If artifacts could talk…

In 2012, a school age child found a ground stone adze on the west side of Red Bay Harbour, contacted a member of the Provincial Archaeology Office, and turned in the artifact. By all accounts, the artifact is just a regular chipped and ground stone adze and is not culturally diagnostic. So it was not found in context and we don’t know who made it. Last week I was looking at the artifact and I was considering questions such as when was it made, who made it and who dropped it and I thought ‘If only you could talk’, we could learn so much. So I am left with a one sided conversation. I’m sure most archaeologists can relate to this scenario.

EkBc-68 Red Bay Adze
EkBc-68 Red Bay Adze
EkBc-68 Red Bay Adze from a different angle
EkBc-68 Red Bay Adze from a different angle

I believe you were found down on the shoreline of the western shore of Red Bay Harbour near the locally known village of Tracy. Dr. Jim Tuck found other ground stone tools along a new road to Tracy in 1992 and thought they were Maritime Archaic. Unfortunately, the road destroyed parts of several small sites and pushed artifacts to the road edge. Were you part of one of those sites? Did the construction of the road push you down the hill? Did you see the Maritime Archaic who lived in the area?

Red Bay. Known archaeology sites are read dots, the green dot is the adze spot find. Tracy is to the right of Moore Point. Cemetery is below the words 'Red Bay' on land to the east.
Red Bay. The green dot is the adze spot find. Tracy is to the right of Moore Point. Cemetery is below the words ‘Red Bay’ on land to the east.

Were you in Red Bay at the same time as the Maritime Archaic Indian occupied site we refer to as Cemetery on the opposite side of Red Bay Harbour? The Maritime Archaic occupied Cemetery 7440+/-60 years ago. Were the people at Tracy and the people at the Cemetery site the same people just using different areas of Red Bay Harbour for different activities? Did you see them constructing their homes and other structures? The Maritime Archaic occupation at Cemetery is a little early for a ground stone industry. Indeed, most of the artifacts at Cemetery were made of red or white quartzite, a lithic material rarely associated with ground stone tools. I suspect the Cemetery site was already a thousand years old or more by the time you were made.

EkBc-03 Cemetery Maritime Archaic Indian quartz point
EkBc-03 Cemetery Maritime Archaic Indian quartz point
Maritime Archaic bifaces crop
EkBc-03 Cemetery Maritime Archaic Indian quartz points
Artists rendition of the construction of a Maritime Archaic house (Artist unknown)
Artists rendition of the construction of a Maritime Archaic house (Artist unknown)

We’ll likely never know for sure who made you. Found in context we may have been able to assign you to a culture and time. Given your size my guess would be that you were not made by Archaic culture people; it’s more likely Palaeoeskimo or Recent Indian culture people made you.

If Palaeoeskimo culture people made you then you would be the only evidence of that culture found on the mainland around Red Bay Harbour as Saddle Island has the only Palaeoeskimo evidence found so far in Red Bay. So were you part of those Palaeoeskimo occupations? There is a Groswater Palaeoeskimo occupation on the west side of the Island in area F called the Mavco site, are you part of that culture? If I had to guess I’d say you were part of another Palaeoeskimo occupation on the island found in area M, a Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupation. There is so much basic information we don’t know about Dorset Palaeoeskimo culture, for example, we have little or no evidence for their boats. They possessed a marine oriented culture, relying heavily on seal hunting from the ice edge; common sense suggests they had to have boats. Did you see their boats, were you used to make boats? Were their boats like Inuit kayaks, did they also have larger boats like the Inuit umiak?

Dorset Palaeoeskimo hunter (Artist unknown)
Dorset Palaeoeskimo hunter (Artist unknown)

It is a possibility that people of the Recent Indian culture made you. However, like the Palaeoeskimo, Saddle Island has the only Recent Indian evidence in Red Bay. Unlike in the Palaeoeskimo culture, ground stone tools are not common on Labrador Recent Indian sites, they are very rare on Newfoundland Recent Indian sites.

There is a large late Labrador Recent Indian site on the north-west corner of Saddle Island called Saddle Island West. The Recent Indian evidence here appears to be so late that these people may have interacted with the Basque whalers who came to Red Bay in the early 1500s. Were you here at that time? Did the people of the Recent Indian culture meet the Basque whalers? Or did the Recent Indian people come to Red Bay at the end of the whaling season to make use of lost and abandoned European tools and structures similar to what he Beothuk did on the island of Newfoundland at European fishing establishments?

Beothuk camp (Artist unknown)
Beothuk camp (Artist unknown)

Of course, the other possibility is you were buried this whole time, just used by the people who made you, dropped and covered by the ground and just recently came to light and potentially missed all this history?

This single artifact opens up these and so many other questions. A single artifact found in the context of an archaeological site can open a book of possible information. A single artifact recovered out of context leaves us with more questions than answers. If only artifacts could talk.

If you know who the artist is for any these drawings/painting, please let me know.

8 thoughts on “If artifacts could talk…

  1. I am interested in Norse-American contacts and I’ve found your blog very interesting, but I can’t find there any information about possible norse sites, just L’Anse aux Meadows… Can you tell us something about other possible sites?

      1. Thank you!

        I know Mrs. Sutherland’s work, but reading icelandic sagas and Greenland history it is difficult to believe that no other site exists…

      2. There have been claims (usually by members of the public) for Norse sites, but none other than L’Anse aux Meadows have been accepted by archaeologists/historians. I think Dr. Sutherland has likely found a site in the Arctic.
        There are Norse sites in Greenland as well, but I am sure you are aware of those.

  2. Do you also consider, like most of us, that the spindle whorl found by Elmer Harp near Great Whale River was there by virtue of early trading networks (perhaps from either the site of Dr Sutherland, L’Anse aux Meadows or elsewhere????

    1. Hi
      Thanks for the question.
      I can honestly say that I was not aware Dr. Harp found a spindle whorl near the Great Whale River. As you know the Aboriginal folks in that area did not use spindle whorls, so it had to have been part of a trade network. In that case I assume it would come from Norse or other early Europeans such as the Basque along the Quebec/Labrador Strait of Belle Isle area. I think it would come from Europeans who planned on staying in the area for some time. Such as the Norse or Basque who were in the area during the warmer months, as opposed to migratory fisherman who spent most of their time on ships and were much more mobile. What use would they have for a spindle whorl?
      I am not familiar with the history of the Great Whale River are but I am pretty sure Europeans were not in that area until the 1700 or 1800s.
      Interesting.

  3. I was recently shown what I believe to be a Paleoeskimo harpoon endblade found near Grate’s Cove. I’d love to send you a photo for comment if you could contact me by email. I noticed a comment somewhere on your blog that there have been several Dorest sites found in Trinity Bay, so would be interested in hearing more about those locations.j

    1. Interesting. We have no known precontact site at Grate’s Cove, there are known sites at Old Perlican.

      I just sent you an email.

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