The Curtis site, a Maritime Archaic cemetery

One of the best known archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador is the Maritime Archaic cemetery at Port au Choix. The site was found in 1967 during the excavation of a building. Dr. James Tuck of Memorial University investigated this discovery in the fall of 1967 and returned to the site for the next two summers. It would become one of the most instructive Maritime Archaic sites yet excavated.  The site revealed approximately 100 graves covered with red ochre. The excellent preservation allowed for the recovery of an incredible array of organic artifacts including daggers of ivory, antler, or bone, bone toggling harpoons, barbed bone points, bone awls and fine needles, small chisels and knives made from beaver incisors as well as shell-beaded clothing. They also recovered numerous chipped stone projectile points, slate spears, gouges, axes, adzes and lance artifacts. The artifacts and the organization of the burials indicated an elaborate and sophisticated technology used by these people and suggested a complex social organization. The information gained from the excavation would form the basis of the definition of the Maritime Archaic Tradition. The site, along with the extensive Palaeoeskimo occupation of Phillip’s Garden, would become a National Historic site of Canada.

The year before the 1967 discovery in Port au Choix, brothers Frank and Stanley Curtis dug a large hole for an outhouse on their property in Back Harbour, Twillingate. They found a slate spear point, followed by thirty-four more stone artifacts. Provincial authorities were informed and they contacted Dr. William Taylor, Director of the former National Museum of Man in Ottawa. The museum sent archaeologist Donald MacLeod to assess the new find and carry out archaeological work if needed. Over the next four summers MacLeod found, tested and excavated nine new archaeological sites including the Maritime Archaic cemetery in Back Harbour. Unfortunately, MacLeod never wrote a report on any of the work, all we have are rough field notes. As a result the sites are relatively unknown, despite their importance, particularly the cemetery.

Map of Back Harbour drawn by Don MacLeod, showing the locations of the confirmed Dorset Paleoeskimo and Maritime Archaic Amerindian sites (courtesy Donald MacLeod) (Temple 2007). Red dot is Curtis site.
Map of Back Harbour drawn by Don MacLeod, showing the locations of the confirmed Dorset
Palaeoeskimo and Maritime Archaic Amerindian sites (courtesy Donald MacLeod) (Temple 2007). Red dot is Curtis site.

The information in this post is based on MacLeod’s cursory field notes and two relatively recent reports that were written based on those notes. In 1993 Paul A. Thibaudeau wrote an essay entitled The Curtis Site: Its Place Within the Maritime Archaic as part of an Honours degree for Carleton University. In 2007 Blair Temple under contract to the Provincial Archaeology Office wrote The 1966-69 Archaeological Excavations At Back Harbour, North Twillingate Island, Newfoundland which provided a synopsis of all of MacLeod’s work in the Twillingate area.

MacLeod excavated the cemetery from 1966 to 1968. During those three field seasons no human remains were recovered but around 300 tools were found. Analysis was performed on the soil and ochre areas that were believed to be burials. That analysis revealed abnormally high amounts of phosphorus and calcium, compared to control samples which Macleod interpreted to mean the former presence of bone. Similar ‘boneless’ cemeteries had been found along the coast of northeastern North American since the late 19th century and became known as Red Paint Burials and later as the Moorehead Burial Tradition, after the archaeologist who would first describe them. The cemetery at Port au Choix was one of the first Moorehead cemeteries with human remains. The culture of the people who created the burials at Port au Choix would later become known as the Maritime Archaic Tradition. The people of this tradition also created the cemetery at Back Harbour but initially MacLeod referred to it as either a Red Paint or Moorehead cemetery.

Over-head photo of the Curtis property (circled in red), facing approximately north (Temple 2007).
Overhead photo of the Curtis property (circled in red), facing approximately north (Temple 2007).

The initial 1966 hole dug by the Curtis brothers was approximately 4×4 feet in size, and 3 to 4 feet deep. MacLeod would expand upon this and open as many as 10 units near the hole dug by the brothers. In 1966 MacLeod spent most of his time in Twillingate excavating the cemetery which he identified as a late Archaic Red Paint burial. He recovered 52 artifacts, several radiocarbon samples and thought the burials may have been the result of cremation.

He noted that burials 1 & 2, excavated in 1966, contained separate layers of ochre at depths between three to five feet. To MacLeod this suggested that the site was used previously. The uppermost ochre layers were covered by an irregular deposit of angular rocks, while the grave intrusions were nearly six feet deep, with strongly sloping sides. He speculated that this was due in part to the gravel matrix that the graves were dug into.

Rough profile sketch of one of the burials from MacLeod's field notebook (MacLeod 1966).
Rough profile sketch of one of the burials from MacLeod’s field notebook (MacLeod 1966).

MacLeod’s notes record that many of the tools were covered in red ochre or found in oval deposits of red ochre, usually about 1 to 2 metres below the surface. The longitudinal axis of the tools lay oriented East-West.

Plan map of Burials 1 and 2 (the first to be excavated). It appears that these occur in Trenches A and A1, and possibly extend into A2 and A3 as well. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple 2007).
Plan map of Burials 1 and 2 (the first to be excavated). It appears that these occur in Trenches A and A1, and possibly extend into A2 and A3 as well. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple 2007).
 Profile through Burial 1, in a southeast/northwest direction. The precise location of the profile within the burial is not known. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple).
Profile through Burial 1, in a southeast/northwest direction. The precise
location of the profile within the burial is
not known. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple).

