17th-century coins un­earthed in Car­bon­ear

Arche­ol­o­gists un­cover ar­ti­facts of early set­tle­ment

The Compass - - OPINION - BYMARKRENDELL mark.ren­dell@thetele­gram.com

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.

Im­ages are copy­righted to Dr Peter Pope, Dept. of Ar­chae­ol­ogy, MUN.

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