Digging into the past
Archeologists look for signs of early settlement in Carbonear
Carbonear is one of the oldest towns in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yet, its early days of settlement remain wrapped in mystery.
A team from Memorial University’s Department of Archeology are currently surveying the town, “ looking for traces of early European activity, including especially the cod fishery and settlement,” according to Ron Howell, president of the Carbonear Heritage Society.
The archeology team is headed by Dr. Peter Pope, a research professor at Memorial, who has previously worked on early sites on the Northern Peninsula and in downtown St John’s.
The Carbonear project got underway earlier this month and the team has been digging test holes outside the Rorke Stores and several other locations around town in their search for clues of early settlement.
“If they find anything significant during this survey, that would lead to a full-fledged dig,” Howell explained.
He noted the town missed out on previous regional archeological surveys because they usually ran out of funding before getting around to Carbonear. However, archeologist Roy Skanes and his team have been working to uncover the traces of the defence of Carbonear Island, in 1697.
“Dr. Pope hopes that a survey of the town itself will also produce interesting results,” the Heritage Society spokesman said.
Carbonear already had its name by the early 1600s — so it must have been used in the migratory fishery, but few records survive of that period. The development of settlement before the town was first mapped, in the 1680s, is not known and there are big gaps in the historic record, particularly before 1760.
Recently, professor Evan Jones, an historian at the University of Bristol, England highlighted a documentary hint of an early colony in the area, sponsored by Italian friars, in 1499, two years after John Cabot is said to have discovered the island.
Professor Pope says he wishes there was clearer evidence for such an early settlement, but he is confidant Carbonear has had a long history and hopes to pinpoint some of the areas used by early fishermen and settlers.
These “planters,” as they were called, were among the first families to over-winter in Newfoundland.
The three-year archeology survey of Carbonear is being funded through a donation from Gretchen Bauta to Memorial University.
Archeologist Roy Skanes shows an old axe found on Carbonear Island to Ron Howell, president of the Carbonear Heritage Society. The axe is among the thousands of artifacts that have been discovered on the island this summer and last, most from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.