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.

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.

Archaeology and the Beothuk at Indian Point, Red Indian Lake: Part 2

This post is part two of ‘Archaeology and the Beothuk at Indian Point, Red Indian Lake’ continued from two weeks ago. The previous post can be seen here.

In 1980 the Historic Resources Division, Department of Culture, Recreation and Youth began a multi-year project simply entitled the Beothuk Project. The purpose of the early phase of the project was to locate, test, delimit and document Beothuk (and other) archaeological sites. To my knowledge, other than issuing permits to previous archaeologists who worked at Indian Point, this is the first time the Provincial Government is directly involved with Indian Point.

As part of the Beothuk Project, Jane Sproull-Thomson directed an investigation of Indian Point in 1980 and 1981. In 1980 her intention was to ‘…assess recent damage to the site by both human and natural agencies, and to estimate the potential for future archaeological excavation‘ (Sproull-Thomson 1980). Over the course of two days Sproull-Thomson and her crew excavated five one metre square units and completed a new survey map of the site.

Like Marshall, Sproull-Thomson noted a lot of ongoing erosion and destruction of the site. ‘Erosion has removed part of the bank on the northern side of the site, Marshall’s camp area (the sand beach) is partly underwater and forms in part a sandbar, the road is washed away at the point by the pond and the low point is under approximately 20 cm. of water. As well, the bulldozed section of the site seems to have been expanded.’ Her plan for the two days of work was to ‘…locate the cultural areas of the site reported by Locke and Devereux, and to identify Devereux’s excavations.’ To her surprise she found a lot of surface material which to her suggested intact levels below. She was able to test Devereux’s A4 locality and found an intact hearth in the area with burned bone and precontact artifacts. Testing in Devereux’s A3 south locality revealed intact occupation levels and precontact artifacts. She also thought she had located a midden ~18 metres SW of Devereux’s B5 locality. She concluded her report stating ‘The Indian Point Site, although severely damaged by logging and related activity, artifact hunting and erosion, still contains significant archaeological material of probably contact period Beothuck origin. In view of this, it remains a highly important site and one which may offer considerable insight into the Beothuck problem‘ (Sproull-Thomson 1980).

Sproull-Thomson returned to the site July 1 – July 18, 1981 with the intention of assessing the potential of the site then excavate it. She opened eight one metre squares; the sole diagnostic artifact recovered was a corner-notched projectile point. Despite this, she did make some interesting observations. To her it seemed the portions of the site nearest the water appear to be mostly precontact, and those farthest back in the woods were historic Beothuk. She speculated that this was a reasonable expectation considering most Beothuk people wanted to remain hidden from Europeans (Sproull-Thomson 1981).

Despite finding few precontact artifacts she did locate a new historic housepit south of Devereux’s B5 locality. The housepit had a distinct circular hearth and a possible sleeping hollow. Charcoal collected from the hearth produced a date of 150±70 B.P. (Beta-3677). Test excavations through the hearth and wall comprising four one metre squares yielded two artifacts, an iron pot fragment and a nail (Sproull-Thomson 1981).

Testing of new housepit. Wall of the housepit can be seen in the photo (Sproull-Thomson).
Testing of new housepit. Wall of the housepit can be seen in the photo (Sproull-Thomson).

One of the concluding paragraphs of her reports states the following: ‘Our conversations with concerned people and an illustrated talk given in Millertown led the Red Indian Lake Development Association to seek help from Historic Resources in applying for a federal grant to begin development of the Indian Point site as an interpretive park. At this writing, funds have been awarded and work has begun on cleanup of the site and repairs to the access road. It will be an enormous satisfaction to see this aboriginal settlement take its rightful place in the Province’s history(Sproull-Thomson 1981).

View to the SW in 1981. The main areas of Devereux's work localities A3, A3 South, A4 and B4 were located to the right in the photo among the trees and bushes on the small hills. Marshall had camped on the opposite side of those bushes in 1978 on the exposed lake side of the point (Sproull-Thomson 1981)
View to the SW in 1981. The main areas of Devereux’s work, localities A3, A3 South, A4 and B4 were located to the right in the photo among the trees and bushes on the small hills. Marshall had camped on the opposite side of those bushes in 1978 on the exposed lake side of the point (Sproull-Thomson 1981).
Jane Sproull-Thomson's map of Indian Point showing, Locke's features and Devereux's features. The previous photo was take with the photographers back to the cove looking down the site to the SW. (Sproull-Thomson 1981)
Jane Sproull-Thomson’s map of Indian Point showing Locke’s features and Devereux’s features. The previous photo was taken with the photographers back to the cove looking down the site to the SW (Sproull-Thomson 1981).

