Palaeoeskimos and Attu’s Point

The Palaeoeskimo occupation of Newfoundland and Labrador spans nearly 3000 years and overlaps with the Maritime Archaic Indian, Intermediate Indian and Recent Indian occupations. The Palaeoeskimos are subdivided into Early and Late periods represented by the Pre-Dorset and Groswater (who make up the Early Palaeoeskimos in this province) and the Dorset Palaeoeskimos (who are the Late Palaeoeskimos in this province). Interestingly, the Palaeoeskimo groups probably had the highest population of people in the precontact period in the province; that is if you can equate the number of sites to population figures. In Labrador there are about 700 recognized Palaeoeskimo sites and about 350 precontact ‘Amerindian’ sites. That two to one average is also on the Island with about 350 Palaeoeskimo sites and 150 precontact ‘Amerindian’ sites.

Palaeoeskimo and precontact 'Indian' sites in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Palaeoeskimo and precontact ‘Amerindian’ sites in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In terms of relationships, it seems that both the Dorset and Groswater cultures derive from Pre-Dorset. Groswater is seen by some as a regional variant of Pre-Dorset while Dorset is considered descended from Pre-Dorset. One of the main characteristics used by archaeologists to suggest a Pre-Dorset – Groswater relationship is the presence of mid-passage house structures and box-hearths in both cultures. One of the best sites to see this feature is Attu’s Point (HeCk-05) along the north coast of Labrador.

View West over Attu's Point (Hood).
View West over Attu’s Point (Hood).

Attu’s Point was found in Webb Bay, Labrador in 1993 by archaeologist Bryan Hood. He returned to the site to do further work in 1994. The site is believed to be at least 750 m2 and has both Maritime Archaic and Pre-Dorset components. Those cultural components are represented in more than 20 different localities within the site. Most of these areas are composed of Pre-Dorset occupations with various features ranging from lithic scatters, various cobble structural features (unclear function) and at least five areas had dwelling structural remains, in one case extremely well preserved including mid-passage features and box hearths.

Plan map of all the localities recognized at Attu's Point (Hood 1995)
Plan map of all the localities recognized at Attu’s Point (Hood 1995)
Looking over Attu's Point  Localities 3 & 6 excavation area 1993 (Hood)
Looking over Attu’s Point Localities 3 & 6 excavation areas 1993 (Hood).

These mid-passage features are usually composed of two lines of cobbles that run down the middle of a dwelling. There are different interpretations on the purpose of these structures. It is speculated that they either divide the tent into separate areas for males and females or divide the tent into male and female activity areas or into areas for sleeping and areas for other activities.

Attu's Point  Locality 7 mid-passage structure with box hearth 1993. The two lines of stone forming the mid passage structure can be seen in the foreground, the box hearth is visible in the middle, just beyond the yellow ruler. The arms of the mid passage structure extend into the distance beyond the box hearth. (Hood)
Attu’s Point Locality 7 mid-passage structure with box hearth, during excavation in 1993. The two lines of stone forming the mid passage structure can be seen in the foreground. The box hearth is visible in the middle, just beyond the yellow ruler. The arms of the mid passage structure extend into the distance beyond the box hearth (Hood).
Attu's Point  Locality 7, close-up view of bow-hearth filled with cobbles (Hood).
Attu’s Point Locality 7, close-up view of bow-hearth filled with cobbles (Hood).
Attu's Point  Locality 7 box- hearth emptied of cooking stones (Hood).
Attu’s Point Locality 7, box-hearth emptied of cooking stones (Hood).

Charcoal collected from the site returned two close dates; 3750 ± 60 B.P. (Beta-77611) from locality 1 and 3790 ± 70 B.P. (Beta·77612) from locality 5. Both of those dates came from the lowest occupied beach terrace on the site; it is possible earlier occupations exist on the higher beaches. Those dates place the Pre-Dorset occupation of the site near the start of the Pre-Dorset occupation in Labrador.  As far as archaeologists can tell the first Palaeoeskimos arrived in Labrador around 4000 years ago.

A typical assortment of Pre-Dorset stone tools were found at the site including endblades, bifaces, burins and burin spalls, microblades and microblade cores and scrapers. These artifacts were made on typical Pre-Dorset lithic material including Mugford chert, Ramah chert and quartz crystal (Hood 1995).

Hood suggests the site was occupied multiple times over numerous years in the spring or fall because it is during these seasons seals move through the bay. At this time of year the site occupants would have also had access to fish, ducks, bears and caribou (Hood 1995).

Typical assortment of Pre-Dorset serrated endblades, graves and a microblade fragment (Hood).
Typical assortment of Pre-Dorset serrated endblades, graves and a microblade fragment (Hood).
Biface fragment, chipped burin, graver and microblades (Hood).
Biface fragment, chipped burin, graver and microblades (Hood).

Hood, Bryan 1995 The Maritime Archaic/Pre-Dorset Boundary Project: Report On The 1994 Field Season.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Palaeoeskimos and Attu’s Point

  1. Kudos to Stephen for another fascinating vignette on Labrador archaeology!

    A further detailed analysis and discussion of the Pre-Dorset sites at Attu’s Point appears in Bryan Hood’s 2008 monograph “Towards an Archaeology of the Nain Region, Labrador” which was published as #7 in the series Contributions to Circumpolar Anthropology by the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center. The monograph also includes a detailed discussion of the excavation of a Maritime Archaic site on Nukasusutok (an island southeast of Nain) and explores the contact experiences and social dynamics between Maritime Archaic Indians and the Pre-Dorset paleoeskimos on the central Labrador coast. Anyone who would like a copy of Bryan’s book should send a request to me and I would be glad to send them one:

    Stephen Loring
    Smithsonian Institution
    NMNH MRC-112
    PO Box 37012
    Washington, DC 20013-7012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s