The Samms’ site: A Groswater site in Norris Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groswater Palaeoeskimo update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion in the Archaeological Record

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

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

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

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

Crucifix front
Crucifix front
Crucifix back
Crucifix back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the Numbers 2016 Update

This post was originally written in 2011. I’ve updated the charts and numbers to reflect the current data. The old bar graphs are blue and marked 2011; the updated bar graphs are red and marked 2016. provProvince2011
There are nearly 5500 recorded archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2011, the number was nearly 5000. The bar graphs above show the number of cultural components at those sites. However, before you start adding up the numbers to try to get the exact number of archaeological sites you need to know that the number of sites will not equal the number of cultures represented at those sites. The reason is sites can have more than one culture. For example, Ferryland, the 17th century English colony founded in 1621 by George Calvert, later Lord Baltimore, has a European (English, French, Dutch) and a Beothuk cultural component. So it’s one site with two cultural components.

For the Island there are ~ 1900 known sites, while in Labrador there are just over ~3500 recorded sites. In 2011, the numbers were ~1700 & ~3100.LabLab2011

The graphs above show the cultural components of the Labrador archaeological sites and those below show the cultural components of the sites on the island portion of the province.NfNf2011

Looking at the ~1900 sites from the Island portion of the province I was surprised that there were so many European cultural components, and even more surprised when I realized the Newfoundland European cultural components out-number the Labrador European cultural components nearly 2 to 1.

Any other observations?  Is there anything in the graphs that you were surprised to learn?

Of the ~5000 sites for the Province nearly half, or 2634, have a Precontact component. By Precontact I am referring to the period before prolonged exposure of Aboriginal people to Europeans. The time period after that is Post-contact and for Newfoundland and Labrador the cut off is generally seen as ~ 1497 A.D..prePrecontact2011

post Post-contact2011

Of the ~5000 sites, 3131 have a Post-contact cultural component. Some of these numbers may be questioned. For example, many Mi’kmaq believe their ancestors were on the Island in the Precontact period. I am not trying to refute that claim. I am just stating that there is no archaeological evidence of Precontact Mi’kmaq sites. Hence the Mi’kmaq are only represented on the Post-contact graph.

You’ll also notice that in both the Precontact and Post-contact graphs I have included a category titled ‘Undetermined’. For example, some sites are comprised of a loose arrangement of stones that obviously didn’t form naturally but whose origin is not clear.

For a different perspective on these numbers see the following distribution maps.

Do you have a site, a culture or time period you are interested in that you would like to see a post about?

If you have a request for a blog post you can send me a message.

Conception Bay South Burials

There is a unique, or at least I think it’s unique, cluster of apparently family burial plots in Conception Bay South. I believe each of these five burial plots contain multiple burials and most of them have grave marker stones. Some of the stones have text and other small stones are erected upright in the soil. I’ll start by telling you about the first one that was recognized archaeologically.

Five family plot burials known in the Manuels-Foxtrap area.
Five family plot burials known in the Manuels-Foxtrap area.

In the fall of 1965 a St. John’s lawyer and a Memorial University of Newfoundland student took it upon themselves to excavate a grave that was located on Manuels Head in Manuels. They opened the grave and collected the skull which was then sent to the National Museum in Ottawa. They concluded that the grave was that of a Beothuk person despite finding a wooden coffin and iron nails. Archaeologist Donald MacLeod went back to the grave in 1966. Shortly after he started excavating he found pieces of the coffin and small square nails. He never finished the excavation, perhaps because of the discovery of the pieces of the coffin and small square nails confirmed for him that the burial was not Beothuk

In April 1986 the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) were called to investigate the discovery of human remains at a site we call Foxtrap. The remains were found as a result of construction activities. Once the RNC determined that he remains were not related to a criminal case the matter was handed over to the forensic anthropologist working in the province at the time.

According to the report from the forensic anthropologist the recovered remains were those of an adult female and child, buried in a coffin. The female was estimated to be 18-20 years old based on the x-rays of the long bones in which the epiphyses are nearly fused to the shafts. An age estimate for the child based on tooth eruption in the recovered maxilla indicated an age between 2 and 6 years old, probably around 4 years old at time of death.

An archaeologist examined the recovered coffin nails which were hand-forged. This technique for making nails ended in much of North America by the late 18th century and they were replaced by cut nails. However, in Newfoundland hand-forging nails continued until at least the 1920s. Based on this it is suspected the burials predates 1900.

