Digging into the past
From finding artifacts to making history, Memorial lent its support to the
town of Placentia this past year as it dug into its past. Two mid-17th century
French forts were home last summer to three Memorial University students, 13
workers from Placentia, and Amanda Crompton, principal investigator, as a world-class
archaeological dig transpired in our own backyard.
In 1996, two archaeology students from Memorial discovered what is now known
to be the site of the first fort built in Placentia by the French, Vieux Fort,
believed to have been inhabited between 1662 and 1685. Five years later, through
the diligence of Placentia's Heritage Advisory Committee and the Placentia Area
Historic Society, funding was secured through Human Resources Development Canada
and Memorial's Newfoundland Archaeological Heritage Outreach Program (NAHOP),
run by Dr. Peter Pope. This funding allowed for a large-scale dig that would
incorporate Vieux Fort, a second fort by the name of Fort Louis, and a fully
“The advisory committee really saw the potential for tourism and community
growth, and pursued that vision,”said Ms. Crompton.
As supervisor of this extensive uncovering, Ms. Crompton ran the Vieux Fort
site, delegating Fort Louis to Blair Temple, a graduate student in archaeology.
The stories of these forts, and the people who inhabited them, came to life
for these researchers.
“Several years after the initial fort was built for protection by the
French, Fort Louis was created. This second fort was built closer to the opening
of the Placentia harbour, and was later reestablished by the British when they
took over ownership of the community,”Ms. Crompton explained. “These
sites are rich with remains that allow us to catch a glimpse of how these people
really lived, beyond historical maps.”
Last summer, a vast amount of diverse artifacts were discovered and pieced
together, attesting to the rich historical roots that run deep into Placentia's
“We found everything from fancy French pottery to hand-blown glass, some
coins that date back to 1630, and a French spigot, used to draw beer from a keg,”said
Ms. Crompton. “We could tell that the forts were most likely home to the
French officers, we found domestic materials that would normally be used for
fine dining and entertaining.”
The search and preservation of such artifacts attracted interest from locals
and tourists. During the summer, people flocked to the dig sites, as well as
to the old Placentia drugstore that housed the lab, to see the unfolding story
of their past.
“People love to watch other people dig,”commented Ms. Crompton. “The
community was really great, and the people truly saw the benefits of research.”
Projects like the Placentia dig have served as the subject of honours dissertations
for students in the past, and it's hoped that this work unearthed increased
interest in this field of study for others.
“Interest in archaeology has really only taken off in the last 30 years,”Ms.
Crompton said. “Memorial's archaeology unit has been instrumental in developing
this interest, making research opportunities such as this one possible.”
All of the pieces found were accessible for further research at the Newfoundland
Museum, and distributed to local museums. “The students and community
crew were critical to the dig,”Ms. Crompton stated. “The research
really lent itself to looking at the lives of people in the past, and the people
I worked with really made it happen.”
To find out more about Memorial's archaeology program and research, see www.mun.ca/archaeology/program.htm.