Intermediate Period Part B: Sheshatshiu

The Intermediate Period (IP) culture was first defined by Dr. William Fitzhugh in the late 1960s based on sites he excavated in North West River (NWR).  Fieldwork between 1973 and 1977 on the central coast of Labrador between Cape Harrison and Hebron led Dr. Christopher Nagle to suggest a cultural variant needed to be added to the IP cultural sequence suggested by Fitzhugh.  Nagle suggested that the new cultural variant, which he termed the Saunders complex, were a regional variant of the Hamilton Inlet based Brinex and Charles complexes identified by Fitzhugh based on continuity in raw materials use, tool typology and settlement patterns.

Some of the artifacts from the site Smooth Land Point used by Nagle to suggest the presence of the Saunders complex. (Nagle 1978)

After Fitzhugh’s initial work on the 26 IP sites in NWR in the late 1960s, 46 more IP sites were found in the 70s, just 15 were found in the 80s and 37 were found in the 90s.  The first decade of the 2000s saw the most IP sites found in any decade with 52.  Of these 19 were found in Sheshatshiu, just across the river from the sites Fitzhugh worked on.

Areas of IP period sites in NWR & Sheshatshiu

Fifteen of the Sheshatshiu IP sites were found by Dr. Fred Schwarz in 2002 & 2003.  These sites were found because of an archaeological assessment done for several areas of construction activity in the community.   The most promising assessment area, in terms of returning archaeological material, was for a new roadway leading to a proposed new subdivision.  This site, FjCa-51, has turned out to be one of the largest Saunders/Brinex complex sites in Labrador at more than 4000 mbased on the work by Schwarz and subsequently by Scott Neilsen.  It contains several concentrated areas with cobble hearths, a pit feature, likely food processing areas and several lithic concentrations.

Selected lithics found by Schwarz at FjCa-51 (Schwarz)

Since 2008 Scott Neilsen has been working on the Sheshatshiu sites found by Schwarz.  With the help and support of the community of Sheshatshiu he has excavated at several of the sites and he has also located 4 more IP sites.  He has returned to FjCa-51 for the last 3 years excavating several areas, clearing the land for the housing development, finding new undisturbed areas, artifacts and features.

FjCa-51 – Area 3 – hearth/processing feature, note large cobbles used as work platforms and significant amount of fire and heat cracked rock fragments, and cemented soil. Also, note small concentration of red ochre just right of photo centre. (Neilsen)
FjCa-51, biface recovered from Area 1 (Neilsen)

Neilsen would seem to be one of the more appropriate archaeologists to be investigating the IP in Sheshatshiu.  He completed this Masters thesis in 2006 based on his excavation of two IP Saunders complex sites just outside Goose Bay, just to the south west of Sheshatshiu.

In his thesis he agreed with  Nagle’s idea of the Brinex-Charles complexes being seen as one cultural unit, the Saunders complex.  Also he convincingly argued that the IP cultural sequence suggested by Fitzhugh in 1972 could be revamped by moving the Little Lake Component to the Archaic period and subsuming the Road and David Michelin components within the Saunders complex and Northwest River phase respectively.  Essentially, after Neilsen’s revisions, the IP period has become the Saunders complex dating to between 3500-2700 years ago and the Northwest River Phase dating to between 2600-1800 years ago for north and central Labrador.

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