Also in 1986, just down the road from the Foxtrap site, archaeologists were alerted to another burial on private property. This burial, Foxtrap 2, was not excavated by archaeologists, which is standard practice today unless the burial is threatened and in this case the land owner agreed not to develop the land. The archaeologists believe they saw between six and eight broken slate headstones. While they were walking over the land they noted undulations and suspect there could be 20-30 burials in the area. The sister of the land owner (an elderly woman) told the archaeologists that there were no burials on the land in her father’s or grandfather’s time, so the existing burials likely predate the mid-19th century.

In 2007 I had the opportunity to revisit the Foxtrap 2 site with the permission of the land owners. The burials are located on a man-made ‘island’ of original land – all the land around them has been cleared using a tractor leaving the burials completely isolated. The ‘island’ is ~11m x 14m in size.

Man-made island that contains the burials.
Man-made island that contains the burials.

There is one headstone with writing that is badly broken into several large pieces. Some of the pieces have text on them, what text can be read includes the letters ‘SAC’ on what may be the top of the headstone. Another piece of stone has the words:
to th…
the 15th…
It is possible the stone once read: “Sacred to the Memory of” and then contained the name of the deceased and the date they died.

Photos showing partial headstone with the letters ‘SAC’ another piece with the possible name and date of death.
Photo showing partial headstone with the letters ‘SAC’ another piece with the possible name and date of death.
Grave stone markers at Foxtrap 2.

Also found at the site were several (5-10) small vertical slate slabs protruding from the ground. Based on my experience with other burials it is very likely these stones also mark graves. It is not clear if they mark both the head & foot of a grave or just the head. Given this uncertainty, as well as the presence of other stones that may mark graves, and the undulating surface of the area, it is difficult to arrive at an exact number of burials at the site.

Just over one kilometre to the east of Foxtrap 2 is another family burial plot. This site is located in a small area of shrubs and undisturbed soil between two businesses just off Oakes Lane, hence the site name Oakes Lane Cemetery. The site contains up to half a dozen visible stone grave markers.

According to genealogy research, there are believed to be at least four graves on the site which may belong to Richard Ridout (early spelling of Rideout) and possibly his first wife Rachel (nee Porter) or his second wife Elizabeth (nee Hiscock) and their children. The Rideouts once owned the property on which the cemetery is located. Richard was born in England in the late 1700s and came to Foxtrap around 1814 and married Rachel on September 28, 1814. He was known to be a community leader and according to family folklore, carried out church services, baptisms and funerals.  He died in 1834.  Rachel died between 1820 and 1824 and Elizabeth after that time.  If this information is correct these may be the oldest known burials in Conception Bay South.

In 2010 I had an opportunity to visit the site and photograph the headstones.  Like most of these small family plots the stones grave markers are small erect pieces of slate with no text visible on them.

Oakes Lane Cemetery grave stones.
Oakes Lane Cemetery grave stones.

A few years ago I was contacted by a member of the Newfoundland’s Grand Banks website about another burial in a potato field just ~200 metres to the west of the Oakes Lane Cemetery. I have not had an opportunity to see this burial yet.

Initially I had planned to tell you about, what I thought, was a unique cluster of five European family burial plots all within one kilometre of each other in Conception Bay South. In preparation for that topic I started to look at other nearby sites and realized the Manuels Head burial was also close by. The land on which this burial is situated was investigated archaeologically again in 2011 as part of a housing development. Reading through that 2011 report I found out that this cluster of sites is not unusual for the Avalon Peninsula. The report cited a 1975 Master’s Thesis by folklorist Gerald Pocius entitled The place of burial: spatial focus of contact of the living with the dead in eastern areas of the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. In his thesis Pocius writes that he recorded 20 early burial sites on the north-east Avalon, which he described as “…scattered throughout the community… in such areas as a family meadow or garden, along a road, or in small established plots,” usually these cemeteries were used before the arrival of clergymen in the area (Pocius 1975:89, 109-110) According to the 2011 report by Gerald Penney there was no church in CBS until 1837 and that the area had been “…a settled and quietly thriving village for 40 years before the establishment of a parish churchyard at Foxtrap (Penney 2011).”

So it seems the small cluster of sites that I saw was not all that unique, rather the fact that they are recognized archaeologically is what is unique. I am not sure if this pattern of small family burial plots only occurs on the Avalon Peninsula or is a common occurrence throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. If I had to guess, I would say it was a common occurrence until a church was established nearby.

