My name is Amanda Crompton (Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada), and I’ll be submitting a post about my own research project based in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland.

Please also note that I’ll be submitting a second post on behalf of Dr. Lisa Rankin (Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada), who is currently doing remote research in Labrador, and doesn’t have regular access to the internet.

Searching for Archaeological Sites on Oderin Island, Newfoundland, Canada

This was how I started my day as an archaeologist on July 20, 2011: Sitting in a kayak, paddling towards an island, where we would look for archaeological sites.

This was how I started my day as an archaeologist on July 20, 2011: Sitting in a kayak, paddling towards an island, where we would look for previously unknown archaeological sites.

On July 29, 2011, I found myself sitting in a kayak, paddling quietly off of Oderin Island,  in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. I couldn’t help but marvel at the good fortune that brought me to this beautiful place in the name of doing archaeology.

As a way of explaining how I came to be sitting in a kayak with archaeology gear stowed in the hatches and strapped to every available space on the boat’s deck, I suppose I ought to backtrack a little.

My name is Amanda Crompton, and I work and study in the Department of Archaeology at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’m an almost (almost!) completed archaeology PhD candidate, a sometime undergraduate course instructor, and part-time co-ordinator for a large research project. My own research interests revolve around the European presence in Newfoundland—and Europeans have been coming to Newfoundland for a very  long   time—which means there’s lots of different kinds of archaeology to do in Newfoundland.

I’m particularly interested in the French presence in Newfoundland. The French have a long history in Newfoundland; since the early sixteenth century, French fishing ships sailed across the Atlantic to catch, process and dry codfish on Newfoundland’s shores. This was  a seasonal venture for a long time, so the French didn’t live here year round. That all changed in the mid-seventeenth century, the French founded an official colony at Plaisance (now the community of Placentia).

Map showing the location of Oderin Island, and other places mentioned in the text.

Map showing the location of Oderin Island, and other places mentioned in the text.

I  was fortunate enough to direct an archaeological project at Placentia that explored the remnants of the colony for four years, and the project continues on today. I’m now interested in the French settlement that occurred outside of the colony—the unofficial settlements that were established in Placentia Bay, on the Burin Peninsula, and off the south coast of the island of Newfoundland.

One of these settlements was established on Oderin Island. We know it as Oderin today, which is an English adaptation of its original French name, Audierne.  Oderin is located in western Placentia Bay, about 9 kilometers offshore from the Burin peninsula.   The first reference to permanent settlement on the island is by two families, one of whom was the Lafosse family. Only a handful of historic documents mention the Lafosse settlement, and most of those don’t contain much detail.  This means that most of what we’re going to learn about the settlement is going to come from archaeology. Still, what we know of the Lafosse family from these documents is fascinating, and their story was one of the main reasons behind my decision to do archaeology on Oderin Island.  I think their story would make a fantastic movie, actually. It’s a complicated story, which means it’s a long one, so bear with me.

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Report from Indian Harbour, Labrador, Canada

I am Lisa Rankin, an Associate Professor of Archaeology at Memorial University in St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada.  For the last three years I have been running an

Map showing the location of the Huntingdon Island 5 site

Map showing the location of the Huntingdon Island 5 site

excavation at the site of Huntingdon Island 5 (FkBg-3) at Indian Harbour on the south-central coast of Labrador.

It is a pretty remote location.  It takes us two days to get here.  First we have a 10 hour drive across the island of Newfoundland from St. John’s to St. Barbe where we spend the night.  The next morning we get on a ferry to Labrador and then drive another seven hours north on a gravel road to the community of Cartwright.

 

That is not the end of our journey.  Once in Cartwright, the crew and all of our gear have to be ferried by boat to Indian Harbour about 30 minutes away.  Once here we set up camp for the summer and stay for several weeks until our summer field work is completed.

 

 

 

We have been excavating a series of Inuit winter houses at this site which date between AD 1620 and AD 1740. This research is part of a much bigger project titled “Understanding the Past to Build the Future”.  Ultimately, the purpose of the project is to understand and interpret the development of the contemporary Inuit-Metis society who currently reside on the southern coast of Labrador.

Overview of the Huntingdon Island 5 site

Overview of the Huntingdon Island 5 site

The project is multi-disciplinary in nature and is combining research undertaken by two archaeologists, a religious historian, two anthropologists, a specialist in Aboriginal education, a geneaologist and the Inuit-Metis community organization called the NunatuKavut Community Council.  It is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  The archaeological focus of the research is attempting to answer questions about the migration of the Inuit into southern Labrador, the permanency of their settlement and their response to interaction with the various European groups that held sway on the southern Labrador coast beginning with Basque whalers in the early 16th century, then the French through much of the 17th and 18th century and ultimately the British who gained control of Labrador in the late 18th century.  The lives of the Inuit were quickly entwined with each of these groups, but none more so than the British whose colonial efforts on the coast encouraged inter-marriage with local Inuit women leading to the development of the Inuit-Metis community here.

This year my crew is made up of 10 people (including me).

Crew members excavating in Inuit sod house, July 29, 2011

Crew members excavating in Inuit sod house, July 29, 2011

Most are my students from the university but there are also three local students from Cartwright.  My crew chief is Robyn Fleming.  Having received her MA at Memorial University two years ago, Robyn has been working as my crew chief in the summer and lab director in the winter since then.  The excavation crew also includes Phoebe Murphy, who has just completed her MA thesis on the development of the Inuit Communal House phase, a response to intensive trading with the French, that occurred on the southern Labrador coast; Laura Kelvin, whose MA thesis combines local oral histories with archaeology in order to help us locate sites associated with various eras and ethnic groups that interacted in the region; Eliza Brandy, a zooarchaeologist and superb photographer who has been keeping our video and photo record; Andrew Collins, an archaeology student who will begin his MA studies this September; and Vicky Allen, an undergraduate archaeology student at Memorial University who also happens to be of local Inuit decent. The lab crew is made up of Brandon and Chelsea Morris a brother and sister from Cartwright, Labrador who are pursuing non-archaeology degrees at University, but who joined the project as high-school students and have returned to help us once again, and Kellie Clark, also from Cartwright who has just finished high school.

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