From this point on, no more in depth archaeological work occurs at Indian Point and the site has periodic visits by various archaeologists. In 1982 Callum Thomson conducted an archaeological survey from Red Indian Lake to Grand Falls along the Exploits River from May 29 to June 19. Before they started the survey they stopped at Indian Point where the Red Indian Lake Development Association was preparing the site for its future use as a park and interpretation centre. Thomson noted, in particular, that ‘We were relieved to note that the few intact parts of the historic and prehistoric site had not been endangered in the clean-up process.‘ On June 19th they returned to Indian Point, ‘Here we were devastated by the new appearance of the Indian Point site. One or more members of the Red Indian Lake Development Association had authorized bulldozer stripping and leveling of parts of the remaining cultural deposits, resulting in the partial destruction of habitation structures, middens, hearths and the scattering of artifacts, animal bones and charcoal, with a consequent loss of archaeological context and information. This grossly negligent act underlines the absolute necessity for developments of this kind to be approached slowly and carefully, under the constant supervision of a professional archaeologist. While ultimate responsibility for this type of destruction is accepted by the Historic Resources Division, which approved the original plans, it will continue until more staff and resources are made available for the immense volume of work generated by the Historic Sites and Objects Act‘ (Thomson 1982).

Six photos stitched together showing Indian Point in 1985 after the leveling of the site in 1982. This photo is taken from the same general area as the Sproull-Thomson photo in 1981. Completely gone are the small bushes, trees and small hills on the right side that held Devereux's various site localities (Thomson 1985).
Six photos stitched together showing Indian Point in 1985 after the leveling of the site in 1982. This photo is taken from the same general area as the Sproull-Thomson photo in 1981. Completely gone are the small bushes, trees and small hills on the right side of the photo that held Devereux’s various site localities (Thomson 1985).

Callum Thomson and Don Locke conducted another survey of Red Indian Lake and Exploits River in 1987 to inspect several archaeological sites that were known to Locke. Once again they started at Indian Point noting the location of disturbed and eroded habitation areas. Despite this Thomson notes ‘There are still, however, several known areas of intact deposits and probably some unknown areas.‘ He does not state where these areas are located. They also inspected the area east of the main site at Indian Point which Locke had found in the 1960s. More archaeological material was found here. In fact it appears as though Indian Point would have extended over most of the point and well into the cove to the east. Unfortunately, most of this portion of the site has eroded (Thomson 1987).

Cove to the east of Indian Point (right side of photo) showing erosion of the shoreline (Thomson).
Cove to the east of Indian Point (right side of photo) showing erosion of the shoreline (Thomson).

In 1992 Fred Schwarz conducted a major archaeological survey of the Exploits Basin from where the Exploits River empties into the Bay of Exploits back to Red Indian Lake. While he did visit the site he did no actual work there (Schwarz 1992).

Charles Burke, representing Parks Canada’s Atlantic Service Centre, visited Indian Point in 2002 in order to assess the extent of purported damage to the site. Parks had learned that a parking area had been constructed in the area of Helen Devereaux’s excavations, essentially bisecting the site. Burke also observed damage due to shoreline erosion.

In 2009 archaeologist Laurie McLean was hired to conduct an impact assessment at Indian Point for the installation of a Hydro-Meteorological (Hydromet) Station. A total of 27 test pits were dug where the station was to be installed and three more were dug in a line on the beach, following the route for a buried cable which was to run from the station to Red Indian Lake. The test pits on the beach were sterile while five of the 27 test pits dug on the level terrace above the beach contained badly waterworn stone artifacts.

Finally, Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) staff has made several visits to Indian Point over the years. Mostly these were brief visits to check on the site’s condition. In 2012 PAO staff made a visit to the site while in the area on other business. While we did not find in situ remains, we did find plenty of fire-cracked rock on the surface and reason to believe the site may yet have in situ deposits.

Fire-cracked rock seen at Indian Point in 2012.
Fire-cracked rock seen at Indian Point in 2012.

There is also a local group called the Red Indian Lake Heritage Society who try to monitor the site. In 2009 they had a series of interpretive panels installed on the point (the PAO tested the location of the panels prior to their installation). The panels tell the story of the Beothuk who inhabited the Red Indian Lake region. The society did such a good job with the panels that they were awarded the Manning Award by the Historic Sites Association in both the National Category and the Overall Winner for 2011.

Interpretive panel at Indian Point.
Interpretive panel at Indian Point.

In the end what have we learned from Indian Point?  In the very least we learned that the site was used in the precontact period and the historic period by both the Beothuk and their precontact ancestors. While living at the site in mamateeks (or wigwams) they had been processing caribou and making tools from stone and iron. It also appears that they may have been applying ochre to a canoe. These are all good things to know, however, Indian Point has much more to teach us. To paraphrase an archaeologist who helped me with the post, the history of this site is nearly allegorical, symbolizing all over again the end of the Beothuk, and, once again, our helplessness in the face of forces that no one could control (1829 all over again). What can we take away from the story of Indian Point? Is there a lesson-learned component to it? Has it led to any particular action by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador? These are open questions that we can all try to answer. I know the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) now consists  of four people who collectively have more than 100 years of archaeology experience, this places the PAO much farther ahead of the Culture and Heritage Division in 1982 when Callum Thomson was asking for more staff. I know since 2003 the PAO has reviewed more than 1500 Land Use Referrals per year, in the last four years that number has risen to more 2500 per year on average. So a land use referral for something like an interpretive park, such as was proposed for Indian Point in 1980, would be closely scrutinized by PAO staff. I also know that when a development, such as an interpretive park, is proposed in an area with archaeological potential or a known archaeological site the PAO will implement mitigative measures whether it be require an archaeological assessment, monitor construction, require buffers, etc. While these improvements are not a direct result of Indian Point, hopefully they will prevent another Indian Point.

