Labrador South Coastal Survey: 1992

Two weeks ago I told you about the 1991 season of the Labrador South Coastal Survey (LSCS). This was a two year archaeology project which started in 1991 and covered more than 600 kilometres of previously unexamined Labrador coastline. The 1991 survey area was between Cape St. Charles and Seal Island, Labrador. It was directed by Marianne Stopp, she was assisted by Doug Rutherford and crew. The 1992 survey started at Seal Island and finished at southern Trunmore Bay. It was again directed by Marianne Stopp, and this time she was assisted by Ken Reynolds and crew. More than 60 sites were found or revisited in 1991 and nearly 90 sites were found or revisited in 1992 (Stopp 1995, 1997, Stopp & Rutherford 1991, Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

Labrador South Coastal Survey. Yellow dots are sites recorded by the survey.
Labrador South Coastal Survey. Yellow dots are sites recorded from the survey.

Like the 1991 season, the 1992 season was funded through the Labrador Comprehensive Agreement which was administered through the Historic Resources Division of the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, St. John’s, Newfoundland. Today this section of the division is known as the Provincial Archaeology Office and is part of the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

The geography of the 1992 survey area was characterized by fewer large bays and inlets than in 1991, but had a greater expanse of low elevation, sub-arctic tundra. This meant that more coastline was available for testing. The original mandate of the LSCS was to finish at Rigolet, but because of the greater available coastline surveying, southern Trunmore Bay to Rigolet would require another four to five week survey (Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

The 1992 survey ran through July and August and resulted in the recording of 76 new sites and a revisit of several previously recorded sites. The top three most common cultural occupations at the sites were 21 European, 14 Palaeoeskimo and 11 sites where the culture was Undetermined.

One of the possible European sites found (it may also be Inuit) is Creek 2 (FkBe-18) which consists of a two-room stone house northeast of Hare Harbour and west of Isthmus Bay. Test pits yielded kaolin pipe fragments, pearlware sherds, lead sprue, and fish, seal and bird bones. A smaller structure may also be a house which uses the natural bedrock bank as its back wall. Spalling of the rock suggests the fireplace may have been against this wall. The contemporary eroding shoreline just to the southwest of the structures contained large amounts of bone, ceramic and iron. The two features measure 10.43 m x 5.22 m and 5.14 m x 3.38 m (Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

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Curlew Harbour 1 (FkBd-11) is one of the 11 sites where the culture could not be determined. The site has two stone features that were recorded in a raised shingle beach that is on the point of land between Isthmus Bay and Curlew Harbour. One feature is a rectangular cache composed of beach shingles with two large lintel stones covering its top. The inner chamber is 24 cm wide and 1.9 m long. Outside dimensions of the feature are 2.1 m x 3.3 m. Rocks have slumped to the sides and into the interior. The other feature is a cobble pit cache in the beach, located 70 m north of the cache, with its interior floor (1.3 m in diameter) lined with small beach stones. The pit measures 3.5 m x 3.5 m with a wall height of 0.75 m (Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

Curlew Harbour-1, FkBd-11, facing N, probable cache? in foreground (Stopp).
Curlew Harbour-1, FkBd-11, facing N, probable cache? in foreground (Stopp).
Curlew Harbour-1, FkBd-11, facing N, boulder pit (Stopp).
Curlew Harbour-1, FkBd-11, facing N, boulder pit (Stopp).

Porcupine Strand 1 (FkBg-07) is an Intermediate Amerindian site found in the deep blowouts of sandy, southern Trunmore Bay. Site elevation is about 5  masl and wind deflation has eroded out great bowls in which cultural material is found at, or near, sea level elevation.  The site has four loci. Lithic materials in those loci include Ramah & quartz crystal. Some calcined bone was also recovered (Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

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Eagle (Grago) Island 1 (FiBa-01) is an Inuit or Innu site on the small island adjacent to the north shore of Eagle Island, in the Rocky Bay/Porcupine Bay confluence. It has a well defined oval tent ring (5.86 m x 4.4 m) alongside an equally well defined oval midden (2.5 m x 1 m). Tent ring test pits were sterile, while test pits in the midden yielded bird and fish bone, a European gunflint fragment, and 14 creamware sherds. These artifacts date the site to the late 18th or early 19th century, and the tent ring further suggests historic Inuit or Innu occupation.

Eagle (Grago) Island-1, FiBa-1, shovel pointing north at centre of tent ring test pit #1 (Stopp).
Eagle (Grago) Island-1, FiBa-01, shovel pointing north at centre of tent ring test pit #1 (Stopp).
Eagle (Grago) Island-1, FiBa-1, test pit #2 in midden (Stopp).
Eagle (Grago) Island-1, FiBa-01, test pit #2 in midden (Stopp).

The LSCS was significant for Labrador archaeology in terms of the amount of area covered and the large number of sites found. One of the more compelling sites is Huntingdon Island 5 (FkBg-03).  In 1992 the site was made up of two sod houses on the north shore of the small island in the mouth of Indian Harbour, on the west coast of Huntingdon Island. The larger of the two houses (7.6 m x 6.5 m) has rocks protruding above vegetation and the walls are slumped. The smaller house (6 m x 5 m) has an “L” shape with rocks throughout it (Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

Huntingdon Island-5, FkBg-3, facing N, sod house in foreground (Stopp).
Huntingdon Island-5, FkBg-03, facing N, sod house in foreground (Stopp).

Like several sites found during the LSCS, Huntingdon Island 5 has been revisited several times and has had extensive archaeological work carried out on it, in this case by Dr. Lisa Rankin of Memorial University and her Graduate students. Carrying out more extensive research has allowed them to show that the site is a multicomponent site with late precontact Amerindian, Inuit and European components. In fact it contains at least five sod-walled houses and several tent rings. Full scale excavation of some of the sod-walled houses has shown that they contain distinct bench areas, sleeping platforms, and lamp stand areas. Dr. Rankin has had several graduate students complete their thesis on research at this site. You can learn more about this site in Volume 12 of the Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review for 2013.


