Newfoundland Intermediate

For the last three or four decades archaeologists have had a decent understanding of the major cultural sequence of Indigenous groups in the Province. Very simply from an archaeological point of view, Labrador Archaic First Nations ancestors were in the Straits around 9000 years ago, a little more than 1000 years later, they start to spread north. By about 6000 years ago, there seems to be a new influx of Archaic people from the south known as the Maritime Archaic; they too spread over a good portion of Labrador and, for the first time, the Island of Newfoundland. Near the end of the Archaic period other cultural groups are recognized archaeologically in Labrador. Around 3800 years ago Pre-Inuit groups move in to Northern Labrador and around 3500 years ago a new First Nations period known to archaeologists as the Intermediate period First Nations is recognized in Labrador. It is not archaeologically clear if the people of this period are related to the people of the Archaic period or the later Recent period. This post-Archaic time seems to have been one of great cultural diversity with several Pre-Inuit and Intermediate period First Nations groups waxing and waning until around 2000 years ago when we see the Dorset Pre-Inuit and another First Nations group known archaeologically as the Recent period First Nations. This latter group become the Beothuk of Newfoundland and Labrador. By about 600 years before present, the Dorset disappear from the archaeological record. Today, there are three Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Inuit and Innu in Labrador and the Mi’kmaw on the Island.

Nearly all the Labrador groups are found, archeologically speaking, on the Island with a few exceptions. For example, no archaeological trace of the Innu has been found on the Island, however, there are plenty of written documents stating they came here for hunting and trapping in the 19th century. No archaeological trace of an early Pre-Inuit group known as Pre-Dorset has been found on the Island and, for a long time it was thought there was no Intermediate period occupation on the Island. However, slim evidence for this latter group has come to light in the last 20 years or so on the Northern Peninsula.

Dr. William Fitzhugh defined the Intermediate temporal period around the mid-1970s in a couple of articles as: “The Intermediate Period, from 3800 to 1400 B.P., contains an early Dorset component and at least five Indian complexes whose stylistic and technological features are so divergent that in situ-development between successive complexes is not considered likely. These complexes have been interpreted to represent northward extensions of populations whose geographic hearths range from the western boreal forest to northern New England…” (1975).

My original plan was to deal with the slim evidence for Intermediate period occupation on the Island in a chronological order of when they were discovered. However, as I was preparing to write this post, I was re-reading the report that described the most recent discovery of possible Intermediate period material at Woody Point in 2005. This led me to what may be the earliest discovery of Intermediate period material at Norris Point in 1972. Let me explain.

The recovery of archaeological material at Woody Point started in 1929 with archaeologist W.J. Wintemberg. Therefore, we have known the area had archaeological potential for nearly a century. This potential is the reason Dr. Fred Schwarz and Roy Skanes were archaeologically testing in the Heritage District of the town of Woody Point in 2005 prior to monitoring the construction of an access road, bus parking area and a parking lot. Based on the assessment results, the project was redesigned to avoid affecting undisturbed deposits with the proviso that mechanical excavation for the re-aligned roadway be monitored (Schwarz and Skanes 2010).

Schwarz and Skanes excavated 121 test pits along the proposed road corridor and parking area. Excavation in the southern portion of the site revealed largely undisturbed deposits. Indigenous stone artifacts pertaining to a significant Maritime Archaic occupation and a relatively minor Pre-Inuit component were found associated with a possible diffuse tent ring feature. Excavation on the north side of the site yielded Indigenous deposits that had been extensively disturbed by European agricultural activities. Despite this disturbance a small collection of Maritime Archaic artifacts were recovered. However, a single localized area yielded an extraordinary concentration of quartzite debitage, along with a few finished artifacts. Approximately one square metre of this locus was manually excavated (Schwarz and Skanes 2010).

Some 1500 artifacts dating to the late 19th- and 20th-century represent the European component. The Indigenous occupations are represented by some 5500 lithic pieces, 210 of which are finished artifacts. The most extensive component is a Maritime Archaic occupation, which appears to represent a large habitation site, associated with other contemporary (possibly mortuary) sites at higher elevations to the north. A sparse scatter of artifacts throughout the 2005 assessment area attests to an early Pre-Inuit occupation. The third and perhaps most significant precontact component is represented by the quartzite debitage encountered in all excavation units but particularly concentrated in two areas of the site. This may be associated with the principal Maritime Archaic component at the site, but similarities to material from central Labrador raise the possibility that the site contains an intrusive Labrador Intermediate occupation (Schwarz and Skanes 2010). This was the most recent discovery of possible Intermediate period material on the Island.

