Torngat Archaeological Project

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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.

Guns and gun parts on archaeology sites

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On November 6, 2014 Cultural Resource Program Manager, Eva Jensen working in the Great Basin National Park (USA) noticed an object leaning on a Juniper tree. Getting a closer look she discovered that the object was a rifle. Further inspection and research revealed that it was a Winchester Model 1873 Rifle.
The rifle leaning against the Juniper tree.

The rifle leaning against the Juniper tree. The Great Basin National Park Facebook page has more great shots of the rifle

This story got me thinking about guns and gun parts that have been found on archaeology sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course many sites in the province have cannons, cannon balls, discharged shell casings, gun flint and lead shot. But I was thinking more about hand-held guns, rifles and muskets etc.

Cannon found at Mortier during the Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory (Barnable)

Cannon found at Mortier during the Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory (Barnable)

Gun Flints, copper casing found in Greenspond

Gun Flints, copper casing found in Greenspond

For example, in 1998, Jacques Whitford Environment Limited archaeologists found the barrel and brass side plate from a flint lock musket during the Churchill River Power Project Environmental study on the shoreline of Atikonak Lake. The barrel appeared to contain a touch hole, indicating a flint lock rather than a percussion action. The breech plug was intact, minus the associated barrel tang. The contour of the barrel suggests the exposed upper portion of the breech was finished in a partially faceted design, while the lower portion, which would have been hidden by the stock, possessed a plainer, rounded contour. Although generally difficult to date owing to the widespread use of multiple variations of the motif throughout the period, the fine definition of the scales and other details of this particular side plate suggests a variant dating from ca. 1800 to the 1830s or 1840s (JWEL & IED 2000:208).

Searching through files and reports I was able to find an assortment of gun parts and gun related tools from sites throughout the province.

I also sent out a request to my archaeology colleagues to see if they had stories or photos of guns and/or gun parts found on archaeology sites. I received a great sampling of artifact shots.

Dr. Barry Gaulton of Memorial University of Newfoundland sent me a couple of pictures of gun locks that have been found at the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland.

Gunlock from Ferryland

Gunlock from Ferryland

Gunlock from Ferryland

Gunlock from Ferryland

The Colony of Avalon website also have some examples of gun parts found in Ferryland.

TOP-Lock from a 17th-century "snaphaunce," so called because its action resembled the pecking of a chicken. First half of the 17th century. BOTTOM-An English "dog lock," so called because a small dog, or catch, held the cock in place and prevented the musket from discharging accidentally.

TOP-Lock from a 17th-century “snaphaunce”, so-called because its action resembled the pecking of a chicken. First half of the 17th century.
BOTTOM-An English “dog lock,” so-called because a small dog, or catch, held the cock in place and prevented the musket from discharging accidentally.

Dr. Michael Deal, also at Memorial University of Newfoundland, sent me several photos of guns and gun parts that came from aircraft wrecks from the island portion of the province.

In 1943 a Lockheed Ventura (CjAe-61) was going out on an anti-submarine patrol when the plane crashed and burned. It was carrying, among other things, loaded 50 cal. machine guns. When the plane crashed and burned some of the bullets exploded.

In 1945 a B-24M Liberator (DgAo-01) being deployed to England crashed Northeast of Gander. Because the plane was being ferried to England it carried no bullets but it did have its armament of 50 cal. machine guns. Shown in the photos is one of the 50 cal. machine guns that was found on the edge of the debris field. There is also a shot of the same gun in the lab and another shot of the gun propped against one of the B-24 turrets. The officers on board had hand guns (45 cal. pistols) and Dr. Deal found one of the 45 cal. gun clips (shown in conservation) and several bullets and casings (one shown in situ).

Jamie Brake, the Nunatsiavut Government Archaeologist, was very helpful and gave me a good example of a gun part found on an archaeology site.

In 2012 at the site of Middle House Cove 1 in Double Mer Jamie and his colleague Tony Wolfrey found a gun barrel eroding out of a bank. The remains of a buried house foundation are in a clearing just back from the shore, and, as can be seen in the photos, the gun barrel was found in front of the clearing.

Jamie also told me an interesting story about a musket ball found in a piece of wood which was cut by Tyler Pamak behind his cabin in Tikkoatokak Bay. The piece of wood with the ball was brought to Nain. Last summer a dendrochronology grad student named Jay Maillet happened to be working in Nain. He did a preliminary analysis on the wood and believes the ball was shot into the tree around 1884!

Musket ball lodged in the tree (Pamak)

Musket ball lodged in the tree (Pamak)

Yet another interesting story from Jamie was regarding a soapstone musket ball mould. The object appears to be one half of a musket ball mould and was recently picked up in Nain and shown to Jamie. If you look closely at the object in the photo below you can see two small grooves (two arrows on bottom) that may be for lines that would be used to hold strings which would hold the two halves of the mould together. The single arrow on the left points to what may be a funnel in to which molten lead was poured to make the ball.

