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.

Archaeology in the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador: The L’Anse Amour burial mound

During the summers of 1973 and 1974 Dr. Robert McGhee and Dr. James Tuck, both then professors at Memorial University of Newfoundland surveyed a large portion of the southern Labrador coast from the Quebec/Labrador border up to Red Bay. They found or relocated 13 sites including a number of important archaeological sites such as the L’Anse Amour burial mound and the oldest known site in the province at Pinware Hill. At L’Anse Amour they found or relocated another 14 discrete scatters of flakes, fire-cracked cobbles, and occasional artifacts and the L’Anse Amour burial mound, all of which they saw as a single site. Today we would treat these as separate sites. I say relocated because part of the area had been surveyed and several of the sites had been found 25 years earlier by Dr. Elmer Harp.

The data from this survey formed the basis of McGhee & Tuck’s 1975 Mercury Series volume An Archaic Sequence from the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador. For the most part the cultural sequence laid out in this volume still stands.

ABSTRACT
This report presents the results of archaeological survey and test excavation undertaken on the southern coast of Labrador during the summers of 1973 and 1974. Preliminary reports summarize our work at 14 sites, all but one of which relate to Archaic occupations. These components are placed in chronological sequence using evidence from seriation, comparison of collections, relative site elevations, and radiocarbon dating. The resulting sequence is used as the basis for postulating the development of a local variant of the Maritime Archaic tradition from a late Palaeo-Indian immigration to the area at approximately 8000-9000 years ago. We postulate continuity in the local occupation and adaptation from that time to approximately 3000-2000 years ago, when we suggest that the local tradition was interrupted by a possible environmental change and the immigration of Dorset Eskimos. The prehistory of the last 2000 years is unclear, and we suspect that occupation of this region was sparse and perhaps sporadic during the late prehistoric period. (McGhee & Tuck 1975)
 

The last 2000 years of the sequence was later filled in by people with a culture that archaeologists refer to as Recent Indian.

The field crew for McGhee & Tuck’s surveys included Marcie Madden and Priscilla Renouf. Both of these women produced influential Master’s theses based on sites found or relocated during the McGhee & Tuck survey. Both of them also continued on and earned PhD’s. Dr. Renouf became a professor at Memorial University and ran the very successful Port au Choix Archaeology Project from the mid-1980s up to her passing last year.

While cleaning out Dr. Renouf’s office someone came across an envelope of photos marked L’Anse Amour burial mound. The photos were taken during the excavation of the burial.

Archaeological work at L’Anse Amour took place during the summers of 1973 & 74. McGhee and Tuck noted the presence of the mound in 1973 “…and ignored it in favour of the pleasure of surface collecting in the extensive blowouts closer to the coast.” (McGhee & Tuck 1975:85) They walked over and around the mound for the rest of the summer. It wasn’t until 1974 that they sent several crew members to clear the bushes and sand off the mound.

The burial mound at L'Anse-Amour restored to its original form after the excavation (McGhee 1976: 13)
The burial mound at L’Anse-Amour restored to its original form after the excavation (McGhee 1976: 13)
Clearing the mound in 1974 (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Clearing the mound in 1974 (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
The positions of the boulders were mapped, the structure was divided into quadrants, and the boulders removed from the southwestern quadrant. The rocks averaged some 30 cm in diameter, weighed perhaps 10 kg on the average, and were piled closely together. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:86)
 
Excavation of the burial mound (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Excavation of the burial mound (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)

Several layers of boulders were removed which totaled nearly 1 metre in depth.

These were mapped and removed, revealing the upper edges of three large slab-like boulders which were set upright in a line, apparently forming the edge of a cist-like structure. Traces of red ochre were found in two places along the line of upright boulders. In order to locate the remainder of the cist, the boulders of the northwest quadrant were removed, and the excavation enlarged to include a two metre strip of the eastern segment of the mound. We duly located the other edge of the cist, a parallel line of two boulders one metre north of the first line but beginning and ending 60 cm farther east than the boulders of the first line. The upper edges of these boulders were encountered at approximately 45 cm below the top of the mound, and they extended to a maximum depth of 100 cm beneath the original surface. At this point we began to have trouble with our excavation, as the sand dried and we began to get cave-ins and threatened cave-ins. Accordingly, we enlarged our excavation to a square pit seven metres on a side and centred on the original centre of the mound. This removed all of the heavy concentration of piled beach boulders in the central area, an irregular concentration some four metres in diameter. The floor of the excavation was now entirely composed of sand, save for the two parallel lines of upright boulders forming the cist within which we expected to find a burial. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:86-87)

 

Photographing the cist-like structure (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the cist-like structure (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Early on in the excavation, large boulders can been seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use ply-wood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Early on in the excavation, large boulders can be seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use plywood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation, large boulders can been seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use ply-wood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation, large boulders can be seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use plywood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
We were to be disappointed in this, as excavation revealed only a few traces of a black substance which might be decayed organic material and a small patch of charcoal containing a few burned but badly deteriorated fish bones; the size of the bones suggests that they came from a fish about the size of a cod or salmon. Having excavated and removed the boulders of the cist, we were faced with a square pit with sand walls and a blank, apparently sterile, floor of sand. Rather discouraged, we nevertheless continued the excavation, and after a couple of hours of removing sterile sand we encountered a small stain of red ochre at a depth of 30 cm below the base of the cist, and 130 cm below the original surface of the mound. This ochre stain proved to derive from the back of a human skull, and a few more hours of excavation revealed the entire skeleton. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:87)
 
Excavation of the burial (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Excavation of the burial (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
The body had been buried in an extended position, directly beneath the cist-like arrangement of stones some half-metre above. It lay on its stomach, the hands at the sides, the head pointing west and turned so that the face looked to the north. A walrus tusk lay directly in front of the face, and 30 cm to the west of the head there was a pile of artifacts including four stone projectile points or knives, three socketed bone points, and a stemmed bone point. Two more stone projectile points or knives lay directly above and below the left shoulder, and a stone biface was found between the legs. A large slab of rock lay across the lumbar region of the back. More artifacts were revealed when we began to remove the skeleton. At the left side, at about the waist, were found two nodules of graphite stained with red ochre, apparently paint-stones, and a decorated antler artifact which may have been used as a paint-grinder or applicator. Beneath the upper chest area there was a small bone pendant, a bone whistle or flute, a few small fragments of bird bone, and a toggling harpoon-head. Beneath the sacral region lay a decorated ivory toggle. On either side of the skeleton there was a scatter of charcoal extending over an irregular area over one metre in diameter and one boulder lay at a distance of two metres to the northeast of the body. A badly decayed piece of antler, probably caribou antler, was found some two metres to the southeast of the body, and a few small chunks of white quartzite were scattered in the same area. The charcoal scatter indicates that the original burial pit, the walls of which we could not trace in the homogeneous sand marked with stains percolating from the boulders above, was at least five metres in diameter. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:87-88)
 
 
Top photo: A cache of grave goods found above the head, consisting of bone and stone projectile points and a stone knife. Bottom photo: Chipped stone spearpoints and knives, found with the body. (McGhee 1976: 20)
Top photo: A cache of grave goods found above the head, consisting of bone and stone projectile points and a stone knife.
Bottom photo: Chipped stone spearpoints and knives, found with the body. (McGhee 1976: 20)
Objects found in the grave. On the left is a socketed bone projectile point; in the centre, a harpoon head and a barbed bone point; and on the right, a decorated ivory object that may have been a hand toggle for a harpoon line. (McGhee 1976: 21)
Objects found in the grave. On the left is a socketed bone projectile point; in the centre, a harpoon head and a barbed bone point; and on the right, a decorated ivory object that may have been a hand toggle for a harpoon line. (McGhee 1976: 21)
A bird-bone flute and a pendant were found underneath the chest. The paint stones and pestle were on the left side of the body. (McGhee 1976: 24)
A bird-bone flute and a pendant were found underneath the chest. The paint stones and pestle were on the left side of the body. (McGhee 1976: 24)

