The Curtis site, a Maritime Archaic cemetery

One of the best known archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador is the Maritime Archaic cemetery at Port au Choix. The site was found in 1967 during the excavation of a building. Dr. James Tuck of Memorial University investigated this discovery in the fall of 1967 and returned to the site for the next two summers. It would become one of the most instructive Maritime Archaic sites yet excavated.  The site revealed approximately 100 graves covered with red ochre. The excellent preservation allowed for the recovery of an incredible array of organic artifacts including daggers of ivory, antler, or bone, bone toggling harpoons, barbed bone points, bone awls and fine needles, small chisels and knives made from beaver incisors as well as shell-beaded clothing. They also recovered numerous chipped stone projectile points, slate spears, gouges, axes, adzes and lance artifacts. The artifacts and the organization of the burials indicated an elaborate and sophisticated technology used by these people and suggested a complex social organization. The information gained from the excavation would form the basis of the definition of the Maritime Archaic Tradition. The site, along with the extensive Palaeoeskimo occupation of Phillip’s Garden, would become a National Historic site of Canada.

The year before the 1967 discovery in Port au Choix, brothers Frank and Stanley Curtis dug a large hole for an outhouse on their property in Back Harbour, Twillingate. They found a slate spear point, followed by thirty-four more stone artifacts. Provincial authorities were informed and they contacted Dr. William Taylor, Director of the former National Museum of Man in Ottawa. The museum sent archaeologist Donald MacLeod to assess the new find and carry out archaeological work if needed. Over the next four summers MacLeod found, tested and excavated nine new archaeological sites including the Maritime Archaic cemetery in Back Harbour. Unfortunately, MacLeod never wrote a report on any of the work, all we have are rough field notes. As a result the sites are relatively unknown, despite their importance, particularly the cemetery.

Map of Back Harbour drawn by Don MacLeod, showing the locations of the confirmed Dorset Paleoeskimo and Maritime Archaic Amerindian sites (courtesy Donald MacLeod) (Temple 2007). Red dot is Curtis site.
Map of Back Harbour drawn by Don MacLeod, showing the locations of the confirmed Dorset
Palaeoeskimo and Maritime Archaic Amerindian sites (courtesy Donald MacLeod) (Temple 2007). Red dot is Curtis site.

The information in this post is based on MacLeod’s cursory field notes and two relatively recent reports that were written based on those notes. In 1993 Paul A. Thibaudeau wrote an essay entitled The Curtis Site: Its Place Within the Maritime Archaic as part of an Honours degree for Carleton University. In 2007 Blair Temple under contract to the Provincial Archaeology Office wrote The 1966-69 Archaeological Excavations At Back Harbour, North Twillingate Island, Newfoundland which provided a synopsis of all of MacLeod’s work in the Twillingate area.

MacLeod excavated the cemetery from 1966 to 1968. During those three field seasons no human remains were recovered but around 300 tools were found. Analysis was performed on the soil and ochre areas that were believed to be burials. That analysis revealed abnormally high amounts of phosphorus and calcium, compared to control samples which Macleod interpreted to mean the former presence of bone. Similar ‘boneless’ cemeteries had been found along the coast of northeastern North American since the late 19th century and became known as Red Paint Burials and later as the Moorehead Burial Tradition, after the archaeologist who would first describe them. The cemetery at Port au Choix was one of the first Moorehead cemeteries with human remains. The culture of the people who created the burials at Port au Choix would later become known as the Maritime Archaic Tradition. The people of this tradition also created the cemetery at Back Harbour but initially MacLeod referred to it as either a Red Paint or Moorehead cemetery.

Over-head photo of the Curtis property (circled in red), facing approximately north (Temple 2007).
Overhead photo of the Curtis property (circled in red), facing approximately north (Temple 2007).

The initial 1966 hole dug by the Curtis brothers was approximately 4×4 feet in size, and 3 to 4 feet deep. MacLeod would expand upon this and open as many as 10 units near the hole dug by the brothers. In 1966 MacLeod spent most of his time in Twillingate excavating the cemetery which he identified as a late Archaic Red Paint burial. He recovered 52 artifacts, several radiocarbon samples and thought the burials may have been the result of cremation.

He noted that burials 1 & 2, excavated in 1966, contained separate layers of ochre at depths between three to five feet. To MacLeod this suggested that the site was used previously. The uppermost ochre layers were covered by an irregular deposit of angular rocks, while the grave intrusions were nearly six feet deep, with strongly sloping sides. He speculated that this was due in part to the gravel matrix that the graves were dug into.

Rough profile sketch of one of the burials from MacLeod's field notebook (MacLeod 1966).
Rough profile sketch of one of the burials from MacLeod’s field notebook (MacLeod 1966).

MacLeod’s notes record that many of the tools were covered in red ochre or found in oval deposits of red ochre, usually about 1 to 2 metres below the surface. The longitudinal axis of the tools lay oriented East-West.

Plan map of Burials 1 and 2 (the first to be excavated). It appears that these occur in Trenches A and A1, and possibly extend into A2 and A3 as well. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple 2007).
Plan map of Burials 1 and 2 (the first to be excavated). It appears that these occur in Trenches A and A1, and possibly extend into A2 and A3 as well. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple 2007).
 Profile through Burial 1, in a southeast/northwest direction. The precise location of the profile within the burial is not known. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple).
Profile through Burial 1, in a southeast/northwest direction. The precise
location of the profile within the burial is
not known. (Courtesy Don MacLeod) (Temple).

