula crew led by a MUN grad student; they went door-to-door interviewing locals about reports of artifacts or other cultural material. My goal for Phase 2 was to test some of the unconfirmed reports of historic sites documented during Phase 1 and to carry out a targeted survey for precontact archaeological sites in selected parts of the region.

Survey area for Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory
Survey area for Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory

Suitable test sites were selected from areas identified as high potential for either historic or precontact settlement. The selection process for historic sites relied directly on data from the Phase 1 inventory: the ten sites with the greatest number of independent reports were assigned the highest priority for testing. Potential precontact testing sites were compiled by mapping local landscape variables considered important in precontact site locations onto the ancient coastline, reconstructed using sea level history and local topography. Once in the field, problems with access to private or remote property and the challenges of testing boggy areas reduced the number of surveyed sites. Where possible, each site was tested using a systematic approach, where 30 cm x 30 cm pits were dug at 10m intervals across a site. The physical characteristics of each site were also recorded and photographed. Artifacts were collected and tagged on-site and later transported to St. John’s for cataloguing and conservation.

Site testing was carried out in the communities of St. Lunaire-Griquet, St. Anthony Bight, Quirpon, Noddy Bay, Raleigh, Ship Cove, Pistolet Bay/Milan Arm, St. Anthony Bight, Savage Cove, St. Lunaire Bay, White Cape Harbour, North Bay, Granchain Island, Four Ears Island, Griquet Island, Grandmother Island and Nobles Island. A total of 23 European and precontact archaeological sites were discovered.

Sites found during Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory (Yellow dots are sites)
Sites found during Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory (Yellow dots are sites)

Fieldwork was carried out between 17 July and 31 August, 2000, by a crew of five local research assistants under my direction. It turned out to be a very interesting summer for me personally as up to that point in my career I had very little experience working with or identifying historic artifacts. Since just seven of the 23 sites we found had any precontact material I learned a lot about historic European artifacts.

Crew testing a small cove at Cape Onion
Crew testing a small cove at Cape Onion

The only precontact site that I could identify for sure was based on a side-notched arrowhead. An individual from St. Anthony had found a side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on Granchain Island.

Granchain Island side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on a camera lens cap
Granchain Island side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on a camera lens cap

Some of the European sites were little more than an artifact or two while other sites were huge such as the five sites on Four Ears Island which totaled together were nearly 100,000m2 in size. Essentially the whole island was an abandoned community. The Four Ears Island sites included features such as constructed pathways, old gardens, a graveyard and the foundations for numerous buildings. The European sites usually showed multiple occupations over a long time span. At least eight may have been occupied as early as the mid-seventeenth century. Those early occupations would have likely been by migratory European fishermen. However, most of the sites dated to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By that time people were living here permanently.

The dating and cultural identification for these European sites were based on the artifacts recovered. While the recovery of some European artifacts will allow you to date a site specifically or assign a specific culture, most artifacts will not allow you to do that. For example, while Normandy stoneware (a French ceramic) is a frequent find on French sites, since this earthenware was traded with England it is also found in small quantities on English sites. Thus, one sherd of Normandy stoneware from a site does not necessarily indicate a French occupation. The same goes for dating of Normandy stoneware; production began in the fifteenth century and continues today so assigning a date to a site based on one sherd of Normandy stoneware is problematic. Most ceramics will only allow you to narrow a site occupation date down to a century.

Kaolin smoking pipes are more useful for a number of reasons. lf the bowl of the pipe is complete, we can compare them to established typologies which provide a date range, some of which are as narrow as a thirty years. Pipes can be roughly dated according to the bore size of the stems, which decreases in diameter through time. Pipe bores are easily measured. The measurements are usually taken with a set of wood drill bits of graduated sizes, in gradations of 64ths of an inch; most will fall between four and nine 64ths of an inch. Formulas have been established for dating pipestem assemblages based on bore diameters, however, at least 35 specimens are needed before the formulas have any validity.

As I stated earlier this was a great summer for me personally. I learned a tremendous amount about European historic artifacts. I leaned how to run a large scale survey with a crew. Of course having the crew composed of people who were hard working and very interested made it that much easier. Most importantly, we were able to add a lot of information to the collection of archaeology sites in this province.


Bell, Trevor, Renouf, Priscilla & Hull, Stephen
2001  Report of Phase II Heritage Inventory: Targeted Archaeological Survey Between Boat Harbour and Goose Cove, Great Northern Peninsula.

