Labrador South Coastal Survey: 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Archaeology, Kamestastin Lake & the Tshikapisk Foundation

The Tshikapisk Foundation was created in 1997 by a group of Innu concerned with the disruptive consequences that the sudden change from a life based on the country (Nutshimit) to one based on permanent settlement in villages brought to the Innu. Their strategy looked to address the ensuing social difficulties by building a self-supporting economy based in the country (focused around Kamestastin Lake), and which utilizes and celebrates Innu knowledge and skills. In order to accomplish its mission Tshikapisk promotes the exploration of revenue generating activities both to provide employment to Nutshimiu Innut (country Innu) and to pay for experiential learning programs for Innu youth who had become increasingly disconnected from life on the land.

Location of Kamestastin Lake
Location of Kamestastin Lake

The Tshikapisk Foundation (TF) in conjunction with the Innu Nation, the Arctic Studies Center (ASC) of the Smithsonian Institution, the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) and more recently Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) have been working to protect the sites at Kamestastin Lake. On the ground, survey and excavation work have been carried out by Stephen Loring (ASC), Anthony Jenkinson (TF) and, most recently MUN grad student, Chelsee Arbour. Together they have recorded more than 100 sites in the area.

Kamestastin Lake in itself is an interesting geologic feature. The lake is the result of a meteorite impact which occurred ~36 million years ago. Among the evidence for the meteorite impact is volcanic glass which has been found around the lake. Thus far however, none of it appears to have been found in an archaeological context. However, tabular slabs of impact melted rock have been found in an archaeological context on two precontact sites.

My intention with this blog post is to give a brief introduction to just a few of the sites at Kamestastin Lake. At some point in the future I am hoping to get in to a little more detail on some of these sites in another blog post in conjunction with Stephen Loring, Anthony Jenkinson and Chelsee Arbour.

The more than 100 known sites around the lake represent the Maritime Archaic (Labrador Archaic) Indian , Intermediate Indian, Recent Indian and Innu cultures. There is even a site that consists of a single biface which has been interpreted as late Dorset Palaeoeskimo, a cultural group which is usually found along the coast. Very little archaeological work has been done on most of the sites beyond just identifying their existence which is part of the reason why many sites are listed culturally as just precontact or undetermined. The sites vary from small single artifact spot find sites, to possible burials, lithic scatters, possible quarries and various habitation sites with the remains of tent rings and fireplaces. The oldest sites are thought to be ~6000-7000 years old and the youngest sites are just a few decades old.

Knife of banded chert, from the one small Dorset/Tunit site discovered at Kamestastin during the summer of 2005. Photo: Anthony Jenkinson - Tunit, Dorset, Interior Dorset site, Labrador and northern Quebec
Possible late Dorset biface of banded chert, found at Kamestastin during the summer of 2005. (Jenkinson)

The excavation of 24 m2 revealed an assemblage composed entirely of quartz and slate. Other lithic materials were absent. There are concentrations of charcoal and an elongated distribution of stones over ~5 to 6 metres in length but there was no defined hearth. Slate debitage was concentrated in 2 m2 around a partially completed but as yet unground celt. There are a number of what may be post holes or the organic stains possibly left by shallowly driven in stakes. What are likely wood working tools of white quartz and quartz crystal including awls and steeply bevelled block plane like items were found in a higher than expected ratio to quartz debris suggesting that many of these articles were brought to site as finished tools. This site has been radio carbon dated to ~2700 years ago (UCIAMS 134685). It is suspected the people at the site were making a canoe. You can read more about this site in Volume 10 of the PAO Archaeology Review.

The site consists of a roughly circular or slightly oblong embanked structure, approximately 2.5 m by 3.5m in dimensions, with no discernable hearth rocks within. Within the structure there is a small patch of stunted willows growing out of the spot where a hearth would be expected. This feature has been interpreted as either a tent ring or possibly a fish smoke drying site. The point of land along the shore from the feature is an excellent char fishing spot and large fish can be readily caught from the shore on line and hook.