During his two week 1967 field season he added a further 400 square feet to the excavation and found another 75 artifacts. At this point he believed the site was significant enough to require a third season.

MacLeod finished the Curtis excavation in 1968 and summarized the three seasons at the site in his notes recording that they recovered more than 300 artifacts from just 15 burials. They had four radiocarbon dates 3720±130 (Gak 834); 3560±140 (Gak 758); 3200±90 (Gak 1254) and 6920±160 (GSC-834). The last date was rejected by MacLeod. The other three dates fit perfectly within the late Archaic, in fact the date of 3200±90 was and remains the latest date for the Archaic on the Island. The charcoal samples all come from the grave intrusions and were either in association with or directly mixed in with the red ochre deposits in the graves. Thus the charcoal may be related either to the cremation of human remains or to the manufacture of red ochre, or both.

Approximately 300 typical late Archaic artifacts were recovered including various woodworking tools like ground slate gouges, axes and adzes. As well, chert projectile points, ground slate lances/bayonets (including one with serrated edges) and soapstone plummets were found. There were also some more unusual items such as sheets of mica and an oval piece of copper that was found below the rocks in the horizon of burial 6. MacLeod also recovered numerous natural stones including at least one dumbbell shaped stone that was encrusted with ochre on the lower, larger lobe. This object may have been used as a pestle for grinding ochre. Some of the other natural stones were little more than rounded pebbles, some were covered in ochre and others were plain white quartzite or quartz stones. Similar stones were recovered at Port au Choix where they were often found near the head of the deceased.

Another unusual artifact was interpreted by MacLeod as a ground Argillite netting needle found in Burial  13 that was caked in ochre. A similar but smaller object was recovered from the Port au Choix cemetery.

Netting needle (bottom) (Thibaudeau 1993).
Netting needle (bottom) (Thibaudeau 1993).
Netting needles (#s 3 & 4) (Tuck 1976).
Netting needles (#s 3 & 4) (Tuck 1976).

The quantity of these artifacts is not evenly distributed among the burials. Burials 4, 6, and 13 have the most variety and greatest number of tools and other items, containing 40, 52, and 76 respectively, or 168 artifacts in all. More than half of all the artifacts were found in these three burials. There are four other burials in close proximity to these central three that have another 86 artifacts. Meaning more than 80% of all the artifacts were clustered with these seven central burials in a 26 foot long x 16 foot wide area. Thibaudeau has suggested these central burials, 4, 6, and 13 were of ‘important’ people with successively less ‘important’ people buried near them (1993:32).

Rough map of the Curtis site based on Thibaudeau’s interpretation of MacLeod notes
Rough map of the Curtis site based on Thibaudeau’s interpretation of MacLeod notes

Jim Tuck recorded that there were many similarities between the Curtis and Port au Choix cemeteries as seen in the burial practices which were ‘…nearly identical to those at Port au Choix with the use of red ochre to cover flexed burials (inferred from grave size), the accompaniment of rich grave furnishings, and the grave covering of rocks or small boulders.’ (1976: 102). As well the radiocarbon dates show the two cemeteries were contemporaneous. In fact the only major differences between the two cemeteries are that there were around 100 burials found at Port au Choix and the latter was fully documented in reports and papers. Despite these differences Curtis is no less significant.


MacLeod, Donald
1966 Newfoundland 1966. Fieldnotes. CMC Ms. No. 940.
1967 Season Field Notes.  CMC Ms. No. 938, Book 1.
1968 Newfoundland 1968 Book II.

Temple, Blair
2007 The 1966-69 Archaeological Excavations at Back Harbour, North Twillingate Island, Newfoundland.

Thibaudeau, Paul
1993 The Curtis Site- Its Place Within the Maritime Archaic

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

Urve Linnamae in Placentia Bay in 1970

From June 26 to August 3, 1970, Dr. Urve Linnamae and her crew carried out an archaeological survey of the Placentia Bay area of Newfoundland while she was under contract to the National Museum of Canada. Prior to this Dr. Linnamae conducted excavations at the significant Palaeoeskimo sites of Cape Ray Light in 1967 and the Pittman site in White Bay in 1967 and 1968. In 1975 she wrote the influential monograph The Dorset Culture: A Comparative Study in Newfoundland and the Arctic. Technical Papers of the Newfoundland Museum, No.1 in which she discusses ‘…the position of Newfoundland within the Dorset culture area and the nature of Dorset culture regional variation.’ Dr. Linnamae went on to become an associate professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Saskatchewan and retired from that position in 2003 (Linnamae 1971 & Biography).

The National Museum of Canada focused on this area of Newfoundland for several reasons including:

  • the lack of known archaeological sites in the area at the time;
  • an attempt to increase the known geographic distribution of the Dorset;
  • to define the ecological adaptations and relationships within this southern and environmentally different area of Newfoundland and the Dorset culture (Linnamae 1971).

In particular the survey focused on the islands of inner Placentia Bay and around Come by Chance and Arnold’s Cove. The team also briefly visited Old Perlican and Gooseberry Cove, Trinity Bay (Linnamae 1971).

