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.

Archaeology in the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador: The L’Anse Amour burial mound

During the summers of 1973 and 1974 Dr. Robert McGhee and Dr. James Tuck, both then professors at Memorial University of Newfoundland surveyed a large portion of the southern Labrador coast from the Quebec/Labrador border up to Red Bay. They found or relocated 13 sites including a number of important archaeological sites such as the L’Anse Amour burial mound and the oldest known site in the province at Pinware Hill. At L’Anse Amour they found or relocated another 14 discrete scatters of flakes, fire-cracked cobbles, and occasional artifacts and the L’Anse Amour burial mound, all of which they saw as a single site. Today we would treat these as separate sites. I say relocated because part of the area had been surveyed and several of the sites had been found 25 years earlier by Dr. Elmer Harp.

The data from this survey formed the basis of McGhee & Tuck’s 1975 Mercury Series volume An Archaic Sequence from the Strait of Belle Isle, Labrador. For the most part the cultural sequence laid out in this volume still stands.

ABSTRACT
This report presents the results of archaeological survey and test excavation undertaken on the southern coast of Labrador during the summers of 1973 and 1974. Preliminary reports summarize our work at 14 sites, all but one of which relate to Archaic occupations. These components are placed in chronological sequence using evidence from seriation, comparison of collections, relative site elevations, and radiocarbon dating. The resulting sequence is used as the basis for postulating the development of a local variant of the Maritime Archaic tradition from a late Palaeo-Indian immigration to the area at approximately 8000-9000 years ago. We postulate continuity in the local occupation and adaptation from that time to approximately 3000-2000 years ago, when we suggest that the local tradition was interrupted by a possible environmental change and the immigration of Dorset Eskimos. The prehistory of the last 2000 years is unclear, and we suspect that occupation of this region was sparse and perhaps sporadic during the late prehistoric period. (McGhee & Tuck 1975)
 

The last 2000 years of the sequence was later filled in by people with a culture that archaeologists refer to as Recent Indian.

The field crew for McGhee & Tuck’s surveys included Marcie Madden and Priscilla Renouf. Both of these women produced influential Master’s theses based on sites found or relocated during the McGhee & Tuck survey. Both of them also continued on and earned PhD’s. Dr. Renouf became a professor at Memorial University and ran the very successful Port au Choix Archaeology Project from the mid-1980s up to her passing last year.

While cleaning out Dr. Renouf’s office someone came across an envelope of photos marked L’Anse Amour burial mound. The photos were taken during the excavation of the burial.

Archaeological work at L’Anse Amour took place during the summers of 1973 & 74. McGhee and Tuck noted the presence of the mound in 1973 “…and ignored it in favour of the pleasure of surface collecting in the extensive blowouts closer to the coast.” (McGhee & Tuck 1975:85) They walked over and around the mound for the rest of the summer. It wasn’t until 1974 that they sent several crew members to clear the bushes and sand off the mound.

The burial mound at L'Anse-Amour restored to its original form after the excavation (McGhee 1976: 13)
The burial mound at L’Anse-Amour restored to its original form after the excavation (McGhee 1976: 13)
Clearing the mound in 1974 (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Clearing the mound in 1974 (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
The positions of the boulders were mapped, the structure was divided into quadrants, and the boulders removed from the southwestern quadrant. The rocks averaged some 30 cm in diameter, weighed perhaps 10 kg on the average, and were piled closely together. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:86)
 
Excavation of the burial mound (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Excavation of the burial mound (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)

Several layers of boulders were removed which totaled nearly 1 metre in depth.