Kaseukantshish feature (Jenkinson)
Kaseukantshish feature (Jenkinson)

The site lies in an old blow-out that is in the process of re-vegetating and stabilizing. The sand surface is now mostly covered with black lichen. The site was first noted because of two fragments of a black Ramah chert biface that were seen on the surface. A subsequent inspection of this site resulted in the recording of two more pieces of similar looking Ramah, although these could not be refitted with the first finds and were not obviously part of a tool. This site may relate to a Maritime Archaic occupation

Nukash biface fragments (Jenkinson)
Nukash biface fragments (Jenkinson)
Nukash site (Jenkinson)
Nukash site (Jenkinson)

This site consists of a spot find of a large Maritime Archaic Ramah chert stemmed point. The point was found next to a heavily used caribou path.

Paseuet site Ramah chert biface
Paseuet site Ramah chert biface (Jenkinson)

Punas Rich corner notched biface
Yet another find spot site, this biface was found in an area threaded by caribou paths and is the place where spring migrating caribou cross the low lands close to the lake before climbing out of the Kamestastin crater onto the barren highlands above. The biface may be from the Point Revenge, Recent Indians.

Punas Rich corner notched biface (Jenkinson)
Punas Rich corner notched biface (Jenkinson)

Uniam Quartz Quarry Site, Locus 1
The site consists of what is for Kamestastin a rare instance of a glacially transported boulder of grey quartzite which has been battered and now sits partially surrounded by reduction debris. The quartzite shatter and flakes have accumulated in particularly dense quantities in close adjacency to the boulder and in the “drip gully” which has formed around the perimeter beneath the boulder overhang.

Uniam site showing the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing flakes spalled from the boulder in situ
Uniam site showing flakes spalled from the boulder in situ

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).


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.

Enthusiast of a different kind – Metal detectors

As an archaeologist people who have found artifacts such as old pieces of ceramic, square nails or various stone tools while they are out on a walk or building a new fence on their property contact me on a regular basis. I think these people show us their artifacts because they are history enthusiasts. They are genuinely interested in knowing about our past. Increasingly, we are hearing about another type of enthusiast, the metal detector enthusiast. We are not sure exactly how prevalent this activity is in Newfoundland and Labrador but we are sure it is becoming more popular. I informally polled the Provincial Archaeology Offices across Canada and discovered that this activity is occurring right across the country. Using and owning a metal detector is legal, however, it becomes illegal when these tools are used to find archaeology sites and dig up artifacts.

In this Province, I get the impression that most metal detector enthusiasts are searching public areas such as parks, beaches and popular walking trails looking for things such as recently lost coins or jewellery. As an archaeologist, this type of activity makes me very nervous, but for the most part, it will not harm an archaeological site. However, there are also people who use metal detectors in places such as National Historic Sites and archaeological sites. These areas cause us the most concern with regard to archaeological resources being disturbed or destroyed.

Signal Hill, National Historic Site.
Signal Hill, National Historic Site.

If someone is using a metal detector on a National Historic Sites or an archaeological site it is more likely they are looking for archaeological artifacts. Chances are these people are collecting artifacts to add to their own personal collection or to make a profit by selling them. According to the Historic Resources Act Section 11(1), all artifacts are the property of the Crown and Section 11(2) indicates that it is illegal to sell or buy artifacts. All archaeological artifacts in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador belong to the Crown and it is illegal to look for such artifacts without an archaeological permit. If a person does discover an archaeological object he/she is obligated to report it to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation via the Provincial Archaeology Office as outlined in Section 10 (1) of the Historic Resources Act.

Iron nails found at a site that was found by a metal detector user.
Iron nails found at a site that was found by a metal detector user.

Metal detector users may argue that they are not harming anything by collecting. Not surprisingly, I would argue otherwise. In reality, they could potentially be destroying an archaeology site, a part of our collective history. Every archaeology site and every single artifact tells a story. Once the site is disturbed, that story can never be told again. It goes beyond the artifact to something called context, where the artifact was found, for example, was it associated with a fireplace, stonewalls or inside a tent ring? These are things that metal detector users are not seeing when they take artifacts out of context. Each artifact and its location is part of a story. Taking artifacts out of context is essentially the same as walking into a library and ripping pages from books. Those pages out of context are just sheets of paper and what is left behind are incomplete stories.