During the survey the team found or revisited 12 archaeology sites. Six of these were very small sites and two were spot finds of just single artifacts. The visit to Old Perlican was for a revisit of a known site and to view the associated collection held by a local person. All of the sites had some precontact component, most commonly it was Dorset Palaeoeskimo. Several sites had either a Maritime Archaic or Recent Amerindian component.  Finally, four sites had a European component (Linnamae 1971). In this post I’ll tell you what Linnamae and her team found at four of these sites.

General area of Placentia Bay Archaeological Survey. 1 Old Perlican 2 Heart's Ease 3 Bordeaux 2 4 Bordeaux 1 5 Long Island Neck 6 New Grove 7 Great Brule 8 Tack's Beach 9 Dog Harbour 10 Unnamed Cove 11 Come-by-Chance 12 Little Brule (Linnamae 1971)
General area of Placentia Bay Archaeological Survey.
1 Old Perlican
2 Heart’s Ease
3 Bordeaux 2
4 Bordeaux 1
5 Long Island Neck
6 New Grove
7 Great Brule
8 Tack’s Beach
9 Dog Harbour
10 Unnamed Cove
11 Come by Chance
12 Little Brule
(Linnamae 1971)

The largest site found by Linnamae was New Grove (CkAm-01). This site is located in a small cove on the eastern shore of Long Island, the second largest island in Placentia Bay. The site consists of Maritime Archaic, Dorset Palaeoeskimo and European components. Unfortunately the European occupation seems to have disturbed the earlier occupations. As well, the site has been heavily eroded along the beach side by high seas and winter ice (Linnamae 1971).

PLATE I New Grove CkAm-01 Looking down at site area towards the North. Seated figure in midground is at Test Trench 3. PLATE II Looking at eroding bank edge at southern part of site. From the water Test Trench 3 is near the right side of the photograph. (Linnamae 1971)
PLATE I
New Grove CkAm-01
Looking down at site area towards the North. Seated figure in mid-ground is at Test Trench 3.
PLATE II
Looking at eroding bank edge at southern part of site. From the water Test Trench 3 is near the right side of the photograph.
(Linnamae 1971)

Linnamae opened four small test trenches along the eroding bank at the beach near the center of the cove. From these trenches and observing the eroding bank she determined that the occupation layer only minimally extended beyond the area of her trenches. Despite the impact on the site they recovered 2694 pieces of cultural material including 225 artifacts and a sample of charcoal from the Dorset component which returned a date of 1730±80 (Gak-3276) BP (Linnamae 1971).

They recovered 42 endblades most of which exhibited grinding on the basal element and sometimes over the whole endblade surface. All of these were made on a white/grey chert which later became known as Trinity Bay chert among archaeologists. We now know that geologically this chert is actually part of the Conception Formation and more accurately should be referred to as Conception Formation chert. The extensive grinding and white/grey chert are typical of Trinity/Placentia Bay Dorset occupations. Linnamae and her crew also recovered 18 microblades, 14 bifaces, two pieces of ground slate, four abraders, one endscraper and a fragment of a soapstone pot (Linnamae 1971).

Conception Formation chert typically exhibits a whitish-beige or brownish-beige weathering rind that can be chalky, however when freshly broken surfaces display a blue-grey (battleship) colour. This colour and the distinctive weathering constitutes a clear Conception Group signature (LeBlanc 2008: 59).

New Grove Artifacts a-h endblades i blade fragment j endscraper k-o microblades (Linnamae 1971)
New Grove Artifacts
a-h endblades
i blade fragment
j endscraper
k-o microblades
(Linnamae 1971)

The recovery of one endscraper from a Dorset occupation is unusual, Linnamae noted this in her report and that endscrapers are usually one of the most frequent artifact categories found on Dorset sites. Therefore her preliminary interpretation of the site was that hunting and the manufacture of hunting implements were the primary function of the site (Linnamae 1971).

In 2002 I revisited New Grove with a colleague. We found a few small artifacts on the beach and noted that the site is continuing to erode.

New Grove in 2002
New Grove in 2002

Long Island Neck (CkAm-02) is located on a partially grass covered sand bar near the northern tip of Long Island, just two kilometres north of New Grove. There are high rock outcrops on both ends of the sand bar so the site was limited to just the sand bar. With almost no grass cover on the north end of the bar the majority of the site was found on the south end. Even when the site was found by Linnamae in 1970 it had undergone heavy erosion (Linnamae 1971). 

Long Island Neck CkAm-02 Looking down at site towards the North. In immediate foreground is the remaining grassy area containing a buried occupation area
Long Island Neck CkAm-02
Looking down at site towards the North.
In immediate foreground is the remaining grassy area containing a buried occupation area.

Linnamae and crew opened two trenches in the southern area and recovered 470 pieces of cultural material including 25 artifacts and a charcoal sample that returned a date of 2240±210 (Gak-3274). The site has a possible Maritime Archaic and a Dorset component. The date however is too late for the Archaic and would be one of the earliest dates for Dorset on the Island of Newfoundland if correct. Interestingly, the Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05) site was found by Linnamae in 1970 just outside Arnold’s Cove and just 9 kilometres from Long Island Neck. It had a single Dorset occupation dated to 1090 ± 90 (Gak-3275) making it one of the latest dates for Dorset on the Island of Newfoundland (Linnamae 1971 & 1975).

