Archaeological void no more

Today nearly 280 archaeological and ethnographic sites are known to exist within 75 km of the Western Labrador-Quebec border. However, the vast majority of those sites were found in the last 30 years. Prior to the early 1980s, the area was nearly an archaeological void. It was one of the last large areas of North America to have any archaeological survey work done. This is likely due to several factors including the difficulty and high cost of accessing the area. If you get into the area you are faced with archaeological sites that have thin deposits and little preservation of organic material.  With the exception of some early survey work by Donald MacLeod in the late 1960s on Michikamau Lake prior to the flooding of the Churchill reservoir and a brief survey of the Kogaluk River – Mistastin Lake area by Stephen Loring in 1979 little was known about the area.

Red & yellow dots are the known archaeology sites in Labrador today. The yellow dots are western Labrador sites within 75km of the Quebec border
Red & yellow dots are the known archaeology sites in Labrador pre-1980s. The red dots are western Labrador sites within 75km of the Quebec border

The early 1980s saw a small amount of work done in the Labrador City area by Callum Thomson for a proposed road corridor. Then in 1986 & 1987, Moira McCaffrey surveyed an area in western Labrador looking at lithic resource procurement. While neither of these surveys was particularly large, they did result in the discovery of 16 archaeological sites, which meant the number of sites in Western Labrador went from 10 to 26.

Known archaeological sites in Labrador after 1987

The situation changed dramatically in 1987 when Bruce Ryan conducted a geological mapping survey and Scott Biggin who did an archaeological survey accompanied him:

            During the summer of 1987 (July 12 to August 28) a reconnaissance archaeological survey was conducted on the interior Labrador Plateau between the Kogaluk River and the Québec– Labrador border (Figure 1). The survey was carried out as an adjunct to a regional geological mapping program being conducted by the Department of Mines and Energy* in a 60 km-wide corridor between the Labrador coast and the Strange Lake rare earth element (REE)–zirconium–beryllium deposit located on the border between Labrador and Québec. The investigated area encompasses the drainage basin of three major east-flowing rivers – Anaktalik Brook, Konrad Brook, and Kogaluk River.

            The archaeological investigation was instigated by the second author as a result of observations made in 1985 and 1986 that indicated considerable past cultural activity in the geological mapping corridor. It was felt that the addition of an archaeologist to the geological mapping in 1987 would lead to a better understanding of the region’s previous habitation patterns, and contribute new information on a relatively poorly known region to the Historic Resources Division of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Youth. Thus, the first author was employed by the Department of Mines and Energy as team archaeologist in 1987. (Biggan & Ryan 1989)

The survey by Biggin in conjunction with the geological survey resulted in the discovery of 33 archaeological sites, more sites than were known in Western Labrador up to 1987. The sites included several attributed to the Maritime Archaic, one was Intermediate Period, at least two were Recent Period and several others were defined as unidentified precontact. Fourteen had possible Innu components and 11 had Inuit components. While several sites were spot finds of single artifacts, nearly half of the sites were of considerable size. Sixteen of the sites were at least 100m2 and 9 of those were at least 900 m2.

Red & yellow dots are the known archaeology sites in Labrador today. The yellow dots are the sites found by Biggin

What follows is a brief discussion of some of the sites.

Goodyear 1 (HcCw-03) consisted of six features: 5 cobble/boulder tent rings and 1 hearth. Four of the tent rings measure between 4.5m and 5.5m in diameter with small cobble/boulder hearths. The fifth tent ring is composed of 3 quasi-circular rings (rooms?) that are joined together to form one, 8m by 4m, oblong, tent ring structure. One asymmetrical bi-convex biface of black Ramah chert, probably a knife, was
collected from one of the hearths.

Abutting tent ring structures at Goodyear 1 (HcCw-3). The three conjoined rings are approximately 8m long. Biggin & Ryan 1989.

Nomoshoom (HaCv-04) is a Maritime Archaic site eroded by caribou trails and consists of lithics with no features. The site consists of white Ramah chert and an abundance of quartz/quartzite. Other surface features of the site are indiscernible. Included in the artifacts recorded and collected, exclusively of Maritime Archaic tradition, were two incomplete ground slate adzes, one celt, three possible Ramah chert biface blanks, two fragments of ground slate, one possible quartzite knife, one possible grey chert flake core, and one retouched Ramah chert flake.

Ground slate from Nomoshoom (HaCv-04)

Some of the more interesting finds from the survey included historic period Innu campsites including sites such as Ron-Napi site (HaCv-05), which may have been Point Revenge complex, and Dunphy (HbCv-04).