We learned a tremendous amount about this early culture from this one excavation. For example, the burial clearly demonstrates the sophistication of their Maritime adaption. “The toggling harpoon, an ingenious device for taking sea mammals, is the oldest such weapon in the world.” “Other evidence includes a walrus tusk, the bones of fish and an ivory handle which may have been attached to the end of a skin line opposite the harpoon.” (Tuck 1993: 2-3)

Construction of the mound itself shows a very different society than archaeologists would expect from a hunter-gatherer group. “The construction of burial mounds is traditionally associated with stable, agriculturally-based societies, generally found in more temperate areas of the world. The discovery of such an ancient burial mound, perhaps the oldest such structure in the world, came as a surprise to many archaeologists.” (Tuck 1993: 3)

The dating of the L’Anse Amour burial mound makes it one of the oldest known sites in Labrador and it was far older than expected. The two oldest radiocarbon dates from the site, 8042+87/-110 and 8363 + 66/-324 years ago, suggest the site was constructed more than 8000 years ago. (Tuck 1993: 5)

The excavation of the burial mound took place 40 years ago and archaeology and attitudes towards the excavation of burials has changed since then. Archaeologists would not excavate a burial like this today unless it was under threat of destruction.


McGhee, Robert 1976  The Burial at L’Anse Amour.

McGhee, Robert & James A. 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 1993   Interpreting L’Anse Amour and Southern Labrador Prehistory. Unpublished internal report submitted to Department of Tourism and Culture.

Pot sherds

When I first learned about the precontact history of Newfoundland and Labrador I was taught that there was no ceramic period in the province. In fact, when I was at Memorial University of Newfoundland learning this material, and if I recall correctly, I was told that the lack of ceramics here is one of the reasons we have different categories for our precontact past than the rest of the Maritime Provinces. For example, we do not have a Woodland period; ceramics are a culturally diagnostic element in Woodland collections.

In this week’s post I’ll discuss the instances of aboriginal ceramics that have been found in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador; right now there are just eight such instances that I am aware of. It seems most of these are either directly related to Recent Indian occupations or there are Recent Indian occupations near where the ceramics were found. Is the evidence enough to suggest the Recent Indian period in Newfoundland and Labrador should have ceramics added to their diagnostic “tool kit”? A diagnostic “tool kit” is made up of typical tools that archaeologists use to identify an occupation as Recent Indian as opposed to another precontact group. Before I get into the ceramics I will present a little background information.

The Recent Indian Tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador began approximately 2000 years ago on both sides of the Strait of Belle Isle. The connection between the Recent Indians and earlier precontact Indians of the province, such as the Maritime Archaic and Intermediate Indians, is not completely understood, if such a relationship existed at all.

Traditionally, the Recent Indian period on the Island was made up of the Cow Head (ca.1900-1000 B.P.), Beaches (early Newfoundland Recent Indian ca.1900-800 B.P.) & Little Passage complexes (late Newfoundland Recent Indian ca.800 B.P.-European Contact). The Cow Head complex appears on the Island around the start of the Recent Indian time period. Research suggests they are not part of the Newfoundland Recent Indian cultural continuum (Hartery 2001). The early & late Newfoundland Recent Indian complexes form this cultural continuum where the culture of the early complex slowly becomes the late complex. The Beothuk are not part of the precontact Recent Indian Tradition, but rather are descendants of the people of this tradition.

As on the Island of Newfoundland, the Recent Indian Tradition in Labrador is divided into an early and late period. The culture of the early Labrador Recent Indians (traditionally known as the Daniel Rattle complex ca. 2000 B.P. – 1000 B.P.) slowly becomes the culture of the late Labrador Recent Indians (traditionally known as the Point Revenge complex ca. 1000 B.P. – 350 B.P.). Archaeologists believe that these precontact complexes form a two thousand year old cultural continuum that represents the precontact Recent Indian Tradition in Labrador. There is not a consensus amongst archaeologists as to whether the Innu who live in Labrador today are descendants of the people of this tradition.

The first instance of possible precontact ceramics being found in the province is recorded by Junius Bird in 1934 at Avertok (Hopedale), Labrador. Bird described the piece as: “Lying directly on the surface of the paving stones at the inner end of the entrance tunnel to House 4 was a small grit-tempered potsherd of Indian manufacture. It is from the rim of a straight-lipped vessel, decorated on the inner edge with short diagonal incised lines and on the outer surface with an irregular row of indentations directly above a stamped impression showing parallel rows of small sharp indentations (Fig. 13). In section, it diminishes from an approximate thickness of 1/2 to about 1/4 inch at the upper edge, the inner surface curving outward.”

Ceramic sherd found by Bird at Avertok. (Loring)
Ceramic sherd found by Bird at Avertok (Loring).

As far as we know, the Inuit culture in Labrador made no use of such ceramics. However, Stephen Loring who has seen the artifact noted that it was “…heavily encrusted (“saturated”) with what almost certainly is burned sea-mammal blubber –as is typically seen on steatite lamps and bowls.” (Loring, Pers. Comm.). Loring also speculates that a small precontact late Recent Indian component near this site (just over 100 m away) was likely the source for the ceramic (Loring 1992:279-280). Given that just about every other piece of precontact ceramic in the province was found in or near a Recent Indian component, as will be discussed below, Loring is probably correct in his speculation on the origin of this artifact.

In 1952, James Pendergast found several small grit-tempered ceramic sherds from a site he discovered near the airport at Terrington Basin in Goose Bay (Loring 1992:279). Unfortunately, nothing else is recorded about the site or the ceramics.

In 1975 near the community of Pinware, Labrador, James Tuck and Robert McGhee found “…a small sherd of dentate stamped pottery and two sherds of soapstone as well as small flakes of chert of a type characteristic of Dorset Eskimo assemblages.” (Tuck & McGhee 1975). Again, unfortunately, little else was written about the site or the ceramic. A nearby component of this site produced a hearth in association with flakes of Ramah chert, an end scraper, and charcoal. Based on current knowledge, it is possible this site was occupied by Labrador Recent Indians who relied heavily on Ramah chert.

During the excavation of the L’Anse à Flamme site in 1980, a member of Gerald Penney’s field crew, James Tillotson, found the rim sherd of a Point Peninsula pot. According to Penney 1981, this artifact was excavated in situ 35cm below the surface in a secure Dorset Palaeoeskimo context (1981:171). Penney goes on to describe the sherd: “J.V. Wright confirmed James Tuck’s initial identification and he estimated a manufacture date of A.D. 500. The single Dorset date for L’Anse à Flamme is A.D. 615 (S-1977:1335 +/- 115 B.P.). Wright describes the sherd (Figure 2) as being decorated with a sloppy form of dentate stamp that approaches a pseudo-scallop shell impression even though it superficially looks like cord wrapped stick. It has an incipent collar with an exterior chevron motif (personal communication, 23 September 1980).” (1981:171). The L’Anse à Flamme site has Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian and European occupations.

L'Anse à Flamme post sherd. (G. Penney)
L’Anse à Flamme pot sherd (G. Penney).

In 1982, Stephen Loring found ceramic fragments from a single pot while excavating Area II at the Recent Indian site of Kamarsuk. He described the sherds as: “The sherds, all from a single vessel, include one that contains a part of the rim, one that is from the portion of the vessel where the straight sides curve towards the conical base, and the remainder which are from the upper portion of the vessel close to the rim. They appear to be part of a small conical pot with smooth straight walls. The maximum thickness of the body sherds is 140 mm; at the rim the vessel’s walls have thinned to 88 mm. This is the first incidence of prehistoric ceramics recovered from an undisturbed context in Labrador.” (1985:128).

Kamarsuk ceramics. (Loring)
Kamarsuk ceramics (Loring).
The site of Kamarsuk were located to the left of the peninsula on the gentle raised beach. (Loring)
The site of Kamarsuk was located to the left of the peninsula on the gentle raised beach (Loring).