During his two week 1967 field season he added a further 400 square feet to the excavation and found another 75 artifacts. At this point he believed the site was significant enough to require a third season.

MacLeod finished the Curtis excavation in 1968 and summarized the three seasons at the site in his notes recording that they recovered more than 300 artifacts from just 15 burials. They had four radiocarbon dates 3720±130 (Gak 834); 3560±140 (Gak 758); 3200±90 (Gak 1254) and 6920±160 (GSC-834). The last date was rejected by MacLeod. The other three dates fit perfectly within the late Archaic, in fact the date of 3200±90 was and remains the latest date for the Archaic on the Island. The charcoal samples all come from the grave intrusions and were either in association with or directly mixed in with the red ochre deposits in the graves. Thus the charcoal may be related either to the cremation of human remains or to the manufacture of red ochre, or both.

Approximately 300 typical late Archaic artifacts were recovered including various woodworking tools like ground slate gouges, axes and adzes. As well, chert projectile points, ground slate lances/bayonets (including one with serrated edges) and soapstone plummets were found. There were also some more unusual items such as sheets of mica and an oval piece of copper that was found below the rocks in the horizon of burial 6. MacLeod also recovered numerous natural stones including at least one dumbbell shaped stone that was encrusted with ochre on the lower, larger lobe. This object may have been used as a pestle for grinding ochre. Some of the other natural stones were little more than rounded pebbles, some were covered in ochre and others were plain white quartzite or quartz stones. Similar stones were recovered at Port au Choix where they were often found near the head of the deceased.

Another unusual artifact was interpreted by MacLeod as a ground Argillite netting needle found in Burial  13 that was caked in ochre. A similar but smaller object was recovered from the Port au Choix cemetery.

Netting needle (bottom) (Thibaudeau 1993).
Netting needle (bottom) (Thibaudeau 1993).
Netting needles (#s 3 & 4) (Tuck 1976).
Netting needles (#s 3 & 4) (Tuck 1976).

The quantity of these artifacts is not evenly distributed among the burials. Burials 4, 6, and 13 have the most variety and greatest number of tools and other items, containing 40, 52, and 76 respectively, or 168 artifacts in all. More than half of all the artifacts were found in these three burials. There are four other burials in close proximity to these central three that have another 86 artifacts. Meaning more than 80% of all the artifacts were clustered with these seven central burials in a 26 foot long x 16 foot wide area. Thibaudeau has suggested these central burials, 4, 6, and 13 were of ‘important’ people with successively less ‘important’ people buried near them (1993:32).

Rough map of the Curtis site based on Thibaudeau’s interpretation of MacLeod notes
Rough map of the Curtis site based on Thibaudeau’s interpretation of MacLeod notes

Jim Tuck recorded that there were many similarities between the Curtis and Port au Choix cemeteries as seen in the burial practices which were ‘…nearly identical to those at Port au Choix with the use of red ochre to cover flexed burials (inferred from grave size), the accompaniment of rich grave furnishings, and the grave covering of rocks or small boulders.’ (1976: 102). As well the radiocarbon dates show the two cemeteries were contemporaneous. In fact the only major differences between the two cemeteries are that there were around 100 burials found at Port au Choix and the latter was fully documented in reports and papers. Despite these differences Curtis is no less significant.


MacLeod, Donald
1966 Newfoundland 1966. Fieldnotes. CMC Ms. No. 940.
1967 Season Field Notes.  CMC Ms. No. 938, Book 1.
1968 Newfoundland 1968 Book II.

Temple, Blair
2007 The 1966-69 Archaeological Excavations at Back Harbour, North Twillingate Island, Newfoundland.

Thibaudeau, Paul
1993 The Curtis Site- Its Place Within the Maritime Archaic

Tuck, James
1976 Ancient People of Port au Choix- The Excavation of an Archaic Indian Cemetery in Newfoundland.

Urve Linnamae in Placentia Bay in 1970

From June 26 to August 3, 1970, Dr. Urve Linnamae and her crew carried out an archaeological survey of the Placentia Bay area of Newfoundland while she was under contract to the National Museum of Canada. Prior to this Dr. Linnamae conducted excavations at the significant Palaeoeskimo sites of Cape Ray Light in 1967 and the Pittman site in White Bay in 1967 and 1968. In 1975 she wrote the influential monograph The Dorset Culture: A Comparative Study in Newfoundland and the Arctic. Technical Papers of the Newfoundland Museum, No.1 in which she discusses ‘…the position of Newfoundland within the Dorset culture area and the nature of Dorset culture regional variation.’ Dr. Linnamae went on to become an associate professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Saskatchewan and retired from that position in 2003 (Linnamae 1971 & Biography).

The National Museum of Canada focused on this area of Newfoundland for several reasons including:

  • the lack of known archaeological sites in the area at the time;
  • an attempt to increase the known geographic distribution of the Dorset;
  • to define the ecological adaptations and relationships within this southern and environmentally different area of Newfoundland and the Dorset culture (Linnamae 1971).

In particular the survey focused on the islands of inner Placentia Bay and around Come by Chance and Arnold’s Cove. The team also briefly visited Old Perlican and Gooseberry Cove, Trinity Bay (Linnamae 1971).

During the survey the team found or revisited 12 archaeology sites. Six of these were very small sites and two were spot finds of just single artifacts. The visit to Old Perlican was for a revisit of a known site and to view the associated collection held by a local person. All of the sites had some precontact component, most commonly it was Dorset Palaeoeskimo. Several sites had either a Maritime Archaic or Recent Amerindian component.  Finally, four sites had a European component (Linnamae 1971). In this post I’ll tell you what Linnamae and her team found at four of these sites.

