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.

Guns and gun parts on archaeology sites

On November 6, 2014 Cultural Resource Program Manager, Eva Jensen working in the Great Basin National Park (USA) noticed an object leaning on a Juniper tree. Getting a closer look she discovered that the object was a rifle. Further inspection and research revealed that it was a Winchester Model 1873 Rifle.
The rifle leaning against the Juniper tree.
The rifle leaning against the Juniper tree. The Great Basin National Park Facebook page has more great shots of the rifle

This story got me thinking about guns and gun parts that have been found on archaeology sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course many sites in the province have cannons, cannon balls, discharged shell casings, gun flint and lead shot. But I was thinking more about hand-held guns, rifles and muskets etc.

Cannon found at Mortier during the Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory (Barnable)
Cannon found at Mortier during the Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory (Barnable)
Gun Flints, copper casing found in Greenspond
Gun Flints, copper casing found in Greenspond

For example, in 1998, Jacques Whitford Environment Limited archaeologists found the barrel and brass side plate from a flint lock musket during the Churchill River Power Project Environmental study on the shoreline of Atikonak Lake. The barrel appeared to contain a touch hole, indicating a flint lock rather than a percussion action. The breech plug was intact, minus the associated barrel tang. The contour of the barrel suggests the exposed upper portion of the breech was finished in a partially faceted design, while the lower portion, which would have been hidden by the stock, possessed a plainer, rounded contour. Although generally difficult to date owing to the widespread use of multiple variations of the motif throughout the period, the fine definition of the scales and other details of this particular side plate suggests a variant dating from ca. 1800 to the 1830s or 1840s (JWEL & IED 2000:208).

Searching through files and reports I was able to find an assortment of gun parts and gun related tools from sites throughout the province.

I also sent out a request to my archaeology colleagues to see if they had stories or photos of guns and/or gun parts found on archaeology sites. I received a great sampling of artifact shots.

Dr. Barry Gaulton of Memorial University of Newfoundland sent me a couple of pictures of gun locks that have been found at the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland.

Gunlock from Ferryland
Gunlock from Ferryland
Gunlock from Ferryland
Gunlock from Ferryland

The Colony of Avalon website also have some examples of gun parts found in Ferryland.

TOP-Lock from a 17th-century "snaphaunce," so called because its action resembled the pecking of a chicken. First half of the 17th century. BOTTOM-An English "dog lock," so called because a small dog, or catch, held the cock in place and prevented the musket from discharging accidentally.
TOP-Lock from a 17th-century “snaphaunce”, so-called because its action resembled the pecking of a chicken. First half of the 17th century.
BOTTOM-An English “dog lock,” so-called because a small dog, or catch, held the cock in place and prevented the musket from discharging accidentally.

Dr. Michael Deal, also at Memorial University of Newfoundland, sent me several photos of guns and gun parts that came from aircraft wrecks from the island portion of the province.

In 1943 a Lockheed Ventura (CjAe-61) was going out on an anti-submarine patrol when the plane crashed and burned. It was carrying, among other things, loaded 50 cal. machine guns. When the plane crashed and burned some of the bullets exploded.

In 1945 a B-24M Liberator (DgAo-01) being deployed to England crashed Northeast of Gander. Because the plane was being ferried to England it carried no bullets but it did have its armament of 50 cal. machine guns. Shown in the photos is one of the 50 cal. machine guns that was found on the edge of the debris field. There is also a shot of the same gun in the lab and another shot of the gun propped against one of the B-24 turrets. The officers on board had hand guns (45 cal. pistols) and Dr. Deal found one of the 45 cal. gun clips (shown in conservation) and several bullets and casings (one shown in situ).

Jamie Brake, the Nunatsiavut Government Archaeologist, was very helpful and gave me a good example of a gun part found on an archaeology site.

In 2012 at the site of Middle House Cove 1 in Double Mer Jamie and his colleague Tony Wolfrey found a gun barrel eroding out of a bank. The remains of a buried house foundation are in a clearing just back from the shore, and, as can be seen in the photos, the gun barrel was found in front of the clearing.

Jamie also told me an interesting story about a musket ball found in a piece of wood which was cut by Tyler Pamak behind his cabin in Tikkoatokak Bay. The piece of wood with the ball was brought to Nain. Last summer a dendrochronology grad student named Jay Maillet happened to be working in Nain. He did a preliminary analysis on the wood and believes the ball was shot into the tree around 1884!

Musket ball lodged in the tree (Pamak)
Musket ball lodged in the tree (Pamak)

Yet another interesting story from Jamie was regarding a soapstone musket ball mould. The object appears to be one half of a musket ball mould and was recently picked up in Nain and shown to Jamie. If you look closely at the object in the photo below you can see two small grooves (two arrows on bottom) that may be for lines that would be used to hold strings which would hold the two halves of the mould together. The single arrow on the left points to what may be a funnel in to which molten lead was poured to make the ball.