Hull, Stephen H.
2000        Archaeology at the Northeast end of the Great Northern Peninsula.

Saddle Island West artifacts

While writing my thesis on the Recent Indian period I had to read all the material I could find on that period of Newfoundland and Labrador’s past. That’s when I learned about the Recent Indian site on Saddle Island, Red Bay. I told you before about the various groups of people who had occupied Saddle Island in the past including the Maritime Archaic Indians, early & late Palaeoeskimos, Recent Indians, Thule/Inuit and various European groups including Basque whalers and later European fisherman.

Excavation of the Saddle Island West site. The Recent Indian portion of the site is to the left of the wooden structure which was erected over the excavated basque tryworks (Mercer)
Excavation of the Saddle Island West site. The Recent Indian portion of the site is to the left of the wooden structure which was erected over the excavated Basque tryworks (Mercer)

While the Recent Indian site on the Island was carefully excavated, results of those excavations were not as thoroughly documented in published and unpublished references. The site was discovered and excavated in the mid-late 1980s and had at least 170 cobble hearths which contained fire-cracked rocks, charcoal and calcined bone. Associated with many of the hearths was a typical Recent Indian tool kit including projectile points, small bifaces, scrapers, knives and flakes from the manufacture of these tools. These artifacts were made from Ramah chert and various cherts from the Island of Newfoundland, including Port au Port, Cow Head and elsewhere. There were also several pieces of Native made pottery vessels which are unusual artifacts for Newfoundland and Labrador. The pottery was poorly fired and tempered with coarse grit and decorated with cord-wrapped paddle edge impressions. Some of the hearths also had Basque roofing tiles, burned European hardwoods and iron nails. Those items may indicate Recent Indian-European contact or that the Recent Indians scavenged the European portion of the site. Whether the two peoples ever had face-to-face contact is not indicated by the archaeological evidence.

The Recent Indian period in the province falls in the range of ~2000 years ago to European contact. By far, most of the lithics from the site were from the late Recent Indian period which generally falls into the time frame of 1000 years ago to European contact. Typically, early Recent Indian period tool kits are defined as having larger side-notched bifaces and the late Recent Indian tool kits are defined as having small corner-notched bifaces which trend towards stemmed bifaces closer to European contact. This is a general rule of thumb and is by no means a hard fact.

Excavation of one of the hearths at Saddle Island West (Tuck)
Excavation of one of the hearths at Saddle Island West (Tuck)
Location of Saddle Island West in relation to the lithic sources at Ramah Bay, Cow Head and Port au Port
Location of Saddle Island West in relation to the lithic sources at Ramah Bay, Cow Head and Port au Port
 Side-notched to corner-notched to stemmed. Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom right two bifaces are late Recent Indian. The biface on the left of the bottom right is transitional between the two
Side-notched to corner-notched to stemmed. Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom bifaces are late Recent Indian

The lithics and ceramics from the site were in storage since shortly after their excavation in the 1980s. Last fall I was able to get photos of both the lithics and Native ceramics. Most archaeologists working in the province today have never had the chance to see these artifacts.

As I said earlier, Native ceramics are rare in Newfoundland and Labrador so truthfully I can’t say much about the ceramics beyond what I said above; they were low fired and tempered with coarse grit and decorated with cord-wrapped paddle edge impressions.

1. Lithics from Saddle Island West
1. Lithics from Saddle Island West

I am more comfortable discussing the lithics. One of the first things I noticed was that the collection includes a wide assortment of materials and I am pretty sure there is more than just Recent Indian material in the collection. This discussion comes with the caveat that it is difficult to say anything for certain about artifacts from just pictures. With this in mind, the 5th artifact from the top-left with its nice and even side notches, straight base and convex blade margins (possibly serrated) looks a little more Palaeoeskimo to me than Recent Indian, perhaps Groswater Palaeoeskimo. But the material is unlike something the Groswater typically use, it appears to be a coarse grain chert or quartz. With this is mind and the style the biface could be Intermediate Indian. On page 117 of the Provincial Archaeology Office 2013 Archaeology Review (PDF) there is a very similar looking biface from an Intermediate Indian site.

