The Dating Game Part 2: Newfoundland

Two weeks ago I went through the earliest and latest dates for the precontact cultures of Labrador, for this post I’ll look at the precontact cultures of Newfoundland.

As previously discussed, who and when are two of the most basic questions in archaeology. The question of who is generally understood in Newfoundland and Labrador. The question of when is often answered with radiocarbon dating, particularly for precontact cultures.

 The culture history of the Province’s past is fairly well understood and while most archaeologists in the province could easily tell you the date ranges for any culture many would be challenged when asked where those earliest and latest dates were found or what site they came from. This week I will take a look through the archaeology database of sites and point out where those earliest and latest dates were found and what site they came from on the island. As with the Labrador post, this isn’t meant to be the definitive list on site dates, things are changing all the time, it’s just the list I have in front of me right now.

Newfoundland Labrador
Maritime Archaic Indians (MAI) Maritime Archaic Indians (Earliest Settlers, First Explorers,LabradorArchaic)
Intermediate Indians (II) Intermediate Indians
Palaeoeskimo (PE) Palaeoeskimo
Recent Indians (RI) Recent Indians

Precontact Aboriginal cultures

The table above shows the generally accepted sequence of cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador’s precontact past. Within each of these major groupings there are other recognized groups that are temporal or geographic expressions of the overall group. I’m not going to break down the dates by the smaller groupings. Also, there is some temporal overlap between many of these groups. For example, there were Palaeoeskimo groups around when the Recent Indians were here. So the different cells in the table don’t mean the cultures are separate and didn’t co-exist. The table just follows the broad temporal pattern of oldest on top and youngest on bottom. Also, while we use names such as MAI and PE for the overall group we are not stating that within these groups there is a clear transition from the first to the last (i.e. earliest MAI is a direct ancestor of the last MAI). There is evidence in the archaeological record of different waves of people moving into and out of the Province during these time periods; the names are used to denote that they had similar cultural characteristics and we therefore classify them under the overall group name.

Earliest and latest known MAI sites in Newfoundland

For more than twenty years the generally accepted date for the earliest Maritime Archaic Indians on the island of Newfoundland was 5000 years which was based on charcoal from the Beaches site in Bonavista Bay that was dated to 4900 ± 230 (SI-1384). That date stood as the oldest until charcoal was recovered from the MAI site in South Brook Park, located between Corner Brook and Deer Lake, in 1998. The charcoal was dated to 5140±50 (Beta 122766). In 1999 charcoal was recovered from the MAI Gould site in Port au Choix which was dated to 5440 ± 50 (Beta-134151). This date still stands as the oldest known date for MAI on the island of Newfoundland.

The youngest known date for Newfoundland MAI comes from the Curtis site on Twillingate Island which was excavated by Don MacLeod from 1966 to 1968. The material dated was charcoal recovered from a small hearth which returned the date of 3200 ± 90 (GaK-1254). Along with having the oldest MAI date on the island the Gould site has some of the youngest dates including 3260 ± 50 (Beta-108099) and 3200±100 (Beta 132364).

Earliest and latest known II sites in Newfoundland

On the island there is a hint of an Intermediate Indian presence found in three sites on the Northern Peninsula. Garden Cove was found during exploratory work around L’Anse aux Meadows in 1975. There are no radiocarbon dates associated with the 3 artifacts that are thought to be II. The predominantly MAI site of Big Brook 2 was found in 2001 by Priscilla Renouf and was excavated by Greg Beaton in 2002. Greg found a hearth which was dated to 2830±40 BP (Beta-171714) around which were found II looking stone tools. However, II stone tools can look like late MAI stone tools and the site has a Groswater component which would overlap with the II period temporally. Consequently the questionable II tools at Big Brook 2 and the radiocarbon date could relate to a late MAI occupation or be attributed to the Groswater component. Finally, Woody Point 2 was found in 2005 by Ken Reynolds when part of the site was disturbed during construction. Follow up work also done in 2005 by Fred Schwarz recovered a lot of quartzite debitage and quartzite bifaces. These are items that are not frequently found in precontact sites on the island but are often found on Labrador II sites. There are no radiocarbon dates associated with the quartzite artifacts.

The suspected Intermediate Indian artifacts from Woody Point 2
Earliest and latest known PE sites in Newfoundland

The early end of the Palaeoeskimo sequence on the island starts with the Groswater and the earliest date comes from Phillip’s Garden, near Port au Choix on the Northern Peninsula. Phillip’s Garden is part of the Port au Choix National Historic Site; this designation is based on the importance of the archaeology in the area including Phillip’s Garden which has more than 60 Dorset Palaeoeskimo dwellings and that doesn’t include the earlier Groswater Palaeoeskimo dwellings. Given the importance of this site to the PE on the island it is not surprising that the earliest date comes from charcoal found in a dwelling/pit feature which was dated to 2760 ± 90 (Beta-23979). South of Port au Choix is another important PE site. The Factory Cove site is just outside of the community of Cow Head. The site was found by Jim Tuck in 1976 and was excavated by Reginald Auger. The site was described as a habitation/lithic workshop with at least 5 structures and several features. One of those structures was described as bilobate with a mid-passage hearth, charcoal from which returned a date of 2700±140 (Beta 4047).

The latest date for PE on the island comes from another site on the Northern Peninsula. Peat Garden North is located just outside the community of Bird Cove and was found by David Reader during a survey in 1997. A small amount of charcoal was found on the side of a Dorset axial feature and returned the late date of 959 ± 45 (BGS 2254). Land mammal bone from inside the same feature returned a date of 1030 ± 290 (TO-9555). Interestingly the small site of Bordeaux West on the opposite side of the island near the community of Arnold’s Cove returned a date of 1090 ± 90 (GaK-3275). The date was based on charcoal recovered from a hearth.

The Bordeaux West site is in the centre of the picture
Earliest and latest known RI sites in Newfoundland

On the island the Recent Indian period starts at around the same time as it starts in Labrador, around 2000 years ago and once again sites on the Northern Peninsula figure prominently in the dates. The earliest RI date comes from the Gould site, which also had the earliest MAI date. The Gould site was found in 1996 by Priscilla Renouf. The RI portion of the site was excavated by Mike Teal. One of the features he excavated was made up of an irregular shaped depression that contained fire cracked rock and charcoal, the latter of which was dated to 2080+/-40 (Beta 134147). Another date of 1950+/-60 (Beta 120796) came from a charcoal-lined pit. There were also very early RI dates recovered from a separate site in the Bonavista Bay area. A date of 1950+/-100 (Gak 1481) came from the Beaches site. However, this is a multi-culture site which is not well stratified so the date could be from a PE occupation. There are two more early dates from the Bonavista Bay site of Cape Cove 3; 1920+/-130 (S-1863) and 1865+/-110 (S-1862). The first date came from charcoal associated with a stone tool manufacturing area. The second date, which also has been reported as 1865 +/- 110, was based on charcoal from a hearth.

The latest dated RI site on the island actually dates to the post-European contact period and this is not at all surprising because it has been known for years that the last of the RI on the island became the Beothuk. This transition is clearly demonstrated at several sites including Boyd’s Cove and Inspector’s Island where we see a slow transition from stone tools to the use of European tools and we see stone tools in the same level and next to European objects such as pipe stems and ceramic fragments.

Newfoundland Dates
Maritime Archaic Indians ~ 5500 years ago-3200 years ago
Intermediate Indians No dates
Palaeoeskimo ~2800 years ago-1000 years ago
Recent Indians ~2000 years ago-Beothuk

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