Jerkic, Sonja
1989  Skeletal Material Retrieved from Foxtrap. Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador, 1986, Annual Report No. 7. Edited by J. Callum Thomson and Jane-Sproull Thomson. Historic Resources Division, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, pp 290-291.

Penney, Gerald
2011  Manuels Head Burial Site (CjAf-01) Desk-based Archaeological Assessment.

Pocius, Gerald
1975  The place of burial: spatial focus of contact of the living with the dead in eastern areas of the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland. MA thesis, MUN.


Beyond Indian Point: History and Archaeology of the Northeast Arm of Red Indian Lake, Part 4

This final post dealing with the history and archaeology of Red Indian Lake will deal with the archaeology sites that have been found based on the historic documentation discussed in the previous post.

The Archaeology of the northeast arm
The archaeology of Red Indian Lake I or Indian Point was already covered in two previous blog posts, here and here. Unfortunately the knowledge we have gathered through archaeology for the rest of the northeast arm is even more limited than that of Indian Point. Once again this lack of knowledge is because of the industrialization of the lake which has altered it’s topography and destroyed some of the sites in the process. The area (outside of Indian Point) has also suffered from a lack of formal archaeology conducted on those sites.

Despite this, artifacts have been recovered, mainly along the eastern shore, but also at one location on the western shore. Again, as with Indian Point, their discoverer was Don Locke, the avocational archaeologist from Grand Falls. The following is what we know of the four sites discovered by Locke.

 Don Locke sketch.
Don Locke sketch of sites found on the northeast arm.

Red Indian Lake II (DeBd-02)
Red Indian Lake II and Site “A” Indian Point are two names given to this site by Don Locke. Its official name in the Provincial Archaeology Office database is the Three Wigwam site, so named by Callum Thomson and Don Locke in 1987.

Mr. Locke stated that on a field trip in 1968 further east of Indian Point he came across a tractor route to the lake from which he collected large quantities of caribou bone, a clay pipe stem, a stone scraper and a few parts of a large trap from the surface. On the beach he collected trap parts. He also dug two test pits in the area of the track. In the first he found part of a hearth, fire-cracked rocks, and pockets of charcoal, a folded tin bowl and a stone arrowhead. In the second test pit he uncovered a metal button and large fragments of well-preserved caribou bones. His book Beothuk Artifacts illustrates two iron axes from this site. He stated that the site had been disturbed by logging activities and concluded that this site was a small outpost of the main Indian Point site. On an early edition topographic map of the area Locke located this site at about 1km northeast of Indian Point. This would place it in the general area of a brook locally named One Mile Brook. However, Locke makes no mention of a brook in his short report on the site.

Axe head recovered from DeBd-02 by Locke.
Axe head recovered from Red Indian Lake II (DeBd-02) by Locke.
Button recovered from DeBd-02 by Locke.
Button recovered from Red Indian Lake II (DeBd-02) by Locke.

In 1981 during Jane Sproull Thomson’s field season at Indian Point she searched for Red Indian Lake II. It was relocated when crew members surveying the shoreline east of Indian Point found fire-cracked rock and charcoal in one test pit, burnt bone and a small core fragment of opaque grey chert in a second. Later a 1m² unit was tried in an area full of caribou bone seen at the surface. The bone extended to a depth of 11cm, and fire-cracked rock, burnt bone, some charcoal and one glass fragment were recorded. When Don Locke visited this dig he confirmed that they had found his Red Indian Lake II site and he also showed them the location of his Red Indian Lake III (to be discussed below). Sproull Thomson estimated that Red Indian Lake II was located 500 metres northeast of Indian Point.

JST DeBd-02 test sq. showing depth of caribou bone
Jane Sproull Thomson test unit at DeBd-02 test unit showing caribou bone scatter (Sproull Thomson).

In 2011 Gerald Penney undertook an historic resources impact assessment on a large-sized multi-cabin development project whose western boundary was approximately 900 metres east of Indian Point. A field investigation of the project area was undertaken because the possibility existed that Red Indian Lake II, as well as other sites, including the three wigwam site as shown in Shawnadithit’s sketches 1 and 3 (see the previous post), may have been in the cabin development boundaries. However, no historic resources were found. Penney surmised that DeBd-02, Red Indian Lake II, lay just outside the project area to the southwest. In respect to Shawnadithit’s three wigwam site where Beothuk were surprised by Buchan in 1811 it was either at the northeast extremity of the project area and now destroyed by rising lake levels or just outside the project area nearer to Millertown.