Photo 1 above also shows several diagnostic late Recent Indian projectile points such as the one in the centre of the photo (#740), or in the top row (#92), both of which are Ramah chert. The four bifaces in the top right (#s22, 85, 61 and the large black one) are all diagnostic late Recent Indian projectile points. Of interest is the base on the two-tone grey notched biface, second from the top on the right. The basal tangs are very thin with a deep concavity in the base; the artifact on the bottom left seems to be a similar base. The thin concave base is also seen on the middle artifact top row of photo 2. These bases seem unusual for late Recent Indian. Perhaps this is an example of variability within the Recent Indian period or perhaps these are a different group altogether.

Several of these artifacts (photo 1) appear to be made from Newfoundland chert. The grey and grey-tan mottled artifacts appear to be made from Port au Port chert while the brown and brown-grey mottled scrapers (right side) may be Cow Head chert.

2. Lithics from Saddle Island West
2. Lithics from Saddle Island West

In this photo (2) one of the first things I noticed, beyond the thin concave based biface, was the side-notched biface on the right. The milk white colour appears to be an example of burned Ramah chert. The two grey-tan bifaces may be Port au Port chert.

3. Lithics from Saddle Island West
3. Lithics from Saddle Island West

This photo (3) seems to show an assortment of mostly corner-notched late Recent Indian bifaces. As is normal for this period these bifaces appear relatively small and were likely used to tip arrows. However, on the right side is a large base from a side-notched biface that looks more like an early Recent Indian spear tip.

Once again there seems to be an assortment of cherts from the Island, Labrador and perhaps other sources.

4. Lithics from Saddle Island West
4. Lithics from Saddle Island West

Most of the artifacts in this photo (4) appear not to be Recent Indian. The three quartzite bifaces, two on the right, one on the far left are more likely Archaic (although the site is likely too low for an Archaic occupation) or Intermediate Indian based on style and material. The clear Ramah chert biface second from the left appears to be an Archaic arrowhead, while the thick grey biface, second from the right, may be a Palaeoeskimo knife.

5. Lithics from Saddle Island West
5. Lithics from Saddle Island West

This final photo (5) shows another assortment of mostly late Recent Indian bifaces and biface fragments. Once again several are made from Port au Port chert and Ramah chert, including the one in the top row, third from the right, which may be another example of burned Ramah chert.

This site presents an interesting mix of cultures, artifacts and lithic materials. Given the number of hearths at the site and the potential number of cultures represented in just the lithics seen in the photos it seems very likely that the site was used repeatedly over thousands of years by different cultural groups. It is too bad the site is not better understood.


ROBBINS, Douglas 1989 Island Dwelling, Isolation, and Extinction- The Newfoundland Beothuks in Northeastern Prehistory and History PHD Proposal.

TUCK, James 2005 Archaeology at Red Bay, Labrador- 1978-1992.

Archaeology, Kamestastin Lake & the Tshikapisk Foundation

The Tshikapisk Foundation was created in 1997 by a group of Innu concerned with the disruptive consequences that the sudden change from a life based on the country (Nutshimit) to one based on permanent settlement in villages brought to the Innu. Their strategy looked to address the ensuing social difficulties by building a self-supporting economy based in the country (focused around Kamestastin Lake), and which utilizes and celebrates Innu knowledge and skills. In order to accomplish its mission Tshikapisk promotes the exploration of revenue generating activities both to provide employment to Nutshimiu Innut (country Innu) and to pay for experiential learning programs for Innu youth who had become increasingly disconnected from life on the land.

Location of Kamestastin Lake
Location of Kamestastin Lake

The Tshikapisk Foundation (TF) in conjunction with the Innu Nation, the Arctic Studies Center (ASC) of the Smithsonian Institution, the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) and more recently Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) have been working to protect the sites at Kamestastin Lake. On the ground, survey and excavation work have been carried out by Stephen Loring (ASC), Anthony Jenkinson (TF) and, most recently MUN grad student, Chelsee Arbour. Together they have recorded more than 100 sites in the area.

Kamestastin Lake in itself is an interesting geologic feature. The lake is the result of a meteorite impact which occurred ~36 million years ago. Among the evidence for the meteorite impact is volcanic glass which has been found around the lake. Thus far however, none of it appears to have been found in an archaeological context. However, tabular slabs of impact melted rock have been found in an archaeological context on two precontact sites.

My intention with this blog post is to give a brief introduction to just a few of the sites at Kamestastin Lake. At some point in the future I am hoping to get in to a little more detail on some of these sites in another blog post in conjunction with Stephen Loring, Anthony Jenkinson and Chelsee Arbour.