Ron-Napi (HaCv-05) consisted of a 2m by 2m low grouping of boulders amid a large scattering of broken and crushed caribou bones. A quick surface search over the partially moss-lichen covered bone deposit revealed one small white Ramah chert flake (a fortuitous intrusion?). Farther to the east, similar but smaller deposits of bone were seen, associated with three-four fallen tent pole segments. Biggin believes this site was probably “Naskapi” (historic period Innu) or possibly late Point Revenge.

Boulder pile and scattered fragments of caribou bone at the Ron-Napi (HaCv-05). Biggin & Ryan 1989.

The Dunphy (HbCv-04) site was made up of six earthen tent ring features, all measuring approximately 4m in diameter with central stone hearths. Associated with the least moss- and lichen-covered features are segments of tent poles, small amounts of broken caribou bone and short stout logs lying across entrance passageways. The latter attribute has been found associated with 19th-century Naskapi tent rings at Fort Chimo.

Earthen tent wall ring at the Dunphy (HbCv-4) site. Biggin & Ryan 1989.

Glooskap (HaCw-02) was one of several sites that had an undetermined precontact cultural association. This site is defined by a 2m wide earthen/cobble raised circular tent ring. A mixture of fire-cracked rock and calcined bone has eroded from one side of the feature. A few white Ramah chert flakes and 1 distal end segment of an ovate biface were collected 3-5m northwest of this feature.

Distal end segment of a Ramah chert ovate biface from Glooskap (HaCw-02)

Tillman (HbCw-02) is the site of a spot find of a single Ramah chert biface fragment. The discovery area, a vast flat expanse of low bedrock outcrops and gravel deposits covered by patches of low shrub, is pocketed with small pools of water and streams. An intensive search for some recognizable feature was unsuccessful, suggesting an isolated deposit.

Two medial segments of a long straight-sided triangular biface from the site of Tillman (HbCw-02)

While the survey by Biggin did not resolve all of our questions about past land use in the area it certainly improved the situation dramatically. Today the area is no longer the void it once was, and it is currently part of at least two PhD projects and a completed Masters thesis project, as well as being studied by archaeologists for several resource development projects.

Biggin, Scott & Bruce Ryan 1989 A Reconnaissance Archaeological Survey of the Kogaluk River Area, Labrador. (87.17)

Mccaffrey, Moira 2006 Archaic Period Occupation in Subarctic Quebec: A review of the Evidence. In The Archaic of the Far Northeast.

21 thoughts on “Archaeological void no more

  1. You’ve hit upon a key point that is often missed: the change of our understanding due to the vast amount of data gained over the past thirty to forty years. The importance of this work on a global scale cannot be underestimated. Indeed, it is why Richard Bradley of University of Reading fame noted that the best research being done today is in the contract units.

  2. Nice, Steve. I had read the report, but I had not seen the photos. Thanks. Are there many more photos? I assume the collection is at the Rooms?

    1. Not a lot more Scott.
      We got an updated version of the report a few years back with colour photos.
      As far as I know the collection is at the Rooms.

  3. Do you people select sites to explore based on where people might have traveled rather than what looks like a good place? Any information on how the Algonquian peoples got to Eastern Canada from Siberia? Maybe people should be looking for an alternate migration route? One that goes from Siberia north of the ice sheets into Northern Canada, (as our people definitely did not come to the area from the Pacific, according to my DNA). Where might they have come “ashore” from the now water covered tundra and started travelling over the present day landmass, and spreading east and west into Ungava bay first (Maybe? I would think so), to North Central Labrador and Quebec and then Hudson Bay area second. A possible entry into Labrador area could be from the Kangiqsualujjuaq area up along Riviere Koro through to Ramah Bay. Maybe you guys should be searching along such a route and there would be no more Archaeological void. Just saying,

    1. You’ve asked several questions here so I’ll try to respond to each of them in turn.
      By “sites to explore” I assume you mean survey archaeologically. We would survey both places where people travelled and what looks like a goo place.
      I can’t answer your second question directly, the movement of people from Siberia to eastern North America was a long slow process that took place over something like 15,000 years. There are archaeologists who would argue that the first people didn’t come from Siberia and there are those who would argue the date was probably 20,000 years or more ago. I think that today anthropologists-archaeologists are more likely to look for alternate routes. Certainly the route you proposed is possible.
      If I understand what you are suggesting for a route coming across the arctic, the problem lies in that your route would have been covered in ice several miles thick up until just less than 10,000 years ago. The date would vary from place to place. What would a migrating group of people eaten, relied upon for resources? For that matter what animals would have lived in such conditions?