During the excavation of the extensive Basque site on Saddle Island in the 1980s a member of James Tuck’s crew recovered a piece of aboriginal ceramic between the roof fall and drain of a Basque structure. Tuck described the piece as: “It is the castellation (or “peak” on the rim) and is decorated with a design that is known to Iroquoian archaeologists and a “corn ear” motif. It is quite unlike the poorly-fired ceramics rarely produced by Recent Indians in Labrador and hints strongly that somebody from up the St. Lawrence visited Red Bay in the early contact period.” (2005:17).

This piece of ceramic was examined in depth by Claude Chapdelaine and Gregory G. Kennedy. They established the chemical composition of the piece and compared it to local clay sources in Labrador and selected samples from Saint Lawrence Iroquoian sites of the Quebec City area. With regard to the style of the sherd they write, “The Red Bay rim sherd is undoubtedly of Late Woodland style and it looks more like a Saint Lawrence Iroquoian vessel than any other Iroquoian ceramic tradition. However, the results of the neutron activation analysis seem to support the possibility that the specimen from the Strait of Belle Isle may well be a very good Algonquian imitation of a distinct Iroquoian pottery style.”  However, with regard to the chemical composition of the piece they write, “The Saint Lawrence Iroquoians seem to have produced some pottery while away from their villages. Under these conditions, it is still possible that the rim sherd found at Red Bay was made by an Iroquoian potter during one of those journeys down the Saint Lawrence River.” (1990:42-43). So, the artifact was either made by an Algonquian potter imitating an Iroquoian style or an Iroquoian potter using unusual clay.

Saddle Island pot sherd.
Saddle Island pot sherd.

Again on Saddle Island, but this time in 1987, James Tuck’s archaeology crew recovered more aboriginal ceramic fragments, this time in direct association with Recent Indian hearths. Tuck describes the fragments as: “…tempered with coarse grit and appear to be underfired, for the thick walls are severely delaminated and friable. The sherds appear to pertain to small, thick vessels, possibly with conical bases. The more complete of the two has a castellated rim with exterior decoration consisting of three rows of horizontal impressed (?) lines on an incipient collar set off by from the neck by a horizontal row of oblique impressions. The neck is decorated by oblique plaits of cord-wrapped paddle (?) impressions (Figure 3). The second vessel has a row of oblique impressions below the rim, and oblique, cris-cross and horizontal incised lines on the neck.” (1987:7).

Tuck believed these pieces were similar to the material collected by Loring. “The underfired nature and thick paste of the vessels compare with ceramics reported by Loring (1985:128) from the central Labrador coast, although the central Labrador examples specimens lacked any trace of decoration. Whether these ceramics represent an incipient local tradition, or are imports from somewhere up the St. Lawrence, is not presently known.” (Tuck 1987:7-8).

Saddle Island has an extensive late Recent Indian and contact period Indian occupation. In fact, several Indian hearths have European artifacts in them suggesting some form of contact.

Saddle Island pot sherds.
Saddle Island pot sherds.
Saddle Island pot sherds.
Saddle Island pot sherds.

Based on information from Stephen Loring, Ponius Nuk from Sheshatshiu has found traces of a Recent Indian site near his cabin at Shipiskan Lake, a tributary of the Kanairiktok River. A shallow ephemeral camp-spot to one side of the cabin produced an assemblage of plain grit-tempered ceramics associated with Ramah chert debitage (Loring 2013:31).

Cord-marked and dentate pottery from Shipiskan Lake (Loring).
View to the north looking past Ponius Nuk’s cabin to Shipiskan Lake. Grit-tempered ceramics and Ramah chert debitage have been recovered next to the small outbuilding on the left. (Loring)
View to the north looking past Ponius Nuk’s cabin to Shipiskan Lake. Grit-tempered ceramics and Ramah chert debitage have been recovered next to the small outbuilding on the left (Loring).

At the Recent Indian component of the Gould site in 1999, then graduate student Mike Teal found 290 pottery sherds estimated to be from seven different pots in two areas; near a charcoal concentration and near a large depression. This is the largest concentration of ceramics found, thus far, in the province. Teal writes: “All the pottery is composed of a grit tempered clay that varies in condition from highly deteriorated and crumbly, to quite solid; most pottery sherds fall somewhere between these two extremes. Also, several sherds are encrusted with a hard black substance which is presumably related to food preparation. Sixty-one of the 290 sherds could be identified to sherd type, and these pieces constitute the sample that will be described and analysed in this section. They include: 15 rim sherds, 10 neck sherds, and 36 body sherds.” (2001:54).

He goes on to describe the shape of the vessel forms: “There are five different rim shapes or forms: squared, rounded, in sloping, concave, and collared (Figure 3.1). Four of the rim sherds are squared, three are rounded, two are in sloping, two are concaved, two are collared, and two have undeterminable rim forms…Ten of the fifteen rim sherds are decorated with at least one of three types of decoration: dentate stamping, dentate rocker-stamping, and incised linear lines…Sixteen of the 36 body fragments were decorated with dentate rocker stamping.” (Teal 2001:57-59).

Gould site ceramics. (Teal)
Gould site ceramics (Teal 2001).

The most recent discovery of aboriginal ceramics in the province comes from the archaeology work done by Fred Schwarz on the south side of Muskrat Falls. These ceramics were found at sites with radiocarbon dates that place their occupations in the very early part of the Recent Indian period, possibly even ancestral to the Cow Head complex Recent Indians. Ceramic fragments, a total of 34 pieces plus 23g of crumbled clay fragments, were found at three different sites. The sherds were described as “…a low‐fired, thick‐walled grit‐tempered ware. Many sherds do not show a complete cross‐section and have only interior or exterior surfaces. Where clear interior surfaces are evident, these are often blackened. Exterior surfaces show no evidence of surface decoration.” (Stantec 2013:98).

Muskrat Falls ceramics. (Schwarz)
Muskrat Falls ceramics. Picture shows the interior surfaces (top) and exterior surfaces (bottom) of the same two sherds (Stantec 2013).
Muskrat Falls ceramics. Picture shows the interior surfaces (top) and exterior surfaces (bottom) of the same two sherds. (Schwarz)
Muskrat Falls ceramics (Stantec 2013).

Considering all of this information, should ceramics be added to the Recent Indian tool kit? In 2005, James Tuck, the man who played a major role in defining Newfoundland and Labrador archaeology seemed to suggest that the Labrador Recent Indians occasionally made ceramics when he wrote of the ceramics found at Saddle Island: “It is quite unlike the poorly-fired ceramics rarely produced by Recent Indians in Labrador …” (2005:17). In fact, Mike Teal went so far as to suggest that ceramics should be added, at least to the Cow Head complex tool kit. In the abstract to his 2001 thesis he writes: “New artifacts, including contracting stemmed projectile points and ceramic vessels are introduced as elements of the Cow Head assemblage…” (2001:ii).

If we don’t add ceramics to the Recent Indian tool kit then in the very least researchers working on precontact sites in the province, particularly Recent Indian and Dorset sites need to be aware of, as I was warned in 1998, “…little clumps of mud that will not go through your screen, they may be ceramic.” (Loring, pers. comm.). This is how these ceramics were described to me when I was excavating a Recent Indian site on the Northern Peninsula in 1998.


This post was inspired by my reading of two articles in the 2013 volume of the Arctic Studies Newsletter. The first was by Kora Stapelfeldt entitled Pottery in Motion: Towards Cultural Interaction Studies in Newfoundland and Labrador. The second was by Stephen Loring entitled Pottery from the North: Addendum to Stapelfeldt.
 