Have we learned the lessons of Indian Point? I hope so.


McLean, Laurie
2009 Preliminary Report for Permit 09.48 a Stage 1 HRIA at Indian Point, Red Indian Lake.

Schwarz, Fred
1992 Archaeological Investigations in the Exploits Basin: Report on the 1992 Field Survey.

Sproull-Thomson, Jane
1980  Red Indian Lake ‑ Indian Point Site Survey ‑ June 20‑21, 1980.

1982  Investigations at Red Indian Lake. Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1981, Annual Report No. 2. Edited by Thomson, J.S. and C. Thomson; Historic Resources Division, Government of Newfoundland, pp 174-189.

Thomson, Callum
1982  An Archaeological Survey of the Exploits River from Red Indian Lake to Grand Falls   May 29- June 19, 1982.

1987  Archaeological survey of Red Indian Lake and Exploits River with D. Locke 1987 10 27-29.

Archaeology and the Beothuk at Indian Point, Red Indian Lake: Part 1

The history of Red Indian Lake is intimately tied to the aboriginal occupation of the Island of Newfoundland. Based on artifacts recovered we know the site was used by Archaic, Palaeoeskimo and Recent Indian period peoples. As well, there is plenty of evidence for Beothuk and Mi’kmaq use of the lake in the historic period. Evidence for most, if not all of these peoples was found at or near Indian Point on the northeast arm of the lake, just southwest of the town of Millertown. In fact the Beothuk occupation was thought to be so significant that in 1978 the site was designated a National Historic site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Initially I planned to write a single post on just the Beothuk occupation of the point, but the more I looked at it the more I realized what a long relationship the point has had with archaeology. The post became more of a history of research at Indian Point than about just the Beothuk occupation. What follows is the first half of this history, the second half will be posted in two weeks.

Unofficially, archaeology began at the point with Frank Speck in 1914. I say unofficially for two reasons. First Speck was actually an American ethnographer, not an archaeologist, who, in his own words, made a ‘…pilgrimage, to Red Indian Lake and Exploits river, the country of the Beothuk, in the hope of resurrecting some traditional or material traces of their existence.‘ Because of his focus on ethnological work, Speck spent very little time at Indian Point. He did record seeing at least seven, what he called, ‘…wigwam-pits…’ at the point. The second reason I wrote that archaeology unofficially began with Speck is because he recorded that the Mi’kmaq told him they would ‘…frequently dig in these Red Indian wigwam-pits and find curious iron implements – knives, axes, traps, and the like…‘ (Speck 1922).

By 1914 the site was probably already damaged by logging and the construction of a dam at the head of the lake on the Exploits River. Both of these activities were initiated by Louis Miller, the founder of Millertown (Taylor n.d.).

Lookout Tree.
The Lookout Tree. According to Speck the Beothuk used the large tree in the middle of the photo as a look out point, to watch for approaching caribou. This story must have been told to him by locals or the Mi’kmaq. Cut logs from the Millertown logging operation can already be seen on the beach near the tree (Speck 1922).

In 1925, eleven years after Speck’s visit, the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company finished the construction of a much larger dam at the junction of Red Indian Lake and the Exploits River. In the late 1960s, archaeologist Helen Devereux interviewed several of the older residents of Millertown. None of them could recall the look-out tree referred to in the photo above. The dam had altered the water level of the lake so that the tree and portions of Indian Point were flooded and eroded (Devereux 1970).

In 1962 the site was rediscovered by local avocational archaeologist Don Locke.  Locke was knowledgeable and genuinely cared about understanding the Beothuk. He did his ‘testing and excavation’ with the best of intentions, including the building of a replica Beothuk village and interpretation centre. Without Locke’s early work our knowledge of Indian Point would be considerably less than it currently is. His first investigation of the point came in 1967; he excavated parts of the point over three summers. During his work he recovered thousands of lithic pieces (mostly flakes) and numerous historic artifacts. He also identified what he thought were five long houses, 11 housepits and two rock fire beds (I believe these were fireplace middens). He thought the site was much larger but had been heavily impacted by erosion and heavy equipment that had been on the point to build landing skids for tug boats that had been on the lake. He also found cultural material east of the pond/road on the map below.

Locke's map of Indian Point features (1975).
Locke’s map of Indian Point features (1975).

J. Garth Taylor, an anthropologist and ethnologist, surveyed parts of Red Indian Lake and the Exploit’s River for the National Museum of Canada in July and August of 1964. The focus of this project was the archaeological identification of the Beothuk. The project was under the direction of Miss Helen Devereux of the Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto (Taylor 1064).

Taylor interviewed Mr. James Beaton of Badger about the change in the water level of Red Indian Lake. Mr. Beaton was more than eighty years old at the time of the interview and had traveled the lakes and streams of the region for the better part of his life. He felt very strongly that any Beothuk encampments that may have been on the shore of Red Indian Lake could not possibly have survived the construction of the Exploits Dam. Unfortunately, I think Taylor allowed the opinion of Mr. Beaton to influence his opinion on what remained of Beothuk sites in the area (Taylor 1064).

