Land-Use Applications and Jonathon and David Islands, Labrador

The Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO), in its capacity as a regulatory agency, determines the need for historic resources impact assessments through the review of land-use applications submitted by both government agencies, and the private sector. Collectively the four PAO staff members have more than 80 years of experience processing these applications. Over the last five years, on average, more than 2600 applications were processed per year. Those applications are often initiated by the private sector and come to the PAO through various government agencies or in some cases agencies within government initiate the applications. In either case the various agencies include Crown Lands, Environmental Assessment, Mineral Exploration, Quarries, Aquaculture, Interdepartmental Land Use Committee, Municipal Affairs, Forestry and Agrifoods Agency, Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, Roads, Water and Sewer projects coming from engineering companies, Service NL and other projects. Once it is determined that the area doesn’t have archaeological potential or had already been surveyed, then the applications are processed fairly quickly.

Generally larger projects require more time to process the application. Large ground disturbing projects such as a new mine almost always require archaeological assessment. Even smaller projects with less ground disturbing potential such as water and sewer projects, the construction of a cabin or mineral exploration sites may require archaeological assessment if they are in areas with historic resource potential. This means the person/organization submitting the application has to retain the services of a consulting archaeologist. The archaeologist would then apply to the PAO for a permit to carry out the assessment which involves carrying out fieldwork at the site in question. Such was the case for two proposed mineral exploration sites on Jonathon Island and David Island north of Nain in 1995.

In 1995 there were more than 50 known archaeological sites within 20 km of Nain and if you extend that selection perimeter out to within 50 km of Nain, which includes Jonathon Island and David Island, the number of recorded sites in 1995 jumps to more than 360. Given the large number of known sites in the area, the potential for historic resources on Jonathon Island and David Island was very high and the call for archaeological impact assessment was more than justified.

Known sites within 50km of Nain are yellow dots, sites outside this radius are red dots.
Known sites within 50km of Nain are yellow dots, sites outside this radius are red dots.

The proponent for the mineral exploration project hired an archaeologist to conduct the assessment. The archaeologist found no archaeological sites in the immediate area of the proposed drill holes. However, a number of sites were identified outside the main drilling foci, but within the broader study areas. Evidence for a Maritime Archaic and Pre-Dorset presence were found on Jonathon Island. On David Island there was a series of Labrador Inuit tent rings and cache features as well as two possible early Maritime Archaic pit houses (Hood 1995). All of these areas were delineated and to be avoided by the proponent; once that was done the proposed drilling was able to proceed without any danger to historic resources.

In total seven new sites were found as a result of the impact assessment, four on Jonathon Island and three on David Island. I recently came across some slides from three of the sites found during the 1995 survey of David Island and one from Jonathon Island.

View to the west over David Island 1, 1995 (Hood)
View to the west over David Island 1, 1995 (Hood)

The three David Island sites range from find spots of flakes and a biface fragment, to a larger site with multiple lithic scatters and a tent ring to the largest site, David Island 1, that has seven tent rings, three caches and another structure that consists of a small semi-circle of rocks built up against an outcrop (Hood 1995). David Island 1 is an Inuit site with a precontact component (possibly Dorset) and is about 4500 min size. The site is located at the southeastern corner of David Island and the cultural features are 4-8 masl (metres above sea level). The seven tent rings are made up of a ring of rocks used to hold down the outside skirt of a tent. The rings are described as circular, sub-rectangular and oval and average just over 20 m2 in size, the smallest being just 3.5 mand the largest is 55.25 m2.

David Island 1 tent ring 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 tent ring 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 tent rings 3 & 4, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 tent rings 3 & 4, 1995 (Hood)

The three caches at David Island 1 consist of large flat boulders arranged so that they form a storage area for goods or food. They average about 0.84 mand about 0.5 m high.

David Island 1 cache 1, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 cache 1, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 cache 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 cache 2, 1995 (Hood)

David Island 3 is a probable Maritime Archaic habitation site that was found on the southern shore of Eastern Harbour which is on the southern end of the island. The site was composed of two possible boulder pit-house features that are approximately 30 masl.

Structure 1 is a 4 m (north-south) by 3.5 m (east-west) oval, lichen-crowberry filled depression within a field of head-sized boulders. The floor of the depression is ~ 25-40 cm below the surrounding rocks. There are no visible interior constructions, but there is one rather large boulder embedded in the floor near the front (seaward) side of the feature. No artifactual material was observed (Hood 1995).

David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pithouse 1, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pit-house 1, 1995 (Hood)

Structure 2 lies 3 m west of Structure 1 and slightly up-slope. It exhibits a cleared, circular, vegetation-filled depression measuring 3.5 m in diameter, with the “floor” at 20 cm below the tops of the surrounding rocks. No interior features or artifactual materials were visible (Hood).

David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pithouse 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pit-house 2, 1995 (Hood)

Based on Hood’s previous experience and the experience of other archaeologists who have worked in the area, these features are believed to be early Maritime Archaic pit-houses and likely dated to 6000 BP or earlier. In fact, this past summer another Maritime Archaic pit-house was excavated in Labrador to the south of this area and a radiocarbon date of 6720-6560 cal. BP was recorded based on charcoal recovered from the structure (See Jolicoeur, Brake, Fitzhugh & Davies in PAO Review for 2015).

Of the four sites on Jonathon Island, three of them had evidence for a Maritime Archaic occupation and the fourth had evidence for a Pre-Dorset occupation. Most of the sites were artifact spot finds or lithic scatters of flakes related to making stone tools. One site had a small tent ring and six small lithic localities over an area of ~45 m by 25 m in size. Another consisted of only two Ramah chert flakes associated with about five head-sized rocks arranged in a semi-circle, possibly forming a tent ring. The third site was made up of one quartz and one slate flake. The fourth site contained the only evidence of a Pre-Dorset occupation found on the Island and consisted of a black chert biface fragment, probably stemmed with a retouched impact spall on the tip. A piece of crystal quartz was noted on the surface about 10 m from the biface, but it was uncertain whether it was culturally modified (Hood 1995).

The location of Johathon Island 5, this site contained the Pre-Dorset black chert biface, 1995 (Hood)
The location of Johathon Island 5, this site contained the Pre-Dorset black chert biface, 1995 (Hood)

The historic resources assessment of Jonathon and David Islands is a good example of the assessment system working properly and to the benefit of everyone. The company was allowed to proceed and the PAO was able to protect the historic resources and we all learn more about the past of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Hood, Bryan
1995 Archaeological Resource Evaluation of Noranda Mines Mineral Exploration Areas at Jonathon and David Islands, Nain, Labrador.

2 thoughts on “Land-Use Applications and Jonathon and David Islands, Labrador

  1. This is very interesting. Several years ago I found a stone circle on a hill on the Avalon. It overlooks the ocean and is only maybe 1000ft from the water. The stones are lichen covered. I thought it was an attempt at a compass rose as there are rock markers at 4 points and there is a central circle of stones. It is not far from a community so I thought it might have been made say 100 years ago. Could I be wrong?

    1. Interesting, you may have found any number of things. I can send you an email, perhaps you can tell me where it was and share a photo if you have one?

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