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Collaborative Research: The Initial Peopling and Settlement of Eastern Newfoundland


Project start
Project end
Type of project
Project theme
Society, economy and culture
Project topic
Culture & history

Project details

Science / project summary

This project is an archaeological examination of the cultural and ecological factors that contributed to the colonization and settlement of Newfoundland by Maritime Archaic peoples. The Maritime Archaic peoples (ca. 6,000 B.C.-1,000 B.C.) were the first to colonize the Eastern Subarctic and Arctic of North America. They created a way of life that allowed them to successfully occupy the entire coast and near interior of Newfoundland and Labrador for thousands of years, and maintain relationships with contemporaneous cultures that stretched throughout much of northeastern North America. However, we still know very little about their initial settlement of the region, their early social organization, and the ways these processes were affected by ecological factors. The aim of this research is to examine the initial settlement of Newfoundland within the larger context of the peopling of northeastern North America and the roles that historical processes, both cultural and environmental, played in that broader framework. This will include new archaeological excavations at early Maritime Archaic sites in Newfoundland, as well as investigation and analysis of existing Maritime Archaic artifact collections from throughout the region. It will also examine ecological data, such as plant and animal remains, to assess the wider role of environmental change in the initial occupation of the eastern Subarctic and how early cultural adaptations developed within northern coastal and island ecosystems. This project is an international collaboration of professional archaeologists, graduate students, and undergraduates. The training and education of undergraduate students is a critical component of this project. Moreover, project members will continue to collaborate with local communities to develop economic and preservation initiatives related to the archaeological sites and cultural heritage associated with this research and to create educational opportunities for students and community members in the region. This research will have extensive implications for our understanding of how and when people first settled the easternmost region of North America, and northern coasts and islands more generally. The earliest human migration onto any landscape is a complex, interactive, and dynamic historical process. In North America, the colonization process is often generalized within an evolutionary perspective that envisions humans simply reacting to ecological opportunities offered by newly available landscapes and resources at the end of the last Ice Age. It is also often framed as solely a Paleoindian process that did not extend far into the Holocene, despite the fact that large portions of northern North America were not colonized until the Middle Holocene. New archaeological fieldwork and collections analysis concerning the Archaic expansion onto and around the island of Newfoundland will inform larger models of human colonization within the region, as well as in other Arctic and Subarctic coastal zones. This includes the initial peopling of North America on the other side of the continent and the role that northern coasts and islands played in that process. It will also help us better understand the interaction between Archaic people and their environment and the adaptation strategies they employed in unknown coastal and island landscapes, as well as the relative impact they had on those environments. To address these issues the research team will survey and date extant collections to fine-tune the chronological resolution of the initial colonization processes of Newfoundland. They will also conduct new excavations at the Stock Cove and Stock Cove West sites in eastern Newfoundland where Maritime Archaic deposits have been found that appear to stratigraphically correlate to their earliest occupations of the region and that have the first evidence of architecture by Archaic peoples on the island. This will be assessed with a suite of new dates and analyses of material remains recovered from those excavations. Additionally, new geophysical surveys employing ground penetrating radar and magnetometry will be conducted to locate new Archaic deposits to help focus the excavations and noninvasively assess other archaeological deposits that could address the earliest settlement of Newfoundland. Finally, ecological data (e.g. insects, faunal remains, macrobotanicals) will be collected and analyzed to help reconstruct environmental patterns that may have impacted and influenced the peopling and settlement process by the Maritime Archaic. This project will have broader impacts that include: 1) the first excavation and analysis of a Maritime Archaic structure on the island of Newfoundland; 2) the contribution of important data to our understanding of Archaic social organization and settlement in the eastern Subarctic/Arctic; 3) obtaining key environmental data that will assist with the assessment of environmental change throughout the Holocene and may inform the development of modern policies regarding the mitigation of environmental change and economic impacts (e.g., sea mammal hunting, fishing quotas, wildlife conservation, sea ice extent, coastal erosion); 4) the training of undergraduate students in archaeological field and laboratory methods; 5) international dissemination of our results to both academic and public audiences, and; 6) increased interaction with local communities, regional museums, and other interested parties within Newfoundland and Labrador concerning their heritage and cultural resources, including public lectures and the development of educational tools (e.g., social media, historical markers, pamphlets, booklets) for those communities.