Stopp, Marianne
1995 Long term coastal occupancy in southern Labrador. Unpub. ms., on file, Historic Resources Division, Dept. of Tourism and Culture, 53 pp.

Stopp, Marianne
1997 Long-term coastal occupancy between Cape Charles and Trunmore Bay, Labrador. Arctic 50(2): 119-137.

Stopp, Marianne & Ken Reynolds
1992 Preliminary Report of the 1992 Labrador South Coastal Survey.

Stopp, Marianne & Doug Rutherford
1991  Report of the 1991 Labrador South Coastal Survey.

Labrador South Coastal Survey: 1991

The Labrador South Coastal Survey (LSCS) was a two year archaeology project which started in 1991 and covered more than 600 kilometres of previously unexamined Labrador coastline. The 1991 survey area extended from Cape St. Charles to Seal Island (near Frenchmans Harbour), Labrador, and was directed by Marianne Stopp and she was assisted by Doug Rutherford. In 1992, the survey started at Seal Island and finished at southern Trunmore Bay, and was directed by Marianne Stopp and and she was assisted by Ken Reynolds. More than 60 sites were found or revisited in 1991 and nearly 90 sites were found or revisited in 1992 (Stopp 1995, 1997, Stopp & Rutherford 1991, Stopp & Reynolds 1992).

Labrador South Coastal Survey. Yellow dots are sites recorded by the survey.
Labrador South Coastal Survey. Yellow dots are sites recorded by the survey.

The Labrador Comprehensive Agreement provided the funding for the 1991 Labrador South Coastal Survey, which was administered through the Historic Resources Division of the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, St. John’s, Newfoundland. Today this section of the division is known as the Provincial Archaeology Office and is part of the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development.

The various cultural occupations at the 1991 sites run the gamut of typical sites found in Labrador. The top three most common occupations were 20 European, 18 Palaeoeskimo and eight Maritime Archaic. The sites ranged in size from single spot finds of artifacts to the Pardy site which is listed at more than 60,000 m2.

The Pardy site extends along the northeast side of Spear Harbour for 250 m. It extends along a second beach terrace (18 masl) for the same distance, for a total area of 62,500 m2. The site is partially disturbed by the excavation of an historic period cemetery, trails, and wind erosion and was discovered through visual examination of blowouts. The blowouts yielded a large number of surface flakes and tools, and a sample was collected. Test pitting in the southeastern portion of the site indicates the possibility of two separate cultural levels, at depths of 8 and 15 cm below surface. The upper, later levels contain a predominance of Ramah chert, while a variety of lithic materials were noted from lower levels. The upper level is probably a Dorset occupation, with microblades and endblades recovered from the site. A charcoal sample was collected from the lower level for dating purposes resulting in a date of 5070 +/- 170 B.P. (Beta-48303), supporting the suggestion of a Maritime Archaic component at the site. This date is further supported by quartzite flakes in the lower levels of some test pits. Given the site size and artifact density, the site likely represents a major precontact occupation (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Photo mosaic of three slides showing the Pardy site along the shoreline in the foreground . (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides)
Photo mosaic of three slides showing the Pardy site along the shoreline in the foreground (Stopp LSCS slides).

The St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 site has both precontact and historic components. The precontact Dorset Palaeoeskimo component was wind deflated and the cultural material was collected from the surface. The site yielded endblades, bifaces, endscrapers and a quartz crystal core fragment. There was also a selection of flakes of chert, quartz crystal and slate collected. The artifact scatter was concentrated around a linear arrangement of stones, 3 m in length and 1.5 m in width (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Linear rock arrangement at the Dorset component of St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides).
Linear rock arrangement at the Dorset component of St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 (Stopp LSCS slides).

The recent component, which was either Inuit or European, was made up of six sod houses, the dimensions of which averaged 5 m by 4.5 m. A test pit in one yielded a wooden button (possibly ebony), pipe bowl fragments, and refined white earthenware sherds. The houses are all located in close proximity to the present shoreline in three groups of two and offer a good vantage point for hunting seals in the nearby narrow tickle. A seal bone midden (St. Francis Harbour Bight 2), yielding artifacts dating to the same period, is located across the bight (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Photo mosaic showing the historic house pits at
Photo mosaic showing the historic house pits at St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 (Stopp LSCS slides).

Salt Pond Ridge 1 was a quarry/possible occupation site and the largest and richest of the Maritime Archaic sites recorded, with an extensive flake scatter. White and red quartzite and quartz crystal were abundant on a raised terrace. It is within easy walking distance of two further Maritime Archaic sites, Spear Harbour 1 and Spear Harbour 3, as well as two cobble features in a raised beach ridge on the opposite shore of Salt Pond Ridge 2 which may also be Maritime Archaic (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Photo mosaic of part of the Salt Pond Ridge site
Photo mosaic of part of the Salt Pond Ridge 1 site (Stopp LSCS slides).

A sample of the surface scattered cultural material was collected yielded a red quartzite stemmed biface, an asymmetrical, convex base quartzite non-stemmed biface, a distal biface tip and biface preform, flakes of clear quartz crystal, quartzite and red quartzite, and a clear quartz crystal preform and core. One test pit produced 36 quartzite flakes, 13 clear quartz crystal flakes, and 7 red quartzite flakes. The site is in close proximity to two other Maritime Archaic sites (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Salt Pond Ridge flakes (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides).
Salt Pond Ridge flakes (Stopp LSCS slides).
Salt Pond Ridge artifacts (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides).
Salt Pond Ridge artifacts (Stopp LSCS slides).

