The Archaic site at Forteau Point, southern Labrador

Residents of southern Labrador and areas of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland were well aware of the archaeological sites in their presence long before Diamond Jenness and William J. Wintemberg conducted preliminary surveys in those areas in the late 1920s. In 1949 and 1961 Elmer Harp conducted more archaeological fieldwork in those areas aided, no doubt, by the knowledgeable locals and the records of Jenness and Wintemberg.

During Harp’s 1949 and 1961 work he found and or excavated nearly 20 precontact sites. Among that number are several very well-known sites including Pinware Hill, currently the oldest recorded site in the province. One of his lesser known sites was Forteau Point (EiBf-02), Harp named it Forteau Bay 1 (it was renamed by McGhee & Tuck in the early 1970s). He classified Forteau Point as a major occupation site which he described as having:
. . . the appearance of significant occupations, possibly of long duration, and they spread over areas that may reach an extent of three or four acres. The material obtained from them is characterized by a high degree of uniformity (Harp 1951).

Forteau Point.
Forteau Point (Martin).

Harp returned to Forteau Point in 1961 collecting more cultural material. In his 1963 article detailing his survey and excavation work in the province he records that he recovered 73 artifacts from the site including: 13 points, 24 knives, 8 scrapers, 8 adzes, 1 gouge, 3 ground slate implements, 15 indeterminate fragments and 1 core. Forty-five of the artifacts were made of chert, 15 of quartzite, 11 of silicified slate, 1 red jasper and 1 was made of andesite. It is not clear if the total number of artifacts was from both years (1963). Unfortunately most of the site was ‘. . . marked by poorly stabilized dunes and scarred by deep systems of blowouts‘ (Harp 1951). So, much of the cultural material collected by Harp was out of cultural context.

Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp's 1951 publication.
Artifacts 4, 5, 6 and 7 are from Forteau Point shown in Harp’s 1951 publication.
Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp's 1963 publication.
Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp’s 1963 publication.

James Tuck and Robert McGhee spent several field seasons in the early 1970s in southern Labrador revisiting some of the sites found by Harp and surveying other areas looking for new sites. In 1973 they revisited Harp’s Forteau Bay 1, renaming it Forteau Point. Like Harp, they found the site to be eroding but they did surface collect more cultural material including: ‘. . . a few notched or expanded stem projectile points, many flakes of slate, felsite and quartzite and a large slate bayonet, and a probable felsite prismatic blade‘. They were also able to find a small area of the site that was undisturbed which they excavated, recovering flakes and a small sample of wood charcoal (Tuck & McGee 1973).

In June of 1974 Tuck and McGhee returned to southern Labrador focusing their work on several sites including Forteau Point. Once again the site produced cultural material, most of which was surface collected from the deflated sand dunes. However, they were also able to find two small areas of in situ deposits. Through their surface collection and excavations they noted that:
Material appears to be concentrated in a series of areas, each a few metres in diameter, arranged in a linear pattern along the flat surface of the point. The distinctiveness of this pattern, as well as the high proportion of ground stone tools and the scarcity of chipping waste, suggests that this may not have been an occupation site but may have served a ceremonial function.’ (McGhee & Tuck 1975).

To add to the idea of a ceremonial function for the site, over several years of revisits 18 large bifaces were recovered from the area ranging in size from 29 cm to 38 cm in length. Clearly, such large bifaces were not meant for hunting. Tuck 1993 states ‘The four largest specimens were found in a single cache and the others in association with large patches of red ochre . . .‘ Tuck speculates that these 4 bifaces formed part of a precontact ‘lithophone’ which would have functioned similar to a xylophone.

As stated above Tuck made several revisits to the site. During those revisits he found more bifaces and more charcoal and ochre deposits.

All of the charcoal recovered from the site resulted in two radiocarbon dates. The first, 5399 ± 58 BP, came from material submitted by Harp. The second date of 5035 ± 65 BP came from a biface cache recovered by McGhee and Tuck. Both dates clearly indicate the site is Archaic in origin.

Archaeologists believe the Archaic people who moved into Labrador did so in two major waves, the first came just after the glaciers left the land. We first see their cultural remains at sites in southern Labrador like Pinware Hill and Cowpath ~9000 to 8000 years ago. Their cultural remains are found in the province up to ~3500 years ago. Archaeologists have recently started to refer to these people as the Labrador Archaic, when I learned about this group in University they were called the ‘Northern Branch’. Around 6000 years ago a second wave of people moved in to southern Labrador and are archaeologically referred to as the Maritime Archaic, when I learned about this group in University they were called the ‘Southern Branch’. Their cultural remains are found in the province up to ~3000 years ago. The major difference between the two can be seen in their stone tools. Labrador Archaic spearheads tend to be nipple based transitioning to a stemmed base. Maritime Archaic spearheads tend to be notched in some way. Based on the stone stools recovered by Harp, McGhee and Tuck, both Archaic groups appear to have made use of the sandy beaches at Forteau Point.

In 1986 the site was revisited by Reginald Auger and Marianne Stopp during their survey conducted from the Quebec-Labrador border north to Cape Charles. They noted considerable ongoing erosion and that a ditch had been dug through the site in that summer which was accelerating the erosion (Auger & Stopp 1986).

More recent visits have noted ongoing erosion and a considerable growth in alders. No cultural material beyond flakes has been recovered by an archaeologist from the site recently. After nearly 70 years of yielding secrets to archaeologists the site may finally be finished.


Auger, Reginald & Marianne Stopp
1987 1986 Archaeological Survey of Southern Labrador- Quebec-Labrador Border to Cape Charles.

Harp, Elmer
1951 An Archaeological Survey in the Strait of Belle Isle Area.  American Antiquity, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 205-220.

1963 Evidence of Boreal Archaic Culture in Southern Labrador and Newfoundland.  Paper No. 5. National Museum of Canada, Bulletin

McGhee, Robert & James Tuck
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 & Robert McGhee
1973 1973 Fieldwork in the Strait of Belle Isle Region.

1974 Report on Canada Council Grant #S-75-1613 Archaeology of the Strait of Belle Isle Region, Labrador.

Tuck, James
1976 Newfoundland and Labrador Prehistory. National Museum of Man.

1993 Interpreting L’Anse Amour and Southern Labrador Prehistory.

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