Cemetery site, Red Bay, Labrador

The Cemetery site was brought to the attention of the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) in 2002 when a volunteer with the Bird Cove Archaeology Project who was visiting Red Bay found a complete quartzite biface and several other pieces of quartz detritus. Initially thinking this was a new site we named it the Quartz Point site. It turned out that Dr. James Tuck had known of the site, which he named the Cemetery site (EkBc-03), since the late 1970s and had already collected material from it (18 artifacts). Upon learning this we corrected our documentation to reflect the correct name.

Some of the Maritime Archaic bifaces recovered by Dr. Tuck.
Some of the Maritime Archaic bifaces recovered by Dr. Tuck.

From the photos the volunteer took of the site it appeared that cultural material was eroding out of a dirt pathway used by vehicles traveling to a cemetery in Red Bay.

early Maritime Archaic quartz biface recovered by a volunteer in Red Bay.
Early Maritime Archaic quartz biface recovered by a volunteer in Red Bay.

In 2005, a colleague and I went to Red Bay with the intention of checking on the site and excavating the portion exposed in the pathway. Our initial assessment noted surface scatters of flakes and other lithic detritus. Most of the cultural material was limited to the east side of the dirt path which is west of the graveyard. We set up a grid for surface collection and excavation over this area.

Rough field map of the Quartz Point site map showing the survey and excavation grid.
Rough field map of the Cemetery site showing the survey and excavation grid.
Showing the exposed cultural material because of the pathway and the grid.
Photo showing the exposed cultural material in the pathway and the grid.

The stratigraphy for the whole site was straightforward – there was a top level of humus/peat, under which was fine grey quartzite sand. Below this was a layer of darker, somewhat coarser sand with small cobbles (golf ball size). Finally below the darker layer was a dense level of dark coloured, golf ball sized, cobbles. The cultural material appeared limited to the interface of the humus/peat layer and the fine grey quartzite sand layer. The cultural material may extend slightly into the top of this second layer. The culture bearing layer was 10 to 12 cm below the surface.

We test pitted the whole area concluding most of the site was around units F & G. We surface collected material from most units but the excavation was limited to units F & G.

A small amount of cultural material was collected from the north end of unit F. However, the south end contained numerous white/clear quartz & quartzite flakes and chunks. In the same area we recovered seven quartzite biface fragments. In the approximate centre of the south half of unit F we noted that the soil was compacted and in places looked to be fire-reddened. In the north centre of this compacted soil we noted several small (fist sized-and smaller) cobbles. From inside the area of these cobbles we collected a very small charcoal sample (we believe the cobbles were part of a hearth). The charcoal returned an accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon date of 7440+/-60 BP (Beta-182001). At least seven of the bifaces collected from the site were in direct association with these cobbles. In all likelihood this hearth formed the centre of activity for this small site.

Rough field map of the Quartz Point site showing the main excavation area.
Rough field map of the Cemetery site showing the main excavation area.
Looking south-east with fire-reddended soil outline in the pink tape and what we believce was the fireplace outlined in orange string.
Looking south-east with fire-reddened soil outlined in the pink tape and what we believe was the fireplace outlined in orange string.

In total we recovered nearly 4500 pieces of quartzite in the form of flakes, chunks and shatter, as well as 25 biface fragments and several hammerstones. Nine of the biface fragments were found within or just outside of the fire reddened and compacted hearth soil. The compacted soil was about two metres long and about one metre wide with the main portion of the possible hearth found in the north central end of the feature.

It appears as though the material at the Cemetery site relates to a brief early Maritime Archaic occupation. The artifacts found suggest the occupants were somehow related culturally to the people who occupied the Arrowhead Mine site (EjBe-16) based on projectile point style, in particular the serrated blade edges on the bifaces. Robert McGhee and James Tuck who excavated the Arrowhead Mine site describe bifaces coming from that site as having ‘a marked serration of blade edges. (1975: 96) (The Arrowhead Mine site is 30km southwest of Red Bay at L’Anse au Diable.) A small amount of blade serration is present on the bifaces collected by Dr. Tuck in the 70s as seen in the first picture in this post. Blade serration is particularly noticeable in the photo of the biface recovered by the Bird Cove Project volunteer, also as seen above. It is also present on several bifaces that we collected from the Cemetery site  as seen below.

Arrowhead Mine artifacts showing balde serration on several of the bifaces. (Tuck 1993)
Arrowhead Mine artifacts showing blade serration on several of the bifaces. (A-H, spearheads, I-K bifaces, L ground slate point, M,N gouges (Tuck 1993).

Today the Cemetery site is nearly 400 m from the salt water. However, 7500 years ago, it was on the active beach of a small lagoon that would have been sheltered by several small islands. The site is evidence for a brief occupation by an early Maritime Archaic group who were likely culturally related to the people who occupied the Arrowhead Mine site at around the same time. The artifacts we recovered, including numerous biface fragments and hammerstones and the type of detritus collected (large chunky pieces with a lot of cortex) suggest the site may have functioned as a biface manufacturing centre.


McGhee, Robert &
1975        An Archaic Sequence from the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador. National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Paper No. 34, Ottawa.

Tuck, James A.
1993        Interpreting L’Anse Amour and Southern Labrador Prehistory. Unpublished internal report submitted to Department of Tourism and Culture.

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3 thoughts on “Cemetery site, Red Bay, Labrador

  1. This reminds me. Have I mentioned to you before about the ancient (before 1835) L’nu (Mi’kmaq) graveyard in Baie d’ Espoire? I was told that my grandfather once stated that the people buried in the site were buried in “sitting Position”.

      1. I know the general area. But ppl from my hometown of Miawpukek (Conne River) know exact location. If you check some of the literary and audio work of a Marjorie Stoker, a MUN researcher on contract with the Newfoundland Government in NL Studies you should find a lot of info on it. 75 graves I believe. I always wondered if it was being protected or disturbed. It was very overgrown when I saw it.

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