At the same time

Most people do not realize how much human history there is in this province. Many think that the first Indigenous inhabitants were the Beothuk when in reality the first Indigenous inhabitants were here nearly 9000 years ago. With this post, I am going to try to place these 9000 years of occupation in the context of world events.

The events and sites I have selected here are in no order of significance

>10000 years ago

The exact timing of the first people in North America is still not clear. What is clear, however, is that the Palaeo-Indigenous (Clovis and Folsum cultures) were not the first people. There are several sites in North America and South America with convincing evidence of earlier occupations such as Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania that is dated to 16,000 years ago.

The archaeological site at Monte Verde in southern Chile has been dated to nearly 15000 years ago. Back in North America the Paisley Caves in Oregon have human remains dated to just over 14000 years ago.

The earliest known site in the Atlantic Canadian provinces is the Palaeo-Indigenous site of Debert in Nova Scotia, dated to nearly 11000 years ago. It would be at least another 2000 years before we have evidence for people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Stone tools from Debert.

9000-8000 years ago

The earliest dated site in this province is Pinware Hill, which is dated to nearly 9000 years ago. The nearby site called Cowpath is a few hundred years younger. The people who occupied these sites appear to be descendants of the Palaeo-Indigenous people, which is eventually recognized as Maritime Archaic.

Pinware Hill bifaces.

At around the same time, new research indicates that horses were domesticated 9,000 years ago in Saudi Arabia. Between 10000 and 9000 years ago in northern Iraq, the cultivation of barley and wheat begins.

8000-7000 years ago

Between 8000-7000 years ago in world history, we start to see evidence of copper smelting in Europe and evidence of the invention of the wheel and the spread of proto-writing. Recent research indicates that grapes were also domesticated around this time.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritime Archaic culture has fully adapted into a maritime oriented culture. The evidence is seen in the tools buried with the child at the L’Anse Amour Burial mound including a toggling harpoon and a hand toggle for a harpoon line. The Maritime Archaic would be the only archaeologically recognized Indigenous culture in the province until about 4000 years ago.

Artifacts from the burial mound included a toggling harpoon (centre, top) and a hand toggle (right). (McGhee 1976)
Burial mound plaque placed by the Historic Sites and Monument Board.

7000-6000 years ago

During this period, rice is domesticated in China and is later introduced to the rest of Asia and agriculture starts in ancient Japan. The plow is introduced in Europe and beer brewing is developed. Recent research suggests Ancient Peruvians snacked on popcorn 7,000 years ago.

The Maritime Archaic culture has spread from the southern coast northward into central Labrador. Some of the more interesting sites from this period include the burial mound from Ballybrack 10, and the boulder pit houses and other boulder structures at Karl Oom Island 3. This period would also see the start of the occupation of the large multi-component site at Nukasusutok 5. In southern Labrador, well-known early Maritime Archaic sites like Fowler, Juniper and Arrowhead Mine are occupied at this time.

Labrador boulder pit house (Archaeology in NL 1984)
Arrowhead Mine bifaces (Renouf 1974)
Juniper – lithics were found near the notebook in the centre of the photo.
The Arrowhead Mine is contained in the blow out in the centre of the photo

6000-5000 years ago

This one thousand year period sees the end of the predynastic period in Egypt, the beginning of Sumerian “proto-cuneiform” writing and the development of first cities developed in Southern Mesopotamia. The date August 11, 3114 BC is thought to be the start date of the Mayan calendar and around the same time, first pottery is attempted in Colombia which is considered one of the first attempts at pottery in the New World.

Around 3300 BC—Ötzi the Iceman dies near the present-day border between Austria and Italy. His body is rediscovered in 1991 buried in a glacier of the Ötztal Alps.

Ötzi the Iceman

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritime Archaic culture continues to spread throughout the province. Up until this point, the northern branch of the Maritime Archaic (more recently called the Labrador Archaic) seems to have had the province to themselves. At around 6000 years ago a new culture shows up in Labrador with a lithic technology that is different enough from the northern branch to warrant the new title of southern branch Maritime Archaic (more recently called the Maritime Archaic). During this time, the first Archaic group enters Newfoundland at Port au Choix first and a little later at South Brook, near Pasadena. Lithics from the South Brook site include several bifaces made from quartzite and a fully channeled gouge both of which are indicative of sites in the 6000-8000 year range in Labrador.

Fully channeled gouge from South Brook

In my next post, I’ll go through the last 5000 years of the history of the province.

McGhee, Robert  1976  The Burial at L’Anse-Amour

Renouf, M.A.P.  1974 A Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Sequence in Southern Labrador. MUN, MA Thesis.

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