In reading Taylor’s report he seems to have put very little effort in to looking for Beothuk sites. During a visit to Indian Point in July of 1964 Taylor writes the visit ‘…confirmed everything that Mr. Beaton said. Only a gravel shoal remains to remind the observer of what was formerly an important Beothuk campsite. Nothing suggestive of former occupation could be found, either on the exposed portion of the shoal, or in the seven test-pits dug along the top of the bank which was once the base of the Point‘ (Taylor 1964). Compare this with the fact that two year prior Don Locke found a massive site with several house features and middens.

With Don Locke showing her the location of the site, Helen Devereux became the first archaeologist to conduct work at Indian Point in 1969. She returned to the site for full scale excavation from June 26 to August 27, 1970. Her work focused on the origins and relationships of the Beothuk. One of the first things she noticed was the level of destruction that had taken place from construction, erosion and looting, stating ‘…artifact collectors have visited the site and dug for artifacts for the last 50 years‘ (Devereux 1970).

Devereux seems to have done an excellent job of assessing and excavating portions of the site. Just as importantly her report is very well written with a lot of detail. Part of her goal was to identify who occupied the site and when it was used (i.e. precontact period, historic period or both). In the end she does clearly identify that the site had both a precontact Beothuk ancestor occupation and an historic Beothuk occupation. In fact she recovers enough charcoal from locality A3 to produce an early historic period Beothuk date of 1595±100 AD (I-6562). She goes to great lengths to explain her excavation methodology and explains in detail her reasoning for why she felt some features were precontact while others were historic. Fortunately for us, most of her work was concentrated in the now eroded north end of the site, this area of the occupation is now totally gone. What follows are some of the more important features investigated.

devereux
Map showing the location of Devereux’s various localities at Indian Point (1970).

Area A3 contained an historic Beothuk hearth feature which was seven feet long and two feet wide and contained a concentration of fire cracked rock, charcoal and bone mash, all of which was about three inches deep. They recovered a piece of iron, perhaps part of a trap in the hearth (Devereux 1970).

Area A3 also contained precontact features including two hearths and three dense concentrations of fire-cracked rock, one fire-cracked rock concentration and one unburned bone concentration. One of the two hearths contained two small corner-notched projectiles, two chert flakes and one hammerstone. Other features in this level also contained other precontact artifacts (Devereux 1970). Today, corner-notched projectile points are diagnostic of the archaeologically recognized Little Passage complex, the people of that cultural complex are the direct precontact ancestors of the Beothuk.

A3 South contained an incomplete circular embankment, the outside diameter of which was about 26 feet. Unfortunately, the south and east sides of the embankment were not discernible. Either it was originally incomplete or had been more recently removed. Devereux recorded that the embankment itself is smoothly rounded, about five feet across, and has a maximum elevation of about 18 inches above the surrounding natural surface. In the centre of the feature were a number of definite lumps and hollows. Unfortunately she did not have a lot of time to thoroughly investigate the feature. The interior had fire-cracked rocks, flakes and bone. Devereux speculated the feature was the remains of a precontact circular housepit or perhaps subsurface storage pits (Devereux 1970).

Locality A4 contained an historic Beothuk hearth, which was about four feet in diameter and contained fire-cracked rocks, charcoal, bone fragments and several metal artifacts. A small plain brass button was also recovered in this locality (Devereux 1970).

Locality A4 also contained precontact features including one small hearth, two concentrations of fire-cracked rock, of which one was disturbed, a diffuse midden of fire-cracked rock with calcined bone, and a concentration of broken rock with a chert core and flakes (Devereux 1970).

a4
Map showing the location of Devereux’s various localities at Indian Point (1970).

One of the precontact concentrations of fire-cracked rock consisted of a compact tightly interlocked fire-cracked rock crust with chert flakes. Below the fire-cracked rock lay a three inch layer of black humic soil containing fire-cracked rock, chert flakes, and burned bone. According to Devereux, the distribution of materials in this feature indicates that burned bone and chert are distributed concentrically and exclusively, except in a limited transition area. Burned bone occurs centrally and chert peripherally in the feature and beyond it. Based on the description it seems the bone was dumped in the fire while flint-knapping (chert tool making) occurred on the outer edges of the fire (Devereux 1970).

Devereux’s B5 feature was an historic Beothuk hexagonal housepit which measured 25 feet by 20 feet with the long axis oriented east-west. The pit portion of the house had a maximum depth of 1.5 feet below the surrounding surface. She describes the pit as: ‘The side walls lie below the natural level of the ground and are represented by smooth slopes 9 in. in height. Their top edge is flush with the natural surface of the ground: there seems to be no mounding up or fill around the perimeter of the depression. The walls slope downward and inward so that the perimeter of the depression is greater at the top edges of the walls than at the base. The wall slope is less discernible in the area of what is probably the doorway.‘ Inside the house she found a large central hearth with fire-cracked rock and burned bone concentrations. She also recovered one piece of iron, and identified a red ochre patch inside, and identified several exterior concentrations of fire-cracked rock and caribou bone (Devereux 1970).

Devereux's B5 hexagonal Beothuk housepit (1970).
Devereux’s B5 hexagonal Beothuk housepit (1970).

The B5 locality also had a precontact occupation as indicated by the presence of a dense concentration of fire-cracked rock covering an area eight feet long and six feet wide. This deposit also contained flakes and burned bone (Devereux 1970).

