Sig­nif­i­cant arche­o­log­i­cal find along the Ex­ploits River

Ev­i­dence of four cul­tures span­ning thou­sands of years on one small is­land

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL - BY PA­TRICK MUR­PHY

There is an Is­land on the Ex­ploits River that holds clues to a 5,000-year-old mys­tery.

It very well could be called Trea­sure Is­land, though the gems found here would be bet­ter suited to the fic­tional In­di­ana Jones than a swash­buck­ling pi­rate.

A team of re­searchers headed by Lau­rie McLean, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist with the Burn­side Her­itage Foun­da­tion, un­earthed a rock­lined fire pit this year. The fire pit was con­structed by the Gross Wa­ter Pa­leo-Eskimo’s over 2,000 years ago ac­cord­ing to McLean.

“This was a fire­place that con­sisted of round rocks mounded up with a fire on top of it,” said McLean. “There’s char­coal mixed among it and stone tools.

“Ba­si­cally, peo­ple would sit around the fire­place and man­u­fac­ture spear­heads and scrap­ing tools out of stone.”

The Mar­itime Ar­chaic In­di­ans, a cul­ture also be­lieved to have thrived on the Is­land, is the only cul­ture known to pre-date the Gross Wa­ter Pa­leo Eskimo on the Is­land.

McLean says New­found­land’s hu­man oc­cu­pa­tion be­gan around 6,000 years ago. The first in­hab­i­tants were the Mar­itime Ar­chaic In­di­ans. Within 3,000 years the cul­ture had fallen to give rise to the Gross Wa­ter Pa­leo Eski­mos, only to later be re­placed by the Lit­tle Pas­sage Peo­ple from whom the Beothuk are direct de­scen­dants.

The find has a lo­cal con­nec­tion broader than just the lo­ca­tion.

Don Pel­ley of Grand Fall­sWind­sor has been guid­ing residents, tourists and arche­ol­o­gists alike through the wilds of the Ex­ploits Valley since the 1960’s.

A large por­tion of his sum­mers since 2010 has seen Pel­ley as­sist­ing McLean in his du­ties, a task he rel­ishes.

“Where af­ter do­ing ev­ery­thing from Red In­dian Lake all the way to the salt wa­ter,” said Pel­ley. “The house pit was one of the best sam­ples I’ve seen on the Ex­ploits River.” And Pel­ley has seen a few. Pel­ley has also spent time as- sist­ing New­found­land’s premier am­a­teur ar­chae­ol­o­gist Don Locke of Grand Falls-Wind­sor.

Locke, who died in 2015, also once worked the is­land for ar­ti­facts.

“There (are) 10 or 11 Beothuk houses there and it has been vis­ited by a lo­cal am­a­teur ar­chae­ol­o­gist about 50 years ago,” said McLean. “So he dis­turbed things, but his work is still use­ful to us and we will build on what he iden­ti­fied.”

The firepit was dis­cov­ered on the edge of the is­land near the wa­ter. The group “trimmed off” the out­side edge of the fire pit to avoid dam­age this spring.

Ero­sion from the spring run off threat­ens to dam­age the site and McLean is anx­ious to get back to his work.

“There is still some of that site left to dig in the future,” said McLean.


Don Pel­ley of Grand Falls-Wind­sor stands in a Beothuk house de­pres­sion he found along with Lau­rie McLean on the shore of Red In­dian Lake last fall.


Don Pel­ley of Grand Falls-Wind­sor at the start of the Ex­ploits is­land ex­ca­va­tion of a Groswa­ter Palaeo-Eskimo hearth in Novem­ber 2016.


A Groswa­ter Palaeo-eskimo burin-like tool used for cut­ting and scrap­ing, but not hunt­ing found by re­searchers on an is­land on the Ex­ploits River.

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