Nine of the recovered artifacts are endblades, three of which are ground on the basal half. Four microblades and a microblade core were recovered. As well there were four fragmentary bifaces and a piece of ground slate. Given the small assemblage it’s hard to say much about the site; Linnamae did suggest that it represented a repeatedly used small hunting camp (Linnamae 1971).

Long Island Neck CkAm-02 a-f endblades g New Grove h blade i uniface jendblade k microblade core l knife fragment m microblade n side-notched point o biface p ground stone implement (Linnamae 1971)
Long Island Neck CkAm-02
a-f endblades
g from the New Grove site
h blade
i uniface
j endblade
k microblade core
l knife fragment
m microblade
n side-notched point
o biface
p ground stone implement
(Linnamae 1971)

I also revisited Long Island Neck in 2002. As at New Grove, the site was still eroding but not completely gone and we found a few small artifacts eroded out on the beach.

Long Island Neck, to the left is south, to the right is north.
Long Island Neck, to the left is south, to the right is north.
Close up shot of the south end of Long Island Neck.
Close-up shot of the south end of Long Island Neck.

Linnamae also found two sites (CkAm-04 & 05) on either side of Bordeaux Head which is a broad sandy point of land that separates Come by Chance from Arnold’s Cove. Bordeaux 1 (CkAm-04) was a very small site consisting of 13 artifacts only one of which, a retouched flake, was found in situ (undisturbed). Everything else was eroded out on the beach, including a partial Dorset endblade (Linnamae 1971). 

Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05) was a more prolific site with more than 100 pieces of cultural material recovered including endblades and microblades from an in situ occupation layer. This layer also contained an arrangement of stones which Linnamae interpreted as a hearth. A carbon sample was taken and returned a date of 1090 ± 90 (Gak-3275) which, as stated above, is one of the latest dates for Dorset on the Island of Newfoundland (Linnamae 1971 & 1975).

Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05) Looking along beach toward the North at Test Trench 1, which is located on the grassy slope in front of the trees. (Linnamae 1971)
Bordeaux 2 (CkAm-05)
Looking along beach toward the North at
Test Trench 1, which is located on the grassy
slope in front of the trees.
(Linnamae 1971)

In 2005 I was fortunate enough to visit the Bordeaux 2 site as well. Although no artifacts were found it is believe that the site is pretty much how it was when Linammae found it in 1971.

Looking at the Bordeaux 2 site.
Looking at the Bordeaux 2 site.

After this survey Urve Linnamae wrote her 1975 book The Dorset Culture- A Comparative Study in Newfoundland and the Arctic. For the most part this work is based on her excavations at the Cape Ray site near Port aux Basques and the Pittman site in White Bay. As stated earlier this was an influential work, particularly for anyone studying the Dorset culture on the Island of Newfoundland. For example, Doug Robbins in the abstract of  his 1985 MA thesis dealing with the Dorset at Stock Cove referred to Linnamae’s book as a landmark in the history of Newfoundland Dorset archaeology. While Cape Ray and the Pittman sites are at the centre of this work, the Dorset sites found during the lesser known 1971 survey are also incorporated and play a role in this significant work. 


LeBlanc, Sylvie
2008 Middle Dorset Variability and Regional Cultural Traditions- a Case Study from Newfoundland and St. Pierre and Miquelon. PhD, University of Alberta.

Linnamae, Urve
1971 Preliminary Report of an Archaeological Survey of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

1975   The Dorset Culture- A Comparative Study in Newfoundland and the Arctic.

Linnamae Biography, University of Saskatchewan
http://library2.usask.ca/spcoll/University%20Authors/UA2006-07/UA%202007%20Linnamae%20Bio.doc

Robbins, Doug
1985  Stock Cove, Trinity Bay: The Dorset Eskimo Occupation Of Newfoundland From A Southeastern Perspective. MA, MUN.

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.

The Bank site, Terra Nova National Park: Part 1

The Bank site (DdAk-05) was found by Dr. James Tuck during his 1979 survey of Terra Nova National Park. The site is inside Chandler Reach and is strategically situated at the juncture of three major channels, offering fine views down Clode Sound to the west, Chandler’s Reach to the east, and Goose Bay to the south. At that time of its discovery Tuck recovered two lithic artifacts, 98 lithic flakes and described the site as containing a predominantly Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupation. Most of the material culture was found in an eroding bank and a lack of evidence from test pits suggested the site was mostly eroded. The two identifiable artifacts recovered were a microblade and “an asymmetric knife with one straight and one convex edge and a deliberately blunted tip.” (Tuck 1980:37)

Despite the erosion present at many of the sites found in 1979, several sites were considered important enough to warrant further investigation. This was carried out in 1980 and during this time the Bank site was revisited and six more Dorset Palaeoeskimo artifacts and 43 unmodified flakes were recovered from the eroding bank. Three of the artifacts were endblades or endblade fragments, one was a scraper, one was a possible asymmetric knife or biface and the last was a bifacially retouched flake (Sawiki 1980: 96-71). The 1980 work in Terra Nova National Park formed the basis of a Master’s thesis for Anna Sawicki. The eroding nature of the Bank site and the small amount of recovered cultural material meant there was minimal interpretation of the site in Sawicki’s thesis (1983).

