Boyd’s Cove, Inspector Island and the Beothuk

In 1980, the provincial government provided funding for a long-term project, the purpose of which was to increase our understanding of the Beothuk culture. To that end, an inventory of Beothuk sites was compiled, and brief archaeological surveys were carried out in the fall of 1980 in the Pilley’s Island area, the Badger Bay region, and the Fogo Island area. In the summer of 1981, the two co-investigators of the Beothuk Project, JaneSproull Thomson and Dr. Ralph Pastore carried out work at Red Indian Lake and in eastern Notre Dame Bay, respectively. This post will focus on the work of Dr. Pastore.

Sites found by Dr. Pastore during the Beothuk Project.
Sites found by Dr. Pastore during the Beothuk Project.

During the early survey work in 1980 & 1981, Dr. Pastore found more than 20 new archaeology sites. Four of the sites had Maritime Archaic Indian components, three had Groswater Palaeoeskimo components, 12 had Dorset Palaeoeskimo components, three had Recent Indian components, two had Beothuk components and six had European components. Most archaeology sites have more than one cultural occupation or component, which is why the number of components does not add up to the number of recognized sites.

The number of Beothuk – Recent Indian (the precontact ancestors of the Beothuk) sites found was low but the two sites that were found, Boyd’s Cove and Inspector Island, turned out to be very important for our understanding of the Recent Indian Tradition – Beothuk cultural continuum. Boyd’s Cove was the first dated Recent Indian Beaches complex occupation on the island at 960 +/- 50 BP (Beta 10235). At Inspector Island, a Recent Indian Little Passage occupation was dated at 610 +/- 60 BP (Beta 6730) to 690 +/- 40 BP (Beta 3938), placing this occupation between that of the Beaches complex and the historic Beothuk. The artifacts at Boyd’s Cove also exhibit this chronology. Beaches complex artifacts were generally found under Little Passage complex artifacts which were generally found under historic Beothuk artifacts. The sites provided the first stratigraphic evidence that the people of the precontact Little Passage complex were the direct ancestors of the Beothuk. The 1983 field season at Boyd’s Cove produced 14 stone projectile points and 4 triangular bifaces, all are typical of the Little Passage complex, either with or above historic material used by Beothuk. With these two sites, archaeologists were able to propose a Recent Indian Tradition to Beothuk cultural continuum that is now known to span 2000 years.

Boyd’s Cove is now a well-known site. Pastore tested & excavated it from 1981 through 1985 and it was eventually assigned Provincial Historic Site status on the basis of it’s historic significance. Boyd’s Cove, located on a 6 m high glacial moraine, turned out to be 3000 m2. The site has eleven Beothuk house pits that varied from roughly circular, or multi-sided, to oval in shape. The house pits are, on average, about 6 m in diameter and were built by digging a shallow depression in the ground, erecting a wigwam type structure within that depression, covering it with bark, and then piling up the excavated earth around the edges. The result was a warm, watertight structure that could be lived in (with regular repair) for a number of years. The European artifacts found at the site suggest that the Beothuk occupied the site from about 1650 AD to 1720 AD.

Map of the Beothuk house pits at Boyd’s Cove.
Map of the Beothuk house pits at Boyd’s Cove.
Boyd’s Cove in 2012 showing some of the Beothuk house pits.
Boyd’s Cove in 2012 showing some of the Beothuk house pits.

Many people are aware of Boyd’s Cove and its Beothuk occupation, the same is not true of Inspector Island. In 1982, test excavations at both sites resulted in the selection of Boyd’s Cove for investigation during the period 1983-85 based on its eleven Beothuk house pits and excellent organic preservation. With Dr. Pastore’s attention focused on Boyd’s Cove, Inspector Island was not revisited until 1986, when the site was examined during the course of a brief visit.

Inspector Island is a multi-component site with a Maritime Archaic occupation on the upper terraces as well as a probable Groswater occupation as indicated by two artifacts. The lower terraces contain a Little Passage occupation below a brief Beothuk occupation. This Little Passage – Beothuk occupation contains the remains of two house pits. Testing in the feature 1 house pit in 1982 revealed that it lacked cultural material. Since the feature is so close to the beach, Pastore speculated that its interior had been cleaned out by a high sea. Further work in 1986 confirmed that feature 1 was a house pit that was being eroded by wave action. Part of the work in 1986 was to construct a stone wall to protect the site from the on-going erosion.