Ripping pages from books.
Ripping pages from books.

Some people may say it’s just a handful of artifacts, how much damage can that do to an archaeology site. Any amount of disturbance and the removal of only one artifact is too much damage. Let me give you an example. The very first archaeology site I worked on was on the west coast of Newfoundland. We knew the site contained both Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo tent rings. These people lived on the Island from around 2800 years ago to just under 1000 years ago. During the excavation of one of the tent rings, we found a beautiful Little Passage culture stone arrowhead. Archaeologists have recognized the people of the Little Passage culture as the direct ancestors to the Beothuk. I distinctly recall sitting around our campfire that night and talking about this little point and its implications. Up to the time of our excavations, Little Passage sites were only known from a few places on that coast. The next day we found several pieces of what we think were worked pieces of iron nails in the same tent ring as the Little Passage stone arrowhead. The pre-European contact aboriginal people of Newfoundland did not have iron; therefore, we realized that we were not in a Little Passage tent ring but a Beothuk tent ring. We ended up finding 24 pieces of iron in that tent ring. This site is one of just two Beothuk sites known to exist on this coast. If a metal detector user had found that site first and had recovered or disturbed the context of that iron, we would have never known that site had a Beothuk component. One of just two Beothuk sites on that coast would have been gone. For that matter, let’s flip this scenario around. Lets say a metal detector user had found that site first and had recovered the iron; they never would have known they were in a Beothuk site. In addition, if they had brought the iron to an archaeologist asking for help to identify what they had found, the archaeologist would never have known the iron was from a Beothuk site. Context is as important as the artifact itself.

Little Passage complex or late Newfoundland Recent Indian arrowheads.
Little Passage complex or late Newfoundland Recent Indian arrowheads.

Fortunately, we have reached some people and they now understand the problems caused by using metal detectors to find and dig up metal objects beyond recently lost coins or jewellery. In some cases, this has lead to the discovery of sites in places like O’Donnells, Hant’s Harbour and Trinity. Once it was explained to the metal detector users the concerns we had with the use of metal detectors we believe that these people discontinued to look for archaeological artifacts that they could dig up. Now when they find concentrations of metal hits they let the Provincial Archaeology Office know. I also know that the staff of the Provincial Archaeology Office would be happy to sit down with anyone and discuss this issue.

What’s in a name?

Archaeology is often about the classification of objects, which can be done in a variety of different ways, such as material type, size, method of manufacture and style, among others. Classification can be used to help determine such things as function, age, use and cultural affinity. In essence, archaeologists arrange pre-contact artifacts into like-groups that come to represent “cultures” for which we have no written record.

 As is the practice elsewhere, the cultures of the precontact period people in this province are classified according to a hierarchical taxonomic system. There are generally accepted definitions for each of the terms in this hierarchical taxonomic system but in this province, many of these terms are used loosely and at times interchangeably therefore the cultural classification system in this province probably requires updating. The classification system below is not meant to be definitive and is certainly open to discussion and it is just my opinion but it is how I see the classification of the precontact period in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 At the top of this system is the classification Tradition. This term denotes a set of cultural traits that appear to develop and exist over a long period and over a geographic area. In this province, Tradition could be applied to the Maritime Archaic Tradition, Palaeoeskimo Tradition and the Recent Indian Tradition. In the past under Tradition in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have had subdivisions called Cultures, Complexes, Phases and Components. The latter three terms are not applied to as many groups any more thanks in part to Neilsen’s 2006 thesis.

 The classification system in Newfoundland and Labrador right now has a classification of Culture below Tradition. I see the term Culture in this context as being similar to Tradition but having a shorter temporal extent and specific cultural traits as seen in material culture, economic adaptations, settlement strategies and social organization that are more specific to an area (Helmer 1994). Therefore, the generally recognized Cultures in Newfoundland and Labrador are the Pre-Dorset, Dorset, Groswater cultures under the Palaeoeskimo Tradition; the Intermediate Indian culture; the early & late Labrador Recent Indian and the early & late Newfoundland Recent Indian cultures under the Recent Indian Tradition.