The Bank site around 1980 (Sawicki 1983)
The Bank site around 1980 (Sawicki 1983)
The Bank site around 1980 (Sawicki 1983)
Artifacts from the Bank site. a-c: Endblades d: Scraper e: Microblade f, g: Knives (Sawicki 1983)

In 1992 Dr. Fred Schwarz returned to the Bank site in part under contract to the Canadian Parks Service, and in part for Memorial University of Newfoundland under the terms of a research grant to the University by the Canadian Parks Service. Prior to his re-visit the general thoughts on the site were summarized by Schwarz as: The site thus appeared to be a typical Dorset site, with little potential for advancing our understanding of Newfoundland culture history, and, owing to its advanced state of erosion, little potential even for revealing anything new about the Dorset period (1993:6)

This attitude changed in 1991 when a Maritime Archaic stemmed projectile point was exposed and recovered during a routine monitoring visit. The projectile point was unusual for Newfoundland and its closest stylistic affinities were to be found in the Early Archaic in southern Labrador, dated to ca. 7200 BP. This find suggested that the site contained evidence of an Early Archaic occupation dating 1700 years earlier than any yet known on the island. The erosion of this now significant site prompted further investigations. Excavations were planned for the summer of 1992. In planning for this excavation the site was visited and more cultural material was visible in treefalls on raised ground beyond the eroding bank. It was also abundant in treefalls within the bog to the north. The latter also raised the possibility of preserved organic artifacts, a rare find on archaeology sites in the province. The Bank site had become much more important and much larger than previously believed (Schwarz 1993:6-7).

Excavations began on August 26 and continued until October 2. Archaeological operations at the site consisted of a combination of excavation, surface collection, screening, and test-excavation. The main excavated portion of the site, over 100m2, was stratified, with three distinct cultural layers extending across the site, in addition to more localized cultural features and deposits lying above and within the principal strata. During this work evidence was found for a small Maritime Archaic component, a major Dorset occupation, a Groswater occupation and Recent Indian (Beothuk ancestor) components (Schwarz 1993).

View West across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).
View West across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).
View East Across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).
View East Across excavations at the Bank Site (Schwarz 1993).

At the end of the 1992 work  the Maritime Archaic component was extremely small consisting of no more than seven artifacts including two chipped and ground slate axes, one side-notched projectile point, two possible tapered-stem bifaces, one possible lanceolate biface base and the Early Archaic projectile point found in 1991. In fact those seven artifacts were widely scattered across the site and showed no horizontal clustering which suggested to Schwarz that the Archaic occupation was never very intensive or was mostly eroded away. The 1992 excavations yielded no other evidence for an Early Archaic occupation, the remaining pieces all conforming stylistically to the well-documented Late Archaic occupation of Newfoundland (Schwarz 1993).

Maritime Archaic Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site: a-b) Projectile points c-d) Possible tapered-stem bifaces e-f) Ground slate axes (Schwarz 1993)
Maritime Archaic Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site:
a-b) Projectile points
c-d) Possible tapered-stem bifaces
e-f) Ground slate axes
(Schwarz 1993)

The Groswater component was slightly larger with 34 diagnostic artifacts recovered and 23 specimens that may be Groswater. The Groswater diagnostics include five semi-lunate inset sideblades, five sickle-shaped gravers, ten side-notched endblade bases and three complete examples, eight fine bifacially-retouched serrated endblade tips and midsections, two multiple-notched endblade bases, and one chipped and ground chert burin-like-tool. While Groswater artifacts were found in other sites in the area, the Bank Site Groswater assemblage is unusual for the high level of workmanship evident in the tools. In fact the workmanship was so fine Schwarz referred to the collection as “a strong, if not pure, component of Groswater artifacts in “Phillip’s Garden West” style.” (1993: 45) However, given the small sample size little else could be said about their occupation beyond it seems to have involved the full range of activities associated with a residential base-camp (Schwarz 1993).

Early Palaeo-Eskimo (Groswater) Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site a-j) Side-notched endblades k-l) Multiple-side-notched endblade bases m-p) Serrated biface tips q-r) Hooked gravers s-w) Scrapers x-bb) Sideblades cc-dd) Side-notched knives ee) Large ground biface ff) Chipped and ground burin-like tool (Schwarz 1993)
Early Palaeo-Eskimo (Groswater) Artifacts Recovered at the Bank Site
a-j) Side-notched endblades
k-l) Multiple-side-notched endblade bases
m-p) Serrated biface tips
q-r) Hooked gravers
s-w) Scrapers
x-bb) Sideblades
cc-dd) Side-notched knives
ee) Large ground biface
ff) Chipped and ground burin-like tool
(Schwarz 1993)

The Dorset component was by far the largest at the site. It is represented by 1355 (93.4%) of the artifacts, by two distinct cultural strata (and elements of a third), and by five of the six cultural features identified at the site. Two of those features were interpreted as habitation structures with other features within the structures. One habitation structure was a semi-subterranean house with central axial feature flanked by cleared living spaces and was roughly oval in shape. The second habitation structure was similar to the first but less clearly defined. Both structures were backed by a midden area (Schwarz 1993).

The Little Passage complex, Recent Indian component at the Bank Site was also small, and highly localized, but distinctive according to Schwarz. Most of the Recent Indian component consisted of comer-notched projectile points and triangular bifaces. There were also a few undiagnostic pieces which Schwarz feels were Recent Indian. The diagnostic Recent Indian artifacts were strongly associated with Feature 1, a roughly linear deposit of fire-cracked rock and charcoal with lenses rich in calcined bone fragments measuring 2m by at least 5m. Similar linear hearth features found in Newfoundland and Labrador have been interpreted as the remains of communal feasting structures, because they are similar to shaputuan structures erected for mokoshan ceremonies, or “eat-all” feasts documented for the Innu of Labrador-Ungava. There were also seven Recent Indian biface tips, sixteen corner-notched projectile points and fifteen triangular bifaces localized to the Feature 1 area (Schwarz 1993).