An earlier survey from Indian Point to Millertown in 1980 conducted by Jane Sproull Thomson, Callum Thomson and Dr. Ralph Pastore also failed to locate any historic resources relating to Red Indian Lake II.

Red Indian Lake III (DeBd-03)

Don Locke sketch of Red Indian Lake III.
Don Locke sketch of Red Indian Lake III.

This site was found by Locke in 1974 during a low water event. It was rediscovered in 1981 by Alfred and Ingeborg Marshall during a visit to the Sproull Thomson excavations at Indian Point. Their survey, which took in most of the eastern shoreline towards Millertown, located Locke’s Red Indian Lake III about halfway between Indian Point and Red Indian Lake II. They concluded that the site was partly destroyed through the collapsing of the bank. However, some caribou bone and a piece of iron material were found, probably in situ at the site’s eastern portion. Sproull Thomson shows this site, as well as Red Indian Lake II, on a sketch in her field notebook. The site is labeled “Kill’ site due to the amount of caribou bone uncovered in a test pit dug by the Marshalls.

Erosion of the bank at Red Indian Lake III.
Erosion of the bank at Red Indian Lake III.
Iron deer spear recovered from Red Indian Lake III.
Iron deer spear recovered from Red Indian Lake III (DeBd-03) by Locke.
Iron artifacts recovered from Red Indian Lake III.
Iron artifacts recovered from Red Indian Lake III (DeBd-03) by Locke.

In 1987 Don Locke revisited the lake with Callum Thomson and showed him Red Indian Lake III, which they renamed June’s Cove. As we have seen earlier (in the previous post) John Cartwright’s maps place June’s Cove at the head of the northeast arm at present day Millertown. So why did Thomson and Locke think that the site Locke had found was Cartwright’s June’s Cove? In the opening of Locke’s report on Indian Point (Red Indian Lake I) and Red Indian Lake II he writes “John Cartwright’s report on his trip to Red Indian Lake was some help to me in locating the Indian Point site“.

Looking at Red Indian Lake III (right side of photo) from Indian Point showing erosion of the shoreline (Thomson).
Looking at Red Indian Lake III (right side of photo) from Indian Point showing erosion of the shoreline (Thomson).

The following paragraph from Cartwright’s journal most likely convinced them of its location.

The morning following, having left another man behind to mend his shoes, the rest of us, being only five of the original fourteen went to view the lake; and walked about halfway to the bottom of June’s Cove which was found to answer the description of such a place given by the Indian boy June, where he said his father dwelt. By his account it was the residence also of a great part of his tribe which might have been very true for, reaching about a quarter of a mile within the beach, that was cleared of timber, and covered with old marks of an Indian settlement, now gone entirely to decay, and almost hid with young woods and high weeds which flourish here in great luxuriance, the soil being fruitful. From the circumstances of its large extent; being well filled with habitations; being cleared of wood and thrown open to the north west winds, as if for air and coolness; I should be inclined to think that it might have been a settlement for all seasons; the studded houses making it sufficiently warm in winter, without the shelter of the woods, could a method be assigned whereby the Indians might be able to procure their summers subsistence in such a place. But that appears improbable except that the lake abounds in fish and fowl; the latter of which from appearances must I believe be very scarce.”

Obviously then time didn’t allow Cartwright to walk to the bottom of the northeast arm, as he stated that they left the lake around noon and started their trek back down the river to the coast. If he had explored more of the lake shore he would have reached Mary March Point and would have drawn the brook entering the lake on the north side, not the south. We hypothesize that June’s Cove was the area formed by Indian Point jutting out into the lake and running to the bottom of the arm. Indian Point is nearly halfway between the outflow of the Exploits and Millertown where the lake ended until 1925. This is the distance Cartwright said he traveled. So we believe that Locke and Thomson were correct when they concluded that the area visited by Cartwright in 1768 was the same location that contained the archaeological sites Indian Point (DeBd-01), June’s Cove (DeBd-03) and likely the Three Wigwam site (DeBd-04).

