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.
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.
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.
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.
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.