These were mapped and removed, revealing the upper edges of three large slab-like boulders which were set upright in a line, apparently forming the edge of a cist-like structure. Traces of red ochre were found in two places along the line of upright boulders. In order to locate the remainder of the cist, the boulders of the northwest quadrant were removed, and the excavation enlarged to include a two metre strip of the eastern segment of the mound. We duly located the other edge of the cist, a parallel line of two boulders one metre north of the first line but beginning and ending 60 cm farther east than the boulders of the first line. The upper edges of these boulders were encountered at approximately 45 cm below the top of the mound, and they extended to a maximum depth of 100 cm beneath the original surface. At this point we began to have trouble with our excavation, as the sand dried and we began to get cave-ins and threatened cave-ins. Accordingly, we enlarged our excavation to a square pit seven metres on a side and centred on the original centre of the mound. This removed all of the heavy concentration of piled beach boulders in the central area, an irregular concentration some four metres in diameter. The floor of the excavation was now entirely composed of sand, save for the two parallel lines of upright boulders forming the cist within which we expected to find a burial. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:86-87)

 

Photographing the cist-like structure (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the cist-like structure (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Early on in the excavation, large boulders can been seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use ply-wood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Early on in the excavation, large boulders can be seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use plywood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation, large boulders can been seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use ply-wood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Photographing the excavation, large boulders can be seen under foot. It appears as though the archaeologists are trying to use plywood to hold back the collapsing walls (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
We were to be disappointed in this, as excavation revealed only a few traces of a black substance which might be decayed organic material and a small patch of charcoal containing a few burned but badly deteriorated fish bones; the size of the bones suggests that they came from a fish about the size of a cod or salmon. Having excavated and removed the boulders of the cist, we were faced with a square pit with sand walls and a blank, apparently sterile, floor of sand. Rather discouraged, we nevertheless continued the excavation, and after a couple of hours of removing sterile sand we encountered a small stain of red ochre at a depth of 30 cm below the base of the cist, and 130 cm below the original surface of the mound. This ochre stain proved to derive from the back of a human skull, and a few more hours of excavation revealed the entire skeleton. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:87)
 
Excavation of the burial (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
Excavation of the burial (Renouf collection, courtesy of MUN)
The body had been buried in an extended position, directly beneath the cist-like arrangement of stones some half-metre above. It lay on its stomach, the hands at the sides, the head pointing west and turned so that the face looked to the north. A walrus tusk lay directly in front of the face, and 30 cm to the west of the head there was a pile of artifacts including four stone projectile points or knives, three socketed bone points, and a stemmed bone point. Two more stone projectile points or knives lay directly above and below the left shoulder, and a stone biface was found between the legs. A large slab of rock lay across the lumbar region of the back. More artifacts were revealed when we began to remove the skeleton. At the left side, at about the waist, were found two nodules of graphite stained with red ochre, apparently paint-stones, and a decorated antler artifact which may have been used as a paint-grinder or applicator. Beneath the upper chest area there was a small bone pendant, a bone whistle or flute, a few small fragments of bird bone, and a toggling harpoon-head. Beneath the sacral region lay a decorated ivory toggle. On either side of the skeleton there was a scatter of charcoal extending over an irregular area over one metre in diameter and one boulder lay at a distance of two metres to the northeast of the body. A badly decayed piece of antler, probably caribou antler, was found some two metres to the southeast of the body, and a few small chunks of white quartzite were scattered in the same area. The charcoal scatter indicates that the original burial pit, the walls of which we could not trace in the homogeneous sand marked with stains percolating from the boulders above, was at least five metres in diameter. (McGhee & Tuck 1975:87-88)
 
 
Top photo: A cache of grave goods found above the head, consisting of bone and stone projectile points and a stone knife. Bottom photo: Chipped stone spearpoints and knives, found with the body. (McGhee 1976: 20)
Top photo: A cache of grave goods found above the head, consisting of bone and stone projectile points and a stone knife.
Bottom photo: Chipped stone spearpoints and knives, found with the body. (McGhee 1976: 20)
Objects found in the grave. On the left is a socketed bone projectile point; in the centre, a harpoon head and a barbed bone point; and on the right, a decorated ivory object that may have been a hand toggle for a harpoon line. (McGhee 1976: 21)
Objects found in the grave. On the left is a socketed bone projectile point; in the centre, a harpoon head and a barbed bone point; and on the right, a decorated ivory object that may have been a hand toggle for a harpoon line. (McGhee 1976: 21)
A bird-bone flute and a pendant were found underneath the chest. The paint stones and pestle were on the left side of the body. (McGhee 1976: 24)
A bird-bone flute and a pendant were found underneath the chest. The paint stones and pestle were on the left side of the body. (McGhee 1976: 24)