References
Bird, Junius B. 1945 Archaeology of the Hopedale Area, Labrador. Volume 39: Part 2 Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
Chapdelaine, Claude & Gregory G. Kennedy 1990 The Origin of the Iroquoian Rim Sherd from Red Bay. Man in the Northeast, 40 (Fall):41-43.
Hartery, Latonia 2001 The Cow Head complex. MA, University of Calgary.
Loring, Stephen 1985 Archaeological Investigations into the Nature of the Late Prehistoric Indian Occupation in Labrador: A Report of the 1984 Field Season. Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1984, Annual Report Number 5. Jane Sproull Thomson and Callum Thomson ed. Historic Resources Division, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, pp 122-153.
1992 Princes and Princesses of Ragged Fame: Innu Archaeology and Ethnohistory in Labrador. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Massachusetts.
2013 Pottery from the North: Addendum to Stapelfeldt. Arctic Studies Newsletter.
Penney, Gerald 1981 A Point Peninsula Rim Sherd from L’Anse a Flamme, Newfoundland. Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 5: 171‑173.
Teal, Michael 2001 An Archaeological Investigation of the Gould Site (EeBi-42) in Port au Choix, Northwestern Newfoundland: New Insight into the Recent Indian Cow Head Complex. MA, MUN.
Tuck, James A. 2005 Archaeology at Red Bay, Labrador: 1978-1992.
Tuck, James A. & Robert McGhee 1975 Belle Isle Archaeological Project, 1975.
Stantec 2013 2012 Historic Resources Assessment and Recovery Field Program.
Stapelfeldt, Kora 2013 Pottery in Motion: Towards Cultural Interaction Studies in Newfoundland and Labrador. Arctic Studies Newsletter.

Dr. Priscilla Renouf

Most people reading this post will be aware that Dr. Priscilla Renouf passed away last week. The community of archaeologists who work in Newfoundland and Labrador is very small and when one of our members passes, we all feel it. I had regular dealings with her and I worked for her for one summer. She was always pleasant, and happy to help. What I would like to do with this post is look at her archaeology career through some of the documents at the Provincial Archaeology Office.

A quick search of the sites database shows that her name is associated with nearly 250 sites in the province, more than 150 on the island alone, which means that she is listed as a permit holder or a co-holder with a graduate student or she wrote a report or published article about each of these sites. As such, her name is associated with nearly ten percent of the ~1800 known and recorded sites just on the island. In terms of these numbers, no other archaeologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) was as prolific as Priscilla.

One of my colleagues who went through the graduate program with me at MUN studied Palaeoeskimo culture in Labrador. I once jokingly referred to her as the Palaeoeskimo Princess, to which she asked ‘Why Princess?’ I replied ‘Because Priscilla is the Palaeoeskimo Queen!’ I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But it might surprise you to know that of the more than 150 sites on the island her name is associated with, she is connected to almost as many European sites as Palaeoeskimo. Her name is associated with nearly 50 Maritime Archaic sites and 20 Recent Indian. She was a very influential archaeologist who has made a lasting impression on this province.

Sites that are somehow related to Dr. Renouf. Either they were found by her or one of her students or she wrote about the sites.
Sites that are somehow related to Dr. Renouf. Either they were found by her or one of her students or she wrote about the sites.

The first time her name shows up in Provincial Archaeology Office records it’s as a co-author on a term paper from 1971. The paper was written with another student as part of a field school held on the shore of Long Pond in Pippy Park. The site was composed of a midden belonging to a Church of England Orphanage.

Over the next few years she participated in the survey work being conducted by Drs. McGhee and Tuck along the Northern Peninsula and Strait of Belle Isle.

Excavation att he Cow Head site in the early 1970s. Left to right: Jim Tuck, Marcie Madden, Priscilla Renouf, Tip Evans and Gerald Penney. (Penney)
Excavation at the Cow Head site in the early 1970s. Left to right: Jim Tuck, Marcie Madden, Priscilla Renouf, Tip Evans and Gerald Penney. (Penney)

Out of this Strait of Belle Isle work came her Master’s thesis in 1976 through MUN, A Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Sequence in Southern Labrador. Her thesis confirmed and clarified the late Paleo-Indian and early Archaic cultural sequence proposed for the Strait of Belle Isle by Drs. McGhee and Tuck. Her work focused on the early Archaic site of Cowpath and the related but smaller Cowpath East and Cowpath West, all three are located between the southern Labrador communities of West St. Modeste and Pinware. Dated to 8600±325 B.P., Cowpath is the second oldest known site in the Province.

Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Projectile Point Sequence in Southern Labrador. Oldest to youngest, top left to bottom right. (Renouf thesis)
Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Projectile Point Sequence in Southern Labrador. Oldest to youngest, top left to bottom right. (Renouf thesis)
Cow Path in 2008.
Cow Path in 2008.

In 1981, Priscilla completed her PhD dissertation at the University of Cambridge entitled Prehistoric Coastal Economy in Varangerfjord, North Norway. Then in 1984 she started the Port au Choix Archaeology Project which would continue up to and including last summer and will likely be continued by her former colleagues and students. The summer of 2014 would have been her 30th year running the project. Her first field season at Port au Choix ran from June 13 to August 18, 1984. Amongst her crew for that first year was Patty Wells. Patty would become a long time crew member for Priscilla, eventually completing her Master’s and PhD thesis under Priscilla’s supervision.

The first goal for that 1984 season was “…to assess the large Dorset eskimo site of Phillip’s Garden for potential future excavations.” That goal and the site of Phillip’s Garden became the focus of her research up to an including last summer. Priscilla would go on to produce nearly 30 reports, academic papers or books dealing with the former inhabitants of Port au Choix and the Province as a whole including the Recent Indians, Groswater Palaeoeskimo, Maritime Archaic Indians and the Dorset Palaeoeskimo whom she focused on most of the time. This list does not include the numerous reports, academic papers and books she co-authored with other academics and numerous students.

Panoramic shot looking over Phillip's Garden in 2014.
Panoramic shot looking over Phillip’s Garden in 2014.

Over the course of her nearly 30 years at Port au Choix, each time she went into the field she was accompanied by her students and a number of local workers. Depending on the research she would have a team of about six students assisting her. So, after nearly 30 years of work that would be 120 to 150 students she directly influenced with her field work. This doesn’t include students she had working in other areas of the Province off the Northern Peninsula like Tim Rast at Burgeo or Lisa Fogt at Cape Ray. It also doesn’t include the thousands of students she would have taught during her university teaching career. The impact she had on Newfoundland and Labrador archaeology just through her students is immeasurable. One of those students, Dominique Lavers is from Port au Choix and worked with Priscilla at Phillips Garden and completed a Master’s thesis under her supervision.

If there was archaeology on the Northern Peninsula, it was a good bet that Priscilla was involved, regardless of whether it was an Historic Resource Impact Assessment (HRIA), investigating spot finds or full blow surveys and research projects. She conducted HRIA’s of the road which connects the community of Main Brook to Route 430 and she surveyed the shores of Old Man’s Pond (midway between woody Point and Corner Brook). She investigated the spot finds of biface fragments at the Bragg and Regular sites on the Northern Peninsula. At the time, one of these sites provided some of the first evidence of the Little Passage complex on the Northern Peninsula. In 1990, she had some of her students investigate a boat wreck that had washed out of a bank at Shallow Bay, Cow Head.

Excavating the Stanford River wreck.
Excavating the Stanford River wreck.

Priscilla was involved in several archaeology surveys and research projects on the Northern Peninsula, sometimes they were ran by her students, sometimes they were projects that she supported and helped to start.  One of her students, Greg Beaton, conducted a survey and excavation in the Big Brook area. Among other discoveries that project may have found a very rare Intermediate Indian occupation on the Island. Other students including Carol Krol, Dominique Lavers and Robert Anstey did excavation and survey work at Broom Point, and St. Paul’s Bay. Another former student carried out a survey in the Conche-Englee area and found or revisited more than 20 sites. Yet another student (Mary Penney nee Melnik), used the results of this Conche-Englee survey to complete detailed excavations which was used to complete a Master’s thesis.

Maritime Archaic Indian Ramah chert biface found at Conche.
Maritime Archaic Indian Ramah chert biface found at Conche.