Quartzite artifacts recovered by Schwarz & Skanes (2010).

It was the image above that made me think of another site across Bonne Bay, Norris Point 1, also known as Donovan’s Point, recorded by archaeologist W.J. Wintemberg in 1929. Like the site at Woody Point, archaeologist Elmer Harp revisited Norris Point 1 in 1949. Unfortunately, Harp found the site to be heavily disturbed, noting that local boys would sell buckets filled with arrowheads to tourists.

In 1972, Jim Tuck conducted an archaeological survey of the proposed Gros Morne National Park and found or relocated 12 archaeological sites. Those sites include all of the known Indigenous archaeological cultures on the Island with the exception of any Beothuk ancestor sites. He also found several 19th and 20th century European sites. He relocated Norris Point 1 and dug test pits and trenches, which produced a few artifacts and chert flakes attributable to a Dorset occupation and a large number of quartzite spalls, flakes, and crudely fashioned preforms (?) of the same material. Among the list of recovered artifacts he includes six large bifaces, whole or fragmentary, roughly flaked from pink quartzite (Tuck 1973).

The photo below is from Tuck’s report. The overall shape, crude flaking and lithic material are all strikingly similar to the bifaces found across Bonne Bay at Woody Point by Schwarz in 2005, which he thought may be from an Intermediate occupation. In his report, Tuck described the bifaces as Maritime Archaic origin writing “…in all likelihood the coarse quartzite bifaces and rejectage also pertain to this habitation…” (1973). At the time of his work in 1973, the Intermediate period was completely unknown and undefined so Jim had no understanding of the implications of what he found. However, he was aware of pink quartzite being used by people of the Archaic period in Labrador. Turns out this was probably the earliest discovery of possible Intermediate period material on the Island.

Qrtzite artifacts recovered by Tuck (1973)

Archaeologists working on the Norse site at L’Anse aux Meadows had found several Indigenous sites in the 1960s and 1970s during their work on the Norse occupation. In 1975 archaeologist, Bergt Schonbach was exploring the area around that site and found an Indigenous occupation in Garden Cove. Unfortunately, little is known about the site beyond the collection, which includes several types of chert including Ramah, a grey mottled variety, a beige variety and a rather large Intermediate-like biface. 

Artifacts recovered by Schonbach.

The only definitive Intermediate period occupation comes from the Northern Peninsula at Big Brook. Dr. Priscilla Renouf tested the Big Brook area in August 2001 at the recommendation of Ken Reynolds from the Provincial Archaeology Office. Greg Beaton, a student of Renouf, excavated the site in 2002 for his Master’s degree.

According to Beaton, a side-notched projectile point, flakes, two preforms, and a core were found in association with the most well-defined hearth found on the site. The hearth measured 147 cm (N/S) x 144 cm (E/W). Charcoal obtained from the hearth provided a date of 2830 +/- 40 BP (Cal BP 3050 to 2850) (Beta-171714) from good context. This date and the side-notched point fits within the Intermediate Indian period of southern Labrador. 

Artifact recovered by Beaton (2004).

The Northern Peninsula has played a vital role in Indigenous history in the province for millennia; it was the route most Indigenous groups used to access the Island; it is home to the largest Pre-Inuit site in the Province; and it was home to the largest known and best preserved Maritime Archaic cemetery in the Province at Port au Choix. Moreover, as of right now it is the only part of the Island that has an, albeit, sparse Intermediate period occupation.


Beaton, Greg
2004 A Chip Off the Old Block Investigations of a Maritime Archaic Lithic Workshop Quarry Site in Big Brook (EjBa-2), Northwestern Newfoundland. MA, MUN

Fitzhugh, William
1975 A Maritime Archaic Sequence from Hamilton Inlet, Labrador.  Arctic Anthropology XII-2, pp 117-138

Schwarz, Fred & Roy Skanes
2010 Stage 1 and Stage 2 HRIA, Proposed Access Road and Parking Area, Town of Woody Point, Bonne Bay, Newfoundland.  05.21

Tuck, James
1973 Archaeological Survey of Gros Morne National Park

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