We learned a tremendous amount about this early culture from this one excavation. For example, the burial clearly demonstrates the sophistication of their Maritime adaption. “The toggling harpoon, an ingenious device for taking sea mammals, is the oldest such weapon in the world.” “Other evidence includes a walrus tusk, the bones of fish and an ivory handle which may have been attached to the end of a skin line opposite the harpoon.” (Tuck 1993: 2-3)

Construction of the mound itself shows a very different society than archaeologists would expect from a hunter-gatherer group. “The construction of burial mounds is traditionally associated with stable, agriculturally-based societies, generally found in more temperate areas of the world. The discovery of such an ancient burial mound, perhaps the oldest such structure in the world, came as a surprise to many archaeologists.” (Tuck 1993: 3)

The dating of the L’Anse Amour burial mound makes it one of the oldest known sites in Labrador and it was far older than expected. The two oldest radiocarbon dates from the site, 8042+87/-110 and 8363 + 66/-324 years ago, suggest the site was constructed more than 8000 years ago. (Tuck 1993: 5)

The excavation of the burial mound took place 40 years ago and archaeology and attitudes towards the excavation of burials has changed since then. Archaeologists would not excavate a burial like this today unless it was under threat of destruction.


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

McGhee, Robert & James A. 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 1993   Interpreting L’Anse Amour and Southern Labrador Prehistory. Unpublished internal report submitted to Department of Tourism and Culture.

Southern end of Trinity Bay

The southern end of Trinity Bay, including Bull Arm, contains some very interesting archaeology sites. Looking at the map below (See the red polygon), we are dealing with 34 sites that contain components from every precontact aboriginal group who inhabited Newfoundland and several interesting European sites.

Southern Trinity Bay including Bull Arm. Sites discussed are the yellow dots inside the red Polygon.
Southern Trinity Bay including Bull Arm. Sites discussed are the yellow dots inside the red Polygon.

Some of the more interesting sites in the area would include a site just outside the community of Sunnyside. The archaeology site is made up of the base of several stone walls and the base of a chimney. These remains were the foundation of a telegraph station that received the first transatlantic telegraph cable from Ireland in 1858. The cable lasted three weeks before it stopped working. It wasn’t until 1866 when the Great Eastern landed at Heart’s Content that the first permanent cable was installed.

Foundation of the former telegraph station near Sunnyside.
Foundation of the former telegraph station near Sunnyside.

To the southeast is a recently discovered site that appears to consist of the remains of a 17th century winter house. The site is being excavated by a MUN Archaeology Professor and an independent archaeologist. The site seems to contain a planter’s winter house with a rock fireplace and an associated earthen foundation. Archaeology sites recognized as winter houses are rare in the archaeological record and I believe that this is the only one from the 17th century. More information on that site can be found in volume 9 for the 2010 field season of the Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review.

Fireplace of the winter house. Showing remains of the chimney  and extensive burning inside the hearth area.
Fireplace of the winter house. Showing remains of the chimney and extensive burning inside the hearth area. (Gaulton)

Another impressive site in the Bull Arm portion of Trinity Bay is found at Stock Cove and the related Stock Cove West site. The Stock Cove site was found in 1978 and became the focus of a Master’s Thesis written by a MUN grad student. While the site contains mostly Dorset Palaeoeskimo material including several Dorset houses (one of which is likely a long house), it also has Maritime Archaic and Groswater Palaeoeskimo components. There are also late Recent Indian, Beothuk and European components.

The related Stock Cove West site, which was found in 2009, also has cultural components from the Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Europeans. This site has become the focus of a multi-year research project led by two archaeologists from the United States. More information on the site can be found in volumes 8 & 9 Provincial Archaeology Office Annual Review.

