Bagloads of ar­ti­facts

Car­bon­ear Is­land yield­ing up its colour­ful past


An arche­o­log­i­cal team is dig­ging up good phys­i­cal ev­i­dence to tell the story of Car­bon­ear Is­land and the peo­ple who lived there over 300 years ago.

Arche­ol­o­gist Roy Skanes is head­ing up the team, which be­gan the work last year with a sur­vey of the is­land at the mouth of Car­bon­ear har­bour.

Last year’s sur­vey was de­signed “to test some of the stuff we al­ready knew from archival in­for­ma­tion; test other ar­eas that looked like ar­eas where some­body could have lived and look for var­i­ous stages of oc­cu­pa­tion,” Skanes ex­plained.

Last year was ba­si­cally an as­sess­ment to see what parts of the is­land held good in­for­ma­tion ... “So we didn’t dig any area in par­tic­u­lar in any de­tail. We fo­cused on find­ing ar­eas on the is­land that weren’t re­ally shown on maps or dis­cussed in the archival in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

Although the his­tory of the is­land has been well doc­u­mented, this is the first arche­o­log­i­cal dig ever to take place there.

Ex­tremely re­ward­ing

The re­sults of the 2010 sur­vey were “ex­tremely re­ward­ing,” Skanes said, adding, “we came up with 1,200 ar­ti­facts dis­trib­uted pretty much along the western end of is­land.” That’s the side of the is­land fac­ing Car­bon­ear.

Most of the ar­ti­facts found last year were from the eigh­teenth cen­tury, while some were from the nine­teenth.

Based on their find­ings, the team re­turned to the is­land this sum­mer to take a closer look at some of those ar­eas.

“ We knew a lot about the 1740s and 50s,” Skanes said. “ We knew the Bri­tish mil­i­tary had come out there and built a se­ries of build­ings: bar­racks, store­house, mag­a­zine, bat­ter­ies etc. How­ever, there wasn’t much in­for­ma­tion on the early civil­ian pe­riod of oc­cu­pa­tion, which started in the 1600s, when there was ba­si­cally no mil­i­tary pres­ence in New­found­land dur­ing the win­ter.

“And peo­ple who lived in places like Car­bon­ear pretty much had to take care of them­selves. Civil­ians would go out to these is­lands — build crude ac­com­mo­da­tions and de­fence and stay out there for the win­ter tak­ing care of them­selves. These is­lands were con­sid­ered to be places of re­treat. In the event of at­tack dur­ing a war all res­i­dents of ... Har­bour Grace, Car­bon­ear and Mos­quito (now Bris­tol’s Hope), would go to places like Car­bon­ear Is­land.”

French in­va­sion

In the win­ter of 1696-97, the French in­vader Pierre LeMoyne D’Iberville led a party of troops from Placentia to St. John’s, de­stroy­ing ev­ery set­tle­ment en route. Af­ter burn­ing St. John’s, they rowed cross Con­cep­tion Bay from Por­tu­gal Cove to Car­bon­ear Is­land.

“ They stayed in this area for about six weeks but were never able to get ashore on the is­land,” Skanes said.

Car­bon­ear Is­land is per­haps best known his­tor­i­cally for its suc­cess­ful de­fence against that and later at­tempts at in­va­sion.

“ There are re­ally good records from the 1690s telling what kind of fa­cil­ity could be on the is­land, and how many peo­ple, etc.,” Skanes said.

For ex­am­ple, Fa­ther Bow­doin, a monk who trav­elled with D’Iberville, kept a jour­nal, which pro­vided a pretty good record of the en­tire cam­paign.

One of the things he recorded was that there were four six-pound can­nons on the is­land.

Skanes said this sum­mer they found what ap­pears to be one of those can­non. Only about a foot of the bar­rel is vis­i­ble stick­ing out be­tween the rocks, and the bore mea­sures 3.5 inches, which was a typ­i­cal size for a six-pound can­non. The can­non ball used ac­tu­ally weighed six pounds, while the can­non it­self prob­a­bly weighs closer to be­tween 800 and 1,000 pounds, ac­cord­ing to Skanes.

Ex­cit­ing find

It’s the largest and per­haps the most ex­cit­ing ar­ti­fact to be found so far be­cause it dates back to the late seven­teenth cen­tury.

De­scrib­ing the can­non as “in­ter­est­ing and unique,” Skanes thinks it would be good to re­trieve it for re­search, con­ser­va­tion and per­ma­nent ex­hibit at the Rail­way Sta­tion Mu­seum.

In fact, the ar­ti­facts that have been un­earthed this year, in the thou­sands, all ap­pear to be from the 1690s-1713 pe­riod. That’s pre­cisely the time from which the arche­o­log­i­cal team were hop­ing to find ev­i­dence of the 1697 and 1705 oc­cu­pa­tion of the is­land dur­ing the FrenchEnglish con­flicts.

Build­ing re­mains found

An­other ex­cit­ing find were the re­mains of at least four build­ings from the last decade of the seven­teenth cen­tury. Skanes be­lieves the wooden struc­tures were not used much af­ter that pe­riod and were even­tu­ally burned, judg­ing by the large numbers of nails found in the area.

While it will take some more in­ves­ti­ga­tion to say for cer­tain, the arche­ol­o­gist be­lieves at least two of the struc­tures had stone/mor­tar chim­neys while an­other had a brick lined hearth, sug­gest­ing win­ter oc­cu­pa­tion. They also had cel­lars.

Mean­while, the team has been haul­ing ar­ti­facts off the is­land by the bag­ful. They in­clude a lot of clay smok­ing pipes, earth­en­ware, stoneware, North Devon­ware from the south of Eng­land, wine bot­tle glass, Por­tuguese tin glaze, axes, knives, shot and parts of mus­kets.

A lab has been set up in the old post of­fice build­ing, where the ar­ti­facts are cleaned and cat­a­logued.

In fact, the ar­ti­facts have been com­ing in faster than they can be cat­a­logued, and the Town of Car­bon­ear, which is spon­sor­ing the project, has ap­plied for fund­ing to al­low the cat­a­loguers to con­tinue their work un­til Dec. 2.

He said they will be con­served and an­a­lyzed and the in­for­ma­tion gained can be used to sup­ple­ment the new Car­bon­ear Is­land Ex­hibit, which opened this sum­mer at the

Re­mains of early stone chim­neys found on Car­bon­ear Is­land.

town’s his­toric Rail­way Sta­tion.

Skanes said he will write an­other re­port on this year’s find­ings for the provin­cial ar­chae­ol­ogy of­fice, and there will likely be an­other pro­posal to re­turn to the is­land and con­tinue the arche­o­log­i­cal dig next year.

Skanes said he would like to se­lect one or two of the build­ings dis­cov­ered and open them up for pub­lic view­ing.

Even­tu­ally, it will be de­cided if the is­land is suit­able for walk­ing tours.

Mean­while, based on his work, Skanes said he would like to pub­lish a small text — a summary of the his­tory of the is­land, which could be used in an in­ter­pre­ta­tion cen­tre and in schools.

Sup­ported by the Car­bon­ear Her­itage So­ci­ety and spon­sored by the Town of Car­bon­ear, the Car­bon­ear Is­land Project is funded by grants from the provin­cial govern­ment and the Gill-Rat­cliff Foun­da­tion.

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