What’s in a name?

Archaeology is often about the classification of objects, which can be done in a variety of different ways, such as material type, size, method of manufacture and style, among others. Classification can be used to help determine such things as function, age, use and cultural affinity. In essence, archaeologists arrange pre-contact artifacts into like-groups that come to represent “cultures” for which we have no written record.

 As is the practice elsewhere, the cultures of the precontact period people in this province are classified according to a hierarchical taxonomic system. There are generally accepted definitions for each of the terms in this hierarchical taxonomic system but in this province, many of these terms are used loosely and at times interchangeably therefore the cultural classification system in this province probably requires updating. The classification system below is not meant to be definitive and is certainly open to discussion and it is just my opinion but it is how I see the classification of the precontact period in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 At the top of this system is the classification Tradition. This term denotes a set of cultural traits that appear to develop and exist over a long period and over a geographic area. In this province, Tradition could be applied to the Maritime Archaic Tradition, Palaeoeskimo Tradition and the Recent Indian Tradition. In the past under Tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have had subdivisions called Cultures, Complexes, Phases and Components. The latter three terms are not applied to as many groups any more thanks in part to Neilsen’s 2006 thesis.

 The classification system in Newfoundland and Labrador right now has a classification of Culture below Tradition. I see the term Culture in this context as being similar to Tradition but having a shorter temporal extent and specific cultural traits as seen in material culture, economic adaptations, settlement strategies and social organization that are more specific to an area (Helmer 1994). Therefore, the generally recognized Cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador are the Pre-Dorset, Dorset, Groswater cultures under the Palaeoeskimo Tradition; the Intermediate Indian culture; the early & late Labrador Recent Indian and the early & late Newfoundland Recent Indian cultures under the Recent Indian Tradition.

 We maintain the terms complex and phase for portions of cultures. Fitzhugh originally defined a complex “as a unit for which comprehensive information is lacking, but which constitutes a definite grouping based on a series of related site components for which a relatively large amount of information is known.” Originally, the early & late Newfoundland and Labrador Recent Indians were thought of as complexes but I think our understanding of that Tradition has gotten to the point where we are lacking very little information and these groups can be thought of as Cultures. Whereas I don’t think the same can be said of the Saunders complex or the Northwest River phase of the Intermediate Indian culture. Phase remains as Fitzhugh defined it “to indicate an assemblage which is chronologically and spatially distinct and can be distinguished from other phases so conceived.”

 Now, for the non-archaeologists in the crowd, we are still left with how archaeologists name those Traditions, Cultures, Complexes and Phases. Archaeologists do not know what the people of the precontact groups in Newfoundland and Labrador referred to themselves as. The name most Aboriginal people apply to themselves in their own language usually means something like ‘the people’ or ‘human’.

 Recognized Precontact Aboriginal groups in Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland Labrador
Maritime Archaic Indians (MAI) Maritime Archaic Indians (MAI)(Earliest Settlers, First Explorers, Labrador Archaic)
Intermediate Indians (II) Intermediate Indians (II)
Palaeoeskimo (PE) Palaeoeskimo (PE)
Recent Indians (RI) Recent Indians (RI)
Thule

The table above shows the generally accepted sequence of precontact aboriginal groups in Newfoundland and Labrador’s precontact past. This post will try to explain how archaeologists have derived the names for the MAI, II and RI. In two weeks, I’ll look at where the names for the Palaeoeskimo & Thule came from.

Within each of these major groupings, there are minor archaeologically recognized groups that are temporal or geographic expressions of the overall group. The table follows the broad temporal pattern of oldest on top and youngest on bottom. There is evidence in the archaeological record of different waves of people moving into the Province during these time periods; the names are used by archaeologists to denote that they had similar cultural characteristics and we therefore classify them under the overall group name.

Earliest Settlers and First Explorers

The terms Earliest Settlers, First Explorers, late Palaeo-Indian and Early Archaic have been used variously to refer to the first people in Labrador nearly 9000 years ago. The names Earliest Settlers and First Explorers come from the idea that these groups of people were the first known in the Province. The names late Palaeo-Indian and Early Archaic are based on the idea that the people of these Traditions were Palaeo-Indian descendants and ancestors to the later Archaic. As far as I understand, these groups have never really been formally named. In Labrador, sites for these First Explorers are seen near the southern Labrador community of Pinware at the sites of Pinware Hill and Cowpath. A visitor to The Rooms today will see this definition for the first groups of people referring to them as the First Explorers.

Description of the First Explorers from The Rooms exhibit.
Description of the First Explorers from The Rooms exhibit.

Maritime Archaic 

The MAI, (~7500-3000 years ago) were first described in the northeastern United States as the ‘Red Paint People’ after their burials, which used large quantities of red ochre to cover both the bodies of the dead and grave goods. The best-preserved ‘Red Paint’ cemetery was accidentally discovered in the late 1960s in Port au Choix. The excavation of this cemetery led Dr. James Tuck to define the Maritime Archaic Tradition. He used the term Maritime because he saw the Tradition as comprised of people ‘who were well acquainted with the resources of the Atlantic and how to exploit them and whose close relationship with the sea appears to be reflected throughout their culture.’