A selection of bifaces found at the Stock Cove West site made of typical Trinity Bay chert. This chert is mostly found on Trinity Bay sites and has a white and a chalk-like exterior surface. (Stock Cove Archaeology Project)
A selection of bifaces found at the Stock Cove West site made of typical Trinity Bay chert. This chert is mostly found on Trinity Bay sites and has a white and a chalk-like exterior surface. (Stock Cove Archaeology Project)

Another significant site is found in the southeast corner of Trinity Bay on Dildo Island. Essentially this whole island is an archaeology site with cultural components related to the Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Europeans. The island is of such significance that it was designated in 2010 as a Place of Provincial Significance.

Some of the precontact components contain Dorset Palaeoeskimo house pits and a Recent Indian hunting camp. As significant as that is, the European occupation of the island is potentially just as important.

Dildo Island also played a role in a number of highly significant events in the European history of Newfoundland including John Guy’s and Henry Crout’s exploratory voyages into Trinity Bay in 1612 and 1613. During Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), 204 Trinity Bay men spent the winter on the island defending themselves against French attack. The Lester merchant family based in Trinity had fishing premises on the island in the 1700s. Over the nineteenth century, the commercial cod fishery expanded into the bottom of Trinity Bay and in 1889 the first cod hatchery in what is now Canada was established on Dildo Island. This was a world-class facility – one of the most modern and largest of its type at the time. Provincial Historic Commemorations Program
 
Excavation of Recent Indian hearths on Dildo Island. (Gilbert)
Excavation of Recent Indian hearths on Dildo Island. (Gilbert)

Another important site is on Frenchman’s Island. This site was found during the same research project that found Stock Cove in 1978. It is likely that this island is the one referenced by John Guy in his letter recounting his travels around Trinity Bay in the of 1612:

The seventh day we spent in washing, and in beginning a house to shelter us when we should come hither hereafter, upon a small iland of about fiue acres of ground, which is joined to the maine with a small beech: for any bartering with the sauages there cannot be a fitter place. Howley 1945:17-18.
 
Frenchman's Island, Trinity Bay.
Frenchman’s Island, Trinity Bay.

The archaeological work which took place on the island in 1980-81 found no definitive evidence of this house. Yet, this is the only island in this end of the bay and it is the correct size, therefore it is likely the same island. There was considerable evidence for other occupations found on the island including Maritime Archaic, Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Europeans.

During the 1980 field season the archaeologist thought he had uncovered part of a Dorset habitation structure. He was unable to confirm the presence of this structure in 1981.

Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades made of Trinity Bay chert.
Dorset Palaeoeskimo endblades made of Trinity Bay chert from Frenchman’s Island.

The island also contained a considerable late Recent Indian – Beothuk occupation. One of the features found in this portion of the site contained a midden that was composed of bone and shell. Excavation of this layer also uncovered numerous corner-notched, stemmed, triangular bifaces and European artifacts. Initially the excavator thought that the European artifacts found in this layer were an indication of a European – Beothuk contact site. However, from the selection of European artifacts found it appears the European occupation likely dates to the 18th century.

Assortment of late Recent Indian and possible Beothuk bifaces and arrowheads from Frenchman's Island.
Assortment of late Recent Indian and possible Beothuk bifaces and arrowheads from Frenchman’s Island.

The European component of the island is thought to be related to a military occupation, possibly dating to the period of Queen Anne’s War.  There are four pits and trenches on one end of the island that are thought to be related to this occupation.

Assorted European pipestems and bowls from Frenchman's Island.
Assorted European pipe stems and bowls from Frenchman’s Island.
Elaborately decorated pipe stem from Frenchman's Island.
Elaborately decorated pipe stem from Frenchman’s Island.

Finally, the Archaic occupation of the island seemed to be very sparse and was limited to just a handful of artifacts. This biface seems to be made of a dark blue or purple Rhyolite which is not an uncommon material for Archaic sites on this portion of the island.

