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.

Labrador South Coastal Survey: 1991

The Labrador South Coastal Survey (LSCS) 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 extended from Cape St. Charles to Seal Island (near Frenchmans Harbour), Labrador, and was directed by Marianne Stopp and she was assisted by Doug Rutherford. In 1992, the survey started at Seal Island and finished at southern Trunmore Bay, and was directed by Marianne Stopp and and she was assisted by Ken Reynolds. 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 by the survey.

The Labrador Comprehensive Agreement provided the funding for the 1991 Labrador South Coastal Survey, 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 various cultural occupations at the 1991 sites run the gamut of typical sites found in Labrador. The top three most common occupations were 20 European, 18 Palaeoeskimo and eight Maritime Archaic. The sites ranged in size from single spot finds of artifacts to the Pardy site which is listed at more than 60,000 m2.

The Pardy site extends along the northeast side of Spear Harbour for 250 m. It extends along a second beach terrace (18 masl) for the same distance, for a total area of 62,500 m2. The site is partially disturbed by the excavation of an historic period cemetery, trails, and wind erosion and was discovered through visual examination of blowouts. The blowouts yielded a large number of surface flakes and tools, and a sample was collected. Test pitting in the southeastern portion of the site indicates the possibility of two separate cultural levels, at depths of 8 and 15 cm below surface. The upper, later levels contain a predominance of Ramah chert, while a variety of lithic materials were noted from lower levels. The upper level is probably a Dorset occupation, with microblades and endblades recovered from the site. A charcoal sample was collected from the lower level for dating purposes resulting in a date of 5070 +/- 170 B.P. (Beta-48303), supporting the suggestion of a Maritime Archaic component at the site. This date is further supported by quartzite flakes in the lower levels of some test pits. Given the site size and artifact density, the site likely represents a major precontact occupation (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Photo mosaic of three slides showing the Pardy site along the shoreline in the foreground . (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides)
Photo mosaic of three slides showing the Pardy site along the shoreline in the foreground (Stopp LSCS slides).

The St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 site has both precontact and historic components. The precontact Dorset Palaeoeskimo component was wind deflated and the cultural material was collected from the surface. The site yielded endblades, bifaces, endscrapers and a quartz crystal core fragment. There was also a selection of flakes of chert, quartz crystal and slate collected. The artifact scatter was concentrated around a linear arrangement of stones, 3 m in length and 1.5 m in width (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Linear rock arrangement at the Dorset component of St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides).
Linear rock arrangement at the Dorset component of St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 (Stopp LSCS slides).

The recent component, which was either Inuit or European, was made up of six sod houses, the dimensions of which averaged 5 m by 4.5 m. A test pit in one yielded a wooden button (possibly ebony), pipe bowl fragments, and refined white earthenware sherds. The houses are all located in close proximity to the present shoreline in three groups of two and offer a good vantage point for hunting seals in the nearby narrow tickle. A seal bone midden (St. Francis Harbour Bight 2), yielding artifacts dating to the same period, is located across the bight (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Photo mosaic showing the historic house pits at
Photo mosaic showing the historic house pits at St. Francis Harbour Bight 1 (Stopp LSCS slides).

Salt Pond Ridge 1 was a quarry/possible occupation site and the largest and richest of the Maritime Archaic sites recorded, with an extensive flake scatter. White and red quartzite and quartz crystal were abundant on a raised terrace. It is within easy walking distance of two further Maritime Archaic sites, Spear Harbour 1 and Spear Harbour 3, as well as two cobble features in a raised beach ridge on the opposite shore of Salt Pond Ridge 2 which may also be Maritime Archaic (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Photo mosaic of part of the Salt Pond Ridge site
Photo mosaic of part of the Salt Pond Ridge 1 site (Stopp LSCS slides).

A sample of the surface scattered cultural material was collected yielded a red quartzite stemmed biface, an asymmetrical, convex base quartzite non-stemmed biface, a distal biface tip and biface preform, flakes of clear quartz crystal, quartzite and red quartzite, and a clear quartz crystal preform and core. One test pit produced 36 quartzite flakes, 13 clear quartz crystal flakes, and 7 red quartzite flakes. The site is in close proximity to two other Maritime Archaic sites (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Salt Pond Ridge flakes (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides).
Salt Pond Ridge flakes (Stopp LSCS slides).
Salt Pond Ridge artifacts (Stopp & Rutherford LSCS slides).
Salt Pond Ridge artifacts (Stopp LSCS slides).