The final site I’ll discuss from the 1991 survey is Great Caribou Island 1. This site included two sod houses, middens, pit features in raised cobble beaches, two collapsed stone fox traps on a raised cobble beach, and flake scatters (within sod houses and elsewhere in the cove). The site was recorded following information given by residents of Caribou Run-Indian Cove (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

The site has a precontact component and an undetermined cultural component, meaning the archaeologist couldn’t say for sure who made the component or when. The undetermined component was made up of 12 cobble pit beach features. No artifacts were discovered in the features, which probably represent storage pits or caches. The features averaged 141 cm by 134 cm and 59 cm deep (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Measuring one of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features
Measuring one of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features (Stopp LSCS slides).
One of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features
One of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features (Stopp LSCS slides).

The recent component is made up of two sod houses, both of which have been extensively disturbed by locals looting the houses for artifacts. Several artifacts were discovered within the looters’ back dirt, including three seal phalanges, two flow blue pearlware sherds, two kaolin pipe stem fragments, and one European gun flint fragment. The ceramics indicate a 19th century occupation (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Great Caribou Island 1 historic sod houses
Great Caribou Island 1 historic sod houses (Stopp LSCS slides).
Historic artifacts from Great Caribou Island 1
Historic artifacts from Great Caribou Island 1 (Stopp LSCS slides).

In two weeks I’ll discuss some of the sites found during the 1992 season of the Labrador South Coastal Survey.


Stopp, Marianne
1995 Long term coastal occupancy in southern Labrador. Unpub. ms., on file, Historic Resources Division, Dept. of Tourism and Culture, 53 pp.

Stopp, Marianne
1997 Long-term coastal occupancy between Cape Charles and Trunmore Bay, Labrador. Arctic 50(2): 119-137.

Stopp, Marianne & Ken Reynolds
1992 Preliminary Report of the 1992 Labrador South Coastal Survey.

Stopp, Marianne & Doug Rutherford
1991  Report of the 1991 Labrador South Coastal Survey.

The Bank site, Terra Nova National Park: Part 2

This post is a continuation from two weeks ago dealing with the Bank site (DdAk-05) in Terra Nova National Park.

Parks Canada archaeologist Dr. Jenneth Curtis revisited several Terra Nova National Park archaeology sites in 2007, including the Bank site. During that visit three Dorset artifacts, six flakes and a single piece of calcined bone were surface collected from the eroding site (Curtis 2008). This disturbance prompted another excavation operation at the site that was to be conducted in 2008. The goals of the project were to excavate a wide strip along the eroding bank, to record as much information as possible about the cultural deposits, and to recover artifacts along with faunal and floral samples (Curtis 2009).

The 2008 work covered an area of approximately 20mand continued the excavation of the Little Passage hearth, Feature 1. As before, it consisted of scattered clusters of fire-cracked rock within a thin layer of black soil. One additional corner-notched point of Ramah chert was recovered. The excavated area of the hearth now has a length of 7.5m and continues into undisturbed portions of the site (Curtis 2009).

Excavation in progress at the Bank site in 2008 (Curtis 2009)
Excavation in progress at the Bank site in 2008 (Curtis 2009)

The 2008 season also continued the excavation of the semi-subterranean Dorset Palaeoeskimo dwelling (Structure 1) that was identified by Schwarz. The 2008 work revealed a portion of the eastern wall of this structure as well as a layer of orange soil mottled with ash, charcoal, and fire-reddened soil patches appear to represent the house floor. In total the house size was approximately 8 m wide and more than 5.5 m long to the edge of the eroding bank. The house was clearly larger in the past; half of it may have been lost to erosion prior to 1992. Curtis also continued the excavation of a layer of dark brown, gravelly loam which was rich in lithic artifacts and likely represents a Dorset Palaeoeskimo midden associated with Structure 1. Two samples of charcoal from within the midden were radiocarbon dated to 1493±38 BP and 1516±32 BP. These dates are consistent with the period of Dorset occupation in Newfoundland (Curtis 2009).

Fire-cracked-rock in ash on the floor of Structure 1 (Curtis 2009)
Fire-cracked rock in ash on the floor of Structure 1 (Curtis 2009)

The 2008 work also identified six new features at the site including a possible Recent Indian hearth which consisted of a distinctive deposit of uniform, pea-sized gravel capping a small hearth. The gravel was fire-reddened and contained small pieces of charcoal but little in the way of artifacts. A few fire-cracked rocks occurred around the edges of the hearth. No diagnostic artifacts were found within this feature, however a charcoal sample produced a date of 588±35 BP that calibrates to AD 1300-1415 placing it within the time frame of the Little Passage Complex (Curtis 2009).

A second hearth was found that consisted of a deposit of fire-cracked rock with charcoal that was roughly oval in shape and measured 80 cm in length by 70 cm in width. The cultural affiliation of this feature is not clear from its stratigraphic context, but a cluster of three corner-notched points found in Stratum 1 just north of the hearth may indicate a Little Passage Complex date. A sample of the charcoal from the hearth was radiocarbon dated to 256±48 BP however, and Curtis noted this date may relate to a forest fire (Curtis 2009).

Little Passage projectile points recovered during the 2008 work (Curtis 2009)
Little Passage projectile points recovered during the 2008 work. The Ramah chert point on the bottom left was recovered from Feature 1 (Curtis 2009)

Another feature consisted of a cluster of fire-cracked rock that was disturbed and obscured by a large stump. Charcoal was found beneath the stump, this feature was also likely a hearth (Curtis 2009).

The fourth new feature was either another hearth feature or a dump of material cleaned out of a hearth and consisted of a mounded deposit of fire-cracked rock in fired soil along with charcoal and burnt shell (Curtis 2009).

A lens of crushed shell made up yet another new feature. This deposit was high up in the stratigraphy of the site appearing just below the humus layer. Eighteenth-century European artifacts were associated with this feature (Curtis 2009).

The final new feature was a band of black organic soil running north to south through the centre of one unit. It measured 150 cm by 60 cm. A large rock abutted the north end and two fire-reddened slabs of stone bordered the western side. This feature was interpreted as a Palaeoeskimo axial feature (Curtis 2009).

Axial Feature before and after excavation (Curtis 2009).
Axial Feature before and after excavation (Curtis 2009).