Priscilla was instrumental in starting the Bird Cove archaeology project in 1997. That project was run by her former student David Reader and I was the crew chief. Over the course of two summers we found 20 sites and test excavated several sites. One of the sites is one of the oldest Maritime Archaic sites on the island. Another site became the basis of my own Master’s thesis. This project continued under the leadership of Tim Rast, another one of her students, and Latonia Hartery. Another project she helped to start was the survey of the St. Lunaire-Griquet that I led in 2000. That summer I found more than 20 sites.

In 1996 she started collaborative work with Dr. Trevor Bell a Geographer at Memorial University of Newfoundland using his knowledge of post glacial sea level rise to predict where the ancient cultures of the Island would have camped. This collaborative approach using detailed sea level history was a first for the island. Along with Trevor’s help, Priscilla was the first archaeologist in the province to use survey methods such as ground penetrating radar and magnetometry in field work. Their collaboration spawned the newly formed CARRA Project. Coastal Archaeological Resource Risk Assessment (CARRA) is an applied research project that addresses the need to identify which coastal archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and how best to respond.

I am sure anyone who knew her and her work can look at this post and ask, well what about this project or that paper, unfortunately I can’t cover everything. Priscilla had her hands into so much, she will be influencing the archaeology in the Province for years to come.

Dr. Renouf
Dr. Renouf

Archaeology & Tourism

The Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) is part of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation (TCR), Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The PAO is the regulatory agency for all archaeology conducted on provincial land within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The PAO are responsible for archaeological site management and protection; archaeological permitting; review of land use applications; development of policy and procedures; consultation with various groups having archaeological interests and education about archaeology. While it is not explicitly stated as a responsibility or a goal of the PAO, we have a role in assuring that the Province’s archaeology tourism product is accurate. While archaeology has always been a part of Tourism in this province, I think it plays a significant role.

The Tourism Research Division of the Department of TCR maintains statistics and information on tourism in the province. Looking at the number of visits to archaeological sites by tourists in 2013 will give you an idea of the significance of archaeology to tourism: Ferryland, 15,800 visitors; Cupids Plantation 3,400 visitors; L’anse aux Meadows, 21,900 visitors; Port au Choix 7,000 visitors; Red Bay 7,700 visitors; Boyd’s Cove 8,100 visitors and while they are not archaeology sites The Rooms received 74,900 visitors and Labrador Interpretation Centre received 2,000 visitors.

In addition the recent Non-Resident Exit Survey (2011) implemented by the Tourism Research Division indicated that 16%  of the non-resident travellers reported a visit to an archaeological site during their stay. It is estimated that between May and October 2011 approximately 25,100 travel parties or 55,900 non-residents visited an archaeology site.

These visitors are more likely than average to be in the province for vacation/pleasure purposes, to be from Western Canada or the United States and report a higher than average length of stay as well as higher in-province per party and per person expenditures. For a full profile of the characteristics of those non-residents visiting an archaeology site please see the Non-Resident Exit Survey (2011).

So, if a tourist came to me asking what are some of the main archaeology tourism destinations in the province, I would answer with the following list – which is my personal opinion. Let’s assume you’ll start out in St. John’s, where would I recommend you go first? Obviously in St. John’s you would need to start with The Rooms, the Museum division in particular if you want to see archaeological interpretation. They have displays and interpretation for just about every culture that can be seen through an archaeological site, starting with artifacts and interpretation of the earliest Aboriginal people, right down to the most recent European immigrants.

Leaving St. John’s I would recommend you go to Ferryland. The site is one of the best preserved 17th century sites in North America. It was first visited by migratory fisherman in the 1500s and early 1600s.  Interestingly, the archaeologists in charge at Ferryland have found Beothuk cultural material in the same level as the migratory fishermen and have interpreted that as the Beothuk coming to the site after the fishermen, likely to take advantage of left over European goods.

Small chert arrowpoints and a large chopper or blank, associated with Beothuk Indian hearths dating from the early 1500s found in Ferryland.

The main occupation of Ferryland by Europeans began in the 1620s when Sir George Calvert purchased land on the Avalon Peninsula to set up a colony. In 1621 Calvert’s colonists set off for Ferryland under the leadership of Governor Captain Edward Wynne. The colony was later taken over by the Kirke family. Interpretation of all this history can be found in the excellent interpretation centre in Ferryland.

Excavated mansion house at Ferryland (Gaulton).
Excavated mansion house at Ferryland (Gaulton).
Excavated 17th century waterfront at Ferryland (Rast).
Excavated 17th century waterfront at Ferryland (Rast).

Still on the Avalon Peninsula, I would recommend you go and see the newest Provincial Historic Site in the Province, Cupids. This site contains the remains of Canada’s first English colony dating back to 1610. As at Ferryland, Cupids has a first rate interpretation centre/museum and the dig is open in the summer months so you can get a guided tour. While the archaeological site at Cupids is not as large as at Ferryland, because the colony was smaller, it is no less impressive and is excellently preserved. In recent years they have been uncovering new features including the stone base of a defensive wall. They have recently added a ghost structure over the main colony area which depicts the shell of the main colony building. This adds an interesting dimension to the site because many people have trouble understanding or seeing how the features in the ground relate to former structures.

Excavation of part of the defensive wall around the Cupids colony (Gilbert).
Excavation of part of the defensive wall around the Cupids colony (Gilbert).
The ghost structure built over the main colony buildings at Cupids (Gilbert).
The ghost structure built over the main colony buildings at Cupids (Gilbert).

On the Bonavista Peninsula, the town of Trinity contains several sites which make up part of the Trinity Provincial Historic Sites. “Trinity’s merchants were some of the wealthiest men on either side of the ocean and they made this town a capital in the salt fish trade in the 1700s.” This rich past means that the archaeology in the area is just as rich; in the Trinity-Trinity East area there are more than 30 registered archaeological sites. Those sites include shipwrecks, fortifications, houses, merchant’s premises and even some precontact Aboriginal material.

Excavation of the Lester-Garland premises in 1993 (McAleese).
Excavation of the Lester-Garland premises in 1993 (McAleese).
Lester-Garland Premises today. The lighter colour bricks are part of the original walls of the structure and are visible in the 1993 photo.
Lester-Garland Premises today. The lighter colour bricks are part of the original walls of the structure and are visible in the 1993 photo.

Our next stop on our archaeological tour of the province will be the Provincial Historic Site of Boyd’s Cove which is about a 30 minute drive north of Gander. This site has a really nice interpretation centre/museum and a beautiful walking trail that will lead you to the site of a Beothuk village. Boyd’s Cove was occupied by Beothuk ancestors starting about 1000 years ago. The historic Beothuk occupation of the site falls within the 1650-1720 A.D. period. If you visit the site today you’ll see an open grassy field with a series of round or oval depressions – each one is a Beothuk house pit.

Boyd’s Cove in 2012 showing some of the Beothuk house pits.
Boyd’s Cove in 2012 showing some of the Beothuk house pits.

Leaving Boyd’s Cove, I would suggest you also visit Fleur de Lys which is a small town on the tip of the Baie Verte Peninsula. Along with being a beautiful little town, Fleur de Lys is home to a large and well-preserved Dorset Palaeoeskimo soapstone quarry; the only known Dorset quarry of its kind. For nearly 100 metres along a bedrock outcrop there are soapstone pot removal scars from when the Dorset carved blocks of soapstone from the exposure. These blocks were eventually turned into soapstone pots and lamps ~1600 years ago.

Excavation of the quarry face at Fleur de Lys.
Excavation of the quarry face at Fleur de Lys.

From the Baie Verte Peninsula we’ll next head up the Great Northern Peninsula to the National Historic Site at Port au Choix. Part of the significance of Port au Choix is that every precontact aboriginal group that ever existed in on the Island seems to have lived here at one time or another. The best example of that can be seen at Phillip’s Garden, a large open field just outside the community. The field contains one of the largest Dorset Palaeoeskimo dwelling sites known anywhere. The site was used by the Dorset more or less continually from 2000 to 1200 years ago. In 2013 Christina E. Robinson finished her Master’s thesis research in which, using three non-intrusive survey methods including magnetometry, she increased the number of potential dwelling structures at the site from 68 to 198.