B4 was another precontact feature consisting of an extensive deposit of fire-cracked rock with a lower red ochre deposit. According to Devereux the whole feature was the richest source of artifacts on the site which was dug by an artifact collector several years previously. The collector recovered projectiles, knives, scrapers, stone hammers, chert flakes and cores. The red ochre deposit consisted of two parallel but irregular lines oriented northeast-southwest. ‘The eastern line of red ochre stain was longer and more intense in colour than the west line. It was 22 feet long and about 16 inches wide. Two feet to the west, the west line measured about eight feet long and 18 inches wide.’ Devereux speculated the ochre stain ‘…would be congruent with the plan of an upturned canoe‘ (Devereux 1970).

In locality D4 there was a feature containing a large concentration of fire-cracked rock (more than 4000 pieces) as well as stone tools and flakes. The whole feature measured approximately 10 feet in either direction and was roughly triangular in shape (Devereux 1970).

In 1978 Ingeborg Marshall made a brief stop at Indian Point ‘…to see previously excavated sites and get an idea of the terrain.’ She noted a lot of destruction and looting to the site including that the Price (Nfld.) Pulp and Paper company was using the small lagoon at the north end of the point ‘…to tie up company boats. An access road to the lake and a launching pad have been bulldozed across the site.’ Further she noted that the various dams built at the head of the lake had raised the water level which had continued to erode the shoreline by as much as 30-60 metres inland. ‘Also the use of Red Indian Lake for transportation of logs destined for the paper mill has led to the accumulation of stray logs on the shores. When the water level rises, such as happens in spring, the logs pound against the banks of the shore and cause them to collapse.‘ Marshall also found that the site was still suffering from looting. Despite all the erosion and looting Marshall still found a stone point and several small flakes (Marshall 1978).

Photos from Marshall 1978 showing ongoing erosion at the site.
Photos from Marshall 1978 showing ongoing erosion at the site.
Pulp logs on the shore of Red Indian Lake the constant movement of which helped destroy large areas of the site. (Sproull-Thomson)
Pulp logs on the shore of Red Indian Lake the constant movement of which helped destroy large areas of the site (Sproull-Thomson).

Artifacts found at Indian Point over the years.

In 1980 the Historic Resources Division, Department of Culture, Recreation and Youth began a multi-year project simply entitled the Beothuk Project. The purpose of the early phase of the project was to locate, test, delimit and document Beothuk (and other) archaeological sites. The rest of the Indian Point story will be told in the next post in two weeks.


Devereux, Helen
1970  A Preliminary Report on the Indian Point Site, Newfoundland ‑ A Stratified Beothuck Site.

Locke, Donald
1975  Historic and Prehistoric Site ‑ Indian Point Site #1.

Speck, Frank G.
1922 Beothuk and Micmac. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York.

Taylor, Albert
n.d.  Indian Point.

Taylor, J. Garth
1964 An Archaeological Survey of Red Indian Lake and the Exploits River.

Canadian Archaeological Association: 47th Annual Meeting

The 47th annual meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) was held in St. John’s last week. The CAA was founded in 1968. Membership includes professional, avocational and student archaeologists, as well as individuals of the general public of any country, who are interested in furthering the objectives of the Association. These objectives are:

  • To promote the increase and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge in Canada;
  • To promote active discourse and cooperation among archaeological societies and agencies and encourage archaeological research and conservation efforts;
  • To foster cooperative endeavours with aboriginal groups and agencies concerned with First Peoples’ heritage of Canada;
  • To serve as the national association capable of promoting activities advantageous to archaeology and discouraging activities detrimental to archaeology;
  • To publish archaeological literature, and;
  • To stimulate the interest of the general public in archaeology. (CAA 2015)

This year’s conference was organized by the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University and in my opinion the conference was excellent and went off without the slightest problem. I had the privilege of attending sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The best thing about these conferences is being able to sit in a room with peers and colleagues and learn from them. You get to learn from the people who are in the field and doing the work, bringing the past alive through archaeology. I saw a lot of great presentations. What follows, in no particular order, is a brief description of what were some of the more interesting topics to me.

William Gilbert did a presentation entitled “Dwelling There Still”: Historical Archaeology in Cupids, Newfoundland. I’ve attended presentations by Bill a few times and I always enjoy them. He knows his topic so well that his presentations are more like him telling stories off the top of his head. This presentation was about the true significance of the founding of Cupids in 1610 and the role the Newfoundland Company, who funded and founded the Cupids colony, played in establishing other early Newfoundland colonies.

Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony
Excavations at Cupids showing the ghost structure above the original colony (Gilbert)

After Bill presented, Barry Gaulton did a presentation on archaeology at Ferryland entitled How much can a big hole in the ground tell you?: Preliminary investigations into the 1620s builder’s trench associated with Lord Baltimore’s Mansion House at Ferryland, Newfoundland. This presentation focused on Sir George Calvert’s Mansion House at Ferryland; its size, the nature of its construction or how this building functioned within the physical and social confines of seventeenth-century Ferryland. In 2013-2014, investigations directly south of the Mansion House’s stone hall revealed a deep and wide builder’s trench infilled with approximately 6 feet of compacted, sterile clay and rock. At the very bottom of the trench was a thin layer of refuse associated with the construction of the stone hall and, more importantly, the activities of the ordinary colonists and craftsmen who built it. Barry then went in to a discussion of what was found in this trench and how those discoveries allow us to better understand the builders and how they lived.

Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)
Builder’s trench located south of the Mansion House hall (foreground). Field crew with range poles delineate the eastern and western parameters of the trench, as well as the varied depths at each end (Gaulton)

Another interesting presentation was by John Erwin which was titled Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics from Newfoundland and Labrador. This study was based upon the measurement of over 3600 soapstone vessel fragments and it resulted in some interesting conclusions. Some of those conclusions include, there seems to be more soapstone vessels on the Island than in Labrador; Regional distinctions between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland can be seen in rim finishes; and with few exceptions, almost every vessel in the province could have been manufactured at the Fleur de Lys Quarry.

Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador
Quantity of soapstone vessel fragments at Palaeoeskimo sites in Newfoundland and Labrador (Erwin)

Laurie McLean gave an interesting presentation titled Observations on the Morphologies and Distribution of Beothuk Housepits. Laurie took Beothuk housepit data from excavated sites and data that he has gathered from work he has done at the Beaches site and along the Exploits River and found patterns in the data. Those patterns include that the Beothuk initially modified their traditional conical wigwam template into similar-sized more substantial housepits and that those housepits became larger through time. The data, according to Laurie, indicate that early Beothuk housepits were easy to see and had a diverse toolkit indicating a productive economy that included trade with Europeans. This preceded a breakdown in Beothuk-European relations, resulting in a whole scale Beothuk shift to the Exploits Valley. Larger, multi-family houses became the norm in the interior with the most recent structures placed among tree cover and further from the river to avoid discovery by Europeans.

Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)
Red Indian Falls 2 (DfBb-04), Housepit 2 (McLean)

There was also an interesting presentation by Blair Temple called Urban Archaeology as an Archaeology of Governance: Examples from 19th Century St. John’s, Newfoundland. His presentation examined the impact and role that the various applications of governance have had on the creation of the archaeological record in St. John’s. He focused specifically on major fires in St. John’s past arguing that they were possibly the most prominent event providing impetus for government action and regulation.

Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. Not only were all the buildings you see here destroyed by the fire, but the course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire, to straighten out this curve – which, incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Looking east along Water Street from Prescott Street, prior to the Great Fire of 1892. The course of Water Street in this area was changed after the fire (per government regulation), to straighten out this curve – which incidentally followed the historic shoreline. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)
Fire-fused ceramics, from J.H. Martins crockery shop, predecessors of S. O. Steele. (Penney)

I also sat in on a session called How we talk about the past. Differences in seeing, learning, knowing and telling about indigenous heritage and history as viewed from Nitassinan and Mi’kma’ki which was hosted by Stephen Loring and Chelsee Arbour. I didn’t see all the presentations in the session but I did get to take in three and an Innu film by Christine Poker. One of the presentations in this session was by Richard Nuna entitled Reflections on Innu History. Richard spoke about how to reconcile aboriginal knowledge and country-based experiences with scientific knowledge, principles and practice.

Unfortunately there were lots of sessions and presentations that I was unable to attend because they were running back to back with other sessions. Despite this it was a great conference and a great learning experience.


2015 Canadian Archaeological Association Conference Program and Abstracts

Erwin, John
2015 A Large-Scale Systematic Study of Prehistoric Soapstone Vessel Metrics
from Newfoundland and Labrador. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

McLean, Laurie
2015 Observations Concerning Beothuk Housepits. April, 2015, Canadian Archaeological Association Annual Meeting

Penney, Gerald
2010 “Under the Street:” Archaeology and the Harbour Interceptor Sewer Project.
An illustrated talk delivered at The Rooms, 24 February 2010

Northern Peninsula Heritage Inventory

I recently came across the photos and slides from a survey I led in the summer of 2000 that I thought would be interesting to share. I spent that summer surveying a large area of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland extending from Crémaillère Harbour in the south to Quirpon Island in the north and as far west as Raleigh. The survey was Phase 2 of a larger Northern Peninsula heritage inventory that was initiated and led by two Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) professors. Phase 1 of the survey was conducted the previous summer by a local Northern Peninsula crew led by a MUN grad student; they went door-to-door interviewing locals about reports of artifacts or other cultural material. My goal for Phase 2 was to test some of the unconfirmed reports of historic sites documented during Phase 1 and to carry out a targeted survey for precontact archaeological sites in selected parts of the region.

Survey area for Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory
Survey area for Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory

Suitable test sites were selected from areas identified as high potential for either historic or precontact settlement. The selection process for historic sites relied directly on data from the Phase 1 inventory: the ten sites with the greatest number of independent reports were assigned the highest priority for testing. Potential precontact testing sites were compiled by mapping local landscape variables considered important in precontact site locations onto the ancient coastline, reconstructed using sea level history and local topography. Once in the field, problems with access to private or remote property and the challenges of testing boggy areas reduced the number of surveyed sites. Where possible, each site was tested using a systematic approach, where 30 cm x 30 cm pits were dug at 10m intervals across a site. The physical characteristics of each site were also recorded and photographed. Artifacts were collected and tagged on-site and later transported to St. John’s for cataloguing and conservation.

