Dr. Priscilla Renouf

Most people reading this post will be aware that Dr. Priscilla Renouf passed away last week. The community of archaeologists who work in Newfoundland and Labrador is very small and when one of our members passes, we all feel it. I had regular dealings with her and I worked for her for one summer. She was always pleasant, and happy to help. What I would like to do with this post is to look at her archaeology career through some of the documents at the Provincial Archaeology Office.

A quick search of the sites database shows that her name is associated with nearly 250 sites in the province, more than 150 on the island alone, which means that she is listed as a permit holder or a co-holder with a graduate student or she wrote a report or published an article about each of these sites. As such, her name is associated with nearly ten percent of the ~1800 known and recorded sites just on the island. In terms of these numbers, no other archaeologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) was as prolific as Priscilla.

One of my colleagues who went through the graduate program with me at MUN studied Pre-Inuit culture in Labrador. I once jokingly referred to her as the Pre-Inuit Princess, to which she asked ‘Why Princess?’ I replied ‘Because Priscilla is the Pre-Inuit Queen!’ I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But it might surprise you to know that of the more than 150 sites on the island her name is associated with, she is connected to almost as many European sites as Pre-Inuit. Her name is associated with nearly 50 Maritime Archaic sites and 20 Recent Period. She was a very influential archaeologist who has made a lasting impression on this province.

Sites that are somehow related to Dr. Renouf. Either they were found by her or one of her students or she wrote about the sites.
Sites that are somehow related to Dr. Renouf. Either they were found by her or one of her students or she wrote about the sites.

The first time her name shows up in Provincial Archaeology Office records it’s as a co-author on a term paper from 1971. The paper was written with another student as part of a field school held on the shore of Long Pond in Pippy Park. The site was composed of a midden belonging to a Church of England Orphanage.

Over the next few years, she participated in the survey work being conducted by Drs. McGhee and Tuck along the Northern Peninsula and Strait of Belle Isle.

Excavation att he Cow Head site in the early 1970s. Left to right: Jim Tuck, Marcie Madden, Priscilla Renouf, Tip Evans and Gerald Penney. (Penney)
Excavation at the Cow Head site in the early 1970s. Left to right: Jim Tuck, Marcie Madden, Priscilla Renouf, Tip Evans, and Gerald Penney. (Penney)

Out of this Strait of Belle Isle work came her Master’s thesis in 1976 through MUN, A Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Sequence in Southern Labrador. Her thesis confirmed and clarified the late Paleo-Indigenous and early Archaic cultural sequence proposed for the Strait of Belle Isle by Drs. McGhee and Tuck. Her work focused on the early Archaic site of Cowpath and the related but smaller Cowpath East and Cowpath West, all three are located between the southern Labrador communities of West St. Modeste and Pinware. Dated to 8600±325 B.P., Cowpath is the second oldest known site in the Province.

Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Projectile Point Sequence in Southern Labrador. Oldest to youngest, top left to bottom right. (Renouf thesis)
Late Paleo-Indigenous and Early Archaic Projectile Point Sequence in Southern Labrador. Oldest to youngest, top left to bottom right. (Renouf thesis)
Cow Path in 2008.
Cow Path in 2008.

In 1981, Priscilla completed her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Cambridge entitled Prehistoric Coastal Economy in Varangerfjord, North Norway. Then in 1984, she started the Port au Choix Archaeology Project which would continue up to and including last summer and will likely be continued by her former colleagues and students. The summer of 2014 would have been her 30th year running the project. Her first field season at Port au Choix ran from June 13 to August 18, 1984. Amongst her crew for that first year was Patty Wells. Patty would become a long-time crew member for Priscilla, eventually completing her Master’s and Ph.D. thesis under Priscilla’s supervision.

The first goal for that 1984 season was “…to assess the large Dorset eskimo site of Phillip’s Garden for potential future excavations.” That goal and the site of Phillip’s Garden became the focus of her research up to and including last summer. Priscilla would go on to produce nearly 30 reports, academic papers or books dealing with the former inhabitants of Port au Choix and the Province as a whole including the Recent Period, Groswater Pre-Inuit, Maritime Archaic and the Dorset Pre-Inuit whom she focused on most of the time. This list does not include the numerous reports, academic papers and books she co-authored with other academics and numerous students.

