Stumbling through the past

Sometimes archaeology can be a little bit like winning the lottery, occasionally you find something amazing, but most days it’s just another flake.  Just like the lottery, it seems some people have more luck at it than others.  I worked with a guy who has won the archaeology lottery several times; let’s call him Lucky Larry.

Walking through the woods across the street from his house one day, Lucky Larry found stone flakes from an archaeology site where a tree had blown over.  In the late 90’s, as part of a community archaeology project, he took two archaeologists out to where he found the flakes.  After several years of testing and fieldwork the site turned out to be more than 400m2 in size and one of the oldest dated Maritime Archaic Indian sites on the Island now known as Big Droke 1.

Interpretive sign outside the site of Big Droke 1

While walking across Big Droke 1 as a crew member during the excavation of the site, Lucky Larry literally stubbed his toe and tripped over what he thought was a small rock sticking out of the ground.  He bent over and tried to pull it  from the ground, fully intent on throwing it into the woods, never to be seen again.  As Lucky Larry pulled on the stone it slowly slid out of the ground to reveal a large (45cm or 18″ long) Maritime Archaic Indian ground stone tool.

Big Droke 1 Maritime Archaic Indian ground stone tool (Rast)

A few years later Lucky Larry found another  Maritime Archaic site that consisted of two gouges, an adze and flakes in the ruts of an ATV path.   This site was behind his house.

As exciting as those finds were perhaps Lucky Larry’s best find came in 1997 as part of the community archaeology project while testing a small flat point of land with a beautiful view called Fisherman Cove.

Excavating Fisherman Cove 2 in 2004 (Hartery)

Based on prior experience this point of land seemed an ideal location for a Palaeoeskimo site.  The entire crew (~10-12 people) was out test pitting that day; each of us a few metres apart forming one long line.  We would dig a test pit and if nothing was found we were to move ahead a few metres and dig another test pit.  We did manage to find one small Dorset Palaeoeskimo site about half way up the point of land which we called Fisherman Cove 1.

But given the topography of the area we would have been disappointed if this was all that was found.  Fortunately for us, we had Lucky Larry.  Nearing the end of the testing, Lucky Larry put a shovel test pit right in the centre of a small Groswater Palaeoeskimo hearth (fireplace) which we named Fisherman Cove 2.  The lithic artifacts found in the hearth turned out to be typical of the Groswater Palaeoeskimo including a diagnostic side-notched or ‘box-based’ endblade, which was used as the stone tip on a hunting harpoon.

Typical Groswater Palaeoeskimo endblade (Rast)

Along with these typical artifacts we also recovered some burned and badly fragmented bone including what we initially suspected was a bone hunting dart or point.  It wasn’t until we got the artifact back to our lab and were able to clean it a little and have a better look at it that we started to suspect it wasn’t a bone hunting dart or point.  After consultation with another archaeologist we started to realize the artifact was actually a caribou hoof amulet; an artifact type that had only been found in Newfoundland and Labrador once before; every other example had been found in the Arctic.  Maximum dimensions of the amulet are 33 mm in length, 10 mm in width across the intact barbs and 3 mm thick.  This was Lucky Larry’s jackpot.

Caribou hoof amulet from Fisherman Cove 2 (Hartery)

In 2004, this site was revisited by another archaeologist and a full excavation was conducted.  The hearth that the amulet came from was ~ 1.5 m long and contained a few more artifacts including microblades, ground slate fragments, biface fragments various flakes and a bone point. All typical Groswater Palaeoeskimo material. Of interest, next to the hearth were two pockets of red ochre that had stone artifacts buried within them. Charcoal from the hearth was radiocarbon dated to 2150+/-50 years ago.

Excavating the Fisherman Cove 2 hearth (Hartery)

The amulet itself is very rare.  Most of the other caribou hoof amulets that have been found were usually attributed to later cultures.  Most of the other amulets have holes at the top for suspending them from string.  The Fisherman Cove 2 amulet appears to be damaged in the area where the suspension hole should be.  A few examples are shown below.

Left: Ivory hoof from Baffin Island, Nunavut, Dorset culture (4 cm) (     Right: Ivory hoof from Mill Island, Nunavut, Dorset culture (
Left: Ivory hoof from Port au Choix, NL,Dorset culture (~5 cm)                   Middle: Ivory hoof from Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Dorset culture (4.2 cm long) (Hartery)        Right: Walrus tusk hoof from Igloolik, Nunavut, Dorset culture (5.2 cm long) (Hartery)

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