Along with these features a number of artifacts from the Groswater, Dorset and Recent Indian occupations of the site were recovered. There were just three Groswater artifacts recovered; two sideblades and the tip of a burin-like tool. Numerous Dorset tip-fluted endblades, scrapers and microblades were found in the Dorset features. The diagnostic component of the Recent Indian assemblage recovered in 2008 was represented by the six projectile points shown in the picture above. The recovered European ceramic fragments suggest an early 18th century visit to the site. Three objects are represented: a coarse, red earthenware vessel with a green glazed interior; a finer, buff-coloured earthenware (surfaces were completely exfoliated); and a kaolin pipe (stem fragments) (Curtis 2009).

Groswater artifacts recovered in 2008 (Curtis 2009).
Groswater artifacts recovered in 2008 (Curtis 2009).
Dorset artifacts recovered in 2008 (Curtis 2009).
Dorset artifacts recovered in 2008 (Curtis 2009).
European ceramics recovered in 2008 (Curtis 2009).
European ceramics recovered in 2008 (Curtis 2009).

Curtis returned to Terra Nova and the Bank site in 2009 to complete the salvage excavation project begun in 2008. The layers excavated in 2009 related primarily to the Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupation and included a thick midden deposit. Curtis succeeded in salvaging areas along the front of the bank that were imminently threatened by erosion. Nonetheless, extensive and rich cultural deposits remain in situ at this site. In 2009 Curtis continued the excavation of Structure 1 and completed the excavation of the Little Passage Complex hearth that was radiocarbon dated to 256±48 BP and the Palaeoeskimo axial feature, both of which were uncovered in 2008. She also uncovered three additional features (Curtis 2010).

The first new 2009 feature was a small patch of black soil that may have been cultural or natural. The second feature was a narrow strip of ashy brown soil which may be related to the floor of Structure 1. The last new feature was a lens of greasy black soil within the dated midden referenced above. The feature included charcoal and fire-cracked rock and thus may represent a hearth or a dump of material removed from a hearth nearby. A sample of the charcoal was radiocarbon dated to 1599±30 BP (Curtis 2010).

patch of black soil and gravel
The first new feature from 2009, patch of black soil and gravel (Curtis 2010).
Midden
The last new feature from 2009, the lens of black soil within the midden that was dated to 1599±30 BP (Curtis 2010).

All of the diagnostic artifacts recovered in 2009 relate to the Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupation of the site. These consist of tip-fluted and triangular endblades along with tip-fluting flakes. Various microblades and scrapers may be attributed to the Palaeoeskimo period but not specifically to Dorset Palaeoeskimo.

Tip-fluted endblades, preforms and tip-fluting flakes recovered in 2009 (Curtis 2010)
Tip-fluted endblades, preforms and tip-fluting flakes recovered in 2009 (Curtis 2010)

In 2013 five Terra Nova National Park archaeology sites, including the Bank site, were revisited by another Parks Canada archaeologist, Dr. Marianne Stopp. The purpose of this revisit was to collect data such as GPS location, an assessment of site condition and disturbances, an assessment of potential threats and any threatened artifacts such as those from an active beach zone, or erosion zone. Stopp found the site to be in good physical condition although erosion at the site’s western end continues to wear away the terrace face and flakes were found eroding down the bank and at beach level (Stopp 2013).

Found by testing in 1979, the Bank site has turned out to be much larger and much more important that originally believed. Unfortunately, like many sites in Newfoundland and Labrador it continues to be threatened by coastal erosion and there is little that can be done about this. There is little that can be done to prevent such erosion but the site is periodically revisited and future excavation could be carried out.


Curtis, Jenneth
2008  Archaeological Site Monitoring, Terra Nova National Park.  Permit report TNP-2007-1301 on file at the Atlantic Service Centre, Halifax.

2009  TNP-2008-1511 Final Report Archaeological Excavations at the Bank Site, Terra Nova National Park.

2010 TNP-2009-2195 Final Report Continued Archaeological Excavations at the Bank Site (10A), Terra Nova National Park.

2013  Archaeological Monitoring in Terra Nova National Park 2010 & 2011 Permit Report for TNP-2010-6772 and TNP-2011-9093

Stopp, Marianne
2013 Archaeological Site Monitoring, Terra Nova National Park, 2013. Parks Canada Permit No: TNP-2013-14275

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.

The Samms’ site: A Groswater site in Norris Point

About a year ago I told you about my participation in the Northern Peninsula Heritage Inventory during the summer of 2000. I led the survey of a large area of the Northern Peninsula extending from Crémaillère Harbour in the south to Quirpon Island in the north and as far west as Raleigh. Prior to the start of that project I spent four weeks excavating units at the Samms’ site in Norris Point.

The site was on the property of a former private residence that had been converted to a Memorial University of Newfoundland Biology Field Station. In August 1999 a six-person archaeological crew under the direction of M.A.P. Renouf tested the field station lawn and potato garden and found a small number of Groswater Palaeoeskimo artifacts. In 2000 the testing was followed up with more intensive and longer-term testing. Our objectives were to test the site to determine the range of cultures present, the extent of any disturbance, and site size. Our results confirmed the presence of a Groswater Palaeoeskimo site, along with some 18th century and 19th century European material. However, the Samms’ site turned out to be extensively disturbed, and therefore no further excavation was warranted (Renouf, Bell & Hull 2001).

Norris Point is located in Bonne Bay, on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. The site was located near the active beach on the southeast end of a peninsula that sticks out from the north shore of Bonne Bay. The peninsula divides Bonne Bay into the South and East Arm. Less than 200 metres to the west and at a slightly higher elevation than the Samms’ site is the location of a once-rich Maritime Archaic Indian and Palaeoeskimo site, known as Norris Point 1 (DjBl-02). While the Samms’ site was found by Renouf in 1999, Norris Point 1 had been known to archaeologists since the late 1920s. Unfortunately, like the Samms’ site, Norris Point 1 was heavily disturbed by European activities including looting (Renouf, Bell & Hull 2001). In fact the late Dr. Elmer Harp recorded in his field notes from 1949 that local boys would sell buckets of artifacts from the Norris Point site to tourists (Harp 1949). Interestingly, the Groswater Palaeoeskimo were first identified on the island of Newfoundland at Norris Point 1 by archaeologist Paul Bishop in 1973 (Bishop 1974).