General area of Placentia Bay Archaeological Survey. 1 Old Perlican 2 Heart's Ease 3 Bordeaux 2 4 Bordeaux 1 5 Long Island Neck 6 New Grove 7 Great Brule 8 Tack's Beach 9 Dog Harbour 10 Unnamed Cove 11 Come-by-Chance 12 Little Brule (Linnamae 1971)
General area of Placentia Bay Archaeological Survey.
1 Old Perlican
2 Heart’s Ease
3 Bordeaux 2
4 Bordeaux 1
5 Long Island Neck
6 New Grove
7 Great Brule
8 Tack’s Beach
9 Dog Harbour
10 Unnamed Cove
11 Come by Chance
12 Little Brule
(Linnamae 1971)

The largest site found by Linnamae was New Grove (CkAm-01). This site is located in a small cove on the eastern shore of Long Island, the second largest island in Placentia Bay. The site consists of Maritime Archaic, Dorset Palaeoeskimo and European components. Unfortunately the European occupation seems to have disturbed the earlier occupations. As well, the site has been heavily eroded along the beach side by high seas and winter ice (Linnamae 1971).

PLATE I New Grove CkAm-01 Looking down at site area towards the North. Seated figure in midground is at Test Trench 3. PLATE II Looking at eroding bank edge at southern part of site. From the water Test Trench 3 is near the right side of the photograph. (Linnamae 1971)
PLATE I
New Grove CkAm-01
Looking down at site area towards the North. Seated figure in mid-ground is at Test Trench 3.
PLATE II
Looking at eroding bank edge at southern part of site. From the water Test Trench 3 is near the right side of the photograph.
(Linnamae 1971)

Linnamae opened four small test trenches along the eroding bank at the beach near the center of the cove. From these trenches and observing the eroding bank she determined that the occupation layer only minimally extended beyond the area of her trenches. Despite the impact on the site they recovered 2694 pieces of cultural material including 225 artifacts and a sample of charcoal from the Dorset component which returned a date of 1730±80 (Gak-3276) BP (Linnamae 1971).

They recovered 42 endblades most of which exhibited grinding on the basal element and sometimes over the whole endblade surface. All of these were made on a white/grey chert which later became known as Trinity Bay chert among archaeologists. We now know that geologically this chert is actually part of the Conception Formation and more accurately should be referred to as Conception Formation chert. The extensive grinding and white/grey chert are typical of Trinity/Placentia Bay Dorset occupations. Linnamae and her crew also recovered 18 microblades, 14 bifaces, two pieces of ground slate, four abraders, one endscraper and a fragment of a soapstone pot (Linnamae 1971).

Conception Formation chert typically exhibits a whitish-beige or brownish-beige weathering rind that can be chalky, however when freshly broken surfaces display a blue-grey (battleship) colour. This colour and the distinctive weathering constitutes a clear Conception Group signature (LeBlanc 2008: 59).

New Grove Artifacts a-h endblades i blade fragment j endscraper k-o microblades (Linnamae 1971)
New Grove Artifacts
a-h endblades
i blade fragment
j endscraper
k-o microblades
(Linnamae 1971)

The recovery of one endscraper from a Dorset occupation is unusual, Linnamae noted this in her report and that endscrapers are usually one of the most frequent artifact categories found on Dorset sites. Therefore her preliminary interpretation of the site was that hunting and the manufacture of hunting implements were the primary function of the site (Linnamae 1971).

In 2002 I revisited New Grove with a colleague. We found a few small artifacts on the beach and noted that the site is continuing to erode.

New Grove in 2002
New Grove in 2002

Long Island Neck (CkAm-02) is located on a partially grass covered sand bar near the northern tip of Long Island, just two kilometres north of New Grove. There are high rock outcrops on both ends of the sand bar so the site was limited to just the sand bar. With almost no grass cover on the north end of the bar the majority of the site was found on the south end. Even when the site was found by Linnamae in 1970 it had undergone heavy erosion (Linnamae 1971). 

Long Island Neck CkAm-02 Looking down at site towards the North. In immediate foreground is the remaining grassy area containing a buried occupation area
Long Island Neck CkAm-02
Looking down at site towards the North.
In immediate foreground is the remaining grassy area containing a buried occupation area.

Linnamae and crew opened two trenches in the southern area and recovered 470 pieces of cultural material including 25 artifacts and a charcoal sample that returned a date of 2240±210 (Gak-3274). The site has a possible Maritime Archaic and a Dorset component. The date however is too late for the Archaic and would be one of the earliest dates for Dorset on the Island of Newfoundland if correct. Interestingly, the Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05) site was found by Linnamae in 1970 just outside Arnold’s Cove and just 9 kilometres from Long Island Neck. It had a single Dorset occupation dated to 1090 ± 90 (Gak-3275) making it one of the latest dates for Dorset on the Island of Newfoundland (Linnamae 1971 & 1975).

Nine of the recovered artifacts are endblades, three of which are ground on the basal half. Four microblades and a microblade core were recovered. As well there were four fragmentary bifaces and a piece of ground slate. Given the small assemblage it’s hard to say much about the site; Linnamae did suggest that it represented a repeatedly used small hunting camp (Linnamae 1971).

