Volunteers & Archaeology

Volunteers and archaeology seem to go hand in hand. Many community archaeology programs in the province started with the assistance of local history/archaeology organizations run by volunteers or sometimes archaeology resulted in the formation of a volunteer history/archaeology organization.

Back when I was an undergraduate studying archaeology, my first archaeological experience was labeling and mending artifacts as a volunteer at the former Newfoundland Museum archaeology lab on Duckworth Street. I also volunteered for a program that is now called “From the Ground Up: Introduction to Archaeology” that is run by The Rooms Provincial Museum Division with volunteers teaching elementary age kids about archaeology. When I participated in the program, we taught the kids about archaeology by focusing on the Nulliak Cove site in northern Labrador. I taught that course so many times I think I could still give a basic lecture on that site off the top of my head! However, I loved every minute of volunteering with the children; you never knew what they were going to say or ask.

School Programs at The Rooms
School Programs at The Rooms

Volunteers and volunteer organizations have played a huge role in many archaeology programs all over the province. Just as an example, the Big Droke Foundation has been heavily involved in the archaeology program and heritage preservation in general in Bird Cove for many years. Along with their role in archaeology and heritage, they also hold festivals, provide tours and operate the local interpretation centre that has a small gift shop.

Big Droke Foundation
Big Droke Foundation

In the same manner, the Colony of Avalon Foundation is heavily involved in the archaeology program and heritage preservation at Ferryland. They too provide tours and operate the local interpretation centre; they also have a gift shop which has replicas of artifacts found at Ferryland. The Colony of Avalon Foundation was incorporated in 1994 as a not-for-profit, charitable organization with a mandate to investigate, interpret, preserve and develop the archaeological remains of Lord Baltimore’s Colony of Avalon.

Colony of Avalon Foundation
Colony of Avalon Foundation

Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society began in 1972 as a group of like-minded divers with an interest in preserving the province’s past. This society, consisting mainly of volunteers, lasted until the mid to late 1980s. During their time, they found and excavated nearly 50 marine archaeology sites. Some of these significant sites are:

  • H.M.S. Saphire (ChAe-01) (a 32 gun Royal Navy Frigate, lost in action with the French, September 11, 1696)
  • H.M.S Tweed (CiAe-01) (an 18 gun sloop which sank on Nov 5th, 1813)
  • the Isle aux Morts Shipwreck (CjBs-01) (a 17th C shipwreck from which 2 astrolabes have been recovered)
  • Trinity Wreck Site 1 (DcAi-02) (a British Merchant vessel thought to be the Speedwell which was lost in ice in 1781 in Trinity Harbour)
  • and several wrecks in the area of Conche & Crouse which include the wreck of a French warship the ‘Marguerite’, which was 200 tons with 20-22 cannons and was lost in action with the British in 1707.
    Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society
    Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society

    The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Amateur Archaeologists (NLA3) was founded in January 1983. It arose out of a series of lectures given by Jane Sproull Thomson and Callum Thomson in the fall of 1982 at the YW-YMCA. The association was founded by a small group of people with a keen interest in archaeology, all of whom wanted to increase their knowledge of and exposure to the discipline.

    The founding six members first set out to write a constitution, to set up guidelines and aims and to arrange a series of lectures. All of this was accomplished in the first month.

    The aims of NLA3 are to develop good relations with professional archaeologists, to promote the study of archaeology through lectures, publications and tours, to establish a link with other associations across the country and to develop a “site watch” program in the province.” (Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1981)

    There is not a lot of information on this group and I don’t think they were around for very long but they seem to have had some interesting ideas such as “a site watch program to help with protection of sites in the province. Advisors were recruited from Cape Ray, on the southwest coast, Fleur de Lys on the Baie Verte Peninsula, Millertown on Red Indian Lake, and Fermeuse on the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula. Other recommendations are now being considered from other regions, including Labrador.” (Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1981)

The society also held regular meetings during which they showed archaeology and anthropology oriented films and held illustrated talks, the group also produced a regular newsletter. This volunteer society seems to have faded from existence in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Many good things come from volunteers and volunteer societies. Last year a new marine archaeology society formed called the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland & Labrador (SPSNL).

Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland & Labrador
Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland & Labrador

The Mission of SPSNL is to advance the awareness, documentation and stewardship of shipwrecks throughout our province. Their objectives include:

  • promote the study, documentation and appreciation of Newfoundland & Labrador shipwrecks, and training in the historical, archaeological and diving methods needed to achieve this goal;
  • promote the preservation of provincial shipwrecks through diver education and wreck protection activities; and
  • promote a public awareness of shipwrecks and the importance of our nautical heritage to the history of Newfoundland & Labrador, in partnership with local communities and cultural heritage organizations.

This is a new organization with good leadership and excellent goals. If you are interested in marine archaeology and preserving the shipwrecks of the province, you can join this organization. To quote the SPSNL website: “But the SPSNL does not welcome anyone who wants to remove artifacts illegally from shipwrecks!

 Just recently, I was approached about helping to form a new public archaeology society to be called the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society (NLAS). We are in the very preliminary stages of formation right now. We have had just two meetings but 14-16 enthusiastic people showed up for both meetings. We have agreed on a name, are working on a mission statement, looking into funding and researching incorporation. If you are interested in being part of this society, you can contact me. In the coming months I will have more information on this blog about this volunteer organization.


6 thoughts on “Volunteers & Archaeology

  1. I am interested in joining, I have an interest in Labrador archaeology, and I have volunteered on several digs with Dr. Marianne Stopp.

    1. Excellent, thanks.
      As the group continues to form I update on this blog, or I’ll contact you directly Eva.

  2. Great summary, Stephen! It’s good to see things getting organized so the public can get more aware, educated and involved in helping document our province’s history and archaeology.

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