      1. Thank you. I am a lay person and I won’t mind if you decide not to engage me in this discourse. However I had my DNA tested and recorded a while ago and the results say my ancestors originated in the Altai area of central Siberia and somehow made it to Eastern Canada. And we did not migrate across Beringia. As you know the Algonquian peoples stretch from Eastern Canada to Central Canada (You can see this quite easily from any map of native languages of Canada). I say stretched east to west but I am sure most of your compatriots say stretches from central Canada to Eastern Canada. You also say there were some pieces of Ramah Chert found in eastern continental USA and you explain that by saying the stone was traded along the routes to that site. My thoughts is that my Ancestors must have made it to Eastern Canada somehow and then migrated west and south and they carried that chert with them. Their route would have had to be on the northern side of the great ice sheets. Hopefully some evidence will be found one day supporting this. I don’t think their route was covered in ice several miles thick. Simply because ice sheets grow from snow and as you may already know, the further north you go the less snowfall there is.And the waters offshore from Siberia along Canada’s northern waters right down to Labrador are of similar depths as the areas that were free of water during the ice age. So there could well have been water free lands all along the way, covered with some form of vegetation that enticed animals of all sorts to wander maybe even migrate back and forth between Siberia and Northern Quebec/Labrador. Do you know that the Innu have a very old word in their language for the mastadon or whichever one it was that found its way to northern Canada, and it does not mean elephant. So to get back to my original point, maybe your people are all looking in the wrong places. Any evidence of the great journey of my people would be under the arctic waters (and not across the Atlantic). by the way these thoughts originated from a spring food harvesting trip in Northern labrador. I was amazed at the comfort, weather wise, of travelling by snowmobile during winter yet during a period of great warming and seeing great expanses of ice and snow but also areas where snow and ice had already melted. I thought at the time, this must have been exactly what it was like during during the ice age summers and my ancestors could just as well made the great migration during such times. anyway…

      2. Well, you may be a lay person but you’ve obviously taken an interest in this topic and have done some reading. Once again I am going to try to deal with your statements one at a time, but it seems as though you are mixing up the current Mi’kmaq culture with the culture of the people who migrated across North America (using any route). I would however caution you about reading things and applying them to you and your ancestry directly. Many of the things you are talking about, migrations across/through North America, Languages and DNA for example are large and complex topics. For example, if I understand this correctly, you can’t say your people didn’t migrate across Beringia because your DNA today shows you didn’t. That migration occurred 12, 15 or maybe even 20, 000 years ago. The DNA of those people would be different from your DNA today. Your DNA is the result of 12 to 20000 years of mutations and admixtures from other human populations. The same kind of statement can be made of the current Mi’kmaq culture, it has and continues to go through changes. Culture, like language and DNA is dynamic, what you see today is the result of changes over a long time. For example, Misel Joe wears a long head dress during ceremonies, these are traditionally plains Indian head dresses, Mi’kmaq would not have worn those traditionally. Cultures change.
        I would say west to east as well. As I understand it, the older traces of precontact Mi’kmaq ancestral culture are found to the west and there is a traceable path west to east of Mi’kmaq ancestral culture.
        Are you suggesting that precontact Mi’kmaq folks acquired Ramah from the quarries in Northern Labrador and then moved south through Labrador into the Northeastern US to distribute the chert? Well, there are a couple of problems with that theory. There is no trace of precontact Mi’kmaq culture in Labrador or Newfoundland. As well, there is no evidence of Ramah having been used to make precontact Mi’kmaq tools.
        Yes you are right, there is less snow farther north but the ice sheets grew in all directions, not just to the south leaving the north ice free.

      3. Hi,
        Yes I have a concern with people accepting things of culture as naturally localized when in fact it has been borrowed from afar. But I accept the fact that this would have happened down through the ages. I feel you may be dismissing DNA science too quickly. Check out Haplogroup x and c and if you can find a map of accepted migration of people out of Africa, you will see that is an accepted fact that migrating peoples leave traces of their DNA as they migrate and there are no traces of my DNA coming across Beringa. So how did we get to the North east coast of North America? I believe Innu, Lnu, archaic, maratime archaic…all the peoples who have peopled eastern NA are related. People of your science keep separating us into different groups but looking for similarities is just as important as looking for differences. I really believe you all should be looking for other possible migration routes first and then going in and doing your archaeology work not the other way around. First I heard of a traceable path of Algonquian migration from west to east, but I have heard of a “Return” migration from SWestern NA to NEastern NA. Cheers.

      4. Hi Phillip
        With regard to DNA, as I said to you before, I do not have a background in the subject. So, what I wrote earlier could be wrong. With regard to your DNA not showing up in Berengia; in Archaeology today there are plenty of theories about how North America was populated and many of them do not involve Berengia. Your theory about coming across the top of the arctic is not impossible but there is no physical supporting evidence. You suggest maybe the earliest sites are underwater. Traces of early underwater sites show up in fishing nets on the west coast of Canada but not on the east coast, certainly not in the same quantity. The earliest sites in the eastern provinces would be Palaeo-Indigenous sites in NS (~10,000 years ago), the earliest site in NL is Pinware, Labrador(~9000 years ago). All in the south. The earliest known site in the north is ~7000 years ago. The evidence suggests the earliest inhabitants in the area came from the west/southwest and move to the east. When they got to Labrador most of the land was still covered in ice, so the skirted up the coast, the Radiocarbon dates reflect this.
        “all the peoples who have peopled eastern NA are related” I would agree. All of the people are ultimately of the same ancestral source; keeping in mind there have been many migrations from the old world to the new mixing up all the DNA.