Maritime Archaic biface from Frenchman's Island.
Maritime Archaic biface from Frenchman’s Island.

This area of Trinity Bay contains some important and interesting European archaeological sites with potential ties to people who played a significant role in this Province’s past such as John Guy. Considering the near lack of precontact aboriginal sites on the Avalon Peninsula, the density of such sites in this small area of Trinity Bay is surprising. It is not immediately clear why this area has played such an important role in the Province’s past but thanks to archaeology we have a better understanding of these sites and events.

Enthusiast of a different kind – Metal detectors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripping pages from books.
Ripping pages from books.

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

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

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

Private Collection Part 2

Two weeks ago I told you about an eclectic Northern Peninsula private collection* that was donated to the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO). That post focused on the precontact portion of the collection. This post will focus on the post-contact portion of the collection. Some of this collection originated archaeologically, some of the material was given to the collector and some of it may have been obtained by other means.

Eclectic private collection

Some of the artifacts in the collection are more historic antiques and not necessarily associated with an archaeological site, such as the three objects below.

Lead cod jigger

Cod jiggers are part of handlining for catching codfish. Handlining was one of the first European methods of fishing employed in the waters of Newfoundland. Handlining is done with a baited hook or shiny metal jigger (as in the photo above) attached to a long line of rope. If a jigger is used, no bait is needed, as the reflection of the moving jigger is enough to attract cod that would be caught by the large hooks that protruded from the mouth of it. The pictured jigger has lost its hook. Jiggers are made by pouring molten lead into a mould. Jiggers, moulds and or fishhooks are common finds on historic sites.

Cast net with lead sinkers

Cast nets are used to catch fish that will not take a baited hook or bait fish. In this province, they are often used to catch capelin. On most archaeology sites, the cotton twine of the net will not preserve but on some historic sites the lead balls have.

Pelt board

Initially I had no idea what this object was, but after showing it to a number of people, I was told it is a pelt board. These boards are used to stretch the drying fur of animals like mink, beaver or fox they and come in different sizes depending on the pelt being dried.

Wine bottle fragments

Alcohol was an important beverage in the historic period as many people thought it had medicinal properties and drinking water was thought to cause various diseases. Not surprisingly finding bottle glass on archaeological sites is common. Conveniently for archaeologists some types of bottle glass can be used to put an approximate age on a site.

Complete wine bottle

The collection includes two bottles; this one is complete and probably dates from the late 1800s. My archaeology specialty is in precontact material culture so when it comes to identifying and or dating historic artifacts I often do a little research of my own and or consult with colleagues. In the case of this bottle, I did both. Based on the overall shape of the bottle, the finish on the neck/lip, the shape of its base and its lack of seams I think this is a mould blown bottle dating to the late 1800s.

“Onion” bottle
“Onion” bottle base

As opposed to the previous bottle, I knew this bottle, known as an “onion” bottle, was much older. This style of bottle is completely hand blown which is why the shape is not at all uniform, particularly the base. Based on the quick research I did, this bottle probably dates from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. The white growth on the bottle is coral, so it likely spent some time in the salt water.

Smoking pipe stems

The one artifact on archaeological sites more common than glass is smoking pipe fragments. These pipes are made from clay called kaolin. Fragments of stems are so plentiful because the stems on the pipes used to be very long and they would frequently and easily crack.

Smoking pipe bowls

Most of the pipes in this collection are likely from the 1800s or 1900s. European smoking didn’t start until Europeans first came to North America where they got tobacco from the Aboriginals. Those early smokers used pipes with very small bowls (because tobacco was expensive) and the stems on the pipes had very large boreholes. Gradually through time, the price of tobacco decreased and the bowls became larger and more decorative. As the pipe makers got better at their trade, they used smaller wires to make holes in the stems. So, while it is not particularly accurate, archaeologists generally look at larger pipe bowls with decorations and a small bore hole as being younger than a pipe with a smaller bowl and a larger borehole.