Location of the Samms' site (DjBl-09) in relations to Norris Point 1 (DjBl-02).
Location of the Samms’ site (DjBl-09) in relation to Norris Point 1 (DjBl-02).
Looking over part of the Samms' site. The upper terrace in the back ground, to the left of the white house, contains the Norris Point 1 site (Renouf).
Looking over part of the Samms’ site. The upper terrace in the back ground, to the left of the white house, contains the Norris Point 1 site (Renouf).

Site testing took place from June 22 – July 14, 2000. The main objective was to test for undisturbed deposits which might warrant future full-scale excavations. With a crew of three, we excavated 21 mthroughout the property along a site grid. Initially excavation proceeded by troweling but as the extent of the site’s disturbance became apparent, we proceeded by shovel-shining. All backdirt was sifted through a 1/4″ screen. In almost all excavation units the levels were very badly disturbed. For example in one unit we recovered a white plastic egg at 34 cm below surface, a side-notched Groswater biface at 39 cm below the surface and a small piece of window pane glass at 43 cm below the surface. In another unit we recovered the base of a Groswater biface at 30 cm below the surface and the tip of the biface at 68 cm below the surface (Renouf, Bell & Hull 2001).

Tbe trowel is poinwg to a Groswater biface showing in the profile below a plastic egg and above a piece of glass.
The trowel is pointing to a Groswater biface
showing in the profile below a plastic egg and above a piece of glass.

A typical Groswater tool kit on the island usually consists of small and finely-made stone tools fashioned most often made from fine grained Cow Head cherts. It would usually include side-notched endblades (box-based), sideblades, scrapers (sometimes referred to as eared scrapers), microblades, side-notched bifaces and chipped and ground burin-like tools.

We recovered nearly 6000 flakes and 105 Groswater artifacts including microblades, bifaces, and chipped and ground burin-like-tools. The 105 artifacts were mostly made up of microblades, bifaces, and utilized flakes. Interestingly, the site contained just one endblade and two scrapers which is atypical for a Palaeoeskimo site. For example, the nearby Norris Point 1 site contained nine side-notched endblades, five side-notched endblade fragments and 30 scrapers (some of which may have been Dorset)(Bishop 1974). We also recovered a lot of chert cores and numerous primary, secondary and tertiary flakes. The predominant tools recovered suggest activities associated with animal butchering and other food-processing activities, while the chert cores and flakes suggest tool making activities and biface retouch and resharpening took place at the site as well. With this in mind we suggested that the Samms’ site was a low-lying and sheltered butchering station associated with the higher and more exposed main camp at nearby Norris Point 1. It is also possible that the two sites were occupied at different years or different seasons (Renouf, Bell & Hull 2001).


Bishop, Paul
1974  Final Report: 1973 Excavations at Norris Point, Gros Morne National Park.

Harp, Elmer Jr.
1949  Elmer Harps’s 1949 Journal Entries for Newfoundland and Labrador: Visited Areas and Sites

Renouf, Priscilla, Bell, Trevor, & Hull, Stephen
2001  Excavation of the Samms’ Site (DjBl-09): A Groswater Palaeoeskimo Site in Norris Point, Newfoundland.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo update

Shortly after distributing this post last week I was contacted by two different archaeologists both of whom pointed out things in this post that required correcting, which I am happy to do. After all, the point of this blog is to distribute information about this province’s past and I want that to be as accurate as possible. The corrections will be included in the post as red text.

Dr. William Fitzhugh (1972) first defined the Groswater Palaeoeskimo based on the excavation of seven sites in the Groswater Bay area of Labrador. It seems they were a highly mobile group that preferred to live along the coast. Based on site location they had a settlement subsistence pattern that exploited inner bay/inner island areas. While they focused on marine resources, terrestrial resources were also important. Their sites suggest that they were occupied by small groups.

The sites that Dr. Fitzhugh used to define the Groswater were found on the outer islands in Groswater Bay and they produced very small assemblages, maybe a dozen or so stone tools. Many of the tools were well used and broken, and no structures were found. The sites were interpreted as summer marine mammal hunting stations by small highly mobile groups. This resulted in a somewhat narrow understanding of Groswater culture. However, our understanding became much clearer with the discovery of the large Postville Pentecostal Groswater site in 1977 discussed in further detail below.

Currently there are 84 Groswater Palaeoeskimo sites recognized in Labrador. Interestingly there are more Groswater sites on the island, 97. The Groswater are the only precontact culture for which this is true. It is not clear if this is a function of Labrador needing more survey work or if it is actually a cultural preference. Did they prefer the Island weather or the available food or was it something else entirely?

Groswater Palaeoeskimo sites in the province.
Groswater Palaeoeskimo sites in the province.

The Groswater culture first shows up in the archaeological record just over 3000 BP at sites in Labrador. It is last recognized in the archaeological record on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland around 1800 BP.

Renouf 2003 summarizes Palaeoeskimo dwelling structures in Newfoundland and Labrador. In Labrador, Groswater habitation structures tend to be small oval surface structures, with mid-passage axial features, box hearths and slab pavements. But, in Newfoundland, there are no clearly defined axial features, only a single example of a box hearth (perhaps not, see below) and no slab pavements. The shape of these dwellings is variable, including oval, rectangular and bilobate. Most Newfoundland Groswater structures are defined in several ways including perimeter rocks, a discard perimeter, a ring of postholes or a perimeter of humus and sand. There also tends to be interior and exterior pit features associated with the dwellings (Renouf 2003: 386-387).

