Northern Peninsula Heritage Inventory

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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

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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

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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

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