Archaeology, Kamestastin Lake & the Tshikapisk Foundation

The Tshikapisk Foundation was created in 1997 by a group of Innu concerned with the disruptive consequences that the sudden change from a life based on the country (Nutshimit) to one based on permanent settlement in villages brought to the Innu. Their strategy looked to address the ensuing social difficulties by building a self-supporting economy based in the country (focused around Kamestastin Lake), and which utilizes and celebrates Innu knowledge and skills. In order to accomplish its mission, Tshikapisk promotes the exploration of revenue-generating activities both to provide employment to Nutshimiu Innut (country Innu) and to pay for experiential learning programs for Innu youth who had become increasingly disconnected from life on the land.

Location of Kamestastin Lake
Location of Kamestastin Lake

The Tshikapisk Foundation (TF) in conjunction with the Innu Nation, the Arctic Studies Center (ASC) of the Smithsonian Institution, the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) and more recently Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) have been working to protect the sites at Kamestastin Lake. On the ground, survey and excavation work has been carried out by Stephen Loring (ASC), Anthony Jenkinson (TF) and, most recently MUN grad student, Chelsee Arbour. Together they have recorded more than 100 sites in the area.

Kamestastin Lake in itself is an interesting geologic feature. The lake is the result of a meteorite impact that occurred ~36 million years ago. Among the evidence for the meteorite impact is volcanic glass which has been found around the lake. Thus far, however, none of it appears to have been found in an archaeological context. However, tabular slabs of impact melted rock have been found in an archaeological context on two precontact sites.

My intention with this blog post is to give a brief introduction to just a few of the sites at Kamestastin Lake. At some point in the future, I am hoping to get into a little more detail on some of these sites in another blog post in conjunction with Stephen Loring, Anthony Jenkinson, and Chelsee Arbour.

The more than 100 known sites around the lake represent the Maritime Archaic (Labrador Archaic), Intermediate Period, Recent Period and Innu cultures. There is even a site that consists of a single biface which has been interpreted as late Dorset Pre-Inuit, a cultural group that is usually found along the coast. Very little archaeological work has been done on most of the sites beyond just identifying their existence which is part of the reason why many sites are listed culturally as just precontact or undetermined. The sites vary from small single artifact spot find sites, to possible burials, lithic scatters, possible quarries and various habitation sites with the remains of tent rings and fireplaces. The oldest sites are thought to be ~6000-7000 years old and the youngest sites are just a few decades old.

Knife of banded chert, from the one small Dorset/Tunit site discovered at Kamestastin during the summer of 2005. Photo: Anthony Jenkinson - Tunit, Dorset, Interior Dorset site, Labrador and northern Quebec
Possible late Dorset biface of banded chert, found at Kamestastin during the summer of 2005. (Jenkinson)

The excavation of 24 m2 revealed an assemblage composed entirely of quartz and slate. Other lithic materials were absent. There are concentrations of charcoal and an elongated distribution of stones over ~5 to 6 metres in length but there was no defined hearth. Slate debitage was concentrated in 2 m2 around a partially completed but as yet unground celt. There are a number of what may be post holes or the organic stains possibly left by shallowly driven in stakes. What are likely woodworking tools of white quartz and quartz crystal including awls and steeply beveled block plane like items were found in a higher than expected ratio to quartz debris suggesting that many of these articles were brought to the site as finished tools. This site has been radio carbon-dated to ~2700 years ago (UCIAMS 134685). It is suspected the people at the site were making a canoe. You can read more about this site in Volume 10 of the PAO Archaeology Review.

The site consists of a roughly circular or slightly oblong embanked structure, approximately 2.5 m by 3.5m in dimensions, with no discernable hearth rocks within. Within the structure, there is a small patch of stunted willows growing out of the spot where a hearth would be expected. This feature has been interpreted as either a tent ring or possibly a fish smoke drying site. The point of land along the shore from the feature is an excellent char fishing spot and large fish can be readily caught from the shore on line and hook.

Kaseukantshish feature (Jenkinson)
Kaseukantshish feature (Jenkinson)

The site lies in an old blow-out that is in the process of re-vegetating and stabilizing. The sand surface is now mostly covered with black lichen. The site was first noted because of two fragments of a black Ramah chert biface that were seen on the surface. A subsequent inspection of this site resulted in the recording of two more pieces of similar-looking Ramah, although these could not be refitted with the first finds and were not obviously part of a tool. This site may relate to a Maritime Archaic occupation

Nukash biface fragments (Jenkinson)
Nukash biface fragments (Jenkinson)
Nukash site (Jenkinson)
Nukash site (Jenkinson)

This site consists of a spot find of a large Maritime Archaic Ramah chert stemmed point. The point was found next to a heavily used caribou path.

Paseuet site Ramah chert biface
Paseuet site Ramah chert biface (Jenkinson)

Punas Rich corner notched biface
Yet another findspot site, this biface was found in an area threaded by caribou paths and is the place where spring migrating caribou cross the low lands close to the lake before climbing out of the Kamestastin crater onto the barren highlands above. The biface may be from the Point Revenge, Recent Period.

Punas Rich corner notched biface (Jenkinson)
Punas Rich corner notched biface (Jenkinson)

Uniam Quartz Quarry Site, Locus 1
The site consists of what is for Kamestastin a rare instance of a glacially transported boulder of grey quartzite which has been battered and now sits partially surrounded by reduction debris. The quartzite shatter and flakes have accumulated in particularly dense quantities in close adjacency to the boulder and in the “drip gully” which has formed around the perimeter beneath the boulder overhang.

Uniam site showing the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing flakes spalled from the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing flakes spalled from the boulder in situ

2 thoughts on “Archaeology, Kamestastin Lake & the Tshikapisk Foundation

  1. Your article was of the highest standard in an archaeological report. Congratulations! The information was very interesting and stimulating. I wish you the best in this research and hope that your discoveries continue to be equally, if not more significant in the future.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s