As stated above, there is only one box hearth on the island that is clearly associated with a Groswater occupation based on associated artifacts. It was found at Cow Cove on the Baie Verte Peninsula by Dr. John Erwin. The hearth was comprised of four partially upright slabs enclosing fire cracked rock (Erwin 2003). However, box hearths may have been found at L’Anse aux Meadows. Along with the Norse occupation, the L’Anse aux Meadows site contained numerous precontact aboriginal occupations including Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo and Recent Amerindian. Unfortunately, according to Wallace 1989, the occupations are disturbed. ‘An infinite number of disturbed tent floors, tent rings and fireplaces were excavated on the south shore of the bay by Bengt Schonback for Parks Canada in 1974 and 1975. The features are hopelessly intermingled, one disturbed by the other.‘ Over the years several box hearths were found at L’Anse aux Meadows, none of them are clearly associated with a Groswater occupation, in fact one has a date of AD 670+/-100 (Qu-363) which suggests it is Middle Dorset. However, box hearths are rare on Middle Dorset sites. So, given the amount of disturbance at L’Anse aux Meadows it is not entirely impossible these features are Groswater, but we may never know for sure.

Several Groswater sites contain architectural remains (Reader 1997; Auger 1984; Loring & Cox 1986). Perhaps the best known architectural remains at a Labrador Groswater site come from the Postville Pentecostal site. In 1976 Groswater lithics were discovered near and under the local Pentecostal church by a Smithsonian field crew. The rain drip-line off the roof of the church had excavated a shallow trench that was literally paved with Groswater lithic debitage and artifacts. When the Smithsonian crew looked under the church they could see that it had been built on pilings which had minimally damaged the site. They learned that this church was to be removed and a new one built in the same location in 1977. So, they made arrangements to fly-in to the village in 1977 and excavate the site before construction of the new church. The project was a joint Newfoundland Museum and Smithsonian Institution project co-directed by Brenda Clark and Dr. Stephen Loring (with Philip Hiscock and Eric Loring as part of the team). Based on the material recovered along the coast by Dr. Fitzhugh, the crew expected to find a tent ring and a few dozen artifacts but were astonished by the richness and density of the site once it was opened up. They excavated or partially excavated several mid-passage type dwellings with hearths from a total of ten identified structures. They recovered nearly 2000 lithic artifacts including 25 box-based points, 43 side-blades, 61 notched bifaces, nearly 800 chert microblades and more than 100 quartz crystal microblades. A majority (56%) of the artifacts were made of a mottled reddish-brown, green, grey and tan Ordovician chert which likely comes from the island of Newfoundland. So the site was huge with an extensive lithic collection (Loring & Cox 1986).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Postville site is the story the lithics tell. Groswater sites, all the way up at the northern tip of Labrador at Nunaingok, contain distinctive box-based points made of Newfoundland chert, while the Groswater assemblages on the Island have some Ramah (from northern Labrador). This is evidence of the existence of an impressive exchange of raw materials and information throughout the Palaeoeskimo world and an impressive degree of mobility! Loring and Cox made the argument that maritime adapted people, living essentially in a linear, i.e. coastal, environment, need to construct social mechanisms that enable them to have access to distant resources and neighbours should the local resources become compromised (Loring & Cox 1986).

Perhaps the best known architectural remains at a Newfoundland Groswater site come from the Factory Cove site, near Cow Head. The Factory Cove site was found by James Tuck in 1976 and it was excavated by Reginald Auger in 1981. Auger uncovered several features including a tent ring with an outline of stone measuring 4×4 metres; a bilobate dwelling that contained a mid-passage hearth; and a lean-to dwelling.

Excavation of Factory Cove in 1981 (Auger 1984)
Excavation of Factory Cove in 1981 (Auger 1984).
Factory Cove in 2015.
Factory Cove in 2015.

The Groswater lithic industry includes the typical plano-convex, box-based endblades used in harpoons, unnotched endblades, a variety of bifaces, chipped and ground burin-like tools, ovate and circular sideblades, corner spurred unifacial endscrapers and microblades. The Groswater people typically used several different types of lithic raw material, the most common being Cow Head chert, however, soapstone, quartzite, nephrite and slate have also been found in Groswater sites.

The Groswater tool kit is based on flake reduction. The first step to make a Groswater tool is to detach a large flake from a core. Regardless of the shape of the flake it was thinned until it was suitable for further modification. Only then did the flaking for the final shape take place. In the case of bifacially flaked knives, the end product was dictated by the shape of the thinned blank.

The first excavation I was part of was near Cox’s Cove on the west coast of the island with David Reader. We estimated that the site had eight Groswater houses, two possible Dorset houses, and a very late Little Passage-Beothuk house as well as several middens with excellent faunal preservation. In 1997 we excavated an oval Groswater house measuring approximately 5×5 metres. The house was surrounded by a mound of discarded fire cracked rock, lithic material and faunal remains.

Excavation of the outer perimeter wall of a Groswater house at Parke's Beach (Reader).
Excavation of the outer perimeter wall of a Groswater house near Cox’s Cove (Reader).

This excavation had such an impact on me that I wrote my Honours Thesis on Groswater unnotched endblades. The Groswater made distinctive side notched endblades for hafting, so much so that they are often referred to as ‘box-based’ endblades. Examples a & b in the photo of Groswater endblades above are good examples. However, triangular or unnotched endblades often are part of a collection from Groswater sites. Examples l, m & n in the photo of Groswater endblades above are good examples. For my Honours Thesis I searched 75 unnotched endblades from the Factory Cove and Postville sites for use-wear using a microscope. I was curious to know if these artifacts were tools or just a stage to becoming ‘box-based’ endblades. The use-wear I found suggested unnotched endblades were used as cutting and or scraping tools; they were much more than just one of the steps to a finished product.