The more than 100 known sites around the lake represent the Maritime Archaic (Labrador Archaic) Indian , Intermediate Indian, Recent Indian and Innu cultures. There is even a site that consists of a single biface which has been interpreted as late Dorset Palaeoeskimo, a cultural group which is usually found along the coast. Very little archaeological work has been done on most of the sites beyond just identifying their existence which is part of the reason why many sites are listed culturally as just precontact or undetermined. The sites vary from small single artifact spot find sites, to possible burials, lithic scatters, possible quarries and various habitation sites with the remains of tent rings and fireplaces. The oldest sites are thought to be ~6000-7000 years old and the youngest sites are just a few decades old.

Knife of banded chert, from the one small Dorset/Tunit site discovered at Kamestastin during the summer of 2005. Photo: Anthony Jenkinson - Tunit, Dorset, Interior Dorset site, Labrador and northern Quebec
Possible late Dorset biface of banded chert, found at Kamestastin during the summer of 2005. (Jenkinson)

Kaniuekutat
The excavation of 24 m2 revealed an assemblage composed entirely of quartz and slate. Other lithic materials were absent. There are concentrations of charcoal and an elongated distribution of stones over ~5 to 6 metres in length but there was no defined hearth. Slate debitage was concentrated in 2 m2 around a partially completed but as yet unground celt. There are a number of what may be post holes or the organic stains possibly left by shallowly driven in stakes. What are likely wood working tools of white quartz and quartz crystal including awls and steeply bevelled block plane like items were found in a higher than expected ratio to quartz debris suggesting that many of these articles were brought to site as finished tools. This site has been radio carbon dated to ~2700 years ago (UCIAMS 134685). It is suspected the people at the site were making a canoe. You can read more about this site in Volume 10 of the PAO Archaeology Review.

Kaseukantshish
The site consists of a roughly circular or slightly oblong embanked structure, approximately 2.5 m by 3.5m in dimensions, with no discernable hearth rocks within. Within the structure there is a small patch of stunted willows growing out of the spot where a hearth would be expected. This feature has been interpreted as either a tent ring or possibly a fish smoke drying site. The point of land along the shore from the feature is an excellent char fishing spot and large fish can be readily caught from the shore on line and hook.

Kaseukantshish feature (Jenkinson)
Kaseukantshish feature (Jenkinson)

Nukash
The site lies in an old blow-out that is in the process of re-vegetating and stabilizing. The sand surface is now mostly covered with black lichen. The site was first noted because of two fragments of a black Ramah chert biface that were seen on the surface. A subsequent inspection of this site resulted in the recording of two more pieces of similar looking Ramah, although these could not be refitted with the first finds and were not obviously part of a tool. This site may relate to a Maritime Archaic occupation

Nukash biface fragments (Jenkinson)
Nukash biface fragments (Jenkinson)
Nukash site (Jenkinson)
Nukash site (Jenkinson)

Paseuet
This site consists of a spot find of a large Maritime Archaic Ramah chert stemmed point. The point was found next to a heavily used caribou path.

Paseuet site Ramah chert biface
Paseuet site Ramah chert biface (Jenkinson)

Punas Rich corner notched biface
Yet another find spot site, this biface was found in an area threaded by caribou paths and is the place where spring migrating caribou cross the low lands close to the lake before climbing out of the Kamestastin crater onto the barren highlands above. The biface may be from the Point Revenge, Recent Indians.

Punas Rich corner notched biface (Jenkinson)
Punas Rich corner notched biface (Jenkinson)

Uniam Quartz Quarry Site, Locus 1
The site consists of what is for Kamestastin a rare instance of a glacially transported boulder of grey quartzite which has been battered and now sits partially surrounded by reduction debris. The quartzite shatter and flakes have accumulated in particularly dense quantities in close adjacency to the boulder and in the “drip gully” which has formed around the perimeter beneath the boulder overhang.

Uniam site showing the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing flakes spalled from the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing flakes spalled from the boulder in situ

Torngat Archaeological Project

Last week I had the chance to see four graduate student thesis proposals at the Archaeology Unit at Memorial University of Newfoundland. They were great proposals and included one that will investigate several Inuit sites in northern Labrador, including sites found during the Torngat Archaeological Project (PDF).