Six photos stitched together showing Indian Point in 1985 after the leveling of the site in 1982. This photo is taken from the same general area as the Sproull-Thomson photo in 1981. Completely gone are the small bushes, trees and small hills on the right side that held Devereux's various site localities (Thomson 1985).
Six photos stitched together showing Indian Point (on the right) and Red Indian Lake III (June’s Cove, on the left) in 1985. The two sites are currently separated by the dirt road but essentially they were one large site (Thomson 1985).

Sketches drawn by Mr. Locke place this site in the cove formed by the sand spit that is Indian Point. Basically, as shown by Locke, June’s Cove and Indian Point was one continuous site (see sketches above). Though in his publication, Beothuk Artifacts, Locke shows Red Indian Lake III a short distance past Indian Point.

While Locke never wrote about Red Indian Lake III others did. In 1987 after visiting the site with Locke, Thomson wrote the following in a memo.

At the east end of the site, i.e. between Indian Point and Millertown there used to be a massive extension of the habitation area. This used to be a shallow bay known as June’s Cove, and was occupied during Buchans’ visit in 1811 (Thomson field sketches show June’s Cove at the same location as Locke’s). Locke showed me several areas of firecracked rocks and artifact deposits where wigwams or outdoor hearths were situated, and pointed out where other housepits had been on a now-eroded bank. There remains great potential in June’s Cove for future excavation. Although lake action has moved much of the surface material about there will probably be in situ deposits below the surface. A small crew of 4-6 people could map this 1-2 hectare area out with surveying instruments, pinpoint activity areas, and excavate the remains over the course of a summer if the water level remains low next year. The site may produce as much information again as we now have from this most significant area. Apart from Beothuk material Locke has also obtained prehistoric Little Passage and Beaches, Micmac and European artifacts from the surface of the site.

William Gilbert who reevaluated the material culture found on Recent Indian sites in the Exploits River-Red Indian Lake area stated “The surprising thing about June’s Cove is the large amount of historic material recovered from the site. A total of 281 artifacts of European manufacture were recovered from June’s Cove (McLean 1990) compared to 31 from Indian Point. Clearly, of the two sites, June’s Cove contains the more substantial late historic Beothuk occupation.” The reference to McLean refers to the cataloging of Don Locke’s artifact collection done by Mr. McLean and evaluated in a subsequent paper by Mr. Gilbert.

From Locke’s Red Indian Lake II (DeBd-2) to Millertown no further artifacts or sites have been found.

Don Locke sketch.
Don Locke sketch.

Red Indian Lake North (DeBd-04)
This is the final site on the lake that has conclusive evidence of past Amerindian use. Again it was found by Don Locke during a low water episode. Several archaeologists have searched for this site since Locke’s initial discovery with no luck. Locke told Sproull Thomson in 1981 that the site had been between 90 to 125 metres east of Warford’s Brook but was now eroded and drowned by the lake (see Locke sketch above). This would have placed the site very near Mary March Point at the end of the arm. Locke collected five iron artifacts and two stone artifacts indicating that the site was both precontact and historic in nature.

Iron axe head recovered from Red Indian Lake North.
Iron axe head recovered from Red Indian Lake North.

Several surveys, starting with Sproull Thomson in 1981 (see also McLean 2013 and McAleese 2013-2014), involved searching the northern shoreline of the northeast arm from Warford’s Brook to Miller’s Point without success. This is likely due to the flooding of the lake in 1925 when the sites shown on Shawnadithit’s sketches, including Demasduit’s and Nonosabasut’s campsite and burial ground, were drowned. Whatever sites were on Mary March Point, Red Indian Lake North and much of what has been discovered on the south of the lake has suffered the same fate. However, we do now have a better understanding of the importance of the shoreline around Indian Point. It seems conclusive that this area was the location of June’s Cove and a strong case could be made that its shoreline also contained the three wigwams shown in Shawnadithit’s sketches as well.

Gilbert, William

1996 The Recent Indian Occupation of the Exploits River/Red Indian Lake Region: A Reevaluation of the Archaeological Evidence.

Howley, James P.
1980 The Beothuk or Red Indians.

Locke, Donald
1974 Beothuk Artifacts.
1975 Historic And Prehistoric Site Indian Point Site #1.

Marshall, Alfred and Ingeborg
1981 Report on a survey of part of the shore of Red Indian Lake.

Marshall, Ingeborg
1997 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk.

McAleese, Kevin
2013 Red Indian Lake Survey – Final Report.
2014 Preliminary Report DeBd-07 Andersen Point.