Long Island Neck CkAm-02 a-f endblades g New Grove h blade i uniface jendblade k microblade core l knife fragment m microblade n side-notched point o biface p ground stone implement (Linnamae 1971)
Long Island Neck CkAm-02
a-f endblades
g from the New Grove site
h blade
i uniface
j endblade
k microblade core
l knife fragment
m microblade
n side-notched point
o biface
p ground stone implement
(Linnamae 1971)

I also revisited Long Island Neck in 2002. As at New Grove, the site was still eroding but not completely gone and we found a few small artifacts eroded out on the beach.

Long Island Neck, to the left is south, to the right is north.
Long Island Neck, to the left is south, to the right is north.
Close up shot of the south end of Long Island Neck.
Close-up shot of the south end of Long Island Neck.

Linnamae also found two sites (CkAm-04 & 05) on either side of Bordeaux Head which is a broad sandy point of land that separates Come by Chance from Arnold’s Cove. Bordeaux 1 (CkAm-04) was a very small site consisting of 13 artifacts only one of which, a retouched flake, was found in situ (undisturbed). Everything else was eroded out on the beach, including a partial Dorset endblade (Linnamae 1971). 

Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05) was a more prolific site with more than 100 pieces of cultural material recovered including endblades and microblades from an in situ occupation layer. This layer also contained an arrangement of stones which Linnamae interpreted as a hearth. A carbon sample was taken and returned a date of 1090 ± 90 (Gak-3275) which, as stated above, is one of the latest dates for Dorset on the Island of Newfoundland (Linnamae 1971 & 1975).

Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05) Looking along beach toward the North at Test Trench 1, which is located on the grassy slope in front of the trees. (Linnamae 1971)
Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05)
Looking along beach toward the North at
Test Trench 1, which is located on the grassy
slope in front of the trees.
(Linnamae 1971)

In 2005 I was fortunate enough to visit the Bordeaux 2 site as well. Although no artifacts were found it is believe that the site is pretty much how it was when Linammae found it in 1971.

Looking at the Bordeaux 2 site.
Looking at the Bordeaux 2 site.

After this survey Urve Linnamae wrote her 1975 book The Dorset Culture- A Comparative Study in Newfoundland and the Arctic. For the most part this work is based on her excavations at the Cape Ray site near Port aux Basques and the Pittman site in White Bay. As stated earlier this was an influential work, particularly for anyone studying the Dorset culture on the Island of Newfoundland. For example, Doug Robbins in the abstract of  his 1985 MA thesis dealing with the Dorset at Stock Cove referred to Linnamae’s book as a landmark in the history of Newfoundland Dorset archaeology. While Cape Ray and the Pittman sites are at the centre of this work, the Dorset sites found during the lesser known 1971 survey are also incorporated and play a role in this significant work. 


LeBlanc, Sylvie
2008 Middle Dorset Variability and Regional Cultural Traditions- a Case Study from Newfoundland and St. Pierre and Miquelon. PhD, University of Alberta.

Linnamae, Urve
1971 Preliminary Report of an Archaeological Survey of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

1975   The Dorset Culture- A Comparative Study in Newfoundland and the Arctic.

Linnamae Biography, University of Saskatchewan
http://library2.usask.ca/spcoll/University%20Authors/UA2006-07/UA%202007%20Linnamae%20Bio.doc

Robbins, Doug
1985  Stock Cove, Trinity Bay: The Dorset Eskimo Occupation Of Newfoundland From A Southeastern Perspective. MA, MUN.

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.

The Archaic site at Forteau Point, southern Labrador

Residents of southern Labrador and areas of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland were well aware of the archaeological sites in their presence long before Diamond Jenness and William J. Wintemberg conducted preliminary surveys in those areas in the late 1920s. In 1949 and 1961 Elmer Harp conducted more archaeological fieldwork in those areas aided, no doubt, by the knowledgeable locals and the records of Jenness and Wintemberg.

During Harp’s 1949 and 1961 work he found and or excavated nearly 20 precontact sites. Among that number are several very well-known sites including Pinware Hill, currently the oldest recorded site in the province. One of his lesser known sites was Forteau Point (EiBf-02), Harp named it Forteau Bay 1 (it was renamed by McGhee & Tuck in the early 1970s). He classified Forteau Point as a major occupation site which he described as having:
. . . the appearance of significant occupations, possibly of long duration, and they spread over areas that may reach an extent of three or four acres. The material obtained from them is characterized by a high degree of uniformity (Harp 1951).

Forteau Point.
Forteau Point (Martin).

Harp returned to Forteau Point in 1961 collecting more cultural material. In his 1963 article detailing his survey and excavation work in the province he records that he recovered 73 artifacts from the site including: 13 points, 24 knives, 8 scrapers, 8 adzes, 1 gouge, 3 ground slate implements, 15 indeterminate fragments and 1 core. Forty-five of the artifacts were made of chert, 15 of quartzite, 11 of silicified slate, 1 red jasper and 1 was made of andesite. It is not clear if the total number of artifacts was from both years (1963). Unfortunately most of the site was ‘. . . marked by poorly stabilized dunes and scarred by deep systems of blowouts‘ (Harp 1951). So, much of the cultural material collected by Harp was out of cultural context.

Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp's 1951 publication.
Artifacts 4, 5, 6 and 7 are from Forteau Point shown in Harp’s 1951 publication.
Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp's 1963 publication.
Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp’s 1963 publication.

