Scratch­ing the sur­face

An ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig is un­der­way on Car­bon­ear Is­land, with noted ar­chae­ol­o­gist Roy Skanes lead­ing a team of five in search of ev­i­dence of the is­land’s mil­i­tary his­tory.

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY BILL BOW­MAN

Its grassy mead­ows and rocky shores may not hide any buried trea­sure. But who knows what lies be­neath the soil of Car­bon­ear Is­land?

The peo­ple who are head­ing up the Car­bon­ear Is­land project are about to find out. An ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig is tak­ing place on the is­land this sum­mer. Al­though it has long been rec­og­nized for its his­toric sig­nif­i­cance, this marks the first time such an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig will have taken place on the is­land at the mouth of Car­bon­ear har­bour.

While the is­land has been the sub­ject of re­search over the years, “I’m not aware of any other ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig,” says Ches Ash, who heads up the Car­bon­ear Is­land re­source com­mit­tee.

Ash who also serves as deputy mayor points out there was a gar­ri­son of sol­diers on the is­land and sev­eral houses. That leads the com­mit­tee to be­lieve the finds should be of mil­i­tary and res­i­den­tial sig­nif­i­cance.

Ex­cept for the waves crash­ing at its steep, craggy shores and the seag­ull cries over­head, Car­bon­ear Is­land has been rel­a­tively quiet for quite some time. In­deed the is­land saw more ac­tion in the late seven­teenth, through­out the eigh­teenth and early nine­teenth cen­turies than it did in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury.

In the late 1600s and early 1700s the can­non balls’ roar could be heard around the is­land as area res­i­dents made their way there to seek refuge from attacks by the French invader Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville.

The ar­chae­o­log­i­cal team will be look­ing for ev­i­dence of the 1697 and 1705 oc­cu­pa­tion of the is­land dur­ing the French-English con­flicts of that pe­riod. The gar­ri­son Ash re­ferred to was sta­tioned on the is­land from 1743-58. That’s the pe­riod of time along with the light­house era (1878-1927) and the sea­sonal fish­ery, which the team is also in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing.

Well-known ar­chae­ol­o­gist Roy Skanes is head­ing up the five-mem­ber team, which in­cludes one cat­a­loguer and three field work­ers.

Work­ing out of the old post of­fice build­ing at the foot of Mus­grave Street, the team will use space in the base­ment of the his­toric build­ing to wash and clean what­ever arte­facts they find.

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the Car­bon­ear Is­land Project — the pre­lim­i­nary ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig will run 12 weeks and cost ap­prox­i­mately $63,000, in­clud­ing $40,000 from the prov­ince and $23,000 from the Gill-Rat­cliff Foun­da­tion.

The com­mit­tee feels “ very for­tu­nate” to have some­one of Roy Skanes’ skill, ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise in the field.

The Car­bon­ear town coun­cil is pro­vid­ing about $1,000 to­wards the labour com­po­nent of the project, ac­cord­ing to the deputy mayor.

Safe refuge

The steep, rugged cliffs, which in some places plunge straight down into the sea, made Car­bon­ear Is­land a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge for those early French in­vaders, and a safe refuge for lo­cal in­hab­i­tants. Ac­cess to the is­land is no eas­ier to­day than it was more than three cen­turies ago.

Ches Ash found it ironic that the same ob­sta­cles that made ac­cess a chal­lenge for the ear­lier set­tlers con­tinue to present chal­lenges for twenty-first cen­tury ex­plor­ers and ar­chae­ol­o­gists. There are plans to set up a float­ing dock for the dig team to pro­vide them with tem­po­rary ac­cess to the is­land. Na­tional his­toric sig­nif­i­cance Whether or not next year will see an­other dig on the is­land will de­pend on fund­ing, and what the dig team un­earth this sum­mer.

A plaque was un­veiled in the Car­bon­ear Me­mo­rial Park des­ig­nat­ing Car­bon­ear Is­land as a place of na­tional his­toric sig­nif­i­cance in 1981.

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