Here, there and everywhere: The Cow Head complex

The Recent Indian Cow Head complex was defined based on an excavations in the community of Cow Head. Dr. Jim Tuck and his crew excavated a deeply stratified, multicultural site that included Archaic, Palaeoeskimo and Recent Indian components. Over the years since that excavation the complex was never clearly defined and it took more than 20 years for our understanding of this complex to become clearer. In 2001, two graduate students, Mike Teal & Latonia Hartery, completed their thesis both of which were based on the excavation of Cow Head complex sites.

The crew from the first of 3 field seasons at Cow Head in 1976 standing in front of an excavated wall. From left to right, James Tuck, Marcie Madden, Priscilla Renouf, Tip Evans and Gerald Penney (photo courtesy of G.Penney).
Cow Head complex ovate, "tear drop" shaped biface from Cow Head (photo courtesy of G.Penney).
Cow Head complex broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces from the 1978 Tuck excavation.
Cow Head complex bi-pointed bifaces from the 1978 Tuck excavation.
Cow Head complex lanceolate bifaces from the 1978 Tuck excavation.

Teal’s thesis was based on the excavation of a Cow Head complex site in Port au Choix. From this excavation we were able to add new artifacts to the complex, including contracting stemmed projectile points and ceramic vessels as elements of the Cow Head assemblage and information about housing and settlement data which indicate the use of circular tent-like structures and the occupation of near-coastal areas. Mike’s work also suggested that the date range for the complex should be 2000-1500 BP.

Cow Head complex Recent Indian broad bladed, contracting stemmed projectile points from Port au Choix (Teal).

Hartery’s thesis detailed the excavation of a Cow Head complex site in Bird Cove. The work dealt a little more with the relationships and origins of the complex. Originally the complex was thought to be descended from Newfoundland and Labrador’s earliest
occupants – the Maritime Archaic Indian tradition – and ancestral to the Beaches complex,
which is precontact Beothuk. This thesis challenged these ideas and demonstrated that the Cow Head complex occupation occurred between 2000-1100 BP, co-existed with other complexes and may have its origins in the province of Quebec, rather than in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Cow Head complex broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces (Hartery). The biface on the left is from Bird Cove, the one on the right is from Cow Head.
Cow Head complex Recent Indian broad bladed, contracting stemmed projectile point from Bird Cove (Hartery).
Cow Head complex lanceolate bifaces from Bird Cove (Hartery).
Cow Head complex ovate, "tear drop" shaped biface from Bird Cove (Hartery).

The latter idea, that the complex may have its origins in the province of Quebec, rather than in Newfoundland and Labrador came from work done by a Quebec archaeologist in the Blanc Sablon area, Jean-Yves Pintal. Based on his work Pintal (1998) created five new complexes which are dated to just before and including the Recent Indian period in Newfoundland and Labrador. He created a succession of complexes. It begins with the Fleche Littorale (2500-1500 BP), which leads to the Petit Havre (1500-1200 BP) and Longue Point complexes (1300-1100 BP), then the Anse Lazy (1200- 100 BP), and concludes with the A’nse Morel complex (1100- 400 BP) (Pintal 1998). It is the first two that seem to be ancestral and contemporary to the Cow Head complex.

Flèche Littoral or Petit Havre complex broad bladed, contracting stemmed projectile point from Québec’s Lower North Shore (Teal 2001:101).

Using the work of Pintal, Hartery has argued: “The Cow Head complex tools resemble those from interior and coastal Quebec, indicating that its appearance may represent a new movement of people from the mainland onto the island of Newfoundland as well as into Labrador. To consolidate her argument, she used multiple lines of evidence, including the presence and absence of diagnostic tools, settlement and subsistence patterns, radiocarbon dates from various sites, and the presence of Newfoundland coastal cherts along the Lower North Shore of Quebec (Hartery, 2001:144-145).

Up to this point Cow Head complex sites have been found in Quebec and Newfoundland and Hartery speculated that the complex may be related to some other precontact Indian groups. While looking through photos I’ve come to realize that there are, not surprisingly, likely Cow Head complex sites in southern Labrador. As indicated by the artifacts below which are in private collections.

Cow Head complex ovate, "tear drop" shaped biface from southern Labrador.
Cow Head complex bi-pointed bifaces from southern Labrador.
Top row, first artifact on the left, Cow Head complex Recent Indian broad bladed, contracting stemmed projectile points from southern Labrador. The two notched points on the bottom row, left side look like Cow Head complex broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces.

Hartery, Latonia 2001 The Cow Head complex. MA, University of Calgary.

Teal, Michael 2001 An Archaeological Investigation of the Gould Site (EeBi-42) in Port au Choix, Northwestern Newfoundland: New Insight into the Recent Indian Cow Head Complex. MA, MUN.

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