Recent Indian Artifacts from Operation 10A2 at the Bank Site: a-m) Little Passage points (a-e are of Ramah) n-s) Triangular bifaces (n-q are of Ramah) (Schwarz 1993)
Recent Indian Artifacts from Operation 10A2 at the Bank Site:
a-m) Little Passage points (a-e are of Ramah)
n-s) Triangular bifaces (n-q are of Ramah)
(Schwarz 1993)

As unusual as Feature 1 was (In 1992 it was just the second such feature identified on the Island, today there are still just a handful of these features on the Island), the Recent Indian artifacts were more interesting for several reasons including because they were a very limited range of functional types; corner-notched projectile points, triangular bifaces, and perhaps one sidescraper. Schwarz believes the projectile points were from a chronologically-tight assemblage dating to the early-middle portion of the Little Passage Complex stylistic continuum ca. AD 1200. Missing from the assemblage are the lanceolate bifaces, endscrapers, linear flakes, etc. which might attest to a broader range of domestic activities on-site. Add to this the fact that diagnostic Recent Indian artifacts were closely associated with a single deposit, Feature 1. The Recent Indian occupation of the site was likely limited in both function and duration, to a single brief occupation. However, what is most distinctive and interesting about the Recent Indian artifacts is most were made from Ramah chert – a lithic material only found in northern Labrador and relied upon heavily by Labrador Recent Indians. While Ramah does infrequently occur on Newfoundland Recent Indian sites, it’s usually found as debitage. Finished Ramah artifacts are rare. Even today this site stands out; no other Recent Indian site on the Island has as many finished Ramah chert Recent Indian artifacts. The whole Recent Indian component suggests a brief, specialized occupation involving communal food preparation and the conspicuous consumption of valued objects (Schwarz 1993).

Charcoal and Firecracked Rock Deposit (Feature 1) in 10A2J. (Schwarz 1993)
Charcoal and Firecracked Rock Deposit (Feature 1) in 10A2J. (Schwarz 1993)

Since 1992 the Bank site has been revisited several times by three different archaeologists working with Parks Canada to monitor the erosion of the site. The next blog post will deal with those revisits.


Thank-you Lynne for providing the colour images.

Sawiki, Anna
1980 Archaeological excavations in Terra Nova National Park.

1983 Palaeo-Eskimo Occupations in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland. MA, MUN.

Schwarz, Fred
1992 Archaeological Investigations at the Bank Site, Terra Nova National Park, Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland.

Tuck, James
1980 An Archaeological Survey of Terra Nova National Park.

Land-Use Applications and Jonathon and David Islands, Labrador

The Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO), in its capacity as a regulatory agency, determines the need for historic resources impact assessments through the review of land-use applications submitted by both government agencies, and the private sector. Collectively the four PAO staff members have more than 80 years of experience processing these applications. Over the last five years, on average, more than 2600 applications were processed per year. Those applications are often initiated by the private sector and come to the PAO through various government agencies or in some cases agencies within government initiate the applications. In either case the various agencies include Crown Lands, Environmental Assessment, Mineral Exploration, Quarries, Aquaculture, Interdepartmental Land Use Committee, Municipal Affairs, Forestry and Agrifoods Agency, Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, Roads, Water and Sewer projects coming from engineering companies, Service NL and other projects. Once it is determined that the area doesn’t have archaeological potential or had already been surveyed, then the applications are processed fairly quickly.

Generally larger projects require more time to process the application. Large ground disturbing projects such as a new mine almost always require archaeological assessment. Even smaller projects with less ground disturbing potential such as water and sewer projects, the construction of a cabin or mineral exploration sites may require archaeological assessment if they are in areas with historic resource potential. This means the person/organization submitting the application has to retain the services of a consulting archaeologist. The archaeologist would then apply to the PAO for a permit to carry out the assessment which involves carrying out fieldwork at the site in question. Such was the case for two proposed mineral exploration sites on Jonathon Island and David Island north of Nain in 1995.

In 1995 there were more than 50 known archaeological sites within 20 km of Nain and if you extend that selection perimeter out to within 50 km of Nain, which includes Jonathon Island and David Island, the number of recorded sites in 1995 jumps to more than 360. Given the large number of known sites in the area, the potential for historic resources on Jonathon Island and David Island was very high and the call for archaeological impact assessment was more than justified.

Known sites within 50km of Nain are yellow dots, sites outside this radius are red dots.
Known sites within 50km of Nain are yellow dots, sites outside this radius are red dots.

The proponent for the mineral exploration project hired an archaeologist to conduct the assessment. The archaeologist found no archaeological sites in the immediate area of the proposed drill holes. However, a number of sites were identified outside the main drilling foci, but within the broader study areas. Evidence for a Maritime Archaic and Pre-Dorset presence were found on Jonathon Island. On David Island there was a series of Labrador Inuit tent rings and cache features as well as two possible early Maritime Archaic pit houses (Hood 1995). All of these areas were delineated and to be avoided by the proponent; once that was done the proposed drilling was able to proceed without any danger to historic resources.