Close up of a face on a smoking pipe bowl
Makers mark on the heel of a pipe bowl

Later pipe makers also started to place their own makers mark on the base of the heel, which is found at the bottom of the bowl or where the bowl and stem meet. Some of these makers’ marks can be used to date kaolin pipes.

Deadeye

The artifact above is a deadeye. Like the “onion” bottle, this object was most likely found in the water, as wood does not preserve well on terrestrial sites in this province. Deadeyes were used on sailing ships as part of the rigging.

Lamp
Lamp
Bottom of the lamp

This object was completely unexpected in this collection and it certainly did not originate on the Northern Peninsula like the rest of these objects. After consulting with several people, I found out that this object may be a 1st or 2nd century Christian era Roman lamp!

Private collections are always interesting to archaeologists, like an archaeology site, you never know what you will find.

*Private archaeology collections in Newfoundland and Labrador can be (and should be) turned over to or loaned to the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) for study/photography/inventory. Usually, the PAO will return the collection to the collector. Private collectors should be aware that even though the collections are in their possession they still belong to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Collecting artifacts is illegal in Newfoundland and Labrador and the PAO advises that all collectors should refrain from such activities.

Empire Energy

Given Newfoundland and Labradors connection to the sea you may be surprised to learn that of the nearly 5000 registered sites in this province, fewer than 100 are shipwrecks.  This small number is likely the result of a number of factors.  Most of the ships connected with our past were wooden and wooden ships generally do not preserve that well in our waters; unless they are quickly buried under mud and silt.  The small number is also likely a function of out of sight, out of mind; most shipwrecks are under water and out of the sight if most people including archaeologists.  Which brings me to another point, there are very few marine archaeologitsts in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the case of the wreck of the Empire Energy it isn’t underwater and certainly isn’t out of sight, in fact it’s hard to miss.

Empire Energy in 2002

The Empire Energy started out as the Grete; a 440 foot long, 6500 ton steam powered cargo ship that was constructed in Rostock, Germany in 1923.  In 1932 she was bought by an Italian company and renamed the Gabbiano.  In June, 1940 the Gabbiano was in Liverpool berthed near the British warship the HMS Glasgow when Italy declared war on the United Kingdom.

HMS Glasgow

The British Admiralty ordered all Italian ships to be seized.  Captain Harold Hickling of the Glasgow sent a boarding crew to the Gabbiano.  The Gabbiano crew were completely taken by surprise.  They were allowed to collect their personal belongings and were sent to be interned as enemy aliens.  After being seized by the United Kingdom and given over to the war effort, the vessel was renamed a third time to the Empire Energy.

Looking at the stern of the Empire Energy in 2002

For the next 18 months the Empire Energy took part in several successful convoys ferrying cargo from various ports, including several in North America, back to the United Kingdom.  On October 29th, 1941 she departed Sydney, Nova Scotia with a cargo of maize as part of Convoy SC 52 with more than 30 other ships.  Shortly after leaving the convoy suffered a heavy U-boat attack, they circumnavigated Newfoundland and returned to Sydney on November 5th.  Later that day the convoy departed again, this time the Empire Energy ran aground off Big Brook, Newfoundland.  All of her crew survived but the ship never got off the rocks and was abandoned.

Location of the wreck of the Empire Energy
Early photo of the Empire Energy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Empire_Energy

http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/ob2/index.html?ob.php?convoy=192!~obmain

http://convoyweb.org.uk/ports/index.html?search.php?vessel=EMPIRE%20ENERGY~armain

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/08/a8653908.shtml

Who else was on Saddle Island?

You may have recently seen the news item about the Basque burials at Red Bay Labrador.  These burials were excavated in the 1980s from Saddle Island, the largest of the islands at the mouth of Red Bay Harbour.

Saddle Island, Red Bay, Labrador

The burials are part of an extensive industrial whaling complex dating from the 1520s.  This complex was operated by Basque whalers from northeast Spain and southwest France who would travel across the Atlantic Ocean in the spring and stay here all summer hunting whales and return to Europe in the Fall.

