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The Survey
The Indian Site
The Dorset Eskimo Site

A total of eight weeks were spent conducting excavations at the Indian site on Dildo Island during 2001 and 2002 and in that time three features were uncovered. In roughly the middle of the terrace we found a 3 metre wide semicircular concentration of flakes and artifacts that we now believe marks the spot where a wigwam once stood. About one metre east of this is a roughly rectangular concentration of beach cobbles and fire-cracked rocks which may be the remains of a sweat lodge and fourteen metres to the southwest is a six metre long Indian fireplace (or hearth)).

These features were clearly part of an Indian camp but we now know that it was not the camp visited by Henry Crout in 1613. The Beothuk people living at Russell’s Point made most of their stone tools from a grey chert which seems to have come from somewhere in Trinity Bay. In contrast, as we have seen, the Indian people who lived at this site made most of their tools from purple and blue rhyolites that came from a source in Bonavista Bay roughly 90 miles to the north. In addition, a radiocarbon sample recovered from the hearth produced a date range of between AD 720 and AD 960 (Beta 168485), at least 653 years before Crout set foot on the island.

While these are not the people that John Guy and Henry Crout encountered in 1612 and 1613, they are almost certainly the ancestors of those people. Because they lived so far back in prehistory archaeologists usually refer to these earlier Indian people as Recent Indian rather than Beothuk. These Recent Indians must have arrived in Trinity Bay from Bonavista Bay bringing the stone so essential for their survival with them. While the radiocarbon date indicates that they could have arrived anytime between AD 720 and AD 960, the types of tools recovered suggest that their arrival was closer to the earlier date. Indeed, they probably arrived not long after the Dorset Eskimo people had disappeared.

Clearly, they had not been in the area long enough to have discovered the local grey chert. It is hard to imagine anyone transporting coarse grained rhyolites all the way from Bonavista Bay if they had access to better material locally and there is evidence to indicate that these people were looking for another source. A number of cobbles of local red shale - the same material Henry Crout mistook for iron ore over six hundred years later - were found around the hearth. Anyone who knows this material also knows that it is totally useless for making tools. Yet, several of these cobbles had been intentionally split open and one was even fashioned into a crude biface preform. Only people unfamiliar with it would have spent time and energy trying to work this stone. The fact that no evidence of these earlier Indian people was found at Russell’s Point also suggests that they were recent arrivals, unaware of the rich source of caribou meat available every autumn only five miles (eight km) to the south.
We will be returning to Dildo Island for four weeks in June 2004 to finish mapping and excavating the hearth and to test for other evidence of the Indian occupation. Hopefully, the hearth will produce both carbon samples and bone. This would allow us to get a more precise date for the occupation of the site and tell us what time of year the site was occupied and what resources were being exploited. At present an occupation during the late spring and early summer seems most likely since it was at this time of year that resources were most abundant. Nesting birds and their eggs would have been plentiful both on the south end of Dildo Island and on Ross’s Island immediately to the north during May and June; salmon could have been taken as they trimmed along the shore and between the islands before beginning their run up the rivers; and harp seals would have been available in the waters around the island as they began to herd prior to migrating north. A number of small whales, including the white-beaked dolphin, the Atlantic white-sided dolphin and the harbour porpoise, would also have been common in the waters around the island starting in May.
An occupation during the late spring and early summer also fits well with what Henry Crout reported in July 1613. While we need to practice care when using historical documents to interpret events that occurred hundreds of years earlier, it is true that the resources available in 1613 where probably much the same as those available in A.D. 850. As we have seen, Crout tells us that the island was occupied in July and that the people living there were cooking “sundry roaste meatts”on spits. He also reports that one of the Beothuk’s main activities at that time of year was “acoasting .. for Eggs and birds agaynst the wynter”.

Images (left to right, top to bottom) 1. The Recent Indian site on Dildo Island as it may have appeared in the early summer circa AD 850. The late spring and early summer would have been a time of relative plenty. Birds and birds' eggs, salmon, seals and small whales would have been among the resources available on and around the island during this time of year. Pam Williams, 2004. 2. Stone artifacts found in the “wigwam” at the Indian site. 3. Stone feature just east of the wigwam. This may be the remains of a sweat lodge. 4. Looking northwest across the site. The frame on the right marks the location of the wigwam; the hearth is in the distance on the left. 5. Broken spear point found just west of the hearth. 6. Stone knife found just south of the hearth. 7. Stone axe found just west of the north end of the hearth. 8. Uncovering the Recent Indian hearth, June 2002. 9. Looking northeast across the hearth, June, 2002. The frame in the distance marks the location of the wigwam.

Note: To find out about recent discoveries on Dildo Island check out New Discoveries. More artifacts from Dildo Island can be seen in our Artifacts and Features Gallery.