Soapstone musket ball mould

Soapstone musket ball mould

To support the possibility that this is a musket ball mould Jamie found the following reference:
On the inside of the flap of the woman’s duffle dicky of the east coast of Hudson bay and Ungava there is a little line of pewter ornaments which jingle as she walks. These are made of old spoons obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and termed pi’xo-tit. The spoons are melted and the fluid metal poured into a mould made of two slabs of steatite (Hawkes 1916:39).

 


Hawkes, E.W.
1916  The Labrador Eskimo.

Jacques Whitford Environment Limited/Innu Economic Development Enterprises Inc.  (JWEL/IED)
2000 Churchill River Power Project, 1998 Environmental Studies. Final Report, HROA, Labrador Component 98.22

 

The Prince, the merchant and the Pegasus at Little St. Lawrence

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In 2006 a heritage inventory survey was conducted on the Burin Peninsula. Prior to this project just 19 archaeological sites had been registered on the peninsula and only four archaeologists had conducted work there. The heritage inventory survey added another 11 registered sites to the total for the Peninsula.

The heritage inventory was conducted over a 6 week period in 19 Burin Peninsula communities. More than 1200 local individuals and heritage groups were interviewed by the project archaeologist and five local students were hired as assistants. Based on the recommendations contained in the 2006 heritage inventory report five Burin Peninsula areas were seen as having elevated archaeological potential. Three of the areas were in Little St. Lawrence, one was in Burin and one in Little Mortier Bay. In 2007 a colleague and I conducted a small survey following up on some of the higher potential areas as indicated by the heritage inventory survey. This post focuses on a portion of Little St. Lawrence.

Little St. Lawrence was likely used by Basques fisherman as early as 1597 and is a known site of an early French fishing station from 1640:
Went to Little St. Lawrence which is a good harbour; and good for Codfishing, but no Salmon, there is very little woods in those parts… There ffishes one planter, who hath not taken the Oath, he caught the last year about 280 Quintls of ffish p boat, there are Two ffishg Roomes. for Ships, which is all fflakes (Taverner 1718:230v). (Penney 2011)

Part of our focus in Little St. Lawrence was on the eastern shoreline of the harbour and a small island connected to the mainland via a tombolo beach. According to the 2006 heritage inventory survey this area contained the remains of both a fortification and a historic whaling facility. While we found no evidence of either of those structures, this island does contain an extensive European occupation including what we believed were several cellar pits and the outline of several buildings along the shoreline.

A view of the area we focused on in Little St. Lawrence

A view of the area we focused on in Little St. Lawrence (Barnable)

We did a small amount of testing in and around some of the features and found a few artifacts confirming the European occupation.

We were pleased with what this site revealed and believed it had research potential. In 2009 we got a much better picture of the research potential when Gerald Penney Associates Limited conducted an historic resources impact assessment for a mining company on the Burin Peninsula. In searching through the history of the area they came to the conclusion that our Little St. Lawrence site was a trading premises built by Newman and Company, an England/St. John’s-based fishery and supply firm, in 1784. The company operated in the area until 1810. During their research for the area’s history they found out that the HMS Pegasus visited the area in 1786. J.S. Meres, a member of the Pegasus crew, made several sketches of the area, one of which was titled “A view of Little St. Lawrence Harbour”. The perspective of the Meres painting appears to be looking directly at the Newman and Company trading premises. We can easily line up several of the features we found with several of the buildings in the paintings.

Turpins Is 1786

‘A view of Little St. Lawrence Harbour’ by J.S. Meres

The Meres painting was preserved in the HMS Pegasus log book. During the summer of 1786, the 28-gun frigate visited Trepassey, Great and Little St. Lawrence, Placentia, and St. John’s. J.S. Meres was her navigator and keeper of the log book. This 1786 voyage was the first for Prince William Henry, the future King William IV of England, as a ship’s captain. He was appointed to the position by his father King George III. Upon his appointment the Prince wrote to his brother:
I have just received information of the plan proposed for me. I am to spend this summer on the Newfoundland station, the winter in the West Indies, to windward: the following summer in Nova Scotia & Canada, & then proceed to Jamaica for the next winter, & the remainder of the three years is to be spent on the different West Indian Stations.

Prince William Henry

Prince William Henry

The Prince spent four days in July of 1786 in Little St. Lawrence, which, in a letter to the King, he judged “as far more preferable to that [country] we left to the eastward.” “The Guernsey and Jersey people”, he writes, “are settled in these parts & are peaceable & well behaved.” On 17 July he left for the 19 miles distant Placentia. (Rollman)

The town may be called Little St. Lawrence but it certainly has a big history.


BARNABLE, Stuart 2006 Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory.

PENNEY, Gerald 2009 Report HRIA (Stage 1) Canada Fluorspar Inc. St. Lawrence, NL.

PENNEY, Gerald 2011 Burin Peninsula – Indicated Historic Resource Potential.

ROLLMAN, Hans Prince William Henry In Newfoundland.

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