 We maintain the terms complex and phase for portions of cultures. Fitzhugh originally defined a complex “as a unit for which comprehensive information is lacking, but which constitutes a definite grouping based on a series of related site components for which a relatively large amount of information is known.” Originally, the early & late Newfoundland and Labrador Recent Indians were thought of as complexes but I think our understanding of that Tradition has gotten to the point where we are lacking very little information and these groups can be thought of as Cultures. Whereas I don’t think the same can be said of the Saunders complex or the Northwest River phase of the Intermediate Indian culture. Phase remains as Fitzhugh defined it “to indicate an assemblage which is chronologically and spatially distinct and can be distinguished from other phases so conceived.”

 Now, for the non-archaeologists in the crowd, we are still left with how archaeologists name those Traditions, Cultures, Complexes and Phases. Archaeologists do not know what the people of the precontact groups in Newfoundland and Labrador referred to themselves as. The name most Aboriginal people apply to themselves in their own language usually means something like ‘the people’ or ‘human’.

 Recognized Precontact Aboriginal groups in Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland Labrador
Maritime Archaic Indians (MAI) Maritime Archaic Indians (MAI)(Earliest Settlers, First Explorers, Labrador Archaic)
Intermediate Indians (II) Intermediate Indians (II)
Palaeoeskimo (PE) Palaeoeskimo (PE)
Recent Indians (RI) Recent Indians (RI)

The table above shows the generally accepted sequence of precontact aboriginal groups in Newfoundland and Labrador’s precontact past. This post will try to explain how archaeologists have derived the names for the MAI, II and RI. In two weeks, I’ll look at where the names for the Palaeoeskimo & Thule came from.

Within each of these major groupings, there are minor archaeologically recognized groups that are temporal or geographic expressions of the overall group. The table follows the broad temporal pattern of oldest on top and youngest on bottom. There is evidence in the archaeological record of different waves of people moving into the Province during these time periods; the names are used by archaeologists to denote that they had similar cultural characteristics and we therefore classify them under the overall group name.

Earliest Settlers and First Explorers

The terms Earliest Settlers, First Explorers, late Palaeo-Indian and Early Archaic have been used variously to refer to the first people in Labrador nearly 9000 years ago. The names Earliest Settlers and First Explorers come from the idea that these groups of people were the first known in the Province. The names late Palaeo-Indian and Early Archaic are based on the idea that the people of these Traditions were Palaeo-Indian descendants and ancestors to the later Archaic. As far as I understand, these groups have never really been formally named. In Labrador, sites for these First Explorers are seen near the southern Labrador community of Pinware at the sites of Pinware Hill and Cowpath. A visitor to The Rooms today will see this definition for the first groups of people referring to them as the First Explorers.

Description of the First Explorers from The Rooms exhibit.
Description of the First Explorers from The Rooms exhibit.

Maritime Archaic 

The MAI, (~7500-3000 years ago) were first described in the northeastern United States as the ‘Red Paint People’ after their burials, which used large quantities of red ochre to cover both the bodies of the dead and grave goods. The best-preserved ‘Red Paint’ cemetery was accidentally discovered in the late 1960s in Port au Choix. The excavation of this cemetery led Dr. James Tuck to define the Maritime Archaic Tradition. He used the term Maritime because he saw the Tradition as comprised of people ‘who were well acquainted with the resources of the Atlantic and how to exploit them and whose close relationship with the sea appears to be reflected throughout their culture.’

Typical MAI tools found at Port au Choix (reproductions - Rast)
Typical MAI tools found at Port au Choix (reproductions – Rast)

Intermediate Indian

Intermediate Indians are named because of their position in the province’s culture history and the archaeological record, between the preceding Maritime Archaic Tradition and the later Recent Indian Tradition. Initially, when first defined in the 1970s, six precontact groups were thought to be part of the Intermediate Indian Culture and they were thought to be limited to just Labrador. A recent Master’s thesis by Neilsen has, I think convincingly, narrowed this down to just two groups. The Saunders Complex, dating to 3500-2700 BP, and the Northwest River Phase dating to 2600-1800 BP in Northern and Central Labrador including Hamilton Inlet. Recently a few small spot finds of artifacts on the Island have led archaeologists to think that maybe the people of the Intermediate Indian Culture did make their way to Newfoundland.

