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.

Groswater Palaeoeskimo update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conception Bay South Burials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos showing partial headstone with the letters ‘SAC’ another piece with the possible name and date of death.
Photo showing partial headstone with the letters ‘SAC’ another piece with the possible name and date of death.
100_1826
Grave stone markers at Foxtrap 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Millertown in 1900-1901 prior to heavy flooding. On the left foreground is the stack associated with the lumber mill, the point of land beyond that is likely Indian Point. The houses extend well out into the lake and were built on Mary March Point. All of the buildings had to be moved up the shoreline above the mill prior to flooding in 1925. (virtualmuseum.ca)
Millertown in 1900-1901 prior to heavy flooding. On the left foreground is the stack associated with the lumber mill, the point of land beyond that is likely Indian Point. The houses extend well out into the lake and were built on Mary March Point. All of the buildings had to be moved up the shoreline above the mill prior to flooding in 1925 (virtualmuseum.ca).
Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo. Showing Mary March Point covered in houses, the photo show just how narrow the lake was historically.
Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo. Showing Mary March Point covered in houses, the photo show just how narrow the lake was historically (virtualmuseum.ca).
1901.5
Looking at the lumber mill with Mary March Point directly behind the photographer. All of the buildings along the shoreline shown in the previous photos were move higher on the shoreline, likely to near the level of the white building on the left of this photo. Looking down Red Indian Lake, the point of land in the background is likely Indian Point (virtualmuseum.ca).
Water wheel from the lumber mill shown at low water in 2005.
Water wheel from the lumber mill shown at low water in 2005. Notice how far back from the water all the houses are located (virtualmuseum.ca).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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