Soapstone musket ball mould
Soapstone musket ball mould

To support the possibility that this is a musket ball mould Jamie found the following reference:
On the inside of the flap of the woman’s duffle dicky of the east coast of Hudson bay and Ungava there is a little line of pewter ornaments which jingle as she walks. These are made of old spoons obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and termed pi’xo-tit. The spoons are melted and the fluid metal poured into a mould made of two slabs of steatite (Hawkes 1916:39).


Hawkes, E.W.
1916  The Labrador Eskimo.

Jacques Whitford Environment Limited/Innu Economic Development Enterprises Inc.  (JWEL/IED)
2000 Churchill River Power Project, 1998 Environmental Studies. Final Report, HROA, Labrador Component 98.22



When you think of Northern Labrador, the images that come to mind for most people are of snow and ice covered rugged mountains, or Caribou or perhaps Polar Bears.

Saglek Fiord, northern Labrador (Drake)

Few people would equate this place with World War II German Nazis. Yet in 1943 a U-Boat installed a German weather station code named “Kurt” in Martin Bay, northern Labrador.

Kurt location in northern Labrador

On September 18, 1943, U-537, commanded by Peter Schrewe, left Germany carrying a Wetter-Funkgerät Land weather station or WFL, codenamed “Kurt”.  Also on board were meteorologist Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer, and his assistant, Walter Hildebrant.  Nearly a month later on October 22 the U-boat glided into Martin Bay, Labrador.  Shortly after arriving, some of the crew and Dr. Sommermeyer were assembling the station ¼ mile inland.

Perer Schrewe, commander of the U-537 (Douglas 1982 Canadian Geographic)

There were 26 similar stations manufactured by Siemens.  Fourteen were established in Arctic and sub-Arctic areas and 5 were placed around the Barents Sea. Two were supposed to be in North America but the U-Boat carrying the second was sunk.

Getting the station on shore would have been a difficult and dangerous task.  It consisted of several measuring instruments, a telemetry system and a 150 watt Lorenz 150 FK-type transmitter.  It also had 10 cylindrical canisters that were about 3 feet tall and weighed around 220 lb each. One canister contained the instruments and was attached to a 10-metre (33 ft) antenna mast. A second, shorter mast carried an anemometer and wind vane. The other canisters contained nickel-cadmium batteries that powered the station. The WFL would broadcast weather readings every three hours during a two-minute transmission on 3940 kHz. The system could work for up to six months, depending on the number of battery canisters.  All of this material had to be carried from the U-Boat, put into rubber dinghies, rowed ashore and carried ¼ of a mile inshore to be installed at the station.  This was all done in a little over 24 hours by hand and in October in northern Labrador, meaning most of it was done in near darkness.

Weather station Kurt. (Douglas 1982 Canadian Geographic)

After having the station assembled, Dr. Sommermeyer ensured that it was operating and U-537 departed Martin Bay.   According to German records, the station operated for about 2 weeks.

There is no record of the Canadian or American Military ever having become aware of the stations existence.

As far as we know the first North Americans to find the site were part of the Torngat Archaeological Project in 1977.  In terms of sites found and ground covered this two year project (1977-78), conducted by the Smithsonian Institution and Bryn Mawr College with the assistance of personnel from a number of American and Canadian institutions, was the most successful archaeology project in Provincial history.  The project surveyed from Nain to the Button Islands and located nearly 350 archaeological sites and gathered data from many geological and botanical stations.   In 1977 Peter Johnson, a geomorphologist working with the project stumbled upon the German weather station but didn’t realize what he had found.  He suspected it was a Canadian military installation.  As part of the project, the weather station was named Martin Bay 7 and issued Borden number JaDc-07.

Around the same time as the Torngat Archaeological Project discovery Franz Selinger, a retired engineer gathering information for a book on Nazi weather stations contacted Dr. Alec Douglas.  At the time Douglas was the official historian for the Canadian Armed Forces.  Selinger told Douglas that during his research he came across a reference to an automatic land weather station in Labrador.  Eventually Selinger was able to locate the logbook of the U-537 which confirmed that the U-Boat had indeed set up a weather station in northern Labrador.

With this information Douglas arranged a trip on a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker to Martin Bay.   Shortly after arriving in Martin Bay Douglas & Selinger located the remains of the station.  What remained of the only German military operation on land in North America during the World War II was collected and eventually ended up on display in the Canadian War Museum.

Kurt display at Canadian War Museum (


Douglas, Alec  1982 The Nazi Weather Station in Labrador. Canadian Geographic, V.101, No.6