The Torngat Archaeological Project (TAP) is the largest archaeological survey ever conducted in Labrador in terms of distance covered and number of sites found, ~450 km of coastline and just under 350 sites. The survey was conducted by Dr. William Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian Institution in conjunction with Bryn Mawr College in 1977 & 1978 and stretched from around Nain to the Button Islands. Prior to the TAP there were about 130 known sites in the same area. The project was to investigate the culture history of the area as well as the environmental relationships and processes of culture change which have affected Inuit, Indian, and European settlement (Fitzhugh 1980).

Torngat Archaeological Project
Torngat Archaeological Project – yellow dots are archaeological sites

The 1977 season focused on survey work while the 1978 season focused on full scale excavation. Despite being brief, just 33 days, the 1977 survey resulted in the discovery of 250 sites located, mapped, and tested. The plans for 1978 were to establish four person field crews at Nachvak, Seven Islands Bay, Home Island, and Killinek. However, logistic and equipment problems resulted in the crews spending several weeks in Seven Islands Bay. Despite all the issues the project resulted in 16000 cataloged artifacts, a large volume of faunal elements, written and photographic documentation on sites ranging in time from early Maritime Archaic ~6000 years ago to the present day (Fitzhugh 1980).

At the ~350 sites there are:
150 Inuit occupations
143 Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupations
65 Maritime (Labrador) Archaic occupations
50 Pre-Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupations
26 Thule occupations
14 Groswater Palaeoeskimo occupations
9 Intermediate Indian occupations
5 Recent Indian occupations

Some of the more significant sites found include:

Avayalik Island 1 (PDF): This is a major Dorset (early, middle and late) site with habitation structures and frozen middens that have excellent organic preservation. In fact the organic preservation is so good that a piece of muskox wool cordage found on the site is thought to show evidence of Dorset-Norse interaction.

Aerial view of Avayalik 1 (Sutherland)
Aerial view of Avayalik 1 (Sutherland)

Ballybrack 11: A Maritime Archaic site dated to 7770 BP with evidence of a longhouse, hearths, red ochre stains and scatters of lithic debitage.

Harp Isthmus 1: This site has Pre-Dorset structures and a possible Maritime Archaic longhouse. It also has two 19th or early 20th century Inuit sod houses.

Hebron 1: This site has evidence of Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo and Inuit occupations. It is also the site of a Moravian Mission.

Moravian Mission at Hebron (Brake)
Moravian Mission at Hebron (Brake)

Hilda Creek 1: This is one of several sites in the Ramah Bay area that relates to the use of the Ramah Bay quartzite quarries. This particular site has Maritime Archaic and Palaeoeskimo components.

Johannes Point 1: This is a large Inuit-Thule site that has at least 14 sod houses, storage houses, middens, tent rings and graves.

Nachvak Village: This is another large Palaeoeskimo and Inuit-Thule site that contains between 15 and 17 sod houses, middens, caches and burials.

Nachvak Village. Getting set up for excavations at Nachvak Village (IgCx-3) (Whitridge)
Nachvak Village. Getting set up for excavations at Nachvak Village (IgCx-3) (Whitridge)

Nulliak Cove 1: This is probably one of the largest known sites in northern Labrador. It contains Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian and Inuit-Thule evidence. It has up to 27 Maritime Archaic longhouses, a caribou drive fence, caches, cairns, burial mounds and Inuit (potentially Thule) houses.

Ramah Bay Mission: This is another large site with evidence for Palaeoeskimo and Inuit occupations as well as a Moravian mission.

 Moravian Station at Ramah, ca. 1900
Moravian Station at Ramah, ca. 1900

Shuldham Island: This island is home to numerous sites but perhaps the most significant was Shuldham Island 9. The site has evidence for Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian and Thule use. It has up to eight sod houses, seven tent rings, 12 caches, a possible burial and midden. Perhaps it is best known for the tiny soapstone figurines carved by the late Dorset occupants of the island. There are carvings of Polar Bears, human beings, seashells, birds and a possible seal or walrus. While the site was found as part of the TAP, the figurines were found during the excavation of Shuldham Island 9 by Callum Thomson in the early 1980s.

Shuldham Island 9 soapstone polar bear
Shuldham Island 9 soapstone polar bear
Shuldham Island 9 soapstone person (Rast)
Shuldham Island 9 soapstone person (Rast)

These are just s select few of the nearly 350 sites recorded during the Tornagat Archaeological Project. The sites found during this project have led to several PhD & MA thesis and numerous publications. The amount of knowledge gained from this project is almost immeasurable.


FITZHUGH, William 1980 Preliminary Report on the Torngat Archaeological Project. Arctic, 33(3): 585-606.