McLean, Laurie
1990 Inventory of Artifacts, Obtained By Newfoundland Museum From Don Locke Jr.
2013 An Archaeological Survey of the Northeast Shore of Red Indian Lake, Newfoundland.

Penney, Gerald
2010 Red Indian Lake Cabin Development Historic Resources Impact Assessment.

Sproull Thomson, Jane
1980 Red Indian Lake – Indian Point Survey – June 20-21, 1980.
1981 Field Notes.
1981 Investigations at Red Indian Lake.

Thomson, Callum
1987 Field Notes from First Locke Survey October 1987.
1987 Memo: Archaeological Survey of Red Indian Lake and Exploits River with D. Locke 1987 10 27-29.

Beyond Indian Point: History and Archaeology of the Northeast Arm of Red Indian Lake, Part 3

In the previous two posts (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) we looked at Indian Point on Red Indian Lake. This time we turn our attention to other sites and historic occurrences at various other locations on the northeast arm of Red Indian Lake. This post was written by a colleague who is much more familiar with the history and archaeology of this area than I am.

Historically, the northeast arm was a narrow, linear stretch of the lake beginning at the outflow of the Exploits River which, prior to flooding in 1925, extended to the northeastward for approximately 6.5km; its pre-flood width is difficult to estimate. The lake ended at the inflow of Mary March Brook, now the location of Millertown. The north shore of the arm extended from this locale to what is today known as Miller’s Point, which lies directly across from the mouth of the Exploits. First in 1900 and again in 1925 dams were constructed across the outflow of the Exploits River. Pictures of Millertown prior to 1925 show little change in the water level of the lake. However, once the 1925 dam was constructed the lake’s shoreline changed dramatically. In fact the entire town of Millertown had to be moved from the shoreline and along Mary March Point to a much higher location on the shoreline.

Millertown in 1900-1901 prior to heavy flooding. On the left foreground is the stack associated with the lumber mill, the point of land beyond that is likely Indian Point. The houses extend well out into the lake and were built on Mary March Point. All of the buildings had to be moved up the shoreline above the mill prior to flooding in 1925. (
Millertown in 1900-1901 prior to heavy flooding. On the left foreground is the stack associated with the lumber mill, the point of land beyond that is likely Indian Point. The houses extend well out into the lake and were built on Mary March Point. All of the buildings had to be moved up the shoreline above the mill prior to flooding in 1925 (
Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo. Showing Mary March Point covered in houses, the photo show just how narrow the lake was historically.
Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo. Showing Mary March Point covered in houses, the photo show just how narrow the lake was historically (
Looking at the lumber mill with Mary March Point directly behind the photographer. All of the buildings along the shoreline shown in the previous photos were move higher on the shoreline, likely to near the level of the white building on the left of this photo. Looking down Red Indian Lake, the point of land in the background is likely Indian Point (
Water wheel from the lumber mill shown at low water in 2005.
Water wheel from the lumber mill shown at low water in 2005. Notice how far back from the water all the houses are located (

The English History of the Northeast Arm from 1768 to 1820
Historic documentation derived from various sources including Lieutenant John Cartwright’s expedition up the Exploits River to the lake in 1768, Lieutenant, then Captain, David Buchan’s two expeditions in the 19th century and John Peyton Junior’s ill-fated 1819 trip demonstrate the Beothuk use of the arm. Their documents, along with some of Shanawdithit’s sketches of the northeast arm, shed some light on the importance of this locale to the Beothuk.

John Cartwright’s Visit in 1768
As far as we know the first European visitor to the lake was John Cartwright. He set off from the mouth of the Exploits River in August of 1768 with 14 companions to ascertain the feasibility of traveling overland from the east coast of the island to the west coast via the Exploits River and Red Indian Lake. Cartwright also wanted to acquire a better understanding of the Beothuk and, if possible, meet with them with the intention of establishing friendly relations.

On the evening of the sixth day of travel Cartwright reached the lake, which he named Lieutenant’s Lake after his rank. At that time he recorded two points of land which he named Tacamahacca Point, after the Balsam Popular which was growing there, and Sabbath Point. Their locations are shown on a second sketch that Cartwright submitted in 1773 (see below), reproduced in Marshall 1996 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. The first sketch drawn for his report in 1768 also the names these points, but the actual points are not shown. The 1768 sketch was reproduced in Howley’s Beothuk or Red Indians.