I have always personally found that this was an interesting culture to study and there is still so much to learn. For example, Anton looked at the relationship between the Groswater and the preceding Early Dorset and concluded that while contemporaneous, both groups tried to avoid each other through a division of land use. However, a recent genetic study suggested that the people of these archaeologically recognized Palaeoeskimo cultures were related. So why the avoidance? Why the different tool kits? Was it just a cultural difference, i.e. they were basically the same people but they just preferred to live differently? How much of a role did environment play in these differences? Is Groswater just a regional variant of Early Dorset and the later Dorset?  So many questions yet to be answered.


Anton, Elaine
2004 St. John’s Harbour 5 HeCi-30 and an Examination of Groswater and Early Dorset Relationships in Labrador.  MA, MUN.

Auger, Reginald
1984  Factory Cove: Recognition and Definition of the Early Palaeo-Eskimo Period in Newfoundland. MA, MUN.

Erwin, John
2003 A Groswater Palaeoeskimo feature from Coachman’s Cove, Newfoundland. Études/Inuit/Studies, 27(1-2),435-449.

Fitzhugh,W.W.
1972 Environmental Archaeology and Cultural Systems in Hamilton Inlet, Labrador. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, 16, Washington.

Hull, Stephen
1997 A New Perspective on Groswater Palaeoeskimo Unnotched Endblades. Hons., MUN.

Loring, Stephen & Steven Cox
1986 The Postville Pentecostal Groswater Site, Kaipokok Bay, Labrador. Palaeo-Eskimo Cultures in Newfoundland, Labrador and Ungava. Reports in Archaeology No. 1, Memorial University of Newfoundland, pp 65-94.

Reader, David
1997 Archaeological Excavations at Parke’s Beach, Bay of Islands, 1996: Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo and Beothuk Components.

Renouf, M.A.P.
2003  A review of Palaeoeskimo dwelling structures in Newfoundland and Labrador. Études/Inuit/Studies, 27(1-2):375-416.

Wallace, Birgitta
1989 Native occupations at L’Anse aux Meadows. DRAFT.

Religion in the Archaeological Record

Religion and its associated rituals is a very personal thing to most people but it is an important thing for archaeologists to understand. Religion guides people and entire cultures through numerous aspects of everyday life from how they handle death to how they relate to the natural world. While being mostly intangible, religion can be hard to recognize archaeologically. However, there are times when it is plainly obvious. The following are just a few examples of religion and its associated rituals from the archaeological record of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Roman Catholic or Anglican Ornate Iron Cross This cross is made of iron and some yellow metal with traces of gold gilt work.
Roman Catholic or Anglican cross from Ferryland is made of iron and yellow metal with traces of gold gilt work

The cross shown above was found at Ferryland in the forge. It is made mostly of iron and lined with brass with traces of gold on the surface indicating that it was once gilt. There are areas of the cross that appear to be where gems may have been. The forge building was destroyed in the mid-17th century meaning the cross is from the early part of occupation at the Colony. Since its discovery the cross has been examined by several experts and they cannot say for certain if it was used in the Roman Catholic or Anglican church. This is not surprising given that the idea of religious tolerance was written into the Charter of Avalon and the later Charter of Maryland by the founder of both colonies, Lord Baltimore (Colony of Avalon & Heritage NL).

In 2014 a small (2.8 centimeters (1.1 inches) wide at the arms) copper crucifix was found at Ferryland. While the top of the crucifix is broken it depicts a simple representation of Christ on the front and the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on the back. Unlike the iron cross discussed above this artifact is clearly Catholic in origin.

Crucifix front
Crucifix front
Crucifix back
Crucifix back

Dr. Peter Pope spent several years surveying the French Shore of the Northern Peninsula for early historic French fishing sites. He found several historic graveyards and sites that contained a calvary or calvaire in French, which is a type of monumental public crucifix, sometimes encased in an open shrine. In fact they recovered so much data on religious items and sites that Melissa Burns was able to write her 2008 Master’s thesis on this data entitled Symbols of the French Presence in Newfoundland: Breton Crosses and Calvaries – 1680 to Today.

North Bay 2, EjAu-41, Area B, Feature 5, anomalous vegetation shadow of grass on heath at a local summit, a likely cross or calvaire site (Pope 2010:45).
North Bay 2, EjAu-41, Area B, Feature 5, anomalous vegetation shadow of grass on
heath at a local summit, a likely cross or calvaire site (Pope 2010:45).
(Burns 2008: 88)
Dr. Pope and his crew were able to confirm the local tradition that this cross was built by the French navy in the 1930s, replacing an earlier cross much closer to the water (Burns 2008: 88)

Religion and its associated cultural rituals tend to be harder to see in the archaeological record the further we go into the past. Fortunately, in some instances, we can draw analogies between current practices and the archaeological record. Of course there is always the standard note of caution when drawing direct analogies between current practices and the past; just because something has meaning today does not mean it had the same meaning in the past.

A good example of a ritual that has been potentially recognized in the archaeological record is the ritual of the mukushan practiced by the Innu of Quebec and Labrador. The mukushan is an important communal meal held in honor of the spirit of the caribou after a successful hunt in which the caribou long bones are split and ground up. The remaining bones have to be properly disposed. Anthony Jenkinson in Volume 13 of the PAO Review states that there are “…uniform Innu rules which dictate the procedures for treatment of caribou leg bones. They are in summary: the major long bones, (humerus, radio-ulna, tibia and femur) are subject to strict rules governing their ritual treatment and disposal. The listed long leg bones must be scraped clean of meat and underlying membranes, until they are almost whitened. The oil bearing nubs (epiphyses) from these bones are broken off crushed into a paste and boiled in water to extract oil. The bone mash fragments are drained and put into the fire” (Jenkinson 2014: 95).

Penute Pukue Jr preparing caribou long bones for mukushan, Border Beacon 2008 (Jenkinson 2014).
Penute Pukue Jr preparing caribou long bones for mukushan, Border Beacon 2008 (Jenkinson 2014).

