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.

Other Basque sites, the Newfoundland edition

When you mention the word Basque in this Province the minds of most people go to the UNESCO Word Heritage site at Red Bay and the remains of the very well preserved 16th century Basque whaling industry represented there. People are often surprised when they learn there are more than 30 other registered Basque sites in Labrador. Basque sites are also present on the Lower North Shore of Quebec. The Basque occupation of the Lower North Shore was part of the focus for the St. Lawrence Gateways Project run by Dr. William Fitzhugh of the Arctic Studies Centre, Smithsonian Institution. There are also 11 Basque sites recorded on the Island of Newfoundland. The Island sites seem to differ from those in Quebec and Labrador because they seem to have been fishing rather than whaling and they are dated later than those in Quebec and Labrador (Barkham 1989).

Of those 11 recorded sites they are either on the west coast, including the Northern Peninsula, or the south coast. Starting in the east, there are two sites in the Placentia area with Basque evidence, the first being Fort Louis. While the archaeological evidence for a Basque presence is slim here, limited to just red roofing tiles, there is documentary evidence stating that the Basque were using Placentia as a fishing base.

The second Placentia site that has Basque material culture is actually the graveyard of St. Luke’s Anglican Church. The cemetery has several very old headstones; three in particular were collected and stored in the church in the late 19th or early 20th century. They are now in the O’Reilly House Museum in Placentia. The headstones are inscribed with Basque text and date to the 17th century. The text is ‘…all pure Basque with the exception of one word which is French…’, according to the Rt. Rev. Bishop Howley (PDF). According to Bishop Howley, one of the stones reads:

” Here lies dead (or having died)
(on) The first of May 1676
John De Sale Ce—ana
The Son (or heir) of (the House)
of Sweetest Odour.”

Basque headstones.
Basque headstones. (Christopher Newhook)

In 1971, there was an attempt to locate the foundation of the original 17th century church. Given the location of the burials it was thought the original church was somewhere near St. Luke’s Anglican Church.

Heading west from Placentia there is a shipwreck in Placentia Bay that was found by a local dive club in the mid-1980s. The wreck consisted of a ballast pile, at least two cannons and some ceramics all visible on the ocean floor. Some of the ceramics suggested the wreck may have been of Basque origin.

On the west coast there is a considerable European occupation recorded in historic documentation for Ile Rouge off the west coast of the Port au Port Peninsula. A preliminary archaeological survey was conducted on the island in 1992. While the survey resulted in the discovery of a significant French occupation dating from the 18th-20th centuries including former house foundations, cemetery and garden enclosures, there was no definitive Basque material culture recovered. Despite this the island was known to have been used by the Basque. The island shows up as Isla de San Jorge on early maps and was ‘…used as a fishing station by Basques in the 16th and 17th centuries…’ (Jacques Whitford Environment Limited (JWEL) 1993:1). ‘The first reference to Ile Rouge in historic sources is a will written by a Spanish Basque ship’s captain for a dying member of his crew as they lay at anchorage by the island, then known as “San Jorge”. This event took place in 1632…’ (JWEL 1993:5).

View south over south eastern corner of Ile Rouge to mainland (JWEL 1993).
View south over south eastern corner of Ile Rouge to mainland (JWEL 1993).

In 1994, Fred Schwarz led an archaeological survey further north on the west coast, in the Bay of Islands which located several Basque or Basque related sites including Sword Point, Little Port 1 & 2 and Woods Island Harbour 1 & 2 (Schwarz 1994).

At Sword Point he found eight features including a low L-shaped mound, several circular depressions, several rectangular depressions and a subrectangular mound with a central depression (Schwarz 1994:22).

Little Port 1 contained a number of mounds, one is 1 metre high and roughly rectangular, measuring 100m2. Just behind this mound is another, smaller mound. Artifacts recovered from these features included a number of small sherds of
manganese-glazed redware, and one large piece of a small handled bowl with tin-enamel and cobalt blue interior decoration. Coarse earthernwares included a shoulder fragment of a jar with an unglazed body, fabric impressions on the exterior, and traces of tan glaze trickling down from the rim onto the interior and exterior surfaces. Two additional sherds have interior green glaze: one is from a thick-walled vessel with muddy brown-green interior glaze, and the other is similar, but thinner-walled, with a deep emerald interior glaze. This assemblage lacks the characteristic English wares of the 18th-19th centuries, and though it is only a survey collection, it is sufficient to indicate that the site is distinctive, probably French or Basque, and probably dating ca. A.D.1600-1800 (Schwarz 1994: 19-20).

Little Port 2 consisted of a linear arrangement of small, rocky mounds measuring 20m x 10m in all, rising from a somewhat boggy field. During testing Schwarz recovered many brick fragments, some sherds of an unidentified burnt grey stoneware, and also a number of nails and a large, twisted-shank fishhook. The assemblage Schwarz collected suggests a 19th-century occupation, though the artifacts reported by local residents suggest earlier material (A.D. 1600- 1800) (Schwarz 1994:20).

The artifacts collected from Woods Island Harbour 1 & 2 suggest both sites were made up of 19th or 20th century occupations. However, both are listed as having a possible Basque component because Woods Island Harbour is referred to as a 17th century Basque fishing station in documents and on maps as referenced in Barkham 1989.

The final area of the Island of Newfoundland with a recorded Basque site is further up the west coast on the Northern Peninsula on Old Ferolle Island. The island has been used as a fishing station from the Basque period of the late 16th century until the present day. In June, 1993, at the request of Thomson Heritage Consultants, Jacques Whitford Environment Limited conducted a preliminary archaeological survey of the island and undertook a program of informal interviews with local residents. The survey resulted in the discovery of structures found on and near the drying beaches on the island. The structures have been interpreted as pathways, building foundations, ovens, fish storage areas, wharf foundations and gardens, all probably related to the 18th century fishery. Hunting blinds were also found, probably dating to the 19th and 20th centuries. Three tent rings at the site also suggest a brief Inuit occupation, perhaps during the 18th century. It is evident from analysis of the artifact sample collected that the assemblage includes 18th century material, some of which was from the French Basque region and certainly from Normandy, and some 19th century material from England. While no definitive Basque features were found the site may contain a Basque occupation based documents and on maps as referenced in Barkham 1989.

While the physical archaeological evidence of the Basque occupation on the island of Newfoundland is scant; the documentary evidence is certainly present. A read through Selma Barkham’s book The Basque Coast of Newfoundland certainly attests to their presence. Perhaps there needs to be a more intensive search for the Basque occupation of Newfoundland.


Barkham, Selma
1989 The Basque Coast of Newfoundland.

Jacques Whitford Environment Limited
1993  Preliminary Archaeological Survey of Old Ferolle Island, St. Barbe District, Newfoundland.

1993 Report on a Preliminary Archaeological Survey of Ile Rouge, Port au Port Peninsula, Newfoundland.

Schwarz, Fred
1994 Archaeological Investigations in the Bay of Islands, Western Newfoundland September October 1994.