James Tuck and Robert McGhee spent several field seasons in the early 1970s in southern Labrador revisiting some of the sites found by Harp and surveying other areas looking for new sites. In 1973 they revisited Harp’s Forteau Bay 1, renaming it Forteau Point. Like Harp, they found the site to be eroding but they did surface collect more cultural material including: ‘. . . a few notched or expanded stem projectile points, many flakes of slate, felsite and quartzite and a large slate bayonet, and a probable felsite prismatic blade‘. They were also able to find a small area of the site that was undisturbed which they excavated, recovering flakes and a small sample of wood charcoal (Tuck & McGee 1973).

In June of 1974 Tuck and McGhee returned to southern Labrador focusing their work on several sites including Forteau Point. Once again the site produced cultural material, most of which was surface collected from the deflated sand dunes. However, they were also able to find two small areas of in situ deposits. Through their surface collection and excavations they noted that:
Material appears to be concentrated in a series of areas, each a few metres in diameter, arranged in a linear pattern along the flat surface of the point. The distinctiveness of this pattern, as well as the high proportion of ground stone tools and the scarcity of chipping waste, suggests that this may not have been an occupation site but may have served a ceremonial function.’ (McGhee & Tuck 1975).

To add to the idea of a ceremonial function for the site, over several years of revisits 18 large bifaces were recovered from the area ranging in size from 29 cm to 38 cm in length. Clearly, such large bifaces were not meant for hunting. Tuck 1993 states ‘The four largest specimens were found in a single cache and the others in association with large patches of red ochre . . .‘ Tuck speculates that these 4 bifaces formed part of a precontact ‘lithophone’ which would have functioned similar to a xylophone.

As stated above Tuck made several revisits to the site. During those revisits he found more bifaces and more charcoal and ochre deposits.

All of the charcoal recovered from the site resulted in two radiocarbon dates. The first, 5399 ± 58 BP, came from material submitted by Harp. The second date of 5035 ± 65 BP came from a biface cache recovered by McGhee and Tuck. Both dates clearly indicate the site is Archaic in origin.

Archaeologists believe the Archaic people who moved into Labrador did so in two major waves, the first came just after the glaciers left the land. We first see their cultural remains at sites in southern Labrador like Pinware Hill and Cowpath ~9000 to 8000 years ago. Their cultural remains are found in the province up to ~3500 years ago. Archaeologists have recently started to refer to these people as the Labrador Archaic, when I learned about this group in University they were called the ‘Northern Branch’. Around 6000 years ago a second wave of people moved in to southern Labrador and are archaeologically referred to as the Maritime Archaic, when I learned about this group in University they were called the ‘Southern Branch’. Their cultural remains are found in the province up to ~3000 years ago. The major difference between the two can be seen in their stone tools. Labrador Archaic spearheads tend to be nipple based transitioning to a stemmed base. Maritime Archaic spearheads tend to be notched in some way. Based on the stone stools recovered by Harp, McGhee and Tuck, both Archaic groups appear to have made use of the sandy beaches at Forteau Point.

In 1986 the site was revisited by Reginald Auger and Marianne Stopp during their survey conducted from the Quebec-Labrador border north to Cape Charles. They noted considerable ongoing erosion and that a ditch had been dug through the site in that summer which was accelerating the erosion (Auger & Stopp 1986).

More recent visits have noted ongoing erosion and a considerable growth in alders. No cultural material beyond flakes has been recovered by an archaeologist from the site recently. After nearly 70 years of yielding secrets to archaeologists the site may finally be finished.


Auger, Reginald & Marianne Stopp
1987 1986 Archaeological Survey of Southern Labrador- Quebec-Labrador Border to Cape Charles.

Harp, Elmer
1951 An Archaeological Survey in the Strait of Belle Isle Area.  American Antiquity, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 205-220.

1963 Evidence of Boreal Archaic Culture in Southern Labrador and Newfoundland.  Paper No. 5. National Museum of Canada, Bulletin

McGhee, Robert & James Tuck
1975 An Archaic Sequence from the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador. National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Paper No. 34, Ottawa.

Tuck, James & Robert McGhee
1973 1973 Fieldwork in the Strait of Belle Isle Region.

1974 Report on Canada Council Grant #S-75-1613 Archaeology of the Strait of Belle Isle Region, Labrador.

Tuck, James
1976 Newfoundland and Labrador Prehistory. National Museum of Man.

1993 Interpreting L’Anse Amour and Southern Labrador Prehistory.

Oh the thinks you can think! – Trinity and Ryan’s Store

Within five kilometres of the community of Trinity there are 39 recorded archaeological sites. These include sites with European (English, French) and European descendant components (Newfoundlander) dating from the 18th to the 20th centuries. There are also a few sites with Precontact components and one with a Dorset Palaeoeskimo component.

Known archaeological sites within 5km of Trinity
Known archaeological sites within 5km of Trinity

Those sites include the remains of an English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war which dates from 1702 – 1713. The site includes the remains of several buildings such as a house and a barn as well as traces of an earthen parapet wall and a number of bastions.

Structure from English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war
Structure from English civil fort constructed during Queen Anne’s war

At Fort Point there is another major English fortification built in 1745/46.  The structures were abandoned and reused several times up to about 1815.  The site also has a Dorset Palaeoeskimo component. Various European structures and earthworks, including a storekeeper’s hut, gun batteries, a gunner’s hut and the remains of a stone military foundation have been identified.

Fort Point
Fort Point

There are underwater sites in the area including several shipwrecks and a few artifact scatters that would have come from old finger piers or objects falling over the sides of ships. At least three of the shipwrecks date to the 20th century but there is another wreck near Fort Point that is thought to date to the 18th century. This vessel is believed to be the Speedwell, a British merchant vessel, which was lost in ice in 1781. This site was partially excavated over several years by members of the Newfoundland Marine Archaeology Society (NMAS) in the late 1970s.