Tacamahacca Point was located on the east side of the outflow of the Exploits, while Sabbath Point was a couple of hundred metres further to the east. The image below shows what remains of the two points today and the small cove that they created. Cartwright recorded at least two conical wigwams at Tacamahacca Point and a rectangular house at Sabbath Point. Unfortunately these structures are probably long gone due to the industrial activity along the lake’s shoreline.

Showing Tacamahacca Point and Sabbath Point as they appear today.
Showing Tacamahacca Point and Sabbath Point as they appear today.

Cartwright’s main task during the half day that he was on the lake was to discover the location of the settlement where the Beothuk captive, Tom June, had told Cartwright his father dwelt. Cartwright shows this location on both sketches. The 1768 map shows June’s Cove on the south side of the northeast arm situated at the bottom of a small cove with a view up the lake to the west. The 1773 sketch also places June’s Cove at the bottom of the arm. However, he shows the brook (now called Mary March Brook) entering the lake on the south shore instead of the northeast end of the lake, which would indicate either that the mouth of the brook migrated northward from 1768 or Cartwright never reached the end of the arm and drew it based on what Tom June had told him. Neither of his sketches shows Indian Point nor do they show Mary March Point. Cartwright’s maps only show the northeast arm of the lake because he did not explore the rest of the lake and while he was there the lake was heavily shrouded in fog making it impossible to see the southwest end of the lake.

Cartwrights sketch showing Point and Sabbath Point, June's Cove and what we believe is meant to be Mary March Brook.
Cartwrights 1773 sketch showing Tacamahacca Point and Sabbath Point, June’s Cove and what we believe is meant to be Mary March Brook.

David Buchan’s First Visit in 1811
Lieutenant David Buchan, accompanied by 23 men and one boy from the HMS Adonis and three furriers working as guides traveled up the Exploits River in January of 1811 to attempt to open communication with the Beothuk. After 11 days of travel he and some of his crew surprised a group of Beothuk living in three wigwams (mamateeks) on the south shore of the northeast arm. Unfortunately neither Buchan’s narrative nor his plan of the lake (shown in Marshall, 1996) contains much geographical information on the location of this small village other than it was on the south shore and not far from the outlet of the Exploits River. His 1811 plan doesn’t show the end of the northeast arm. Buchan did state that two of the wigwams were found close together while the third was about a hundred yards away. What we do know is that the three wigwams could be seen from the lake and that they were only a short distance inland from the beach on top of a bank overlooking the lake. The Three Wigwam site is mentioned again later by Buchan and sketched by Shanawdithit (See sketch 2 below). Buchan also mentions an old wigwam across the lake from where he found the Beothuk.

The Peyton Visit in 1819 and The Kidnapping of Demasduit
The third expedition to the lake was carried out by the settler John Peyton Jr., his father and eight of his servants, of which at least one, Thomas Taylor, had accompanied Buchan in 1811. With the permission of Governor Hamilton, they traveled to the lake in an attempt to regain their goods that had been stolen by the Beothuk and if possible capture one of them. Unlike the two previous trips to the lake, Peyton and his men left the Exploits River well below its outfall into Red Indian Lake and instead took an overland route to the lake. Peyton told James Howley during an interview in 1871 that he had surmised that this route would take him near the head of the northeast arm where he believed the Beothuk were camped.

At this time Demasduit was captured and her husband Nonosabasut was killed . Their baby died a few days later (Shanawdithit later claimed that Nonosabasut’s brother was killed as well). Shanawdithit’s sketches show these events, sketch 2 in particular (See below).

Little is known about the whereabouts of this camp site other than it was on the north side of the lake and nearly directly across from the three wigwams which Buchan captured in 1811.

Buchan’s Second Trip 1820
After only 10 months living among the English, Demasduit died in January of 1820. This led Captain David Buchan and 49 men, including John Peyton Jr. and some of his servants, to once again journey up the Exploits River to Red Indian Lake (which Buchan named Lake Bathurst) to return Demasduit’s corpse to the camp site where she had been captured by Peyton the year before.

Upon reaching the lake Buchan described seeing the frames of two wigwams while the third had been converted by the Beothuk into a burial hut containing Nonosabasut’s body. Buchan described the two wigwam frames and burial hut as being “…situated on the North-West side four or five miles from the North-Eastern extremity of the pond by which Mr. Peyton formerly entered and nearly opposite to where I found the natives” (Howley pg. 124). Buchan’s statement that the hut was four to five miles from the end of the pond is clearly an overestimation as the length of the northeast arm in Buchan’s day was slightly more than four miles.