In total seven new sites were found as a result of the impact assessment, four on Jonathon Island and three on David Island. I recently came across some slides from three of the sites found during the 1995 survey of David Island and one from Jonathon Island.

View to the west over David Island 1, 1995 (Hood)
View to the west over David Island 1, 1995 (Hood)

The three David Island sites range from find spots of flakes and a biface fragment, to a larger site with multiple lithic scatters and a tent ring to the largest site, David Island 1, that has seven tent rings, three caches and another structure that consists of a small semi-circle of rocks built up against an outcrop (Hood 1995). David Island 1 is an Inuit site with a precontact component (possibly Dorset) and is about 4500 min size. The site is located at the southeastern corner of David Island and the cultural features are 4-8 masl (metres above sea level). The seven tent rings are made up of a ring of rocks used to hold down the outside skirt of a tent. The rings are described as circular, sub-rectangular and oval and average just over 20 m2 in size, the smallest being just 3.5 mand the largest is 55.25 m2.

David Island 1 tent ring 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 tent ring 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 tent rings 3 & 4, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 tent rings 3 & 4, 1995 (Hood)

The three caches at David Island 1 consist of large flat boulders arranged so that they form a storage area for goods or food. They average about 0.84 mand about 0.5 m high.

David Island 1 cache 1, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 cache 1, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 cache 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 1 cache 2, 1995 (Hood)

David Island 3 is a probable Maritime Archaic habitation site that was found on the southern shore of Eastern Harbour which is on the southern end of the island. The site was composed of two possible boulder pit-house features that are approximately 30 masl.

Structure 1 is a 4 m (north-south) by 3.5 m (east-west) oval, lichen-crowberry filled depression within a field of head-sized boulders. The floor of the depression is ~ 25-40 cm below the surrounding rocks. There are no visible interior constructions, but there is one rather large boulder embedded in the floor near the front (seaward) side of the feature. No artifactual material was observed (Hood 1995).

David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pithouse 1, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pit-house 1, 1995 (Hood)

Structure 2 lies 3 m west of Structure 1 and slightly up-slope. It exhibits a cleared, circular, vegetation-filled depression measuring 3.5 m in diameter, with the “floor” at 20 cm below the tops of the surrounding rocks. No interior features or artifactual materials were visible (Hood).

David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pithouse 2, 1995 (Hood)
David Island 3 possible Maritime Archaic pit-house 2, 1995 (Hood)

Based on Hood’s previous experience and the experience of other archaeologists who have worked in the area, these features are believed to be early Maritime Archaic pit-houses and likely dated to 6000 BP or earlier. In fact, this past summer another Maritime Archaic pit-house was excavated in Labrador to the south of this area and a radiocarbon date of 6720-6560 cal. BP was recorded based on charcoal recovered from the structure (See Jolicoeur, Brake, Fitzhugh & Davies in PAO Review for 2015).

Of the four sites on Jonathon Island, three of them had evidence for a Maritime Archaic occupation and the fourth had evidence for a Pre-Dorset occupation. Most of the sites were artifact spot finds or lithic scatters of flakes related to making stone tools. One site had a small tent ring and six small lithic localities over an area of ~45 m by 25 m in size. Another consisted of only two Ramah chert flakes associated with about five head-sized rocks arranged in a semi-circle, possibly forming a tent ring. The third site was made up of one quartz and one slate flake. The fourth site contained the only evidence of a Pre-Dorset occupation found on the Island and consisted of a black chert biface fragment, probably stemmed with a retouched impact spall on the tip. A piece of crystal quartz was noted on the surface about 10 m from the biface, but it was uncertain whether it was culturally modified (Hood 1995).

The location of Johathon Island 5, this site contained the Pre-Dorset black chert biface, 1995 (Hood)
The location of Johathon Island 5, this site contained the Pre-Dorset black chert biface, 1995 (Hood)

The historic resources assessment of Jonathon and David Islands is a good example of the assessment system working properly and to the benefit of everyone. The company was allowed to proceed and the PAO was able to protect the historic resources and we all learn more about the past of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Hood, Bryan
1995 Archaeological Resource Evaluation of Noranda Mines Mineral Exploration Areas at Jonathon and David Islands, Nain, Labrador.

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.

The Archaic site at Forteau Point, southern Labrador

Residents of southern Labrador and areas of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland were well aware of the archaeological sites in their presence long before Diamond Jenness and William J. Wintemberg conducted preliminary surveys in those areas in the late 1920s. In 1949 and 1961 Elmer Harp conducted more archaeological fieldwork in those areas aided, no doubt, by the knowledgeable locals and the records of Jenness and Wintemberg.

During Harp’s 1949 and 1961 work he found and or excavated nearly 20 precontact sites. Among that number are several very well-known sites including Pinware Hill, currently the oldest recorded site in the province. One of his lesser known sites was Forteau Point (EiBf-02), Harp named it Forteau Bay 1 (it was renamed by McGhee & Tuck in the early 1970s). He classified Forteau Point as a major occupation site which he described as having:
. . . the appearance of significant occupations, possibly of long duration, and they spread over areas that may reach an extent of three or four acres. The material obtained from them is characterized by a high degree of uniformity (Harp 1951).

Forteau Point.
Forteau Point (Martin).