Site testing was carried out in the communities of St. Lunaire-Griquet, St. Anthony Bight, Quirpon, Noddy Bay, Raleigh, Ship Cove, Pistolet Bay/Milan Arm, St. Anthony Bight, Savage Cove, St. Lunaire Bay, White Cape Harbour, North Bay, Granchain Island, Four Ears Island, Griquet Island, Grandmother Island and Nobles Island. A total of 23 European and precontact archaeological sites were discovered.

Sites found during Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory (Yellow dots are sites)
Sites found during Phase 2 of the Heritage Inventory (Yellow dots are sites)

Fieldwork was carried out between 17 July and 31 August, 2000, by a crew of five local research assistants under my direction. It turned out to be a very interesting summer for me personally as up to that point in my career I had very little experience working with or identifying historic artifacts. Since just seven of the 23 sites we found had any precontact material I learned a lot about historic European artifacts.

Crew testing a small cove at Cape Onion
Crew testing a small cove at Cape Onion

The only precontact site that I could identify for sure was based on a side-notched arrowhead. An individual from St. Anthony had found a side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on Granchain Island.

Granchain Island side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on a camera lens cap
Granchain Island side-notched Ramah chert projectile point on a camera lens cap

Some of the European sites were little more than an artifact or two while other sites were huge such as the five sites on Four Ears Island which totaled together were nearly 100,000m2 in size. Essentially the whole island was an abandoned community. The Four Ears Island sites included features such as constructed pathways, old gardens, a graveyard and the foundations for numerous buildings. The European sites usually showed multiple occupations over a long time span. At least eight may have been occupied as early as the mid-seventeenth century. Those early occupations would have likely been by migratory European fishermen. However, most of the sites dated to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By that time people were living here permanently.

The dating and cultural identification for these European sites were based on the artifacts recovered. While the recovery of some European artifacts will allow you to date a site specifically or assign a specific culture, most artifacts will not allow you to do that. For example, while Normandy stoneware (a French ceramic) is a frequent find on French sites, since this earthenware was traded with England it is also found in small quantities on English sites. Thus, one sherd of Normandy stoneware from a site does not necessarily indicate a French occupation. The same goes for dating of Normandy stoneware; production began in the fifteenth century and continues today so assigning a date to a site based on one sherd of Normandy stoneware is problematic. Most ceramics will only allow you to narrow a site occupation date down to a century.

Kaolin smoking pipes are more useful for a number of reasons. lf the bowl of the pipe is complete, we can compare them to established typologies which provide a date range, some of which are as narrow as a thirty years. Pipes can be roughly dated according to the bore size of the stems, which decreases in diameter through time. Pipe bores are easily measured. The measurements are usually taken with a set of wood drill bits of graduated sizes, in gradations of 64ths of an inch; most will fall between four and nine 64ths of an inch. Formulas have been established for dating pipestem assemblages based on bore diameters, however, at least 35 specimens are needed before the formulas have any validity.

As I stated earlier this was a great summer for me personally. I learned a tremendous amount about European historic artifacts. I leaned how to run a large scale survey with a crew. Of course having the crew composed of people who were hard working and very interested made it that much easier. Most importantly, we were able to add a lot of information to the collection of archaeology sites in this province.


Bell, Trevor, Renouf, Priscilla & Hull, Stephen
2001  Report of Phase II Heritage Inventory: Targeted Archaeological Survey Between Boat Harbour and Goose Cove, Great Northern Peninsula.

Hull, Stephen H.
2000        Archaeology at the Northeast end of the Great Northern Peninsula.

Saddle Island West artifacts

While writing my thesis on the Recent Indian period I had to read all the material I could find on that period of Newfoundland and Labrador’s past. That’s when I learned about the Recent Indian site on Saddle Island, Red Bay. I told you before about the various groups of people who had occupied Saddle Island in the past including the Maritime Archaic Indians, early & late Palaeoeskimos, Recent Indians, Thule/Inuit and various European groups including Basque whalers and later European fisherman.

Excavation of the Saddle Island West site. The Recent Indian portion of the site is to the left of the wooden structure which was erected over the excavated basque tryworks (Mercer)
Excavation of the Saddle Island West site. The Recent Indian portion of the site is to the left of the wooden structure which was erected over the excavated Basque tryworks (Mercer)

While the Recent Indian site on the Island was carefully excavated, results of those excavations were not as thoroughly documented in published and unpublished references. The site was discovered and excavated in the mid-late 1980s and had at least 170 cobble hearths which contained fire-cracked rocks, charcoal and calcined bone. Associated with many of the hearths was a typical Recent Indian tool kit including projectile points, small bifaces, scrapers, knives and flakes from the manufacture of these tools. These artifacts were made from Ramah chert and various cherts from the Island of Newfoundland, including Port au Port, Cow Head and elsewhere. There were also several pieces of Native made pottery vessels which are unusual artifacts for Newfoundland and Labrador. The pottery was poorly fired and tempered with coarse grit and decorated with cord-wrapped paddle edge impressions. Some of the hearths also had Basque roofing tiles, burned European hardwoods and iron nails. Those items may indicate Recent Indian-European contact or that the Recent Indians scavenged the European portion of the site. Whether the two peoples ever had face-to-face contact is not indicated by the archaeological evidence.