Speedwell anchor (NMAS)
Speedwell anchor (NMAS)

There was a whaling factory in the early 20th century at Maggotty Cove south of Fort Point. In 1904 the Atlantic Whaling and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Job Brothers of St. John’s) built a substantial whaling factory at Maggotty Cove. In its period of operation, the factory processed a total of 472 whales taken by its two catchers, the Fin and the Hump. The factory closed in 1914.

Maggotty Cove whaling factory
Maggotty Cove whaling factory

Perhaps the largest and most complex series of sites in the Trinity area are those associated with the various mercantile firms which operated on the Trinity waterfront from the early 1700s to the early 1900s. Through those centuries the firms were run by the Taverners, Lesters, Garlands and Lester-Garlands and in the twentieth century the Ryan Brothers. In Trinity today the firms are represented by the Lester-Garland Counting House and the Garland (Ryan) Shop. Several of these buildings have been reconstructed and are part of the Provincial Historic Site system in Trinity.

Archaeological work has been conducted several times at the Lester-Garland premises over the years. We have learned though archaeology and historic documentation that the current standing building (reconstructed) is a three story Georgian style brick house modeled after the original which was constructed around 1819-1821. From archaeology in particular we have learned that within and under the ruins of this house is the foundation of the Lester house constructed in 1760 and possibly earlier remains. Archaeology work was first conducted on the site in 1993 before the structure was rebuilt. Since then the site was revisited for various reasons archaeologically nearly 10 times.

1993 excavation within and under the Lester-Garland building.
1993 excavation within and under the Lester-Garland building. Portions of the original early 19th century brick walls are still standing (McAleese)
Lester-Garland building today
Lester-Garland building today

The Lester-Garland building is reasonably well understood from an archaeological stand point. The same cannot be said of the Ryan’s store. There were excavations at the building in 1978, conducted by a Memorial University of Newfoundland archaeology graduate student. Unfortunately the student never completed the graduate program.

A 1940 photo looking at the Lester-Garland building in the back (left) and the Ryan's store building (back, red roof)
A 1940 photo looking at the Lester-Garland building in the back (left) and the Ryan’s store building (back, red roof)

In the intervening years it seems as though the graduate student’s notebooks and maps were misplaced. However, there are a tremendous assortment of artifacts in storage at the Rooms. Most of the artifacts appear to have been labeled and catalogued.

Fortunately there are 13 slides from the excavations which have been scanned and converted to an electronic format. Using these slides and the catalogue sheets I believe a map of the excavation units could be reconstructed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In total for the Ryan’s store site, there are some photos of the excavations, a lot of artifacts and most of the original catalogue forms. Taken together with the extensive historic documentation available for these mercantile establishments, including numerous diaries written in the 18th and 19th centuries, much information could still be learned about this important site. In a shameless plug at furthering research at this site I’ll end with this – if only there was an enterprising young archaeology or history student willing to take on this incomplete project. To quote Dr. Seuss ‘Oh the thinks you can think!’

Canadian Archaeological Association: 47th Annual Meeting

The 47th annual meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) was held in St. John’s last week. The CAA was founded in 1968. Membership includes professional, avocational and student archaeologists, as well as individuals of the general public of any country, who are interested in furthering the objectives of the Association. These objectives are:

  • To promote the increase and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge in Canada;
  • To promote active discourse and cooperation among archaeological societies and agencies and encourage archaeological research and conservation efforts;
  • To foster cooperative endeavours with aboriginal groups and agencies concerned with First Peoples’ heritage of Canada;
  • To serve as the national association capable of promoting activities advantageous to archaeology and discouraging activities detrimental to archaeology;
  • To publish archaeological literature, and;
  • To stimulate the interest of the general public in archaeology. (CAA 2015)

This year’s conference was organized by the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University and in my opinion the conference was excellent and went off without the slightest problem. I had the privilege of attending sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The best thing about these conferences is being able to sit in a room with peers and colleagues and learn from them. You get to learn from the people who are in the field and doing the work, bringing the past alive through archaeology. I saw a lot of great presentations. What follows, in no particular order, is a brief description of what were some of the more interesting topics to me.

William Gilbert did a presentation entitled “Dwelling There Still”: Historical Archaeology in Cupids, Newfoundland. I’ve attended presentations by Bill a few times and I always enjoy them. He knows his topic so well that his presentations are more like him telling stories off the top of his head. This presentation was about the true significance of the founding of Cupids in 1610 and the role the Newfoundland Company, who funded and founded the Cupids colony, played in establishing other early Newfoundland colonies.

Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony
Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony (Gilbert)

After Bill presented, Barry Gaulton did a presentation on archaeology at Ferryland entitled How much can a big hole in the ground tell you?: Preliminary investigations into the 1620s builder’s trench associated with Lord Baltimore’s Mansion House at Ferryland, Newfoundland. This presentation focused on Sir George Calvert’s Mansion House at Ferryland; its size, the nature of its construction or how this building functioned within the physical and social confines of seventeenth-century Ferryland. In 2013-2014, investigations directly south of the Mansion House’s stone hall revealed a deep and wide builder’s trench infilled with approximately 6 feet of compacted, sterile clay and rock. At the very bottom of the trench was a thin layer of refuse associated with the construction of the stone hall and, more importantly, the activities of the ordinary colonists and craftsmen who built it. Barry then went in to a discussion of what was found in this trench and how those discoveries allow us to better understand the builders and how they lived.

Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)
Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)

Another interesting presentation was by John Erwin which was titled Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics from Newfoundland and Labrador. This study was based upon the measurement of over 3600 soapstone vessel fragments and it resulted in some interesting conclusions. Some of those conclusions include, there seems to be more soapstone vessels on the Island than in Labrador; Regional distinctions between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland can be seen in rim finishes; and with few exceptions, almost every vessel in the province could have been manufactured at the Fleur de Lys Quarry.

Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador
Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador (Erwin)

Laurie McLean gave an interesting presentation titled Observations on the Morphologies and Distribution of Beothuk Housepits. Laurie took Beothuk housepit data from excavated sites and data that he has gathered from work he has done at the Beaches site and along the Exploits River and found patterns in the data. Those patterns include that the Beothuk initially modified their traditional conical wigwam template into similar-sized more substantial housepits and that those housepits became larger through time. The data, according to Laurie, indicate that early Beothuk housepits were easy to see and had a diverse toolkit indicating a productive economy that included trade with Europeans. This preceded a breakdown in Beothuk-European relations, resulting in a whole scale Beothuk shift to the Exploits Valley. Larger, multi-family houses became the norm in the interior with the most recent structures placed among tree cover and further from the river to avoid discovery by Europeans.

Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)
Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)

There was also an interesting presentation by Blair Temple called Urban Archaeology as an Archaeology of Governance: Examples from 19th Century St. John’s, Newfoundland. His presentation examined the impact and role that the various applications of governance have had on the creation of the archaeological record in St. John’s. He focused specifically on major fires in St. John’s past arguing that they were possibly the most prominent event providing impetus for government action and regulation.

Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. Not only were all the buildings you see here destroyed by the fire, but the course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire, to straighten out this curve – which, incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. The course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire (per government regulation), to straighten out this curve – which incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)

I also sat in on a session called How we talk about the past. Differences in seeing, learning, knowing and telling about indigenous heritage and history as viewed from Nitassinan and Mi’kma’ki which was hosted by Stephen Loring and Chelsee Arbour. I didn’t see all the presentations in the session but I did get to take in three and an Innu film by Christine Poker. One of the presentations in this session was by Richard Nuna entitled Reflections on Innu History. Richard spoke about how to reconcile aboriginal knowledge and country-based experiences with scientific knowledge, principles and practice.

Unfortunately there were lots of sessions and presentations that I was unable to attend because they were running back to back with other sessions. Despite this it was a great conference and a great learning experience.


2015 Canadian Archaeological Association Conference Program and Abstracts

Erwin, John
2015 A Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics
from Newfoundland and Labrador. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

McLean, Laurie
2015 Observations Concerning Beothuk Housepits. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

Penney, Gerald
2010 “Under the Street:” Archaeology and the Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project.
An illustrated talk delivered at The Rooms, 24 February 2010

Just another day for archaeology

Recent construction activity in downtown St. John’s around Temperance Street has generated a lot of interest in archaeology. There have been at least three stories on various media websites as well as reports on the radio and the local evening news. I suspect this heightened interest is due to the recent demolition of two historic homes in St. John’s. As a result, everybody seems hyper-aware of any construction related activity and its potential impact on heritage. While the removal of the homes was outside the jurisdiction of the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO), any below ground activity that could disturb an archaeological site, particularly in the oldest part of the city, is exactly what the PAO is here for.

In St. John’s there is an agreement between the PAO and the City. In 1997 the St. John’s accepted a recommendation from their Planning Committee stating that they would notify the PAO of any development in the downtown in an area deemed to have significant potential for archaeological resources. The area extends from Springdale Street to Temperance Street, from Duckworth Street down to the harbour front and includes the Southside and Quidi Vidi Lake.

Prior to the 1997 agreement between the PAO and the City of St. John’s, archaeology in downtown St. John’s was well represented with nearly 20 recorded sites in the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential. Those sites include:

  • Newman Wine Vaults (CjAe-01) – Wine storage vaults used from the 18th century
  • Anchor Point 1 (CjAe-03) – Military fortifications, the construction of which began as early as the late 17th Century.  It was destroyed and reconstructed several times up to the 19th Century
  • Duckworth Street East (CjAe-15) – This site contains a portion of Fort William which dates to the 17th century
Interior of the Newman Wine Vaults prior to excavation in 1973 (Barakat)
Interior of the Newman Wine Vaults prior to excavation in 1973 (Barakat 1973)
Excavating floor of the Newman Wine Vaults to in 1973 showing remains of wooden floor (Barakat)
Excavated floor of the Newman Wine Vaults in 1973 showing remains of wooden floor (Barakat 1973)

Prior to the 1997 agreement between the PAO and the City of St. John’s there was a decent understanding of the archaeology in downtown St. John’s. Since the agreement, our understanding has only gotten better. In the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential there are now more than 80 recorded archaeological sites. What follows is a brief summary of some of those sites.

In 2000, the Grand Concourse Authority proposed to construct a lookout and rest area at Waldegrave Battery (Fort Waldegrave) (CjAe-36) overlooking St. John’s harbour. A highlight of the rest stop would be the remnants of the stone parapet surrounding one of the gun positions from the 1810 battery. Prior to construction an archaeological assessment was conducted on the site to determine whether buried cultural resources would be impacted by the proposed work. Structural remains of military emplacements dating between 1810 and 1916 were discovered beneath several fill deposits dating to the 20th century. Using the information gained from the archaeological investigation, the Grand Concourse Authority altered the original design of the rest area so the newly discovered structural features could be incorporated into the rest stop design (Mills 2001).

