Intermediate Period Part A: North West River

The archaeological interpretation of the precontact Indigenous history of Labrador is generally seen as including Maritime Archaic (MA) (~8800-3200 BP), Intermediate Period (IP) (~3600-1500 BP) and Recent Period (RP) (~2000 BP to Contact).  (These dates are based on radiocarbon results and reflect our current understanding.  BP means years before present)

The MA was first defined by Dr. James Tuck during the excavation of the MA cemetery at Port Au Choix in the late 1960s.  The IP was defined by Dr. William Fitzhugh using information from his excavation of sites in Labrador also in the late 1960s.  The Labrador RP was recognized by Fitzhugh as something he referred to as the Point Revenge Complex which later became part of the Labrador RI.  This post will focus on the early work by Fitzhugh and his IP sites in the North West River area.

Currently, there are ~200 registered IP sites in Labrador.

IP sites of Labrador

For reasons yet understood, there are no positively identified IP sites on the Island despite their presence being recorded on the Labrador side of the Strait of Belle Isle by the recording of 10 IP sites.  There are, however, 3 sites on the Northern Peninsula of the Island identified as possibly IP.

Possible IP sites on the Island

Fitzhugh spent two field seasons, 1968 & 1969, working in the Hamilton Inlet area of Labrador.  The information he gathered was used to write his Ph.D. thesis: Environmental Archeology and Cultural Systems in Hamilton Inlet, Labrador: A Survey of the Central Labrador Coast from 3000 B.C. to the Present.

A large focus of his work was in and around the community of North West River.  The community was first settled by Europeans in 1743 when French fur trader Louis Fornel established a year-round trading post.  After 1763 the post was taken over by various English interests including the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1836.

Fitzhugh’s work focused on the “prehistoric and contemporary cultural geography of the Hamilton Inlet region of the central Labrador coast.”  Prior to his work very little was known about the IP in the area, or in all of Labrador for that matter.  During his work, Fitzhugh was able to locate and study 26 IP sites in the area of North West River.  He was able to group these into 7 different cultural groups, suggest who their ancestors were and slot them into a chronologic sequence based on artifact similarities, radiocarbon dates and their elevation relative to current sea level.  Some of this chronologic sequence, which was suggested in 1972, is still used by archaeologists working in Labrador today.

Red boxes are IP cultural designations identified by Fitzhugh (1972)

Almost all of the sites found by Fitzhugh in NWR were in a very small area and were disturbed by building construction, roadways, and gardening.

Red dots show the location of the sites found by Fitzhugh (1972)
Excavating one of the disturbed Road sites (Fitzhugh 1972)
Some of the artifacts found at one of the Road sites (Fitzhugh 1972)

Until recently, the small area from which Fitzhugh’s 26 sites were found represented one of the densest areas of IP occupation in Labrador and it was where most of our understanding of the IP came from.  This changed in 2002 with the start of housing development in Sheshatshiu, just across the river from NWR.  Since 2002 a further 19 IP sites have been found in Sheshatshiu.

Areas of IP sites in NWR & Sheshatshiu

2 thoughts on “Intermediate Period Part A: North West River

  1. Nice job on this review. To be accurate, much of the cultural sequence from North West River was made possible by the diligence and interest of a British Newfoundland Exploration company employee named Donald Charles who had spent years living in NWR and was interested in archaeology. Along with Murry Piloski and Peter Grimley, aslo of BRINEX, he collected artifacts found by local residence in their gardens and house foundations and with great foresight kept these collections separate. When I began corresponding with BRINEX while planning my first season of surveys in Hamilton Inlet in 1968, I learned about Don Charles from Grimley. Charles was by then retired and living in Toronto. I paid him a visit and discovered not only collections from several sites but a map Don had showing the precise site locations. He gave me the map and his entire collection, which became the foundation for the NWR sequence when I discovered that these sites were located on terraces at different uplifted elevations along the shore. During the field work over two seasons we added several new sites which fleshed out the sequence, obtained new collections from some of the Don’s sites that still could be salvaged, and collected some charcoal samples to anchor the chronology. Three of the most important new sites we found were the ‘Shield Archaic’-like Sid Blake site, and the ‘Point Revenge’ Henry Blake site and Red Ocher site (which became part of the what I named the Charles Complex in honor of Don). All these sites except the Sid Blake site were augmented by large sites we later found on the coast. Don’s gift was crucial, especially so as he died the very next year and his collection undoubtedly would have been lost to science.

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