The name Saunders came from a 1978 article by Christopher Nagle about the Intermediate Indian Culture in central Labrador. William Fitzhugh suggested the name to Nagle after Mr. Jim Saunders, a resident of Happy Valley, Labrador in the 1970s, for his contribution to the knowledge of this period of Labrador prehistory. The name Northwest River Phase was also proposed by William Fitzhugh because originally the first Northwest River Phase sites were found in the community of Northwest River.

Intermediate Indian biface from Sheshatshiu, Labrador. (Neilsen 2010)
Intermediate Indian biface from Sheshatshiu, Labrador. (Neilsen)

Recent Indian

Like the Intermediate Indians, the Recent Indian Tradition (Labrador Recent Indians & Newfoundland Recent Indians) is named because of it’s position in the province’s culture history and the archaeological record; after the Maritime Archaic Tradition and the later Intermediate Indian Culture. Some archaeologists would argue that all of these groups form a cultural continuum going back nearly 9000 years. But, I think most archaeologists see them as separate groups. With the data we have right now, it is not clear if the people of the MAI are related to the people of the later II or if they in turn are related to the people of the later RI.

Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom right two bifaces are late Recent Indian. The biface on the left of the bottom right is transitional between the two.
Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom right two bifaces are late Recent Indian. The biface on the left of the bottom right is transitional between the two.

On the Island, the Recent Indian Tradition can be sub-divided temporally into early & late Newfoundland Recent Indian Cultures, based on projectile point styles (Originally defined as Beaches Complex~1900-800 BP and Little Passage Complex ~800 BP-European Contact). These two periods form a cultural continuum from the precontact to European contact. The Beothuk are not part of the precontact Recent Indian Tradition, rather they are descendants of the people of this Tradition. The name for the Beaches Complex comes from the type-site at Beaches, Bonavista Bay. The Beaches has been known as an archaeology site since the 1800s. The name for the Little Passage Complex comes from the type-site L’Anse au Flamme at Little Passage, Hermitage Bay. L’Anse au Flamme was found and excavated by Gerald Penney in 1979-80.

The Cow Head Complex Recent Indians (ca.1900-1000 B.P.) appear on the Island around the start of the Recent Indian period. Recent research suggests they are not part of the Newfoundland Recent Indian cultural continuum. The site name comes from the community Cow Head where the artifacts of that Complex were first recognized. The type-site is known as Cow Head, Spearbank and was excavated by Dr. Jim Tuck in the mid 1970s.

Broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces.
Broad bladed expanding stemmed bifaces.

As on the Island, the Recent Indian Tradition in Labrador is composed of an early and late Labrador Recent Indian Culture based on projectile point styles. (Originally defined as Daniel Rattle Complex ca. 2000 B.P. – 1000 B.P. and the Point Revenge Complex ca. 1000 B.P. – 350 B.P.). These precontact Cultures form a 2000 year old cultural continuum that represents the Recent Indian Tradition in Labrador. The people of these Cultures are the likely ancestors of the Innu of Labrador and Quebec. The name for the Daniel Rattle Complex comes from a site in Labrador near the former community of Davis Inlet. Stephen Loring found and excavated the site in the early 1980s. The name Daniel Rattle comes from a body of water near the site that doesn’t freeze over in the winter and is referred to as a rattle. The Point Revenge Complex name came from the type-site Winter Cove 4 which was found and excavated by William Fitzhugh in the early 1970s.

Early Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the left, late Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the right.
Early Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the left, late Labrador Recent Indian Ramah chert biface on the right.

In two weeks I’ll look at where the names for the Palaeoeskimo and Thule groups came from.