Large long bone mash deposits, similar to those produced at recent mukushan  feasts have been found in several archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. Jenkinson has found a large deposit at the site called Unkueiu at Kamestastin Lake which was radiocarbon dated to 710 +/-30 BP. Long bone mash deposits have also been found at Winter Cove-4 and Daniel Rattle-1 in Labrador. On the Island they have been found at the Bank site in Terra Nova National Park, Deer Lake Beach, Boyd’s Cove and most recently at Birchy Island Tickle and Birchy Lake 9. All of these sites date to the late Amerindian period of the province’s past. While it is not certain the precontact occupants of those sites were ritually disposing of the bones as would happen as at mukushan feasts today, they are similar deposits.

It appears as though the Beothuk may have participated in a mukushan-like feast based on the presence of long bone mash deposits at Boyd’s Cove. As well, in 1811 Lieut. Buchan noted several Beothuk wigwams on Red Indian Lake had a collection of nearly 300 caribou long bones stored, likely in preparation for a similar feast (Howley 1915: 79). We also know the Beothuk had rituals regarding red ochre. They covered their faces and entire body, as well as their clothes, weapons, utensils and canoes, with red ochre. The ochre was considered to be a mark of tribal identity, and the first coat was applied in infancy as a sign of initiation and a major ochring ceremony was held once a year.

A new aspect of Beothuk religion and ritual was recently postulated by Kristensen & Holly in their 2013 paper entitled Birds, Burials and Sacred Cosmology of the Indigenous Beothuk of Newfoundland, Canada. Simply put they suggest that the pendants found at many Beothuk sites and burial sites represent parts of Arctic Terns such as their wing and tail feathers and feet. These birds and the pendants that represent them form a bird cosmology that was central to Beothuk religion. “…the bone pendant, which depicts avian anatomy, movement and skeletal motifs suggestive of a transformative state between life and death. Pendants and bird parts are associated with burials, which we suggest connects birds to a belief in soul flight. The distribution of Beothuk burial sites on small coastal islands — places strongly associated with seabirds — further link the dead to birds. We conclude that birds were spiritual messengers enlisted to bring the dead to the Beothuk ‘happy island’ afterlife” (2013: 50).Kristensen & Holly 3(Kristensen & Holly 2013) Kristensen & Holly 1(Kristensen & Holly 2013) Kristensen & Holly 2(Kristensen & Holly 2013)

How societies deal with their dead is heavily dependent upon religion and ritual. I have written previously of the L’Anse Amour burial mound that was found in the mid 1970s in the Labrador Straits and excavated by Drs. Robert McGhee and James Tuck. That single excavation allowed us to learn a tremendous amount about the Maritime Archaic Indians such as how sophisticated their Maritime adaption was and how the construction of the mound itself showed a very different society than archaeologists would expect from a hunter-gatherer group.

I also wrote recently about several European family burial plots in Conception Bay South and how these family plots were common occurrences prior to the establishment of a formal church cemetery in an area.

This is a brief survey of just a few sites that allow us to see religion in the archaeological record, an aspect of culture which is mostly intangible. As archaeologists we have to use the tangible to see the intangible.

POSTSCRIPT
Of course the possibility that the Beothuk practiced a mukushan-like feast, extensively used red ochre and may have practiced a form of bird cosmology are certainly not the sum total Beothuk belief related practices. In fact other archaeologists have previously postulated alternate explanations for the pendants. In April, I received a comment from another archaeologist regarding Beothuk belief related practices and the Beothuk pendants. See the italicized text below.

Kristensen and Holly’s contention that the Beothuk brought their dead to islands as departure terminals for the soul and that birds ferried their spirits from the islands does not correspond to the facts. Only two Beothuk burials out of a recorded 25 contained one or more bird skulls and only one included bird legs tied to the burial shroud. The burial with the bird legs also included three small replicas of birch  bark canoes and a Mi’kmaw shaman has explained that it is the spirit  of the miniature artifacts that accompanies the spirit of the dead  (artifacts in burials are often broken to release their spirit). If the individual in this burial was to use a canoe spirit to get to the “happy island” he is unlikely to have been taken by a bird.

The pendants have previously been interpreted as representing mammals with a central vertebrae and shoulder and hip joints (Marshall, 1996, pgs.387-391). Three-dimensional pendants in the shape of bear (?) claws with two of them prominently displaying joints would support this idea. There is evidence that the Beothuk celebrated mokashan – a meal in honour of the caribou spirit – the caribou having been their most important source of food. But other mammals were likely to be honoured as well, including the bear which played an important role in other native cultures.

Considering that it was mammals who provided most of the Beothuk’s sustenance as well as clothing and other useful materials, such as bone and sinews, it is suggested that most of the pendants were representing these animals rather than birds and their feathers, though the short 2, 3, or 4 pronged pendants which are very much in the minority may have been symbols of birds.


 

Burns, Mélissa
2008 Symbols of the French Presence in Newfoundland – Breton Crosses and Calvaries – 1680 to Today. MUN, MA.

Howley, James
1915  The Beothucks or Red Indians, The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland. Cambridge University Press.

Jenkinson, Anthony & Jean-Pierre Ashini
2014  Tshikapisk Archaeological Activities at Kamestastin, Spring 2014. In PAO Review, Volume 13.

Kristensen, Todd J. & Donald H. Holly Jr.
2013  Birds, Burials and Sacred Cosmology of the Indigenous Beothuk of Newfoundland, Canada. Cambridge Archaeological Journal , 23 (01), pp 41 53.

Marshall, Ingeborg
1996  A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Quebec.

Pope, Peter
2008  The Archaeology of France’s Migratory Fishery on Newfoundland’s Petit Nord. In Christian Roy and Hélène Côté, eds, Rêves d’Amériques: Regard sur l’archéologie de la Nouvelle France, 38-54. Montréal:  Archéologiques, Collection hors série 2.

2010 An Archaeology of the Petit Nord – Summer 2009 Preliminary Report.  09.12.