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Finding the Site

The BTHC archaeological crew conducted excavations at Russell’s Point over a four year period from 1994 to 1997. During that time 23 major features were uncovered, mapped and photographed and 1226 artifacts recovered. At this point there can be little doubt that the site visited by John Guy and Henry Crout on October 26, 1612 and Russell’s Point are one and the same. As soon as the site was discovered a number of questions immediately presented themselves.

One of the most obvious was just how long had the site been occupied? Prior to our discovery of the site, the consensus among most historians was that the Beothuk presence in Trinity Bay was probably quite ephemeral and that any sites that might be found would likely be only temporary hunting camps occupied for short periods of time. However, once our excavations began, this was quickly proven to be incorrect. The number and diversity of artifacts and features uncovered at the site made it clear that this was more than just a temporary camp and indicated an occupation extending over quite a long period. However, it was the radiocarbon dates recovered from the site that showed us just how far back in time the occupation extended.

  Most of the site was covered with a thick deposit of debris scattered from hearths (or fireplaces) that had once burnt there. There must have been scores of these fireplaces in use at Russell’s Point over the many years that it was occupied. Most had been disturbed by later activity but we uncovered seventeen that had survived relatively undisturbed. Over the four years that we were working at the site we sent eleven charcoal samples from these hearths and other features off to be dated at the Beta Analytic laboratory in Florida.

As the results from these samples came in, the date for the beginning of the occupation kept getting pushed farther and farther back in time. One sample, recovered from a pit at the north end of the site that contained over 600 fragments of animal bone, produced a date range of between A.D. 1490 and A.D. 1650 (Beta 128506); a sample from a small fireplace that contained bones from an adult caribou and the teeth of a calf returned a date of between A.D. 1305 and A.D. 1430 (Beta 128509); another from a hearth that also contained a number of beaver bones produced a date of between A.D. 1250 and A.D. 1305 (Beta 151322); and a sample from a small hearth, next to which we found a tooth from an adult caribou, produced a date range of between A.D. 970 and A.D. 1040 (Beta 151321). Clearly, the ancestors of the Beothuk had been visiting Russell’s Point for at least six centuries before John Guy and Henry Crout described it in their journals in the fall of 1612.


Images (left to right, top to bottom) 1. Looking southeast across Russell’s Point, 1994. 2. Excavating in the northeast corner of the site, 1996. The dark deposit is part of an Indian midden that produced over 600 bone fragments and a radiocarbon date of A.D. 1490 to A.D. 1650. 3. This Indian fireplace produced a number of beaver bones and a radiocarbon date of between A.D. 1250 and A.D. 1305. 4. Red ochre stain on the ground just north of the fireplace. 5. Uncovering an Indian hearth at the site, 1996.