Map of the 1986 site at Inspector Island. (Pastore 1987)
Map of the 1986 site at Inspector Island. (Pastore 1987)
Stone wall constructed at Inspector Island by Pastore in 1986. (Pastore 1987)
Stone wall constructed at Inspector Island by Pastore in 1986. (Pastore 1987)
Looking up the beach at the stone wall constructed by Pastore in 1986.
Looking up the beach at the stone wall constructed by Pastore in 1986.
Inspector Island in 2009. Feature 1 house pit would be in the foreground near the brown patch of bushes. Feature 2 house pit would be behind feature 1. The upper terrace with the Maritime Archaic & Groswater material is to the left behind the cabin, which was not on the site in 1986.
Inspector Island in 2009. Feature 1 house pit would be in the foreground near the brown patch of bushes. Feature 2 house pit would be behind feature 1. The upper terrace with the Maritime Archaic & Groswater material is to the left behind the cabin, which was not on the site in 1986.

Further, in 1986 a 1m x 50cm test pit dug in the second house pit, feature 2, revealed a greasy, black cultural layer containing calcined bone, fire-cracked rock, lead shot, iron fragments, 1 grey-green chert flake, and one grey-brown chert-thinning flake – all consistent with material recovered from Beothuk house pits at Boyd’s Cove. A total of 33m2 was excavated during the 1986 field season. This work revealed more features including hold-down rocks for a temporary structure measuring almost 6m x 4m (feature 3), post moulds in the house pits, a midden and 2 hearths with charcoal that produced the 610 +/- 60 BP and 690 +/- 40 BP dates referred to above. This work showed that the Beothuk occupation of Inspector Island overlapped in time, 1650 AD to 1720 AD, with the Beothuk occupation of Boyd’s Cove and that the house pits were similar in construction to those at Boyd’s Cove. As well, the complete house pit feature 2 was discovered to be 6.5 m in diameter similar to house pits at Boyd’s Cove.

Testing on the upper terrace revealed a Maritime Archaic occupation including a number of woodworking tools and the edge of what appears to be a large hearth. Early Palaeoeskimo material (Groswater) was also found on the upper terrace.

House pit 2 excavated to the living floor. (Pastore 1987)
House pit 2 excavated to the living floor. (Pastore 1987)
Lithics from the excavated embankment edge of the feature 1 house pit. (Pastore 1987)
Lithics from the excavated embankment edge of the feature 1 house pit. (Pastore 1987)
Modified nails recovered from Inspector Island. They are very similar to nails recovered from Boyd’s Cove. (Pastore 1987)
Modified nails recovered from Inspector Island. They are very similar to nails recovered from Boyd’s Cove. (Pastore 1987)
Maritime Archaic material recovered from the upper terrace. (Pastore 1987)
Maritime Archaic material recovered from the upper terrace. (Pastore 1987)
Two Palaeoeskimo bifaces (left) and a Little Passage/Beothuk biface  recovered from the upper terrace. (Pastore 1987)
Two Palaeoeskimo bifaces (left) and a Little Passage/Beothuk biface recovered from the upper terrace. (Pastore 1987)

References

www.heritage.nf.ca/aboriginal/beo_boydscove.html

Pastore, Ralph 1987    Excavations at Inspector Island, 1987: A Preliminary Report. 87.08

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8 thoughts on “Boyd’s Cove, Inspector Island and the Beothuk

    1. You’re welcome.
      Sneaky. Yup. Thankfully it’s just built on the ground, it’s doesn’t look like it’s disturbed the site.

  1. I’m not familiar enough with collections from the island. is that wider notch on specimen g common in the recent period?

    1. Hi
      I wouldn’t say common but it is not out of place.
      I didn’t look closely at it until you pointed it out, it’s a Beaches complex side-notched base turned side-ways. Not that I need to tell you that.

    1. I think the Beothuk Project survey stopped after those first years because Dr. Pastore became so tied up with Boyd’s Cove and Inspector Is. Other people have surveyed those areas an lots of sites have been found, everything from Maritime Archaic to European sites.

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