Indigenous peoples of North America

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.


Peter Ramsden’s Day of Archaeology

Today I am engaged in analysis and writing of some Late Woodland / Huron materials that I excavated in the Balsam Lake area of southern Ontario a few decades ago.  I was investigating social, economic and political process among a group of early to late 16th century Huron communities that were undergoing quite a bit of disruption as a result of both in- and out-migrations and early interaction with Europeans in the St. Lawrence valley.  That interaction apparently caused some dissension within and between the communities, resulting in village fission and fusion, and the frequent formation and dissolution of alliances.  At the end of the 16th century, these communities finally united into a single large town, which then picked up and moved some 50 km westward to join other groups of Hurons in what would become the Huron confederacy.  Within the confederacy, these particular people became known to history as the Rock Nation, with whom the French soldier and explorer Champlain formed an alliance on behalf of the French crown in the early 17th century.


Today, specifically, I am re-examining and recording some of the artifacts from the Coulter site, the large cosmopolitan community mentioned above, into which the smaller Balsam Lake villages coalesced.  This is part of my long-overdue preparation for writing a book on the archaeological history of the Hurons of Balsam Lake, and their role in the formation of the Huron confederacy and its eventual downfall at the hands of the 5 Nations Iroquois.

Section through a defensive earthwork and ditch,at the early 16th C Jamieson site

Peter Ramsden looking at a rim section of a Huron pot, Coulter Site

Bone bead with carved human face on each side

Human effigy pipe bowl (ceramic); Kirche Site (ca AD 1550)