The Recent Indian period in the province falls in the range of ~2000 years ago to European contact. By far, most of the lithics from the site were from the late Recent Indian period which generally falls into the time frame of 1000 years ago to European contact. Typically, early Recent Indian period tool kits are defined as having larger side-notched bifaces and the late Recent Indian tool kits are defined as having small corner-notched bifaces which trend towards stemmed bifaces closer to European contact. This is a general rule of thumb and is by no means a hard fact.

Excavation of one of the hearths at Saddle Island West (Tuck)
Excavation of one of the hearths at Saddle Island West (Tuck)
Location of Saddle Island West in relation to the lithic sources at Ramah Bay, Cow Head and Port au Port
Location of Saddle Island West in relation to the lithic sources at Ramah Bay, Cow Head and Port au Port
 Side-notched to corner-notched to stemmed. Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom right two bifaces are late Recent Indian. The biface on the left of the bottom right is transitional between the two
Side-notched to corner-notched to stemmed. Early Recent Indian bifaces are on top, the bottom bifaces are late Recent Indian

The lithics and ceramics from the site were in storage since shortly after their excavation in the 1980s. Last fall I was able to get photos of both the lithics and Native ceramics. Most archaeologists working in the province today have never had the chance to see these artifacts.

As I said earlier, Native ceramics are rare in Newfoundland and Labrador so truthfully I can’t say much about the ceramics beyond what I said above; they were low fired and tempered with coarse grit and decorated with cord-wrapped paddle edge impressions.

1. Lithics from Saddle Island West
1. Lithics from Saddle Island West

I am more comfortable discussing the lithics. One of the first things I noticed was that the collection includes a wide assortment of materials and I am pretty sure there is more than just Recent Indian material in the collection. This discussion comes with the caveat that it is difficult to say anything for certain about artifacts from just pictures. With this in mind, the 5th artifact from the top-left with its nice and even side notches, straight base and convex blade margins (possibly serrated) looks a little more Palaeoeskimo to me than Recent Indian, perhaps Groswater Palaeoeskimo. But the material is unlike something the Groswater typically use, it appears to be a coarse grain chert or quartz. With this is mind and the style the biface could be Intermediate Indian. On page 117 of the Provincial Archaeology Office 2013 Archaeology Review (PDF) there is a very similar looking biface from an Intermediate Indian site.

Photo 1 above also shows several diagnostic late Recent Indian projectile points such as the one in the centre of the photo (#740), or in the top row (#92), both of which are Ramah chert. The four bifaces in the top right (#s22, 85, 61 and the large black one) are all diagnostic late Recent Indian projectile points. Of interest is the base on the two-tone grey notched biface, second from the top on the right. The basal tangs are very thin with a deep concavity in the base; the artifact on the bottom left seems to be a similar base. The thin concave base is also seen on the middle artifact top row of photo 2. These bases seem unusual for late Recent Indian. Perhaps this is an example of variability within the Recent Indian period or perhaps these are a different group altogether.

Several of these artifacts (photo 1) appear to be made from Newfoundland chert. The grey and grey-tan mottled artifacts appear to be made from Port au Port chert while the brown and brown-grey mottled scrapers (right side) may be Cow Head chert.

2. Lithics from Saddle Island West
2. Lithics from Saddle Island West

In this photo (2) one of the first things I noticed, beyond the thin concave based biface, was the side-notched biface on the right. The milk white colour appears to be an example of burned Ramah chert. The two grey-tan bifaces may be Port au Port chert.

3. Lithics from Saddle Island West
3. Lithics from Saddle Island West

This photo (3) seems to show an assortment of mostly corner-notched late Recent Indian bifaces. As is normal for this period these bifaces appear relatively small and were likely used to tip arrows. However, on the right side is a large base from a side-notched biface that looks more like an early Recent Indian spear tip.

Once again there seems to be an assortment of cherts from the Island, Labrador and perhaps other sources.

4. Lithics from Saddle Island West
4. Lithics from Saddle Island West

Most of the artifacts in this photo (4) appear not to be Recent Indian. The three quartzite bifaces, two on the right, one on the far left are more likely Archaic (although the site is likely too low for an Archaic occupation) or Intermediate Indian based on style and material. The clear Ramah chert biface second from the left appears to be an Archaic arrowhead, while the thick grey biface, second from the right, may be a Palaeoeskimo knife.

5. Lithics from Saddle Island West
5. Lithics from Saddle Island West

This final photo (5) shows another assortment of mostly late Recent Indian bifaces and biface fragments. Once again several are made from Port au Port chert and Ramah chert, including the one in the top row, third from the right, which may be another example of burned Ramah chert.

This site presents an interesting mix of cultures, artifacts and lithic materials. Given the number of hearths at the site and the potential number of cultures represented in just the lithics seen in the photos it seems very likely that the site was used repeatedly over thousands of years by different cultural groups. It is too bad the site is not better understood.


ROBBINS, Douglas 1989 Island Dwelling, Isolation, and Extinction- The Newfoundland Beothuks in Northeastern Prehistory and History PHD Proposal.

TUCK, James 2005 Archaeology at Red Bay, Labrador- 1978-1992.