The 1820 expedition supplied a superior map of the lake, including landmarks, to that of the 1811 expedition. From the reproduction in Marshall’s 1996 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk the northeast arm is fairly well shown with certain geographical features evident. Buchan’s 1811 Lookout Point located at the eastern side of the outfall of the Exploits River is likely Cartwright’s Sabbath Point. Further to the northeast Indian Point can be identified but the name given to this point by Buchan is indecipherable. From here a dotted line crosses the arm to the northeast to the location of the 1819 Beothuk encampment. Back on the south side and further eastward of Indian Point, Buchan shows the location of the three Beothuk wigwams surprised in 1811. They are nearly opposite the 1819 camp site. Slightly past the Three Wigwam site the map shows a cove a little west of the end of the lake. This cove no longer exists though it is possible that its location can still be inferred (see air photo below). Buchan named the brook running into the lake at the northeast end Indian Brook. One of the things we can confirm based on Buchan’s map is that the Three Wigwam site was located between Indian Point and the above mentioned cove.

Aerial image of the northeast arm of Red Indian Lake (Bing).
Aerial image of the northeast arm of Red Indian Lake (Bing).

On the north side of the lake west of Indian Brook, Warford’s Brook can be clearly seen, followed by a point and a slight cove where Demasduit’s camp and burial site were located. Further westward was another small point, which along with the previous mentioned point, formed the cove where the Beothuk had wintered. This point is likely Anderson’s Point. The last landmark in the northeast arm is Miller’s Point directly opposite the outflow of the Exploits. According to Buchan’s map Demasduit’s and Nonosabasut’s 1819 camp site was in the eastern edge of a cove just slightly west of Warford’s Brook. See the see air photo above for a possible location for this camp ground.

Captain Buchan's 1820 map from Marshall 1996.
Captain Buchan’s 1820 map from Marshall 1996.

Shanawdithit’s Sketches relating to Red Indian Lake
Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk drew three sketches of the lake which recorded her perspective of the expeditions mentioned above.

Sketch #1
This sketch deals exclusively with Buchan’s expedition of 1811. On the east side of the lake at the outflow of the Exploits River, Shanawdithit shows both points named by Cartwright, Tacamahacca and Sabbath Point. Further to the east she has drawn Indian Point and between it and Mary March Point she shows the three wigwams captured by Buchan. Shanawdithit was living in the most westerly of these structures. Nearly directly across the lake and to the west of Warford’s Brook, Demasduit’s cemetery is shown.

Shanawdithit sketch 1 (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit sketch 1 (Howley 1915)

Sketch #2
This sketch deals with the events of 1811 and 1819. Again Indian Point is clearly shown as are the three wigwams captured in 1811 by Buchan. The three wigwams on the north shore of the lake are also shown, these became the burial huts for Nonosabasut and Demasduit, however in this sketch they are shown more to the westward than in sketch #1 and they align more with the cove and shoreline directly east of Indian Point.

Shanawdithit sketch 2 (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit sketch 2 (Howley 1915)

Sketch #3
Shanawdithit’s final drawing of the lake shows much of Red Indian Lake. It details Buchan’s 1820 expedition to return Demasduit’s body and his subsequent exploration of the lake. In this sketch Shanawdithit shows three wigwams located at the outflow of the river, likely at Cartwright’s Tacamahacca Point. Further east at Indian Point, she drew one wigwam at the base of the cove formed by the point and nearly directly across to the northeast she shows Nonosabasut and Demasduit’s cemetery. The wigwam at Indian Point is the first drawn at this location. Shanawdithit drew a line from this house to the west end of the lake. This was the site of the encampment of all the tribe after being discovered by Buchan in 1811. This line leads to the conjecture that the location of Shanawdithit’s wigwam, the most westerly of the three, was situated somewhere in the cove formed by Indian Point and not further to the east as shown in her previous two sketches.

Shanawdithit sketch 3 (Howley 1915)
Shanawdithit sketch 3 (Howley 1915)

In the next blog post we’ll explain how all this documentation has been used to record several archaeology sites in the northeast arm.


Howley, James P.
1980 The Beothuk or Red Indians.

Marshall, Ingeborg
1997 A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk.