Northern Peninsula Heritage Inventory

I recently came across the photos and slides from a survey I led in the summer of 2000 that I thought would be interesting to share. I spent that summer surveying a large area of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland extending from Crémaillère Harbour in the south to Quirpon Island in the north and as far west as Raleigh. The survey was Phase 2 of a larger Northern Peninsula heritage inventory that was initiated and led by two Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) professors. Phase 1 of the survey was conducted the previous summer by a local Northern Peninsula crew led by a MUN grad student; they went door-to-door interviewing locals about reports of artifacts or other cultural material. My goal for Phase 2 was to test some of the unconfirmed reports of historic sites documented during Phase 1 and to carry out a targeted survey for precontact archaeological sites in selected parts of the region.

Survey area for Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory
Survey area for Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory

Suitable test sites were selected from areas identified as high potential for either historic or precontact settlement. The selection process for historic sites relied directly on data from the Phase 1 inventory: the ten sites with the greatest number of independent reports were assigned the highest priority for testing. Potential precontact testing sites were compiled by mapping local landscape variables considered important in precontact site locations onto the ancient coastline, reconstructed using sea level history and local topography. Once in the field, problems with access to private or remote property and the challenges of testing boggy areas reduced the number of surveyed sites. Where possible, each site was tested using a systematic approach, where 30 cm x 30 cm pits were dug at 10m intervals across a site. The physical characteristics of each site were also recorded and photographed. Artifacts were collected and tagged on-site and later transported to St. John’s for cataloguing and conservation.

Site testing was carried out in the communities of St. Lunaire-Griquet, St. Anthony Bight, Quirpon, Noddy Bay, Raleigh, Ship Cove, Pistolet Bay/Milan Arm, St. Anthony Bight, Savage Cove, St. Lunaire Bay, White Cape Harbour, North Bay, Granchain Island, Four Ears Island, Griquet Island, Grandmother Island and Nobles Island. A total of 23 European and precontact archaeological sites were discovered.

Sites found during Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory (Yellow dots are sites)
Sites found during Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory (Yellow dots are sites)

Fieldwork was carried out between 17 July and 31 August, 2000, by a crew of five local research assistants under my direction. It turned out to be a very interesting summer for me personally as up to that point in my career I had very little experience working with or identifying historic artifacts. Since just seven of the 23 sites we found had any precontact material I learned a lot about historic European artifacts.

Crew testing a small cove at Cape Onion
Crew testing a small cove at Cape Onion

The only precontact site that I could identify for sure was based on a side-notched arrowhead. An individual from St. Anthony had found a side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on Granchain Island.

Granchain Island side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on a camera lens cap
Granchain Island side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on a camera lens cap

Some of the European sites were little more than an artifact or two while other sites were huge such as the five sites on Four Ears Island which totaled together were nearly 100,000m2 in size. Essentially the whole island was an abandoned community. The Four Ears Island sites included features such as constructed pathways, old gardens, a graveyard and the foundations for numerous buildings. The European sites usually showed multiple occupations over a long time span. At least eight may have been occupied as early as the mid-seventeenth century. Those early occupations would have likely been by migratory European fishermen. However, most of the sites dated to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By that time people were living here permanently.

The dating and cultural identification for these European sites were based on the artifacts recovered. While the recovery of some European artifacts will allow you to date a site specifically or assign a specific culture, most artifacts will not allow you to do that. For example, while Normandy stoneware (a French ceramic) is a frequent find on French sites, since this earthenware was traded with England it is also found in small quantities on English sites. Thus, one sherd of Normandy stoneware from a site does not necessarily indicate a French occupation. The same goes for dating of Normandy stoneware; production began in the fifteenth century and continues today so assigning a date to a site based on one sherd of Normandy stoneware is problematic. Most ceramics will only allow you to narrow a site occupation date down to a century.

Kaolin smoking pipes are more useful for a number of reasons. lf the bowl of the pipe is complete, we can compare them to established typologies which provide a date range, some of which are as narrow as a thirty years. Pipes can be roughly dated according to the bore size of the stems, which decreases in diameter through time. Pipe bores are easily measured. The measurements are usually taken with a set of wood drill bits of graduated sizes, in gradations of 64ths of an inch; most will fall between four and nine 64ths of an inch. Formulas have been established for dating pipestem assemblages based on bore diameters, however, at least 35 specimens are needed before the formulas have any validity.

As I stated earlier this was a great summer for me personally. I learned a tremendous amount about European historic artifacts. I leaned how to run a large scale survey with a crew. Of course having the crew composed of people who were hard working and very interested made it that much easier. Most importantly, we were able to add a lot of information to the collection of archaeology sites in this province.

Bell, Trevor, Renouf, Priscilla & Hull, Stephen
2001  Report of Phase II Heritage Inventory: Targeted Archaeological Survey Between Boat Harbour and Goose Cove, Great Northern Peninsula.

Hull, Stephen H.
2000        Archaeology at the Northeast end of the Great Northern Peninsula.

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