The final site I’ll discuss from the 1991 survey is Great Caribou Island 1. This site included two sod houses, middens, pit features in raised cobble beaches, two collapsed stone fox traps on a raised cobble beach, and flake scatters (within sod houses and elsewhere in the cove). The site was recorded following information given by residents of Caribou Run-Indian Cove (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

The site has a precontact component and an undetermined cultural component, meaning the archaeologist couldn’t say for sure who made the component or when. The undetermined component was made up of 12 cobble pit beach features. No artifacts were discovered in the features, which probably represent storage pits or caches. The features averaged 141 cm by 134 cm and 59 cm deep (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Measuring one of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features
Measuring one of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features (Stopp LSCS slides).
One of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features
One of the Great Caribou Island 1 pit features (Stopp LSCS slides).

The recent component is made up of two sod houses, both of which have been extensively disturbed by locals looting the houses for artifacts. Several artifacts were discovered within the looters’ back dirt, including three seal phalanges, two flow blue pearlware sherds, two kaolin pipe stem fragments, and one European gun flint fragment. The ceramics indicate a 19th century occupation (Stopp & Rutherford 1991).

Great Caribou Island 1 historic sod houses
Great Caribou Island 1 historic sod houses (Stopp LSCS slides).
Historic artifacts from Great Caribou Island 1
Historic artifacts from Great Caribou Island 1 (Stopp LSCS slides).

In two weeks I’ll discuss some of the sites found during the 1992 season of the Labrador South Coastal Survey.


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.

POSTSCRIPT
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.

Torngat Archaeological Project

Last week I had the chance to see four graduate student thesis proposals at the Archaeology Unit at Memorial University of Newfoundland. They were great proposals and included one that will investigate several Inuit sites in northern Labrador, including sites found during the Torngat Archaeological Project (PDF).

The Torngat Archaeological Project (TAP) is the largest archaeological survey ever conducted in Labrador in terms of distance covered and number of sites found, ~450 km of coastline and just under 350 sites. The survey was conducted by Dr. William Fitzhugh of the Smithsonian Institution in conjunction with Bryn Mawr College in 1977 & 1978 and stretched from around Nain to the Button Islands. Prior to the TAP there were about 130 known sites in the same area. The project was to investigate the culture history of the area as well as the environmental relationships and processes of culture change which have affected Inuit, Indian, and European settlement (Fitzhugh 1980).

Torngat Archaeological Project
Torngat Archaeological Project – yellow dots are archaeological sites

The 1977 season focused on survey work while the 1978 season focused on full scale excavation. Despite being brief, just 33 days, the 1977 survey resulted in the discovery of 250 sites located, mapped, and tested. The plans for 1978 were to establish four person field crews at Nachvak, Seven Islands Bay, Home Island, and Killinek. However, logistic and equipment problems resulted in the crews spending several weeks in Seven Islands Bay. Despite all the issues the project resulted in 16000 cataloged artifacts, a large volume of faunal elements, written and photographic documentation on sites ranging in time from early Maritime Archaic ~6000 years ago to the present day (Fitzhugh 1980).

At the ~350 sites there are:
150 Inuit occupations
143 Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupations
65 Maritime (Labrador) Archaic occupations
50 Pre-Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupations
26 Thule occupations
14 Groswater Palaeoeskimo occupations
9 Intermediate Indian occupations
5 Recent Indian occupations

Some of the more significant sites found include:

Avayalik Island 1 (PDF): This is a major Dorset (early, middle and late) site with habitation structures and frozen middens that have excellent organic preservation. In fact the organic preservation is so good that a piece of muskox wool cordage found on the site is thought to show evidence of Dorset-Norse interaction.

Aerial view of Avayalik 1 (Sutherland)
Aerial view of Avayalik 1 (Sutherland)

Ballybrack 11: A Maritime Archaic site dated to 7770 BP with evidence of a longhouse, hearths, red ochre stains and scatters of lithic debitage.