Interior of Waldegrave Battery showing the 1916 gun platform on right and the cement platform in centre
Interior of Waldegrave Battery showing the 1916 gun platform on right and the cement platform in centre (Mills 2001)

The remains of the 17th century Fort Frederick, (Frederick’s Battery) (CjAe-37) are found across the Narrows of St. John’s Harbour from Waldegrave Battery. In 2003 this area was proposed as a location for the Fort Amherst Community Cultural Centre by the Grand Concourse Authority. The location fell within the area deemed to have significant archaeological potential and an archaeological assessment was carried out. As a result of the assessment portions of walls inside Fort Frederick were found and the Grand Concourse Authority altered the plans for Fort Amherst Community Cultural Centre to ensure the remaining resources were protected (Mills 2004).

Water colour of "HARBOUR, TOWN AND NARROWS OF ST. JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND" by Major General Sir John Harvey, circa 1845. (Image courtesy of Parks Canada, ref. 3 19008XII)
Water colour of “HARBOUR, TOWN AND NARROWS OF ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND” by Major General Sir John Harvey, circa 1845. (Image courtesy of Parks Canada, ref. 3 19008XII) (Mills 2004)
Masonry wall exposed during testing of the area in 2003
Masonry wall exposed during testing of the area in 2003

The Harbour Interceptor Sewer project in St. John’s has been a boon for archaeology. Throughout the whole project, the City of St. John’s and the construction company worked with archaeologists and supported their work. As a result of this multi-year project nearly 60 archaeological sites were added to the Provincial Archaeological Site Inventory in the area of downtown deemed to have significant archaeological potential. Two of those sites have 17th century components, 18 have 18th century components and the rest are at least 19th century.

Water Street East 14 (CjAe-87) is located at the extreme eastern end of Water Street, at the base of Temperance Street. Secure cultural strata were investigated at the western boundary of the site, opposite the northwest corner of the St. John’s Port Authority building. Cultural materials from two separate 17th to early 18th century components were found (Penney 2008).

View of CjAe-87, from just below Battery Road (Penney 2008)
View of CjAe-87, from just below Battery Road (Penney 2008)
Base sherds from a Spanish heavy jar from CjAe-87 (Penney 2008)
Base sherds from a Spanish heavy jar from CjAe-87 (Penney 2008)

Riverhead, St. John’s Test Trench 3 (CjAe-55) was recorded during initial testing for the Harbour Interceptor Sewer in 2004. The site is located on the southern side of Water Street from the east side of Springdale Street to Hutchings Lane. Its most extensive aspect is a “fish flake layer” at 1.6-1.7 m depth below surface, dating to the late 18th to early 19th century. Three features were recorded; two foundations and a stone-walled sewer (Penney 2010).

View of south profile, CjAe-55, with two flake layers (Penney 2010)
View of south profile, CjAe-55, with two flake layers (Penney 2010)
Base and partial bowl from a late 18th early 19th century wine glass. Lot 8, CjAe-55 (Penney 2010)
Base and partial bowl from a late 18th early to 19th century wine glass. Lot 8, CjAe-55 (Penney 2010)

While all of the interest from the media and public in archaeology over the last little while has been great, the events and discoveries on Temperance Street are just another day for the PAO and the archaeology of St. John’s. Artifacts and walls have been found at Temperance Street which have been measured, recorded and photographed in accordance with standard archaeological practices. Parts of the foundations of the Standard Manufacturing Company and Matchless Paint Factory have been found which was constructed around 1902, and demolished in the late 20th century. Archaeologists have found parts of the A. Harvey and Co. buildings (a grist mill, biscuit factory, warehouses and offices) which were built around 1865 and lasted until the Great Fire of 1892. Prior to the 19th century it appears there was little development in the area and the archaeology seems to agree with that.

East end of Water Street, mid 1880s, showing Maggotty Cove. The two large buildings (A. Harvey and Co.) at far right are within the study area. The catwalk crossing Water Street is visible (CSJA 1-11-001) (Penney 2015)
East end of Water Street, mid 1880s, showing Maggotty Cove. The two large buildings (A. Harvey and Co.) at far right are within the study area. The catwalk crossing Water Street is visible (CSJA 1-11-001) (Penney 2015)
Various foundations found at Temperance Street in the last few weeks
Various foundations found at Temperance Street in the last few weeks

Having said all that, no agreement or process is perfect, unexpected discoveries happen. So if you see something that you think the PAO should be aware of, please don’t hesitate to contact them.


BARAKAT, Robert  1973  Report of an Archaeological Excavation at the Newman Wine Vaults, St. John’s, NF.

MILLS, Stephen  2001  Stage 2 Archaeological Assessment of Waldegrave Battery (CjAe-36), St. John’s, Newfoundland.

MILLS, Stephen  2004  Stage 1 HRA of Frederick’s Battery (CjAe-37), St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. 03.50

PENNEY, Gerald 2008 Construction-Excavation Monitoring Harbour Interceptor Sewer, Phase III St. John’s.  08.03

PENNEY, Gerald 2010 Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project, Phase I Construction – Excavation Monitoring 2008-09. 08.39 and 09.01.

PENNEY, Gerald 2015 Water Street-Temperance Street (CjAe-140) Historic Resources Overview Assessment Additional Geo-technical Monitoring, 2014 Archaeological Investigation Permits #14.32 and#14.32.01