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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.