Model of the San Juan, from Pasaia, which sank in Red Bay, Labrador in 1565. This model is the result of years of research by the underwater archaeology department of Parks Canada, following excavation of the wreck between 1978 and 1992. The San Juan was a medium-sized whaling ship, with a capacity of 200 tonnes. The model shows the interior layout and the three decks, which could house approximately one thousand casks of valuable oil. © José Lopez http://bertan.gipuzkoakultura.net/23/ing/12.php

The Basque whaling operation at Red Bay represents the whole operation of catching the whales, processing them and rendering them into oil.  There are 26 Basque sites in and around the harbour which have been well-studied.  Those sites include the burials, four sixteenth-century ships (one of which is believed to be the San Juan) was fully excavated, several extensive underwater whale bone deposits, cooperages, tryworks and possibly living quarters.   These sites are the reason for the Parks Canada National Historic Site and the impetus behind the current application for a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.  While the Basque occupation on Saddle Island is well-known, other people throughout history have used this island.

The Basque occupation comes at the more recent end of a long occupation history which began with the Maritime Archaic Indians (Labrador Archaic).  The only trace of Archaic occupation on the island is limited to a scatter of white quartz found on the west end of the island near the Lighthouse.  Archaeologists know from previous research that this white quartz was used by the earliest inhabitants of the area and likely in the 7000 to 8000 year old range.

There is a temporal gap of ~5000 years before the next occupation by two early Palaeoeskimo groups.  These sites are located on either end of the island and neither contained hearths or other architectural remains.  However, there was a Basque occupation above both and this may have obliterated any early Palaeoeskimo features.  The earlier of the two occupations may have been Pre-Dorset and the other was Groswater.

Early Palaeo-Eskimo tools and weapons found beneath the Basque deposits at Area E. They include: top - true spalled burins, harpoon end blades and harpoon side blades; middle - scrapers; bottom - blade core, prismatic blades and flaked stone knives. (Tuck 2005)
Groswater culture artifacts from the Palaeo-Eskimo period found at Area F. They include: top - burin-like-tools, harpoon end blades and harpoon side blades; middle - scraper and seven flaked stone knives; bottom - blade core and prismatic blades. (Tuck 2005)

On the north east side of the Island was a Dorset Palaeoeskimo occupation that again was limited to just a collection typical of stone tools.

Dorset Palaeo- Eskimo artifacts from Area M. They include: top – harpoon end blades; middle – end scrapers and a concave scraper; bottom blade core and prismatic blades. The object at right is a fragment of a soapstone bowl mended with a chipped stone “butterfly”.  (Tuck 2005)

The north end of the island was also the location of perhaps the largest Recent Indian site in the province which contained at least 170 cobble hearths.  Based on the style of artifacts the site was occupied numerous times throughout the whole Recent Indian period dating from 2000 years ago to contact.  The post-European contact portion of the site is represented by hearths with burned European hardwoods and iron nails.

Recent Indian artifacts from Saddle Island West: upper row, projectile points; middle left, flake scrapers; middle right, bipolar core and linear flakes; bottom row, bifaces. Photo by Jack Martin, ETV, Memorial University. (Tuck 1989)

The Inuit and their ancestors the Thule were in Red Bay and likely on Saddle Island.  Like the earlier Palaeoeskimo, Thule-Inuit occupation of the island is represented by just artifacts.  On Saddle Island  fragments of soapstone vessels were found in the sod roof of a Basque structure and in small ponds on the eastern end of the Island.  A typical Thule-Inuit polished nephrite drill bit and a polished slate harpoon end blade were found on Twin Island, just 500m to the east of Saddle Island.

Polished slate harpoon end blade (left) and polished nephrite drill bit are typical of late precontact and early contact period Inuit of the Labrador coast. (Tuck 2005)

Tuck, James  1989        Excavations at Red Bay, Labrador – 1986.    Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1986, Annual Report No.7

2005        Archaeology at Red Bay, Labrador: 1978-1992.