Pope’s Point

Pope’s Point has had a very long history.  In terms of its cultural history, the site has evidence for a Maritime Archaic, Pre-Inuit, Recent Period, Beothuk, Mi’Kmaq and European occupations. In terms of archaeology, it was first recorded by T.G.B. Lloyd, an English geologist with an interest in archaeology & the Beothuk, in the early 1870s and reported on by him in his 1876 article “A Further Account of the Beothuks of Newfoundland.”  The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Journal.

Frank Speck, the American Anthropologist, recovered material from the site in 1914, with much help from his wife, which he related to the Beothuk. During his time at the site he noted the presence of 13 house pits.  His work at the site was reported on in his 1914 handwritten notes.

Based on his information other researchers have assumed that the point had 13 house pits.   In reality, the 13 were spread for several hundred metres between the mouth of Badger Brook and the mouth of Little Red Indian Brook.  Pope’s Point itself had only 4 house pits.

Hand-drawn map from Speck 1914

He described the house pits as being about 15 feet in diameter and about 12 inches deep and having the shape of rings or rude angular circles.  Speck describes removing the mossy sod covering to find cracked caribou bone, the occasional stone pebble for cracking open the bone and nondescript iron fragments.  He stated that near the center of each pit was an area covered with fire-cracked rocks, quantities of charcoal, charred bones and iron. In some places, bone deposits extended 6 or 8 inches thick.

Pope’s Point in 1915. Housepit delineated by boulders in the foreground (Speck).

The site was again revisited by Peter Harrison and Garth Taylor in 1963 during their brief survey of Red Indian Lake and the Exploits River.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the site was excavated by a professional archaeologist.  Helen Devereux and her crew of four spent July and August of that year excavating at Pope’s Point on behalf of the National Museum of Canada.  By that time the site had been disturbed by the construction of a fenced-off Forestry compound with several buildings.

The site itself is located within the community of Badger, at the confluence of Badger Brook and the Exploits River on a terrace that is ~ 2 metres above the Exploits River.

Site location

Devereux’s goal at the site was to archaeologically identify the Beothuk, something that had never been previously done.   By 1964 Devereux noted that the site had suffered considerable erosion damage from spring flooding since Speck’s visit and she was only able to identify two house pits on the site, pit A & B.  One was completely excavated (B) the other was partially.  From her excavation of pit B, she recovered wrought iron nails, iron axes, spear points and awls, forty-one beads (forty of which were seed beads) and quantities of bone, much of which appeared to be caribou.  And she found that pit B  was rectangular in shape and measured 12 x 16 feet.  Along with these historic period artifacts, she recovered thirty-eight stone tools and numerous flakes.

Excavation photo from Devereux’s 1965 report on Pope’s Point (Devereux)

While Pope’s Point is often thought of as a Beothuk site there is much evidence for a Pre-Inuit occupation at the site including the artifacts in the two pictures below, most of which appear to be Pre-Inuit.

Bifaces collected by Devereux in 1964 (Devereux)
Artifacts collected by Devereux in 1964 (Devereux)

In 1967, just a few years after Devereux, Pope’s Point was revisited by Don Locke an amateur archaeologist from Grand Falls.  According to his notes, he collected pieces of metal, bone, ceramic and stone artifacts.  He also noted the site had three house pits, one of which had a long eroded hearth.

In 1982 the site was again revisited by a professional archaeologist, Callum Thomson.  He spent a small amount of time test pitting at the site during his survey of the Exploits River from Red Indian Falls to Grand Falls as reported in his submission for Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1982.  He found, like Devereux, that the site had further eroded from spring flooding and he could locate only one house pit.  He was also told that looters had used metal detectors at the site to find metal artifacts.  Despite this, his test pits showed the site still had in situ deposits.

Pope’s Point flooded in 1983

Just 10 years later when the site was revisited by Fred Schwarz in 1992 there was no evidence of a house pit at the site.  However, he did find considerable evidence for in situ deposits within the Forestry compound including flakes and a Maritime Archaic ground slate axe, interspersed with disturbed areas.

In the spring of 2003 Badger and Pope’s Point was once again flooded.

2003 Badger Flood

In May of 2003, Ken Reynolds tested the site to see if anything remained of the site.  Six of his ten test pits contained cultural material including flakes, four small calcined bone fragments, two recent fragments of bottle glass and two fragments of iron.  Noting that the Forestry compound was no longer in use, Reynolds made regular revisits to the site on an annual basis.

Post 2003 flood – Forestry building pushed off it’s foundation (Reynolds)

During his 2008 revisit, he found that the site had been bulldozed for what turned out to be a Recreational Vehicle Park development.

Pope’s Point after clearing for the RV park (Reynolds)

Pope’s Point is one of the few deep interior sites which has evidence for nearly every culture that inhabited the island of Newfoundland. Maritime Archaic, Groswater and Dorset Pre-Inuit, Recent Period, Beothuk and Mi’kmaq artifacts and features have either been recovered or historically recorded to have existed there at one time. Unfortunately, river erosion and flooding, illegal pot-hunting, building and landscaping associated with both the Provincial and National Forestry Services impacted greatly on the site over the past 100 or so years. Recently the development of an RV Park by the Town of Badger has added significant damage to this site. However, it is believed that cultural material, albeit in a disturbed context, will still be found in small pockets lying close to either the banks of the Exploits River or Badger Brook.

4 thoughts on “Pope’s Point

  1. Sites disappear on a regular basis in the province in the interests of community development. Indian Point is another example but with an ironic twist. One of the Island’s more remarkable interior Beothuk sites, Indian Point had long been impacted by rising lake levels and by logging activities, but some of the site still remained intact. Most recently, however, what remained of the site was turned into a parking lot for a local interpretation centre – on the Beothuk.
    Are we doing enough to get the message out to communities? Perhaps PAO could develop an annual register of lost sites and lost heritage and use various media to spread awareness across the province.

  2. I am 86 and I lived on Pope’s Point from 1926 to 1932. I am the son of Billy Dority who ran the Badger Drive for many years. Across the road from our house on the point was that of Mr. Hugh Cole the Manager of the AND Co. in Badger Brook. Billy Dority Jr.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mr. Dority.
      Do you remember ever seeing any artifacts on the site, such as Beothuk material? Do you recall ever seeing stone circles (tent rings)?

    2. Mr. Dority
      If you are still around I would very much like to talk to you regarding your father and the operations of the AND Co.

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