Aerial shot of Phillips Garden. Trees are visible at the bottom of the photo forming a ring around the site, with a view of the ocean at the top of the photo.
Aerial shot of Phillip’s Garden. Trees are visible at the bottom of the photo forming a ring around the site, with a view of the ocean at the top of the photo. Yellow dots are excavated house pits, red dots are unexcavated house pits. This is the old interpretation of the size of the site (Renouf).
From Robinson 2013, showing the same view of Phillp's Garden with the trees to the south and the ocean view to the north and all the probable dwellings.
From Robinson 2013, showing the same view of Phillip’s Garden with the trees to the south and the ocean view to the north and all the probable dwellings.

From Port au Choix it is a short drive up the Peninsula to the next National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage site at L’Anse aux Meadows. This site contains the only authenticated remains of a Norse village in North America. Along with all the Norse artifacts the site contains the remains of several halls, several huts and a smelting hut.

Map of the Norse site.
Inset from a Parks Canada map of the Norse site.
A. Large Hall, B. House, C. Hut, D. Hall, E. Hut, F. Leader’s Hut, G. Hut, J. Smelting Hut.

Heading across the Strait of Belle Isle to Labrador, I would next recommend you visit Red Bay. Red Bay was identified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013 because of the 16th century Basque Whaling station located there. The Basques came to Red Bay in the early 1500s in late spring/early summer from Europe to hunt for whales. When the whales were caught they would be dragged up on shore and cut into big chunks and the whale fat would be melted down in huge copper pots which sat on top of ovens called tryworks. The oil would then be stored in barrels to be shipped back to Europe. The foundations of buildings and the tryworks used for their large cooking pots are excellently preserved in the ground in Red Bay. This was a huge business and involved hundreds of men and numerous large sailing ships. At the end of the season almost all the men would go back to Europe with their ships filled with barrels of whale oil which was used in various products and as fuel for lamps.

Reconstructed tryworks at Red Bay (Civilization.ca).
Reconstructed tryworks at Red Bay (Civilization.ca).

Some of those ships sank in Red Bay Harbour. At least one was excavated which is believed to be the San Juan because of the court documents in Europe which indicate that the San Juan wrecked in Red Bay Harbour in the 1565.

Model of the San Juan based on the timbers recoverd by archaeologists from the bottom of Red Bay Harbour. (http://yusefjournal.blogspot.ca/2010/06/red-bay-ship.html)
Model of the San Juan based on the timbers recovered by archaeologists from the bottom of Red Bay Harbour.
(http://yusefjournal.blogspot.ca/2010/06/red-bay-ship.html)

Last but not least I would recommend you visit the Labrador Interpretation Centre at North West River, Labrador. This is a quote directly from their webpage:

At the Labrador Interpretation Centre you’ll discover the founding peoples of Labrador – Innu, Inuit, Metis and Settlers. In the permanent exhibition The Past is Where We Come From, you’ll hear the voices and see works of art and artifacts from each of our cultures. You’ll also explore our ancient Aboriginal history and see how we live our lives today. The exhibition is presented in Inuktitut, Innu-aimun and English.

Labrador Interpretation Centre.
Labrador Interpretation Centre.

This list of places to visit is by no means exhaustive. Many communities throughout the Province such as Norris Arm, Cow Head and L’Anse au Clair, for example, have their own museums/interpretation centres that interpret local archaeology. I would encourage you to visit as many as you can to learn as much as you can about the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

References

Robinson, Christina E. 2014 What Lies Beneath?: Three Non-intrusive Archaeological Surveys to Identify Dorset Palaeoeskimo Dwellings at Phillip’s Garden, Port au Choix, Newfoundland.

Music in the ground

I enjoy writing these blog posts, but even writing them every two weeks is becoming difficult. I now find myself searching for topics and looking for inspiration days in advance. The inspiration for this week’s post comes from a friend and colleague’s blog post from last week. Tim Rast runs a company called Elfshot which specializes “…in reproducing the ancient technologies of the Arctic, Sub-Arctic, and Newfoundland and Labrador.” Tim writes a blog about how he makes those reproductions. Last week’s post was about making reproductions of Dorset Palaeoeskimo drums that were originally found at Button Point in the Canadian Arctic. That got me thinking about how many sites in this province have evidence for musical instruments. Several sites and artifacts immediately came to mind. But then I started looking through the files I have access to and I sent out some inquiring emails and found a lot more information than I realized was available. Thanks to Anton, Gaulton, Whitridge and Gilbert for their help.

Many parts of musical instruments have been found on various European sites throughout the province. Starting with some of the earliest sites, several instrument parts have been found at Cupids and Ferryland. Jew, Jaw or Mouth Harps have been found at both sites. These harps “…consist of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame. The tongue/reed is placed in the performer’s mouth and plucked with the finger to produce a note.”

Mouth harp found on the floor of the cowhouse at Ferryland which was destroyed in 1696.
Mouth Harp found on the floor of the cowhouse at Ferryland which was destroyed in 1696.

A few years ago the archaeologists working at Ferryland found part of a tuning peg from a violin or fiddle.

Fiddle or violin tuning peg from Ferryland. (Gaulton)
Fiddle or violin tuning peg from Ferryland. (Gaulton)
Drawing showing tuning peg of a violin.
Drawing showing tuning peg of a violin.

While these items are mass produced intentionally as musical instruments the local population at both Ferryland and Cupids also made use of the tools they had around them to make musical instruments. At both sites artifacts have been recovered that consist of Kaolin pipe stems with holes drilled in them that were likely used as whistles. These homemade instruments likely functioned like and sounded like tin whistles and they show the lengths people will go to, to make music.

Pipe stem whistle (?) from Ferryland. (Gaulton)
Pipe stem whistle (?) from Ferryland. (Gaulton)

On another European site on the south side of St. John’s harbour an accordion reed was found. The site consists of military fortifications where construction began as early as the late 17th century. The fortifications were destroyed and reconstructed several times up to the 19th century.

Accordion reed from the south side of St. John's.
Accordion reed from the south side of St. John’s.

Not a lot of musical instruments have been found on aboriginal sites in the province. That’s not to say they didn’t have musical instruments, rather the problem is most of the instruments probably would have been made from organic material, and the soils in this province, generally, are not good for organic preservation.

Of course the first musical instrument was the human voice; unfortunately that leaves no trace archaeologically. However, it is safe to assume all cultures sang songs. For example, we know the Beothuk sang songs. According to Marshall (1996:288-289):

Songs not only accompanied ceremonies and feasts. According to Shanawdithit they also told of special events; sometimes the occupants of two or three mamateeks sang together. Topics recorded by Cormack include other Indians, dead men, white men’s houses, white men’s guns and stages, white men’s dishes, beads, buttons, nets, hatchets, shirts, Indian bows and arrows, canoes, and boat stealing. This last topic may have alluded to the Beothuk’s stratagem of cutting fishermen’s boats from their moorings. Singing songs about natural phenomena, animals, and other resources in order to pass on knowledge about nature and to express respect and appreciation for their environment would have revived and verified communal traditions and memories. Drums or other musical instruments that accompanied the singing and dancing of other native tribes have never been mentioned in connection with Beothuk.
 

The Beothuk may not have had drums but Howley speculated they may have had a sort of rattle. On sketch 8 of Shanawdithit’s drawings we see a ‘dancing woman’. She is depicted wearing a fringed robe. Unfortunately we can’t tell from the drawing what the fringe is made from. Howley (1915:249) suggests:

Whether these fringes are merely slashed pieces of deer skin or, what appears to me, from their shape more likely, bone or other ornaments, similar to those found in their burying places, which being attached to the dress would jingle or rattle, after the manner of castanets during the process of dancing. This belief is strengthened by the fact that the skin robe covering the body of the small boy in our local museum had such ornaments together with birds’ legs so attached to the hem of the garment.
Shanawdithit's drawing, 'Dancing woman'. (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit’s drawing, ‘Dancing woman’. (Howley 1915)

We also know that to the Innu, musical instruments such as drums and rattles, as well as the songs that accompany such instruments, were very important culturally.