Fitzhugh, William 1972 Environmental Archeology and Cultural Systems in Hamilton Inlet, Labrador A survey of the Central Labrador Coast From 3000 B.C. to the Present. Smithsonian Contributions the Anthropology Number 16. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

Helmer, James W. 1994 Resurrecting the Spirit(s) of Taylor’s “Carlsberg Culture”: Cultural Traditions and Cultural Horizons in Eastern Arctic Prehistory, in D. Morrison and J.-L. Pilon (eds), Threads of Arctic Prehistory: Papers in honour of William E. Taylor, Jr., Hull, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Mercury Series, 149: 15-34.

Nagle, Christopher 1978 Indian Occupations of the Intermediate Period on the Central Labrador Coast: A Preliminary Synthesis. Arctic Anthropology, XV(2): 119-145.

 Neilsen, Scott W. 2006 Intermediate Indians: The View from Ushpitun 2 and Pmiusiku 1. M.A., MUN

Tuck, James A. n.d. Atlantic Prehistory (Draft).

1970 An Archaic Indian Cemetery in Newfoundland. Scientific American, 222(6): 112-121

Archaeological void no more

Today nearly 280 archaeological and ethnographic sites are known to exist within 75 km of the Western Labrador-Quebec border. However, the vast majority of those sites were found in the last 30 years. Prior to the early 1980s, the area was nearly an archaeological void. It was one of the last large areas of North America to have any archaeological survey work done. This is likely due to several factors including the difficulty and high cost of accessing the area. If you get into the area you are faced with archaeological sites that have thin deposits and little preservation of organic material.  With the exception of some early survey work by Donald MacLeod in the late 1960s on Michikamau Lake prior to the flooding of the Churchill reservoir and a brief survey of the Kogaluk River – Mistastin Lake area by Stephen Loring in 1979 little was known about the area.

Red & yellow dots are the known archaeology sites in Labrador today. The yellow dots are western Labrador sites within 75km of the Quebec border
Red & yellow dots are the known archaeology sites in Labrador pre-1980s. The red dots are western Labrador sites within 75km of the Quebec border

The early 1980s saw a small amount of work done in the Labrador City area by Callum Thomson for a proposed road corridor. Then in 1986 & 1987, Moira McCaffrey surveyed an area in western Labrador looking at lithic resource procurement. While neither of these surveys was particularly large, they did result in the discovery of 16 archaeological sites, which meant the number of sites in Western Labrador went from 10 to 26.

Known archaeological sites in Labrador after 1987

The situation changed dramatically in 1987 when Bruce Ryan conducted a geological mapping survey and Scott Biggin who did an archaeological survey accompanied him:

            During the summer of 1987 (July 12 to August 28) a reconnaissance archaeological survey was conducted on the interior Labrador Plateau between the Kogaluk River and the Québec– Labrador border (Figure 1). The survey was carried out as an adjunct to a regional geological mapping program being conducted by the Department of Mines and Energy* in a 60 km-wide corridor between the Labrador coast and the Strange Lake rare earth element (REE)–zirconium–beryllium deposit located on the border between Labrador and Québec. The investigated area encompasses the drainage basin of three major east-flowing rivers – Anaktalik Brook, Konrad Brook, and Kogaluk River.

            The archaeological investigation was instigated by the second author as a result of observations made in 1985 and 1986 that indicated considerable past cultural activity in the geological mapping corridor. It was felt that the addition of an archaeologist to the geological mapping in 1987 would lead to a better understanding of the region’s previous habitation patterns, and contribute new information on a relatively poorly known region to the Historic Resources Division of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Youth. Thus, the first author was employed by the Department of Mines and Energy as team archaeologist in 1987. (Biggan & Ryan 1989)

The survey by Biggin in conjunction with the geological survey resulted in the discovery of 33 archaeological sites, more sites than were known in Western Labrador up to 1987. The sites included several attributed to the Maritime Archaic Indian, one was Intermediate Indian, at least two were Recent Indian and several others were defined as unidentified precontact. Fourteen had possible Innu components and 11 had Inuit components. While several sites were spot finds of single artifacts, nearly half of the sites were of considerable size. Sixteen of the sites were at least 100m2 and 9 of those were at least 900 m2.