Harp Isthmus 1: This site has Pre-Dorset structures and a possible Maritime Archaic longhouse. It also has two 19th or early 20th century Inuit sod houses.

Hebron 1: This site has evidence of Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo and Inuit occupations. It is also the site of a Moravian Mission.

Moravian Mission at Hebron (Brake)
Moravian Mission at Hebron (Brake)

Hilda Creek 1: This is one of several sites in the Ramah Bay area that relates to the use of the Ramah Bay quartzite quarries. This particular site has Maritime Archaic and Palaeoeskimo components.

Johannes Point 1: This is a large Inuit-Thule site that has at least 14 sod houses, storage houses, middens, tent rings and graves.

Nachvak Village: This is another large Palaeoeskimo and Inuit-Thule site that contains between 15 and 17 sod houses, middens, caches and burials.

Nachvak Village. Getting set up for excavations at Nachvak Village (IgCx-3) (Whitridge)
Nachvak Village. Getting set up for excavations at Nachvak Village (IgCx-3) (Whitridge)

Nulliak Cove 1: This is probably one of the largest known sites in northern Labrador. It contains Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian and Inuit-Thule evidence. It has up to 27 Maritime Archaic longhouses, a caribou drive fence, caches, cairns, burial mounds and Inuit (potentially Thule) houses.

Ramah Bay Mission: This is another large site with evidence for Palaeoeskimo and Inuit occupations as well as a Moravian mission.

 Moravian Station at Ramah, ca. 1900
Moravian Station at Ramah, ca. 1900

Shuldham Island: This island is home to numerous sites but perhaps the most significant was Shuldham Island 9. The site has evidence for Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian and Thule use. It has up to eight sod houses, seven tent rings, 12 caches, a possible burial and midden. Perhaps it is best known for the tiny soapstone figurines carved by the late Dorset occupants of the island. There are carvings of Polar Bears, human beings, seashells, birds and a possible seal or walrus. While the site was found as part of the TAP, the figurines were found during the excavation of Shuldham Island 9 by Callum Thomson in the early 1980s.

Shuldham Island 9 soapstone polar bear
Shuldham Island 9 soapstone polar bear
Shuldham Island 9 soapstone person (Rast)
Shuldham Island 9 soapstone person (Rast)

These are just s select few of the nearly 350 sites recorded during the Tornagat Archaeological Project. The sites found during this project have led to several PhD & MA thesis and numerous publications. The amount of knowledge gained from this project is almost immeasurable.


FITZHUGH, William 1980 Preliminary Report on the Torngat Archaeological Project. Arctic, 33(3): 585-606.

Guns and gun parts on archaeology sites

On November 6, 2014 Cultural Resource Program Manager, Eva Jensen working in the Great Basin National Park (USA) noticed an object leaning on a Juniper tree. Getting a closer look she discovered that the object was a rifle. Further inspection and research revealed that it was a Winchester Model 1873 Rifle.
The rifle leaning against the Juniper tree.
The rifle leaning against the Juniper tree. The Great Basin National Park Facebook page has more great shots of the rifle

This story got me thinking about guns and gun parts that have been found on archaeology sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course many sites in the province have cannons, cannon balls, discharged shell casings, gun flint and lead shot. But I was thinking more about hand-held guns, rifles and muskets etc.

Cannon found at Mortier during the Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory (Barnable)
Cannon found at Mortier during the Burin Peninsula Heritage Inventory (Barnable)
Gun Flints, copper casing found in Greenspond
Gun Flints, copper casing found in Greenspond

For example, in 1998, Jacques Whitford Environment Limited archaeologists found the barrel and brass side plate from a flint lock musket during the Churchill River Power Project Environmental study on the shoreline of Atikonak Lake. The barrel appeared to contain a touch hole, indicating a flint lock rather than a percussion action. The breech plug was intact, minus the associated barrel tang. The contour of the barrel suggests the exposed upper portion of the breech was finished in a partially faceted design, while the lower portion, which would have been hidden by the stock, possessed a plainer, rounded contour. Although generally difficult to date owing to the widespread use of multiple variations of the motif throughout the period, the fine definition of the scales and other details of this particular side plate suggests a variant dating from ca. 1800 to the 1830s or 1840s (JWEL & IED 2000:208).