Innu drummer. (Armitage 1991)
Innu drummer. (Armitage 1991)

Frank Speck recorded the importance of music to the Innu in the early 1900s (Speck 1935:174):

When an individual has begun to concentrate his thoughts upon securing animals, or upon some other objective he desires to accomplish, he will sing and at the same time, if an instrument is available, accompany himself with the drum or rattle. It depends upon the occasion. The more frequently a hunter has occasion to resort to the power of sound in arousing his soul-spirit to activity in his behalf, the more likely he is to make for himself a drum.
 

Although there are several interpretations on this webpage that suggests rattles were used to soothe infants, Speck also recorded the rattle being used in place of a drum (1935:182):

The service of the rattle is similar to that of the drum, it being a substitute at times for the drum. Occasionally, one sees the rattle itself used as a drumbeater in the performance of dances. It is considered a toy for children but as such I have never seen one used.
Innu rattle.
Innu rattle.

To the Inuit of Labrador singing (including throat singing) and musical instruments have long been an integral part of their culture. Parts of musical instruments, such as drums, have been found on precontact Inuit (Thule) sites in the Canadian Arctic and as far west as Alaska. Inuit skin drums are known as qilaut. They were made up of gut or hide stretched over a narrow wooden frame. The drum handle was bone or antler, and the frame – not the skin – was beaten with a bone or wood baton to produce sound. Although I don’t think qilaut have been found on precontact Inuit sites in Labrador, a badly decomposed wooden drum frame was recovered from an early historic period Inuit site on Tabor Island. Musical instruments such as the Jew, Jaw or mouth Harp and violin parts have been found on historic period Inuit sites in Labrador. (Kaplan 1983, Whitridge 2012)

Iron jaw harp from Mikak’s late 18th c. winter camp on Black Island, central Labrador; excavated by Amelia Fay. (Whitridge)
Iron Jaw Harp from Mikak’s late 18th c. winter camp on Black Island, central Labrador; excavated by Amelia Fay. (Whitridge)

The violin or fiddle parts were found by Kaplan on the Inuit site of Akulialuk 1 and in Ungava Bay by Lucien Turner. These instrument parts are not European-style violins but rather more likely Inuit-style tautirut.

Inuit tautirut  from Payne  Bay, arctic Quebec (Whitridge).
Inuit tautirut from Payne Bay, Arctic Quebec (Whitridge).

There is very little confirmed evidence for musical instruments in the precontact period in the Province. As far as I know there is no evidence for musical instruments from either the Recent Indian or Intermediate Indian periods. In her PhD thesis released in 2012 Patty Wells speculated that a collection of highly polished bead-like pieces from the Palaeoeskimo site of Phillip’s Garden may have been from the inside of a rattle.

The top row specimens are all ivory and cylindrical with the exception of the specimen on the far left. The second row includes examples that have socket-like grooves in them. The fourth from the left in this row is made of sea mammal bone. The third row is made up of amorphously-shaped examples, and the bottom row is made of bone or antler examples that are generally cylindrical in shape. (Wells 2012: 274)
The top row specimens are all ivory and cylindrical with the exception of the specimen on the far left. The second row includes examples that have socket-like grooves in them. The fourth from the left in this row is made of sea mammal bone. The third row is made up of amorphously-shaped examples, and the bottom row is made of bone or antler examples that are generally cylindrical in shape. (Wells 2012: 274)

Tuck speculated that some of the small, round to oval, white quartz pebbles averaging one centimeter or less in diameter which were sometimes found in small piles with some of the burials at the Maritime Archaic burial site in Port au Choix may have been the contents of a rattle.

I have written previously about biface caches found on archaeological sites throughout the province. Perhaps one of the largest known caches was found in September of 2010 by Neil White and Marion Adams on Change Islands. The cache consisted of 32 large rhyolite bifaces.

Change Islands biface cache (Rast).
Change Islands biface cache (Rast).

Jim Tuck, who found several smaller biface caches in Labrador, theorized that along with being hunting/cutting instruments these caches could form part of a lithophone. These stones when laid out and arranged properly do make a musical sound. During Archaeology Day at the Rooms, in the Fall, Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeological Society members Maria Lear and Sarah Ingram set up several Ramah chert bifaces from the Spingle cache and were quickly able to play a stirring rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In‘.

Musicians Maria and Sarah.
Musicians Maria and Sarah.

The only other example I am aware of in terms of musical instruments being found in a precontact context relates to flutes and/or whistles found at the Maritime Archaic burial site in Port au Choix and the Maritime Archaic burial site at L’Anse Amour. From Port au Choix, Tuck recovered what he referred to as three small whistles “…made from sections of goose ulnae. The two intact specimens measure 10 and 14.8 cm in length and all three examples have the ends ground. Two have a pair of perforations – one about 2 mm and a longer oval one opposite – and the third has a single oval perforation.”

One example is decorated with a fine incised spiral line crossed by longitudinal lines. Two larger specimens, probably essentially the same, were made from swan ulnae, one of which measures over 23cm in length. Two perforations are arranged as one in the smaller specimens, but the larger is trianguloid rather than oval. Neither produces any sound.  
Four flutes (?) were also found, one made from a swan radius, two from ulnae of the same species, and the third from the ulna of an eagle. All measure close to 21 cm in length, all have one end (the top?) cut obliquely with a pair of trianguloid perforations on either side below the cut and polished edge. In one case, there is no further modification save a series of short oblique lines between the oblique edge and the trianguloid perforations. A second example has a series of short nocks around the edge of the perforation and further, a pair of small perforations on opposite sides near the opposite end. The third example has horizontal lines above the larger perforation and two pairs of small perforations at the lower ends. The fourth specimen retains a portion of the trianguloid perforation but is too damaged to allow further comment.

Commenting on the objects Tuck lamented: “Whether these instruments were strictly recreational, were utilized as game calls, or served a more esoteric purpose, we shall probably never know.” (1976:72-73).

From Port au Choix, artifacts 8-10 are thought to be flutes or whistles (Tuck 1976: 238)
From Port au Choix, artifacts thought to be flutes or whistles (Tuck 1976: 238)

Finally, the oldest known example of a musical instrument in this province comes from the L’Anse Amour burial. This site was composed of the burial site of a pre-teen Archaic child who was purposefully buried nearly 8000 years ago. The burial mound was approximately 8 – 10 metres in diameter, and covered in a layer of rocks. Under these were two more boulder layers. In the third layer, about 1 metre below the surface, the rocks were set on edge, forming a cist composed of two parallel lines of upright boulders. Under this the archaeologists found a layer of sand, under another half a metre of the sand they found the skeleton, at a depth of over 1.5 metres below the top of the mound.

The skeleton was that of a child, probably about 12 or 13 years of age, and was lying prone in the sand with the head turned to the west. The sand surrounding the skeleton was stained red with ochre, and a flat rock rested on its back. Two concentrations of charcoal, one on either side of the body, showed where fires had been built in the bottom of the original pit. Above the head was a pile of eight knives or spearpoints of chipped stone and polished bone, and two other spearpoints lay at the left shoulder. On one side, at about the waist, we found a little pile of ochre and graphite paint-stones, and a carved-antler pestle for grinding the paint. An ivory walrus tusk lay in front of the face. Below the neck area we found a decorated bone pendant, a flute or whistle made from a hollow bird-bone, and, under the chest, a harpoon head and a crescentic object, carved from ivory -probably a decorated toggle that might have been attached to the end of a handheld harpoon line. (McGhee 1976:15)
 
The bird bone flute, pendant, paint stones and pestle found with the Maritime Archaic burial at L'Anse Amour (McGhee 1976:24).
The bird bone flute, pendant, paint stones and pestle found with the Maritime Archaic burial at L’Anse Amour (McGhee 1976:24).

