17th-century coins unearthed in Carbonear
Archeologists uncover artifacts of early settlement
Last summer a garden in Crocker’s Cove coughed up two rare pieces of Spanish silver.
Both coins date from the late 17th or early 18th century. The origin of one can be traced directly to the mint of Miguel de Rojas Paramo in 1680s Lima, Peru, by a tiny ‘R’ printed on the back of the coin.
At first the find baffled the archeologists who were digging in and around Carbonear. But further research suggested these types of coins were in wide circulation in northern Spanish ports, such as Bilbao, which maintained an active trade with Newfoundland throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
Bryn Tapper, a master’s student at MUN on the five-person archeological team, said the coins were probably traded for fish. But he couldn’t be sure.
Many interesting finds
The team, led by archeologist Peter Pope, had been digging for a month with mixed results. There were plenty of interesting finds around Carbonear, but the objects were so mixed together — 17th-century pipes mashed up with 20th-century Mason jars, for example — that it was difficult to get a proper sense of what the place looked like at any one time in history.
It wasn’t until the team dug a metre-deep test hole in the Crocker’s Cove garden that they found something they could work with.
The soil seemed undisturbed, and as they expanded the test hole to a space of 2 X 3 metres they uncovered a layer with objects dating back to the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
“We were all really chuffed to have come down on a secure context after a month of digging,” said Tapper.
There were shards of Portuguese earthenware and German stoneware. Chinese porcelain lay by gunflints, window glass and a tobacco pipe from between 1665 and 1680. The Spanish silver sat in the mix.
Taken together, the site suggested a permanent settlement that started on the site around 1700.
This is an interesting point in his- tory, said Tapper, because it suggests English resettlement around Cabonear following one of a series of French attacks, the most likely of which was the 1697 attack by the fearsome and celebrated soldier of New France Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, who from 1696 to 1697 destroyed 23 English settlements from Ferryland to Heart’s Content.
When he arrived at Carbonear, the residents saved themselves by fleeing to a n e a rb y i sl and where archeological research has uncovered signs of a temporary “civil fort.”
The Crocker’s Cove find can’t be attributed definitely to the survivors of d’Iberville’s attack, said Tapper. But the dates line up.
Whether the dig revealed a house, or any kind of structure, was also uncertain. The domestic goods, like the Chinese porcelain, suggest permanent settlement as opposed to seasonal living by migratory fishermen. But the team didn’t find any founda- tions or walls.
“It’s not big enough for us to be sure if we’re in a structure,” said Tapper.
A road on one side and a septic tank on the other made it so the dig couldn’t expand.
“Working around modern infrastructure is all part and parcel of the job,” said Tapper.
Limited though the dig was, the discovery is an important step towards understanding history of the area.
“It’s a bit-by-bit picture at the moment, and we have one little corner of it.”
(left) Archaeology students from Memorial University in St. John’s excavate at the site of an early 18th-century planter settlement at Crockers’ Cove, Carbonear. (right)Two views (front - top and back - bottom) of a heavily clipped Peruvian silver coin from the 1680s.