Typical MAI tools found at Port au Choix (reproductions - Rast)
Typical MAI tools found at Port au Choix (reproductions – Rast)

Intermediate Indian

Intermediate Indians are named because of their position in the province’s culture history and the archaeological record, between the preceding Maritime Archaic Tradition and the later Recent Indian Tradition. Initially, when first defined in the 1970s, six precontact groups were thought to be part of the Intermediate Indian Culture and they were thought to be limited to just Labrador. A recent Master’s thesis by Neilsen has, I think convincingly, narrowed this down to just two groups. The Saunders Complex, dating to 3500-2700 BP, and the Northwest River Phase dating to 2600-1800 BP in Northern and Central Labrador including Hamilton Inlet. Recently a few small spot finds of artifacts on the Island have led archaeologists to think that maybe the people of the Intermediate Indian Culture did make their way to Newfoundland.

The name Saunders came from a 1978 article by Christopher Nagle about the Intermediate Indian Culture in central Labrador. William Fitzhugh suggested the name to Nagle after Mr. Jim Saunders, a resident of Happy Valley, Labrador in the 1970s, for his contribution to the knowledge of this period of Labrador prehistory. The name Northwest River Phase was also proposed by William Fitzhugh because originally the first Northwest River Phase sites were found in the community of Northwest River.

Intermediate Indian biface from Sheshatshiu, Labrador. (Neilsen 2010)
Intermediate Indian biface from Sheshatshiu, Labrador. (Neilsen)

Recent Indian

Like the Intermediate Indians, the Recent Indian Tradition (Labrador Recent Indians & Newfoundland Recent Indians) is named because of it’s position in the province’s culture history and the archaeological record; after the Maritime Archaic Tradition and the later Intermediate Indian Culture. Some archaeologists would argue that all of these groups form a cultural continuum going back nearly 9000 years. But, I think most archaeologists see them as separate groups. With the data we have right now, it is not clear if the people of the MAI are related to the people of the later II or if they in turn are related to the people of the later RI.

Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom right two bifaces are late Recent Indian. The biface on the left of the bottom right is transitional between the two.
Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom right two bifaces are late Recent Indian. The biface on the left of the bottom right is transitional between the two.

On the Island, the Recent Indian Tradition can be sub-divided temporally into early & late Newfoundland Recent Indian Cultures, based on projectile point styles (Originally defined as Beaches Complex~1900-800 BP and Little Passage Complex ~800 BP-European Contact). These two periods form a cultural continuum from the precontact to European contact. The Beothuk are not part of the precontact Recent Indian Tradition, rather they are descendants of the people of this Tradition. The name for the Beaches Complex comes from the type-site at Beaches, Bonavista Bay. The Beaches has been known as an archaeology site since the 1800s. The name for the Little Passage Complex comes from the type-site L’Anse au Flamme at Little Passage, Hermitage Bay. L’Anse au Flamme was found and excavated by Gerald Penney in 1979-80.

The Cow Head Complex Recent Indians (ca.1900-1000 B.P.) appear on the Island around the start of the Recent Indian period. Recent research suggests they are not part of the Newfoundland Recent Indian cultural continuum. The site name comes from the community Cow Head where the artifacts of that Complex were first recognized. The type-site is known as Cow Head, Spearbank and was excavated by Dr. Jim Tuck in the mid 1970s.

Broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces.
Broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces.

As on the Island, the Recent Indian Tradition in Labrador is composed of an early and late Labrador Recent Indian Culture based on projectile point styles. (Originally defined as Daniel Rattle Complex ca. 2000 B.P. – 1000 B.P. and the Point Revenge Complex ca. 1000 B.P. – 350 B.P.). These precontact Cultures form a 2000 year old cultural continuum that represents the Recent Indian Tradition in Labrador. The people of these Cultures are the likely ancestors of the Innu of Labrador and Quebec. The name for the Daniel Rattle Complex comes from a site in Labrador near the former community of Davis Inlet. Stephen Loring found and excavated the site in the early 1980s. The name Daniel Rattle comes from a body of water near the site that doesn’t freeze over in the winter and is referred to as a rattle. The Point Revenge Complex name came from the type-site Winter Cove 4 which was found and excavated by William Fitzhugh in the early 1970s.

Early Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the left, late Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the right.
Early Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the left, late Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the right.

In two weeks I’ll look at where the names for the Palaeoeskimo and Thule groups came from.

References

Fitzhugh, William 1972 Environmental Archeology and Cultural Systems in Hamilton Inlet, Labrador A survey of the Central Labrador Coast From 3000 B.C. to the Present. Smithsonian Contributions the Anthropology Number 16. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

Helmer, James W. 1994 Resurrecting the Spirit(s) of Taylor’s “Carlsberg Culture”: Cultural Traditions and Cultural Horizons in Eastern Arctic Prehistory, in D. Morrison and J.-L. Pilon (eds), Threads of Arctic Prehistory: Papers in honour of William E. Taylor, Jr., Hull, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Mercury Series, 149: 15-34.

Nagle, Christopher 1978 Indian Occupations of the Intermediate Period on the Central Labrador Coast: A Preliminary Synthesis. Arctic Anthropology, XV(2): 119-145.

 Neilsen, Scott W. 2006 Intermediate Indians: The View from Ushpitun 2 and Pmiusiku 1. M.A., MUN

Tuck, James A. n.d. Atlantic Prehistory (Draft).

1970 An Archaic Indian Cemetery in Newfoundland. Scientific American, 222(6): 112-121

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