Panoramic shot looking over Phillip's Garden in 2014.
Panoramic shot looking over Phillip’s Garden in 2014.

Over the course of her nearly 30 years at Port au Choix, each time she went into the field she was accompanied by her students and a number of local workers. Depending on the research she would have a team of about six students assisting her. So, after nearly 30 years of work that would be 120 to 150 students she directly influenced with her fieldwork. This doesn’t include students she had working in other areas of the Province off the Northern Peninsula like Tim Rast at Burgeo or Lisa Fogt at Cape Ray. It also doesn’t include the thousands of students she would have taught during her university teaching career. The impact she had on Newfoundland and Labrador archaeology just through her students is immeasurable. One of those students, Dominique Lavers is from Port au Choix and worked with Priscilla at Phillips Garden and completed a Master’s thesis under her supervision.

If there was archaeology on the Northern Peninsula, it was a good bet that Priscilla was involved, regardless of whether it was a Historic Resource Impact Assessment (HRIA), investigating spot finds or full blow surveys and research projects. She conducted HRIA’s of the road which connects the community of Main Brook to Route 430 and she surveyed the shores of Old Man’s Pond (midway between woody Point and Corner Brook). She investigated the spot finds of biface fragments at the Bragg and Regular sites on the Northern Peninsula. At the time, one of these sites provided some of the first evidence of the Little Passage complex on the Northern Peninsula. In 1990, she had some of her students investigate a boat wreck that had washed out of a bank at Shallow Bay, Cow Head.

Excavating the Stanford River wreck.
Excavating the Stanford River wreck.

Priscilla was involved in several archaeology surveys and research projects on the Northern Peninsula, sometimes they were run by her students, sometimes they were projects that she supported and helped to start.  One of her students, Greg Beaton, conducted a survey and excavation in the Big Brook area. Among other discoveries that project may have found a very rare Intermediate Period occupation on the Island. Other students including Carol Krol, Dominique Lavers and Robert Anstey did excavation and survey work at Broom Point, and St. Paul’s Bay. Another former student carried out a survey in the Conche-Englee area and found or revisited more than 20 sites. Yet another student (Mary Penney nee Melnik), used the results of this Conche-Englee survey to complete detailed excavations which was used to complete a Master’s thesis.

Maritime Archaic Indian Ramah chert biface found at Conche.
Maritime Archaic Ramah chert biface found at Conche.

Priscilla was instrumental in starting the Bird Cove archaeology project in 1997. That project was run by her former student David Reader and I was the crew chief. Over the course of two summers, we found 20 sites and test excavated several sites. One of the sites is one of the oldest Maritime Archaic sites on the island. Another site became the basis of my own Master’s thesis. This project continued under the leadership of Tim Rast, another one of her students, and Latonia Hartery. Another project she helped to start was the survey of the St. Lunaire-Griquet that I led in 2000. That summer I found more than 20 sites.

In 1996 she started collaborative work with Dr. Trevor Bell a Geographer at Memorial University of Newfoundland using his knowledge of post-glacial sea-level rise to predict where the ancient cultures of the Island would have camped. This collaborative approach using detailed sea-level history was a first for the island. Along with Trevor’s help, Priscilla was the first archaeologist in the province to use survey methods such as ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry in fieldwork. Their collaboration spawned the newly formed CARRA Project. Coastal Archaeological Resource Risk Assessment (CARRA) is an applied research project that addresses the need to identify which coastal archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and how best to respond.

I am sure anyone who knew her and her work can look at this post and ask, well what about this project or that paper, unfortunately, I can’t cover everything. Priscilla had her hands into so much, she will be influencing the archaeology in the Province for years to come.

Dr. Renouf
Dr. Renouf

3 thoughts on “Dr. Priscilla Renouf

  1. note that the cow head picture is from june 1976 and that dr marcie madden died at oslo, norway, january 2001, age 48.

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