Red & yellow dots are the known archaeology sites in Labrador today. The yellow dots are the sites found by Biggin

What follows is a brief discussion of some of the sites.

Goodyear 1 (HcCw-03) consisted of six features: 5 cobble/boulder tent rings and 1 hearth. Four of the tent rings measure between 4.5m and 5.5m in diameter with small cobble/boulder hearths. The fifth tent ring is composed of 3 quasi-circular rings (rooms?) that are joined together to form one, 8m by 4m, oblong, tent ring structure. One asymmetrical bi-convex biface of black Ramah chert, probably a knife, was
collected from one of the hearths.

Abutting tent ring structures at Goodyear 1 (HcCw-3). The three conjoined rings are approximately 8m long. Biggin & Ryan 1989.

Nomoshoom (HaCv-04) is a Maritime Archaic site eroded by caribou trails and consists of lithics with no features. The site consists of white Ramah chert and an abundance of quartz/quartzite. Other surface features of the site are indiscernible. Included in the artifacts recorded and collected, exclusively of Maritime Archaic tradition, were two incomplete ground slate adzes, one celt, three possible Ramah chert biface blanks, two fragments of ground slate, one possible quartzite knife, one possible grey chert flake core and one retouched Ramah chert flake.

Ground slate from Nomoshoom (HaCv-04)

Some of the more interesting finds from the survey included historic period Innu campsites including sites such as Ron-Napi site (HaCv-05), which may have been Point Revenge complex, and Dunphy (HbCv-04).

Ron-Napi (HaCv-05) consisted of a 2m by 2m low grouping of boulders amid a large scattering of broken and crushed caribou bones. A quick surface search over the partially moss-lichen covered bone deposit revealed one small white Ramah chert flake (a fortuitous intrusion?). Farther to the east, similar but smaller deposits of bone were seen, associated with three-four fallen tent pole segments. Biggin believes this site was probably “Naskapi Indian” (historic period Innu) or possibly late Point Revenge.

Boulder pile and scattered fragments of caribou bone at the Ron-Napi (HaCv-05). Biggin & Ryan 1989.

The Dunphy (HbCv-04) site was made up of six earthen tent ring features, all measuring approximately 4m in diameter with central stone hearths. Associated with the least moss- and lichen-covered features are segments of tent poles, small amounts of broken caribou bone and short stout logs lying across entrance passage ways. The latter attribute has been found associated with 19th century Naskapi Indian tent rings at Fort Chimo.

Earthen tent wall ring at the Dunphy (HbCv-4) site. Biggin & Ryan 1989.

Glooskap (HaCw-02) was one of several sites that had an undetermined precontact cultural association. This site is defined by a 2m wide earthen/cobble raised circular tent ring. A mixture of fire-cracked rock and calcined bone has eroded from one side of the feature. A few white Ramah chert flakes and 1 distal end segment of an ovate biface were collected 3-5m northwest of this feature.

Distal end segment of a Ramah chert ovate biface from Glooskap (HaCw-02)

Tillman (HbCw-02) is the site of a spot find of a single Ramah chert biface fragment. The discovery area, a vast flat expanse of low bedrock outcrops and gravel deposits covered by patches of low shrub, is pocketed with small pools of water and streams. An intensive search for some recognizable feature was unsuccessful, suggesting an isolated deposit.

Two medial segments of a long straight-sided triangular biface from the site of Tillman (HbCw-02)

While the survey by Biggin did not resolve all of our questions about past land use in the area it certainly improved the situation dramatically. Today the area is no longer the void it once was, and it is currently part of at least two PhD projects and a completed Masters thesis project, as well as being studied by archaeologists for several resource development projects.

Biggin, Scott & Bruce Ryan 1989 A Reconnaissance Archaeological Survey of the Kogaluk River Area, Labrador. (87.17)

Mccaffrey, Moira 2006 Archaic Period Occupation in Subarctic Quebec: A review of the Evidence. In The Archaic of the Far Northeast.