The Bank site, Terra Nova National Park: Part 1

The Bank site (DdAk-05) was found by Dr. James Tuck during his 1979 survey of Terra Nova National Park. The site is inside Chandler Reach and is strategically situated at the juncture of three major channels, offering fine views down Clode Sound to the west, Chandler’s Reach to the east, and Goose Bay to the south. At that time of its discovery Tuck recovered two lithic artifacts, 98 lithic flakes and described the site as containing a predominantly Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupation. Most of the material culture was found in an eroding bank and a lack of evidence from test pits suggested the site was mostly eroded. The two identifiable artifacts recovered were a microblade and “an asymmetric knife with one straight and one convex edge and a deliberately blunted tip.” (Tuck 1980:37)

Despite the erosion present at many of the sites found in 1979, several sites were considered important enough to warrant further investigation. This was carried out in 1980 and during this time the Bank site was revisited and six more Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifacts and 43 unmodified flakes were recovered from the eroding bank. Three of the artifacts were endblades or endblade fragments, one was a scraper, one was a possible asymmetric knife or biface and the last was a bifacially retouched flake (Sawiki 1980: 96-71). The 1980 work in Terra Nova National Park formed the basis of a Master’s thesis for Anna Sawicki. The eroding nature of the Bank site and the small amount of recovered cultural material meant there was minimal interpretation of the site in Sawicki’s thesis (1983).

The Bank site around 1980 (Sawicki 1983)
The Bank site around 1980 (Sawicki 1983)
The Bank site around 1980 (Sawicki 1983)
Artifacts from the Bank site. a-c: Endblades d: Scraper e: Microblade f, g: Knives (Sawicki 1983)

In 1992 Dr. Fred Schwarz returned to the Bank site in part under contract to the Canadian Parks Service, and in part for Memorial University of Newfoundland under the terms of a research grant to the University by the Canadian Parks Service. Prior to his re-visit the general thoughts on the site were summarized by Schwarz as: The site thus appeared to be a typical Dorset site, with little potential for advancing our understanding of Newfoundland culture history, and, owing to its advanced state of erosion, little potential even for revealing anything new about the Dorset period (1993:6)

This attitude changed in 1991 when a Maritime Archaic stemmed projectile point was exposed and recovered during a routine monitoring visit. The projectile point was unusual for Newfoundland and its closest stylistic affinities were to be found in the Early Archaic in southern Labrador, dated to ca. 7200 BP. This find suggested that the site contained evidence of an Early Archaic occupation dating 1700 years earlier than any yet known on the island. The erosion of this now significant site prompted further investigations. Excavations were planned for the summer of 1992. In planning for this excavation the site was visited and more cultural material was visible in treefalls on raised ground beyond the eroding bank. It was also abundant in treefalls within the bog to the north. The latter also raised the possibility of preserved organic artifacts, a rare find on archaeology sites in the province. The Bank site had become much more important and much larger than previously believed (Schwarz 1993:6-7).

Excavations began on August 26 and continued until October 2. Archaeological operations at the site consisted of a combination of excavation, surface collection, screening, and test-excavation. The main excavated portion of the site, over 100m2, was stratified, with three distinct cultural layers extending across the site, in addition to more localized cultural features and deposits lying above and within the principal strata. During this work evidence was found for a small Maritime Archaic component, a major Dorset occupation, a Groswater occupation and Recent Indian (Beothuk ancestor) components (Schwarz 1993).

View West across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).
View West across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).
View East Across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).
View East Across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).

At the end of the 1992 work  the Maritime Archaic component was extremely small consisting of no more than seven artifacts including two chipped and ground slate axes, one side-notched projectile point, two possible tapered-stem bifaces, one possible lanceolate biface base and the Early Archaic projectile point found in 1991. In fact those seven artifacts were widely scattered across the site and showed no horizontal clustering which suggested to Schwarz that the Archaic occupation was never very intensive or was mostly eroded away. The 1992 excavations yielded no other evidence for an Early Archaic occupation, the remaining pieces all conforming stylistically to the well-documented Late Archaic occupation of Newfoundland (Schwarz 1993).

Maritime Archaic Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site: a-b) Projectile points c-d) Possible tapered-stem bifaces e-f) Ground slate axes (Schwarz 1993)
Maritime Archaic Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site:
a-b) Projectile points
c-d) Possible tapered-stem bifaces
e-f) Ground slate axes
(Schwarz 1993)

The Groswater component was slightly larger with 34 diagnostic artifacts recovered and 23 specimens that may be Groswater. The Groswater diagnostics include five semi-lunate inset sideblades, five sickle-shaped gravers, ten side-notched endblade bases and three complete examples, eight fine bifacially-retouched serrated endblade tips and midsections, two multiple-notched endblade bases, and one chipped and ground chert burin-like-tool. While Groswater artifacts were found in other sites in the area, the Bank Site Groswater assemblage is unusual for the high level of workmanship evident in the tools. In fact the workmanship was so fine Schwarz referred to the collection as “a strong, if not pure, component of Groswater artifacts in “Phillip’s Garden West” style.” (1993: 45) However, given the small sample size little else could be said about their occupation beyond it seems to have involved the full range of activities associated with a residential base-camp (Schwarz 1993).

