Couple makes rare find
Artifacts found on Changes Islands could date back up to 2,000 years
CHANGE ISLANDS — Waiting at the ferry terminal on Change Islands this past September, a couple decides to stretch their legs by taking a stroll down to the beach. What happened next is a story they will be telling for many years to come.
Neil White and his common-law partner Marion Adams walked to an area just off the paved parking lot. It was there that White noticed an unusual object protruding from the ground about four inches. It was a bluish tone stone with a distinctive tip.
“It stuck out so that I knew it wasn’t natural,” White said. “I had seen programs on TV about flint knapping and I believed that what I saw had been flint knapped.”
Flint knapping is the process of shaping stone into an implement such as a knife or arrowhead.
“It had very distinctive ridges,” White explained. “ It was manmade, but it looked very primitive.”
White knew exactly what it was the moment he picked up the object, and was sure its origins were from an Aboriginal culture.
He said it felt like steel grating on steel. What he felt was the artifact grinding against another one. Not wanting to draw too much attention to the area from other people waiting to board the ferry, the four individuals eventually boarded the vessel and went about the appointments they had that day.
All the while they were eager to get back to Change Islands and determine just what they were dealing with.
They returned later that day with a camera to document their find. White and his father, Bert White, removed 30 items similar to what had first emerged from the soil. They were “ like a deck of cards on its edge,” White explained.
They made the decision to remove the items from the site because it was so exposed. They also feared other people might come along and take the items.
“All I could think was ‘ wow.’ I couldn’t describe it. Like I told my brothers, I will never look at a rock the same again.”
“I was thinking about the person who put so much work into this,” Adams said. “ Was it a young boy or an old man? What was going through their mind? How long were they here? Are they the ancestors of some of the people on this island? Everything went through my mind.”
While they still didn’t know what they had, they were determined to find out. They made the discovery on Sept. 13 and after making inquiries about what to do with their find, within days they made their way to the Beothuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd’s Cove.
It’s here where site supervisor Karen LeDrew-Day first saw the artifacts. She took the couple to a secured area and proceeded to look at the precious items carefully wrapped up in the box.
“My first response looking at the artifacts was magnificent, remarkable,” said LeDrewDay. “It was an overwhelming feeling to hold these artifacts and to know they had been found.”
She immediately contacted archaeologist Ken Reynolds from the provincial archaeology office with the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. Later that month, Reynolds went to Change Islands to investigate the site.
What the couple had discovered was a “spectacular cache of 30 rhyolite bifaces.” In general, bifaces are two-sided tools worked on both sides by a flint knapper into knives, spear points, arrowheads, etc. It is not known yet what the bifaces on Change Islands were used for. It is thought, though, that one person likely shaped the stones, because they are styled similarly.
The visit from Reynolds resulted in the discovery of another complete biface, as well as a tip and base that has been dislodged from pieces recovered earlier. A further search of the gravel apron of the parking lot led to the discovery of two more artifacts — a base and a tip with paint. This brought the total in the collection to 32.
Information provided by the province indicates that
It’s not known which Aboriginal group is responsible for the collection, but information provided by the province indicates it could have been recent Indian, and and date from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago. Further research is being done, and carbon dating is impossible because no wood or other organic material was recovered.
A small sample from the cache is being subjected to non-destructive testing to try and determine the source of the rhyolite. As for how they were found like a “deck of cards on edge,” it seems to indicate that the artifacts had been placed in some type of organic container such as birch bark or animal skin that had disintegrated in the acidic soil.
White said the artifacts were at least a couple of feet underground. They were likely exposed by a backhoe that had dug a trench for run-off from the parking lot. The paint on the tip found by Adams was from the painting that had been done on the parking lot.
Provincial officials have labelled it a rare find, since it is only the second such discovery on the island. The other was Port au Choix. Similar discoveries have been unearthed in Labrador.
Reynolds intends to visit the site again very soon, and will work with colleagues from his office and Memorial University to analyze the artifacts. They will be making comparisons with other caches found in Labrador.
Once the cache has been thoroughly analyzed, it will be stored at The Rooms. The cache could possibly be exhibited at a secured site, such as the Beothuk Interpretation Centre.
LeDrew-Day commended the couple for the actions they took and for “ what they have given to this province.”
Culture Minister Terry French noted, “ They did everything right by calling us. We thank them for their contribution. The cache is significant and will help us gain knowledge about the Aboriginal inhabitants of Newfoundland and Labrador.
French encourages anyone who finds something of this nature to leave the artifacts where they find them and call the provincial archaeology office at 729-2462.
Pictured is the cache of bifaces that was discovered on Change Islands last fall.