This post is a continuation from two weeks ago.
The Recent Period Tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador began approximately 2000 years ago on both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle. The connection between the people of the Recent Period and earlier precontact Indigenous people of the province, such as the Maritime Archaic and Intermediate Period people, is not completely understood if such a relationship existed at all.
As on the Island of Newfoundland, the Recent Period Tradition in Labrador is divided into an early and late period based on projectile point styles. The early Labrador Recent Period projectile points are characteristically large and side-notched, whereas the projectiles of their descendants, the late Labrador Recent Period, are predominantly smaller and corner-notched. The early Labrador Recent Period are the people represented by the technological-cultural pattern of the Daniel Rattle complex (ca. 2000 B.P. – 1000 B.P.) and the late Labrador Recent Period are the people represented by the technological-cultural pattern of the Point Revenge complex (ca. 1000 B.P. – 350 B.P.). Archaeologists believe that these precontact complexes form a two-thousand-year-old cultural continuum that represents the precontact Recent Period Tradition in Labrador. The names of the complexes do little to reveal that the people of each complex are related. I think it makes more sense to use names that do show this relationship and I suggest using early and late Labrador Recent Period.
The late Labrador Recent Period complex was defined based on the Winter Cove 4 site in the Hamilton Inlet area. It was the first complex defined within the Labrador portion of the Recent Period Tradition. The early portion Labrador Recent Period Tradition was defined based on the excavation of the Daniel Rattle site in the late 1980s by an archaeologist named Stephen Loring. In Loring’s view, “The application of a distinct complex designation serves primarily as a chronological device since there is no break in the cultural continuity…” (Loring 1992:343). Therefore, both complexes are dealt with together in the following section.
Early/Late Labrador Recent Period: Daniel Rattle and Point Revenge complexes
The 20 known early Labrador Recent Period sites have been found in areas of diverse environmental and geographical conditions, ranging from the bottoms of sheltered bays and dense boreal forest localities to exposed headlands and outer islands. The 44 known late Recent Period sites are found in similar areas: outer exposed headlands, islands and inner sheltered bays. The people of the Labrador Recent Period practiced a generalized economy of hunting marine and terrestrial animals and fishing, similar to the pattern followed by the people of the Recent Period of Newfoundland.
Within the stone tool kits of the Labrador Recent Period, there is a clear evolution in styles from early to late Labrador Recent Period. Early Labrador Recent Period tool assemblages consist of broad side-notched projectile points, in the late Labrador Recent Period time period these become narrow corner-notched points and eventually flake points; large lanceolate, square-based bifaces evolve into small triangular bifaces; and large, unifacial end and side scrapers are eventually replaced by ‘thumbnail’ scrapers. Ground slate celts or spalls from the celts are also found in both complexes. A heavy reliance on Ramah chert is a defining characteristic of Labrador’s Recent Period. In fact, Loring has referred to several Labrador Recent Period sites as being literally paved with Ramah chert (1988:160).
There is little doubt that the precontact Recent Period in Newfoundland and Labrador were related. Their stone tool kits were practically identical, with the exception that the Labrador Recent Period almost exclusively used Ramah chert for their tools. The transition from side-notched dart point to corner notched arrow point seems to occur at the same time on both the island and in Labrador and they all seem to have followed a similar settlement-subsistence pattern.
Many archaeologists, including me in my 2002 thesis, have argued that the people of late Labrador Recent Period complex became the Innu of Labrador and Quebec today similar to how the late Newfoundland Recent Period transitioned to the Beothuk. Looking back on it now, unfortunately, the evidence has yet to be found to verify this hypothesis.
On the Island, there is a clear transition from the late Newfoundland Recent Period to the Beothuk. We have numerous transitional sites such as Boyd’s Cove and Inspector Island and with these sites, we see there is no temporal gap between the late Newfoundland Recent Period to the Beothuk. The same is not true in Labrador. To my knowledge, there are no transitional sites where we see late Labrador Recent Period using stones in one level and in the next level we see the stones and an introduction of European goods. What we do have in Labrador are several late Labrador Recent Period sites with a series of dates that suggest they lasted right up to and just into the period when Europeans make prolonged contact with this area of North America. For example at Winter Cove 4, there are dates of 465±45 (SI-1281) and 435±90 (SI-1282) based on charcoal from hearths. Those dates would be ~1450-1540 ad and 1435-1615 ad based on radiocarbon dating starting in 1960. At Daniel Rattle 2, there is a date of 425±65 (SI-5829) based on charcoal found in a bone concentration. That date would be ~1470-1600 ad. Finally, at Aly’s Head 1, the latest dated late Labrador Recent Period site, charcoal from a hearth was dated to 325 ± 80 (SI-1276). That date would be ~1555-1715 ad. At all of these sites, the only tools found were precontact stone artifacts. In comparison, the earliest dated Innu sites are listed as early 18th century but the culture on these sites is listed as “Innu?” meaning the archaeologist couldn’t positively say this was an Innu occupation. But, even if they could positively identify the Innu as the site occupants the site’s artifact collection is made up of post-European contact artifacts. There is no hint at a transition from stone to European goods. The earliest dated positively identified Innu sites are dated to the 19th century. There is no evidence for a transition and there is a temporal gap of ~100 years between the last of the late Labrador Recent Period and the first Innu.
This is not to say that the late Labrador Recent Period people didn’t become the Innu, but rather that there remains a data gap; the transition from one to the other is not as convincing as has been stated. This is obviously an area that requires further research.
Loring, Stephen 1992 Princes and Princesses of Ragged Fame: Innu Archaeology and Ethnohistory in Labrador. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Massachusetts.
1988 Keeping Things Whole: Nearly Two Thousand Years of Indian (Innu) Occupation in Northern Labrador. In Boreal Forest and Sub-Arctic Archaeology, edited by C. S. Reid, pp.157-182. Ontario Archaeological Society, Occasional Publications of the London Chapter, No.6, London.
Pastore, Ralph 1992 Shanawdithit’s People. Atlantic Archaeology, St.John’s.