Early Palaeo-Eskimo (Groswater) Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site a-j) Side-notched endblades k-l) Multiple-side-notched endblade bases m-p) Serrated biface tips q-r) Hooked gravers s-w) Scrapers x-bb) Sideblades cc-dd) Side-notched knives ee) Large ground biface ff) Chipped and ground burin-like tool (Schwarz 1993)
Early Palaeo-Eskimo (Groswater) Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site
a-j) Side-notched endblades
k-l) Multiple-side-notched endblade bases
m-p) Serrated biface tips
q-r) Hooked gravers
s-w) Scrapers
x-bb) Sideblades
cc-dd) Side-notched knives
ee) Large ground biface
ff) Chipped and ground burin-like tool
(Schwarz 1993)

The Dorset component was by far the largest at the site. It is represented by 1355 (93.4%) of the artifacts, by two distinct cultural strata (and elements of a third), and by five of the six cultural features identified at the site. Two of those features were interpreted as habitation structures with other features within the structures. One habitation structure was a semi-subterranean house with central axial feature flanked by cleared living spaces and was roughly oval in shape. The second habitation structure was similar to the first but less clearly defined. Both structures were backed by a midden area (Schwarz 1993).

The Little Passage complex, Recent Indian component at the Bank Site was also small, and highly localized, but distinctive according to Schwarz. Most of the Recent Indian component consisted of comer-notched projectile points and triangular bifaces. There were also a few undiagnostic pieces which Schwarz feels were Recent Indian. The diagnostic Recent Indian artifacts were strongly associated with Feature 1, a roughly linear deposit of fire-cracked rock and charcoal with lenses rich in calcined bone fragments measuring 2m by at least 5m. Similar linear hearth features found in Newfoundland and Labrador have been interpreted as the remains of communal feasting structures, because they are similar to shaputuan structures erected for mokoshan ceremonies, or “eat-all” feasts documented for the Innu of Labrador-Ungava. There were also seven Recent Indian biface tips, sixteen corner-notched projectile points and fifteen triangular bifaces localized to the Feature 1 area (Schwarz 1993).

Recent Indian Artifacts from Operation 10A2 at the Bank Site: a-m) Little Passage points (a-e are of Ramah) n-s) Triangular bifaces (n-q are of Ramah) (Schwarz 1993)
Recent Indian Artifacts from Operation 10A2 at the Bank Site:
a-m) Little Passage points (a-e are of Ramah)
n-s) Triangular bifaces (n-q are of Ramah)
(Schwarz 1993)

As unusual as Feature 1 was (In 1992 it was just the second such feature identified on the Island, today there are still just a handful of these features on the Island), the Recent Indian artifacts were more interesting for several reasons including because they were a very limited range of functional types; corner-notched projectile points, triangular bifaces, and perhaps one sidescraper. Schwarz believes the projectile points were from a chronologically-tight assemblage dating to the early-middle portion of the Little Passage Complex stylistic continuum ca. AD 1200. Missing from the assemblage are the lanceolate bifaces, endscrapers, linear flakes, etc. which might attest to a broader range of domestic activities on-site. Add to this the fact that diagnostic Recent Indian artifacts were closely associated with a single deposit, Feature 1. The Recent Indian occupation of the site was likely limited in both function and duration, to a single brief occupation. However, what is most distinctive and interesting about the Recent Indian artifacts is most were made from Ramah chert – a lithic material only found in northern Labrador and relied upon heavily by Labrador Recent Indians. While Ramah does infrequently occur on Newfoundland Recent Indian sites, it’s usually found as debitage. Finished Ramah artifacts are rare. Even today this site stands out; no other Recent Indian site on the Island has as many finished Ramah chert Recent Indian artifacts. The whole Recent Indian component suggests a brief, specialized occupation involving communal food preparation and the conspicuous consumption of valued objects (Schwarz 1993).

Charcoal and Firecracked Rock Deposit (Feature 1) in 10A2J. (Schwarz 1993)
Charcoal and Firecracked Rock Deposit (Feature 1) in 10A2J. (Schwarz 1993)

Since 1992 the Bank site has been revisited several times by three different archaeologists working with Parks Canada to monitor the erosion of the site. The next blog post will deal with those revisits.


Thank-you Lynne for providing the colour images.

Sawiki, Anna
1980 Archaeological excavations in Terra Nova National Park.

1983 Palaeo-Eskimo Occupations in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland. MA, MUN.

Schwarz, Fred
1992 Archaeological Investigations at the Bank Site, Terra Nova National Park, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland.

Tuck, James
1980 An Archaeological Survey of Terra Nova National Park.

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