In 1996, I went on my first archaeological excavation. The archaeologist in charge was David Reader. The year before he had found a culturally mixed precontact Aboriginal site outside Cox’s Cove on Newfoundland’s west coast. The site turned out to have Groswater & Dorset Palaeoeskimo house pits and, for the first time on the west coast of the island, a Beothuk tent ring. We spent the summer living in our own tents and excavating a really nice Groswater tent ring and a part of the Beothuk tent ring. It was a great summer. Apparently David liked the work I did that summer because he invited me to help him with a survey of the Bird Cove area the next summer.
Bird Cove is a special place in terms of the archaeology and for me personally. Archaeologically it includes some great sites like one of the few examples of a Dorset Palaeoeskimo warm weather site. It has an excellently preserved Maritime Archaic Indian living site which is also one of the oldest Maritime Archaic Indian sites on the island. There is also a site that appears to have been occupied by a Recent Indian group from Labrador. When they came to Bird Cove they brought a large amount of Ramah chert with them. This site, North Cove, formed the basis of my Master’s thesis which, along with the excellent friends I made in the community, is why Bird Cove is so important to me personally.
The Maritime Archaic Indian living site is known as Big Droke and was found in 1997 via shovel testing. At around the same time we found a smaller site nearby that we named the Caines site after a crew member.
The excavation of Big Droke revealed numerous hearth and lithic features, as well as a small faunal assemblage; a rarity for Archaic sites on the Island. We recovered charcoal from the hearths which returned a range of dates from 4530±60 BP to 3470±50 BP.
The Big Droke site turned out to be four times the 100m2 size of the Caines site. Both sites were tested and excavated in 1997 & 1998.
The Caines site turned out to be something no one expected. The site contained at least six hearths, two flake concentrations and two biface caches. Charcoal from the hearths returned dates of 3600±60 BP and 3490±80 BP. It is likely the people who occupied Big Droke also occupied the Caines site.
What made this site so interesting was the Feature 2 hearth. The largest feature at the site, the Feature 2 hearth, turned out to be nearly 10m2 and contained another three features. The hearth was full of charcoal and had a concentration of retouch and bifacial thinning flakes. The charcoal was up to 2-3 cm thick and was at a consistent depth throughout most of the feature, except in the northwest corner of one unit where it dipped sharply to 35 cm DBS. That depression formed a pit that was associated with the Feature 5 artifact cache.
The Feature 5 artifact cache was made up of six bifaces and a quantity of chert flakes all of which are the same brown/white mottled siliceous chert. Four of the bifaces were preforms and two were biface blanks. All of the artifacts appeared to have been fire heated. The cache and flakes found in a pit suggested to us that the Maritime Archaic Indians who used Caines were heat-treating the chert. This is a first for the precontact period in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We suspect that the people who occupied Big Droke also used the sandy beaches at the Caines site for building their heat treating pit and fireplaces. This suspicion is based on the overlapping time of occupation as suggested by the radiocarbon dates. There is also artifact evidence that the same people occupied both sites in the form of similar types of chert and slate being found on both sites; including the grey to white coloured chert that was the most popular type of chert found on both sites. Interestingly, the brown/white mottled siliceous chert found on the Caines site seems to have never made its way to Big Droke.