The earliest documented archaeological work in Newfoundland and Labrador dates to the late 1870s with T.G.B. Lloyd who was a geologist working with the Geological Survey of Canada. Lloyd did not carry out excavations; rather he just collected archaeological artifacts that he attributed to the Beothuk. However, he did publish four papers on his collections in the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Journal in 1875 & 76. Following Lloyd, several other people made early contributions to the archaeology of Newfoundland and Labrador including well known archaeologists such as A.V. Kidder in the early 1900s, Diamond Jenness and W.J. Wintemberg in the 1920s and Junius Bird in the 1930s. Perhaps the person who made the longest lasting impression on the archaeology of Newfoundland and Labrador was another geologist named James P. Howley. He amassed a collection of mostly Beothuk material culture and a large quantity of documentation on the Beothuk including interviews with people who had seen and contacted the Beothuk. He published this material in his book The Beothucks, or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland, published in 1915 which is still used as a reference on the Beothuk today.
Despite this early start and this province having some of the best archaeology sites in Canada, (It’s my blog, I can be biased if I want too) sustained archaeological research and excavation doesn’t really start here until 1949 with the arrival of Elmer Harp. When he arrived, Harp was a doctoral candidate from Harvard University. He would spend the summers of 1949 & 1950, 1961-63 surveying and excavating at several sites in southern Labrador and the Great Northern Peninsula. In the later years, he focused his work on the large Dorset Palaeoeskimo site known as Phillip’s Garden on the Port au Choix Peninsula. Throughout his six fieldseasons, he found, or was directed to by locals, more than 40 archaeology sites. That list includes some important sites such as Phillip’s Garden, Gargamelle Cove Rockshelter and Port au Choix 4 on the Island of Newfoundland. The latter two are among only a handful of sites from which Dorset Palaeoeskimo human remains have been recovered. In Labrador, Harp found, or was shown by locals, sites that include the two oldest precontact Aboriginal sites known in the province, Pinware Hill (Harp called it Pinware West 3) and Cowpath (Harp named it West St. Modeste 1), both sites have been radiocarbon dated at more than 8000 years ago.
A colleague and I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Harp when I was working in Bird Cove in 1997. I distinctly recall an impeccably well-dressed man wearing a matching jacket, tie and pocket-handkerchief. We sat and chatted for a short time, telling him about the local archaeology sites we were finding and he seemed genuinely interested and fascinated. We tried to get him to come into the field with us so we could show him the sites and he was considering it, but didn’t think his wife, Elaine, would approve of an 84 year old traipsing through the woods! I vividly recall shaking his hand as we left and thinking his grip was like a steel vice.
Of Harp’s many investigations, some of his lesser known work took place in White Bay. In 1950, Harp spent a few days camped in the Hampden area, at the bottom of White Bay, and was shown cultural material from three precontact sites. The first site he was shown was in the vegetable garden of the Osmond family in Gold Cove. Unfortunately, the locals had been collecting artifacts from the gardens for years and Harp found nothing in situ. This was Gold Cove 1 & 2.
The morning after visiting Gold Cove, Harp was taken to Browns Cove where he surveyed the small community without finding much in the way of archaeological material. Later in the afternoon, he was shown several artifacts including a ground serpentine adze and a large biface.
Harp interpreted these artifacts as being from an early Archaic group (today we know them as the Maritime Archaic) and the Dorset Palaeoeskimo. In 2012, the Provincial Archaeology Office contracted Gerald Penney Associates Limited (GPA) to survey portions of White Bay and try to relocate Harp’s Gold Cove 1 & 2 and Brown’s Cove. They found seven new sites: two in Gold Cove, one in Hannah Cove, one in Burdens Cove, two in Browns Cove and one on Miller Island. Additional archaeological resources were recovered at the original Gold Cove 1 & 2 and the original Browns Cove site.
None of GPA’s newly identified sites is large; those with artifacts typically have one or two specimens collected from disturbed contexts. Two of the new sites, Browns Cove and Millers Island, are early to mid-20th century cemeteries. Two of the sites have a precontact component, one consists of just a side-notched biface and the other consists of chert flakes.
The sites recorded by Dr. Harp in White Bay were certainly not among his most better known sites, yet they are still important. They show that someone lived in the area and tried to make a living using the local resources. They help place the occupants of these sites and their culture into a broader regional context. All of which add to our understanding of this Province’s past.References Penney, Gerald 2012 Lower White Bay Archaeological Survey and HRIA (Stage 2) at Gold Cove. 12.24. Harp, Jr., Elmer 2011 Lives and Landscapes A Photographic Memoir of Outport Newfoundland and Labrador, 1949-1963, Edited by M.A. Priscilla Renouf