Marketing & Communications
Frontpage Email Us
Search This Issue  
Vol 39  No 13
Apr. 26, 2007



In Brief

New Faculty

News & Notes



Out and About

Papers & Presentations


Student View

Next issue:
May 17, 2007

Questions? Comments?
E-mail our editor.

Province’s unique archaeology draws international crowd
by Leslie Vryenhoek

In May, archaeologists from around the world will come to St. John’s to share their research and sample the rich archaeology of the province.
Memorial’s Dr. Lisa Rankin is organizing this year’s Canadian Archaeology Association conference. Ironically, it was the last such event held in this province – in 1991 – that first brought her here as an undergraduate. “I fell in love with it,” she explained, adding, “Memorial has an absolutely stellar reputation for archaeology.”

This year, she said, the conference is drawing more international attention than usual, and scholars have registered from Greenland, Scandinavia, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, the U.K. and Argentina.

The reasons include the archaeology of Newfoundland and Labrador: “We have 9,000 years of prehistory here, and the lengthiest period of European settlement in North America.” As well, the conference is drawing those who work in polar regions, because it will culminate in the establishment of an Arctic Archaeology Network.

“There are lots of people in many different countries who work on culture and prehistory in the north,” Dr. Rankin explained. “This will bring us together and give us a way to share information and coordinate our research.”

In fact, several members of Memorial’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology are arctic explorers.

The field camp at Nachvak in northern Labrador.

Dr. Peter Whitridge is one. Drawn here by his interest in the far north, he’s led a project at Nachvak Village in northern Labrador, where a fairly large Inuit population lived. Last year, The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine called this excavation one of Canada’s top 10 archaeological sites.

Dr. Whitridge and some students have excavated several dwellings that date between the 15th to 17th centuries. “I’m interested in how people organized themselves socially in these villages,” he explained, noting that northern Labrador has not been the subject of close archaeological examination in the past.

Findings such as animal bones, tools, furnishings and toys can offer insight into the activities of community members, and graduate students are currently analyzing the animal bones and ground stone tools found at the site.

Now Dr. Whitridge intends to turn his attention to a place called Komatorvik at the mouth of a fiord, where there are structures from several time periods. “It should be possible to look at the changes in house style over time, and the changes in social structure and living arrangements,” he said. “The beauty of the

Arctic is that finds are well-preserved.”

The trouble with the Arctic, however, is getting there and getting around. “The logistics are atrocious,” Dr. Whitridge said.

Dr. Rankin echoed that sentiment. “The Arctic is difficult place to work. It’s hard to get around in, expensive and remote. You’re really isolated when you’re there.”

Working on excavations in the Arctic provides numerous challenges.

Still, she too is there a lot. In 2001, shortly after joining Memorial’s faculty, she set about investigating a distinct geological feature called Porcupine Strand, a stretch of sandy beach that hugs Labrador’s coastline for 50 kilometres.

“It made sense that there would be archaeological sites, because it’s an easy place to land a kayak, and offers access to all kinds of resources.” She added that this is likely the “wunderstrand” referred to in the Viking sagas.

Her initial survey found at least 125 new sites. In subsequent years, she’s led crews consisting of Memorial undergraduate and graduate students, as well as youth assistants from local Labrador communities, in SSHRC funded excavations. Most recently, they explored Snack Cove on a nearby island, where the team uncovered sod-walled houses and artifacts at what is likely the earliest and most southerly Inuit settlement explored in the region.

In her next trip north, she plans to move to a site across the island: “The houses there look, from the shape, like they might be even earlier.”

The CAA conference runs May 16-20, and includes a public forum on Saturday, May 19 highlighting the latest findings in the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland.

More information can be found at


Top Stories