References

Armitage, Peter 1991 The Innu (The Montagnais-Naskapi). Indians of North America.

Kaplan, Susan 1983 Economic and Social Change in Labrador Neo-Eskimo Culture.

Marshall, Ingeborg 1996 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. 

McGhee, Robert 1976 The Burial at L’Anse Amour.

Speck, Frank 1935 Naskapi: The Savage Hunters of the Labrador Peninsula.

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

Wells, Patricia 2012 Social Life And Technical Practice: An Analysis Of The Osseous Tool Assemblage At The Dorset Palaeoeskimo Site Of Phillip’s Garden, Newfoundland.

Whitridge, Peter 2012 The sound of contact: historic Inuit music-making in northern Labrador. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology, St. John’s, October 4-6, 2012.

Gold Cove, Brown’s Cove and Dr. Elmer Harp

The earliest documented archaeological work in Newfoundland and Labrador dates to the late 1870s with T.G.B. Lloyd who was a geologist working with the Geological Survey of Canada. Lloyd did not carry out excavations; rather he just collected archaeological artifacts that he attributed to the Beothuk. However, he did publish four papers on his collections in the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Journal in 1875 & 76. Following Lloyd, several other people made early contributions to the archaeology of Newfoundland and Labrador including well known archaeologists such as A.V. Kidder in the early 1900s, Diamond Jenness and W.J. Wintemberg in the 1920s and Junius Bird in the 1930s. Perhaps the person who made the longest lasting impression on the archaeology of Newfoundland and Labrador was another geologist named James P. Howley. He amassed a collection of mostly Beothuk material culture and a large quantity of documentation on the Beothuk including interviews with people who had seen and contacted the Beothuk. He published this material in his book The Beothucks, or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland, published in 1915 which is still used as a reference on the Beothuk today.

Despite this early start and this province having some of the best archaeology sites in Canada, (It’s my blog, I can be biased if I want too) sustained archaeological research and excavation doesn’t really start here until 1949 with the arrival of Elmer Harp. When he arrived, Harp was a doctoral candidate from Harvard University. He would spend the summers of 1949 & 1950, 1961-63 surveying and excavating at several sites in southern Labrador and the Great Northern Peninsula. In the later years, he focused his work on the large Dorset Palaeoeskimo site known as Phillip’s Garden on the Port au Choix Peninsula. Throughout his six fieldseasons, he found, or was directed to by locals, more than 40 archaeology sites. That list includes some important sites such as Phillip’s Garden, Gargamelle Cove Rockshelter and Port au Choix 4 on the Island of Newfoundland. The latter two are among only a handful of sites from which Dorset Palaeoeskimo human remains have been recovered. In Labrador, Harp found, or was shown by locals, sites that include the two oldest precontact Aboriginal sites known in the province, Pinware Hill (Harp called it Pinware West 3) and Cowpath (Harp named it West St. Modeste 1), both sites have been radiocarbon dated at more than 8000 years ago.

A colleague and I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Harp when I was working in Bird Cove in 1997. I distinctly recall an impeccably well-dressed man wearing a matching jacket, tie and pocket-handkerchief. We sat and chatted for a short time, telling him about the local archaeology sites we were finding and he seemed genuinely interested and fascinated. We tried to get him to come into the field with us so we could show him the sites and he was considering it, but didn’t think his wife, Elaine, would approve of an 84 year old traipsing through the woods! I vividly recall shaking his hand as we left and thinking his grip was like a steel vice.

Dr. Elmer Harp in 2004
Dr. Elmer Harp in 2004

Of Harp’s many investigations, some of his lesser known work took place in White Bay. In 1950, Harp spent a few days camped in the Hampden area, at the bottom of White Bay, and was shown cultural material from three precontact sites. The first site he was shown was in the vegetable garden of the Osmond family in Gold Cove. Unfortunately, the locals had been collecting artifacts from the gardens for years and Harp found nothing in situ. This was Gold Cove 1 & 2.

White Bay, Newfoundland
White Bay, Newfoundland
From: Lives and Landscapes: A Photographic Memoir of Outport Newfoundland and Labrador, 1949-1963
From:
Lives and Landscapes: A Photographic Memoir of Outport Newfoundland and Labrador, 1949-1963
Gold Cove bifaces, biface on the left is made of Ramah chert
Gold Cove bifaces, biface on the left is made of Ramah chert
Gold Cove bifaces, the biface on the left appears to be quartzite, the bottom middle and right biface appear to be a maerial known locally as Iceberg chert - a lithic material not usually found on the Island
Gold Cove bifaces, the biface on the left appears to be quartzite; the bottom middle and right biface appear to be a material known locally as Iceberg chert – a lithic material not usually found on the Island
Gold Cove ground slate adze
Gold Cove ground slate adze

The morning after visiting Gold Cove, Harp was taken to Browns Cove where he surveyed the small community without finding much in the way of archaeological material. Later in the afternoon, he was shown several artifacts including a ground serpentine adze and a large biface.

Browns Cove adze
Browns Cove adze
Browns Cove adze, same artifact, different view
Browns Cove adze, same artifact, different view
Browns Cove biface
Browns Cove biface

Harp interpreted these artifacts as being from an early Archaic group (today we know them as the Maritime Archaic) and the Dorset Palaeoeskimo. In 2012, the Provincial Archaeology Office contracted Gerald Penney Associates Limited (GPA) to survey portions of White Bay and try to relocate Harp’s Gold Cove 1 & 2 and Brown’s Cove. They found seven new sites: two in Gold Cove, one in Hannah Cove, one in Burdens Cove, two in Browns Cove and one on Miller Island. Additional archaeological resources were recovered at the original Gold Cove 1 & 2 and the original Browns Cove site.

Gold Cove, the gardens from which the Osmond family collected artifacts is near the yellow cabin on the left
Gold Cove, the gardens from which the Osmond family collected artifacts is near the yellow cabin (behind red cabin) on the left (GPA photo)
Gold Cove, looking over the garden from which Harp collected artifacts in 1950
Gold Cove, looking over the garden from which Harp collected artifacts in 1950 (GPA photo)
Brown’s Cove, looking inland. Likely where vegetable gardens once existed where Harp artifacts were found
Brown’s Cove, looking inland. Likely where vegetable gardens once existed where Harp artifacts were found (GPA photo)

None of GPA’s newly identified sites is large; those with artifacts typically have one or two specimens collected from disturbed contexts. Two of the new sites, Browns Cove and Millers Island, are early to mid-20th century cemeteries. Two of the sites have a precontact component, one consists of just a side-notched biface and the other consists of chert flakes.

Whetstone (left) side-notched biface (right) from two of GPA's new sites (GPA photo)
Whetstone (left) side-notched biface (right) from two of GPA’s new sites (GPA photo)
Twentieth century cemetery at Browns Cove found by GPA (GPA photo)
Twentieth century cemetery at Browns Cove found by GPA (GPA photo)
Twentieth century cemetery on Millers Island found by GPA. Toppled headstone visible in foreground (GPA photo
Twentieth century cemetery on Millers Island found by GPA. Toppled headstone visible in foreground (GPA photo)

The sites recorded by Dr. Harp in White Bay were certainly not among his most better known sites, yet they are still important. They show that someone lived in the area and tried to make a living using the local resources. They help place the occupants of these sites and their culture into a broader regional context. All of which add to our understanding of this Province’s past.

References
Penney, Gerald 2012  Lower White Bay Archaeological Survey and HRIA (Stage 2) at Gold Cove. 12.24.
 
Harp, Jr., Elmer 2011 Lives and Landscapes A Photographic Memoir of Outport Newfoundland and Labrador, 1949-1963, Edited by M.A. Priscilla Renouf