Searching through files and reports I was able to find an assortment of gun parts and gun related tools from sites throughout the province.

I also sent out a request to my archaeology colleagues to see if they had stories or photos of guns and/or gun parts found on archaeology sites. I received a great sampling of artifact shots.

Dr. Barry Gaulton of Memorial University of Newfoundland sent me a couple of pictures of gun locks that have been found at the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland.

Gunlock from Ferryland
Gunlock from Ferryland
Gunlock from Ferryland
Gunlock from Ferryland

The Colony of Avalon website also have some examples of gun parts found in Ferryland.

TOP-Lock from a 17th-century "snaphaunce," so called because its action resembled the pecking of a chicken. First half of the 17th century. BOTTOM-An English "dog lock," so called because a small dog, or catch, held the cock in place and prevented the musket from discharging accidentally.
TOP-Lock from a 17th-century “snaphaunce”, so-called because its action resembled the pecking of a chicken. First half of the 17th century.
BOTTOM-An English “dog lock,” so-called because a small dog, or catch, held the cock in place and prevented the musket from discharging accidentally.

Dr. Michael Deal, also at Memorial University of Newfoundland, sent me several photos of guns and gun parts that came from aircraft wrecks from the island portion of the province.

In 1943 a Lockheed Ventura (CjAe-61) was going out on an anti-submarine patrol when the plane crashed and burned. It was carrying, among other things, loaded 50 cal. machine guns. When the plane crashed and burned some of the bullets exploded.

In 1945 a B-24M Liberator (DgAo-01) being deployed to England crashed Northeast of Gander. Because the plane was being ferried to England it carried no bullets but it did have its armament of 50 cal. machine guns. Shown in the photos is one of the 50 cal. machine guns that was found on the edge of the debris field. There is also a shot of the same gun in the lab and another shot of the gun propped against one of the B-24 turrets. The officers on board had hand guns (45 cal. pistols) and Dr. Deal found one of the 45 cal. gun clips (shown in conservation) and several bullets and casings (one shown in situ).

Jamie Brake, the Nunatsiavut Government Archaeologist, was very helpful and gave me a good example of a gun part found on an archaeology site.

In 2012 at the site of Middle House Cove 1 in Double Mer Jamie and his colleague Tony Wolfrey found a gun barrel eroding out of a bank. The remains of a buried house foundation are in a clearing just back from the shore, and, as can be seen in the photos, the gun barrel was found in front of the clearing.

Jamie also told me an interesting story about a musket ball found in a piece of wood which was cut by Tyler Pamak behind his cabin in Tikkoatokak Bay. The piece of wood with the ball was brought to Nain. Last summer a dendrochronology grad student named Jay Maillet happened to be working in Nain. He did a preliminary analysis on the wood and believes the ball was shot into the tree around 1884!

Musket ball lodged in the tree (Pamak)
Musket ball lodged in the tree (Pamak)

Yet another interesting story from Jamie was regarding a soapstone musket ball mould. The object appears to be one half of a musket ball mould and was recently picked up in Nain and shown to Jamie. If you look closely at the object in the photo below you can see two small grooves (two arrows on bottom) that may be for lines that would be used to hold strings which would hold the two halves of the mould together. The single arrow on the left points to what may be a funnel in to which molten lead was poured to make the ball.

Soapstone musket ball mould
Soapstone musket ball mould

To support the possibility that this is a musket ball mould Jamie found the following reference:
On the inside of the flap of the woman’s duffle dicky of the east coast of Hudson bay and Ungava there is a little line of pewter ornaments which jingle as she walks. These are made of old spoons obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company, and termed pi’xo-tit. The spoons are melted and the fluid metal poured into a mould made of two slabs of steatite (Hawkes 1916:39).

 


Hawkes, E.W.
1916  The Labrador Eskimo.

Jacques Whitford Environment Limited/Innu Economic Development Enterprises Inc.  (JWEL/IED)
2000 Churchill River Power Project, 1998 Environmental Studies. Final Report, HROA, Labrador Component 98.22

 

Music in the ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musicians Maria and Sarah.
Musicians Maria and Sarah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.