On Monday May 27, 2013, the CBC Radio show Crosstalk held a call-in show for members of the general public to speak with Dr. Ingeborg Marshall and ask her questions about the Beothuk. It was an excellent show. For those of you who are not familiar, Dr. Marshall is the expert on the Beothuk and their culture, having studied their culture for many years. She has published several papers on the Beothuk and wrote the book A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk.
During the show the topic of a stone wall in Hant’s Harbour was brought to the attention of Dr. Marshall. A caller described the wall as being ~150 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. The caller also described an arrangement of stones they interpreted as a stone pulpit in front of a grassy field. Dr. Marshall was asked if these constructions were made by the Beothuk. Dr. Marshall did not believe they were constructed by the Beothuk because there is no prior evidence that the Beothuk constructed walls of stone or stone pulpits. She did state that the Beothuk made fences for hunting caribou. Archaeologically we also know they sometimes made hearths (fireplaces) of arranged stones and occasionally lined the outside of their tents with cobbles to hold down the edges of their tents. Archaeologists cleverly refer to these cobble arrangements as ‘hold-down’ rocks. Archaeologically we also know they sometimes made depressions and built their tents over the depressions.
James P. Howley, who knew almost as much about the Beothuk as Dr. Marshall, wrote the book The Beothuks or Red Indians, the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland in 1915 and described the Beothuk caribou fences like this:The deer fences we found erected on the banks of the Exploits are situated in places the most proper for intercepting herds of these animals, as they cross the river in their route to the southward, on the approach of winter, and against the return of mild weather, when they wander back to the northward. They have the best effect when there is a beach about twenty feet wide and from thence a steep ascending bank. Along the ridge of this bank the Indians fell the trees without chopping the trunks quite asunder; taking care that they fall parallel with the river and guiding every fresh cut tree so as to coincide with and fall on the last. The weak parts of the fence are filled up with branches and limbs of other trees, secured occasionally by large stakes and bindings; in short, these fences and our plashed hedges are formed on the same principles, differing only in their magnitude. They are raised to the height of six, eight, or ten feet, as the place may require, so that, the steepness of the bank considered, they are not found to be forced or overleaped by the largest deer. Those fences near Slaughter and Fatal Isles, and the other most frequented places, are from half a mile to half a league in length; only discontinued here and there for short distances where the ill-growth of the woods does not favour such works. The Indians are here at no loss, for their knowledge of the use of sewels supplies this deficiency, and completes their toils. At certain convenient stations they have small half-moon breastworks, half the height of a man (by the furriers called gazes), over which it may be presumed, they shoot the deer passing between the water-side and the bank, deterred by the sewels, and disabled by means of the fence from entering the wood, until an opening clear of these obstructions may present itself. Their sewels are made by tying a tassel of birch rind formed like the wing of a paper kite, to the small end of a slight stick about six feet in length. These sticks are pricked into the ground about ten or a dozen yards apart, and so much sloping, that the pendant rind may hang clear of its support, in order to play with every breath of wind. Thus, it is sure to catch the eye of the deer, and to make them shun the place where it stands. Howley 1915 pages 30 & 31
The following drawings and photo illustrate Beothuk caribou fences and a house pit.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to visit Hant’s Harbour and see the stonewall. Access to the wall is via a walking trail at the north end of the community that stretches from Hant’s Harbour towards New Chelsea following along the coastline. It includes several features including various rock mounds, clearings and vegetable garden drills.
The trail is just a little less than 1.5 km long running from the northeast end of the community of Hant’s Harbour to a small-unnamed cove to the northeast. Much of the trail is very well worn and likely part of an old trail system that would link communities along the coast.
Unusual small mounds of rock start showing up next to the trail just before its mid-point. These mounds seem to be natural and there are a lot of them in seemingly no particular order. They do not appear to be connected with anything else that seems to be cultural and no artifacts were seen in or around the mounds. No test pitting was conducted.
Near the mid-point of the trail a low rock wall appears near the side of the trail. At times, the wall nearly disappears, in other places it is quite distinct measuring nearly a metre high. The wall is not neatly constructed but rather appears to be haphazardly piled stones. It continues next to the trail for ~200-300 metres. At several places along the trail the forest cover parts to reveal large clearings. Some of these clearings are certainly the result of anthropogenic activities giving the appearance of places where structures once stood. Faint garden vegetable drills were noticed in a few of the clearings. In one of these clearings, the wall appears to form an L shape. In another area just off the trail, clear vegetable garden drills are noticeable. At one point, the trail runs through the rock wall. It does not appear as though the trail has disturbed the wall but rather that the wall was built to allow the trail. Several small pieces of very fragmented ceramic were surface collected in this area. All are very recent dating to the 19th or 20th century. None of this material was collected.
Most of the trail runs through a typical evergreen forest, well above and away from the coast. Near the end of the trail is the most noticeable of the rock mounds encountered along the trail. Large, mostly tabular shaped rocks were used to construct the feature; no beach cobbles were visible in the feature. The obviously manufactured feature is ~80-90 cm high; ~3 metres long at its base and closer to ~2 metres long near its top. Its general shape is oblong. The centre of the feature has a small depression in the top and gives the impression of a root cellar though it does not appear to be near a dwelling. More 19th or 20th century ceramics were surface collected near the mound. They are all small very fragmented pieces; most are white wares, some with black transfer printed decorations. There are also a few pieces of refined earthenware with a brown fabric and dark brown glaze. None of this material was kept. There is a second, much smaller mound of rocks ~2-3 meters to the northeast. This less defined mound looks more like a pile of rocks.
Given the fact that the Beothuk rarely used stone to build with and the presence of the 19th & 20th century ceramics, we can safely conclude that the Hant’s Harbour wall and its associated mounds and vegetable garden drills were made by Europeans.