Significant archeological find along the Exploits River
Evidence of four cultures spanning thousands of years on one small island
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.