Harp returned to Forteau Point in 1961 collecting more cultural material. In his 1963 article detailing his survey and excavation work in the province he records that he recovered 73 artifacts from the site including: 13 points, 24 knives, 8 scrapers, 8 adzes, 1 gouge, 3 ground slate implements, 15 indeterminate fragments and 1 core. Forty-five of the artifacts were made of chert, 15 of quartzite, 11 of silicified slate, 1 red jasper and 1 was made of andesite. It is not clear if the total number of artifacts was from both years (1963). Unfortunately most of the site was ‘. . . marked by poorly stabilized dunes and scarred by deep systems of blowouts‘ (Harp 1951). So, much of the cultural material collected by Harp was out of cultural context.

Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp's 1951 publication.
Artifacts 4, 5, 6 and 7 are from Forteau Point shown in Harp’s 1951 publication.
Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp's 1963 publication.
Artifacts from Forteau Point shown in Harp’s 1963 publication.

James Tuck and Robert McGhee spent several field seasons in the early 1970s in southern Labrador revisiting some of the sites found by Harp and surveying other areas looking for new sites. In 1973 they revisited Harp’s Forteau Bay 1, renaming it Forteau Point. Like Harp, they found the site to be eroding but they did surface collect more cultural material including: ‘. . . a few notched or expanded stem projectile points, many flakes of slate, felsite and quartzite and a large slate bayonet, and a probable felsite prismatic blade‘. They were also able to find a small area of the site that was undisturbed which they excavated, recovering flakes and a small sample of wood charcoal (Tuck & McGee 1973).

In June of 1974 Tuck and McGhee returned to southern Labrador focusing their work on several sites including Forteau Point. Once again the site produced cultural material, most of which was surface collected from the deflated sand dunes. However, they were also able to find two small areas of in situ deposits. Through their surface collection and excavations they noted that:
Material appears to be concentrated in a series of areas, each a few metres in diameter, arranged in a linear pattern along the flat surface of the point. The distinctiveness of this pattern, as well as the high proportion of ground stone tools and the scarcity of chipping waste, suggests that this may not have been an occupation site but may have served a ceremonial function.’ (McGhee & Tuck 1975).

To add to the idea of a ceremonial function for the site, over several years of revisits 18 large bifaces were recovered from the area ranging in size from 29 cm to 38 cm in length. Clearly, such large bifaces were not meant for hunting. Tuck 1993 states ‘The four largest specimens were found in a single cache and the others in association with large patches of red ochre . . .‘ Tuck speculates that these 4 bifaces formed part of a precontact ‘lithophone’ which would have functioned similar to a xylophone.

As stated above Tuck made several revisits to the site. During those revisits he found more bifaces and more charcoal and ochre deposits.

All of the charcoal recovered from the site resulted in two radiocarbon dates. The first, 5399 ± 58 BP, came from material submitted by Harp. The second date of 5035 ± 65 BP came from a biface cache recovered by McGhee and Tuck. Both dates clearly indicate the site is Archaic in origin.

Archaeologists believe the Archaic people who moved into Labrador did so in two major waves, the first came just after the glaciers left the land. We first see their cultural remains at sites in southern Labrador like Pinware Hill and Cowpath ~9000 to 8000 years ago. Their cultural remains are found in the province up to ~3500 years ago. Archaeologists have recently started to refer to these people as the Labrador Archaic, when I learned about this group in University they were called the ‘Northern Branch’. Around 6000 years ago a second wave of people moved in to southern Labrador and are archaeologically referred to as the Maritime Archaic, when I learned about this group in University they were called the ‘Southern Branch’. Their cultural remains are found in the province up to ~3000 years ago. The major difference between the two can be seen in their stone tools. Labrador Archaic spearheads tend to be nipple based transitioning to a stemmed base. Maritime Archaic spearheads tend to be notched in some way. Based on the stone stools recovered by Harp, McGhee and Tuck, both Archaic groups appear to have made use of the sandy beaches at Forteau Point.

In 1986 the site was revisited by Reginald Auger and Marianne Stopp during their survey conducted from the Quebec-Labrador border north to Cape Charles. They noted considerable ongoing erosion and that a ditch had been dug through the site in that summer which was accelerating the erosion (Auger & Stopp 1986).

More recent visits have noted ongoing erosion and a considerable growth in alders. No cultural material beyond flakes has been recovered by an archaeologist from the site recently. After nearly 70 years of yielding secrets to archaeologists the site may finally be finished.


Auger, Reginald & Marianne Stopp
1987 1986 Archaeological Survey of Southern Labrador- Quebec-Labrador Border to Cape Charles.

Harp, Elmer
1951 An Archaeological Survey in the Strait of Belle Isle Area.  American Antiquity, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 205-220.

1963 Evidence of Boreal Archaic Culture in Southern Labrador and Newfoundland.  Paper No. 5. National Museum of Canada, Bulletin

McGhee, Robert & James Tuck
1975 An Archaic Sequence from the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador. National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Archaeological Survey of Canada, Paper No. 34, Ottawa.

Tuck, James & Robert McGhee
1973 1973 Fieldwork in the Strait of Belle Isle Region.

1974 Report on Canada Council Grant #S-75-1613 Archaeology of the Strait of Belle Isle Region, Labrador.

Tuck, James
1976 Newfoundland and Labrador Prehistory. National Museum of Man.

1993 Interpreting L’Anse Amour and Southern Labrador Prehistory.