    2. I think these comments support my point about an entry point into Labrador from Northern Quebec:
      ᒠᒡ ᒂᓂᔅ The legend of Caribou Heaven or the “home of the caribou”, has great importance for the Naskapi culture. In the past, such beliefs served to guide the behaviour of and provide ethical guidelines to our ancestors, who survived in large part on hunting caribou. For them, the responsible behaviour promoted by the legend, such as using all parts of the caribou killed as a way of showing respect to its soul ensured that there were always caribou to hunt. The survival of the caribou was, of course, a precondition for our survival. Today, the legend provides us with a tool for teaching our children the importance of treating all of Nature, not just the caribou, with respect. The legend helps us to understand that we are part of Nature and that we have an important responsibility of stewardship.

      No living Naskapi person knows the exact location of the “home of the caribou”. Even though our ancestors used to hunt near the Koroc River, as suggested by Rousseau , the shamans forbade them to look for that place for fear of disturbing the caribou. Only the shaman visited the Caribou Heaven, and he used his preternatural powers of “vision” to accomplish such visits. Nevertheless, two written sources identify its location. The first reference is given by Jacques Rousseau, who, during the summer of 1951, travelled to the Labrador-Quebec Peninsula to conduct botanical surveys. His Montagnais guide, Antoine Grégoire, situated the Caribou Heaven “on the Koroc River, 75 miles upstream”. The second is given by Alain Hébert who described it as being “…in the middle of the Koroc River valley, located on the west bank of this river, close to the junction with the André Grenier River”

      This speaks to a deep out of memory connection to a very important place for Innu….my conjecture is an ancient route maybe. Sorry for taking up your time with idle conjecture.

      1. Hi
        I don’t mind you posting ideas here, thanks for the comment.
        You previously suggested that the Aboriginal people in North America entered the continent via an ancient route through the Arctic. This is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, but there is little or no evidence for this other than your suggestion of a deep out of memory connection. Is there a corresponding legend for the the ancient route through the Arctic?

  4. Correction/addition to my posting. “One theory of how the X Haplogroup ended up in North America is they migrated from central Asia along with the A,B,C, and D Haplogroups. It is interesting that no Haplogroup X traces have been found in Siberia. The nearest X Haplotypes have been found is the Altai region of central Asia. This theory is supported by yDNA studies [Zegura.]”, so I should have said Central Asia to Eastern Canada.

  5. Regarding the find of Ramah chert in MAin, USA. I am saying ancestors of today’s Indigenous peoples carried the chert with them as they migrated out from their entry point in Labrador and not pre-contact Mi’kmaq (Lnu’t).

    1. I agree with this statement with the following caveat: According to what physical evidence we have today northern Labrador was not an entry point, other than for precontact Palaeoeskimo and Inuit groups.
      So I would write that statement this way: ancestors of today’s Indigenous peoples carried the chert with them as they migrated out of Labrador and not pre-contact Mi’kmaq (Lnu’t).
      Pre-contact Mi’kmaq are known as Lnu’t? That’s interesting, I did not know that.

  6. This is a great post, and a really interesting and informative blog. Thank you for sharing.

    You mentioned that there are both archaeological and ethnographic sites in Newfoundland Labrador. I was wondering if you could elaborate on the difference between these two. Do ethnographic sites refer to more recent archaeological sites?

    1. Thanks for the compliment.

      Ethnographic is used to describe sites that are post 1960, this not something set in legislation.

  7. Checked in on latest Wikipedia article on I see some other people are considering the Arctic Route as well.

    Time for an arctic section!
    DNA research on remains of a Greenlander 4000 BP indicates a migration route from Siberia across the arctic [3]. Time for a new section. WBardwin (talk) 23:57, 10 February 2010 (UTC)
    It is mentioned in the section here under Genetics that says “The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q (Y-DNA) mutations, however are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with various mtDNA and atDNA mutations. This suggests that the earliest migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later migrant populations. The section links to this article….I will use this references you just provided in that other article …hope this helps address your concerns….Buzzzsherman (talk) 00:17, 11 February 2010 (UTC)
    Great for now — we’ll have to see how things evolve as papers are published and discussed. Thanks. 02:32, 12 February 2010 (UTC)

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