The Latest


Write for Us

Share your story with the world. submit an article

Active Bloggers

Pope’s Point: unearthing ancient history

6 Jun 2011 by Guest Blogger in Culture and History
Region: Central

View Source Article
By Stephen Hull

Pope’s Point has had a very long history. In terms of its cultural history, the site has evidence of Maritime Archaic, Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk, Mi’Kmaq and European occupations. In terms of archaeology it was first recorded by T.G.B. Lloyd, an English geologist with an interest in archaeology & the Beothuk, in the early 1870s and reported on by him in his 1876 article “A Further Account of the Beothuks of Newfoundland.” In The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Journal.

Frank Speck, the American Anthropologist, recovered material from the site in 1914, with much help from his wife, which he related to the Beothuk. During his time at the site he noted the presence of 13 house pits. His work at the site was reported on in his 1914 hand written notes.

Based on his information other researchers have assumed that the point had 13 house pits. In reality the 13 were spread for several hundred metres between the mouth of Badger Brook and the mouth of Little Red Indian Brook. Pope’s Point itself had only 4 house pits.

Hand drawn map from Speck 1914

He described the house pits as being about 15 feet in diameter and about 12 inches deep and having the shape of rings or rude angular circles. Speck describes removing the mossy sod covering to find cracked caribou bone, the occasional stone pebble for cracking open the bone and nondescript iron fragments. He stated that near the center of each pit was an area covered with fire-cracked rocks, quantities of charcoal, charred bones and iron. In some places bone deposits extended 6 or 8 inches thick.

Pope's Point 1915. Housepit delineated by boulders in foreground (Speck).

The site was again revisited by Peter Harrison and Garth Taylor in 1963 during their brief survey of Red Indian Lake and the Exploits River.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the site was excavated by a professional archaeologist. Helen Devereux and her crew of four spent July and August of that year excavating at Pope’s Point on behalf of the National Museum of Canada. By that time the site had been disturbed by the construction of a fenced off Forestry compound with several buildings.

The site itself is located within the community of Badger, at the confluence of Badger Brook and the Exploits River on a terrace that is ~ 2 metres above the Exploits River.

Site location

Devereux’s goal at the site was to archaeologically identify the Beothuk, something that had never been previously done. By 1964, Devereux noted that the site had suffered considerable erosion damage from spring flooding since Speck’s visit and she was only able to identify two house pits on the site, pit A & B. One was completely excavated (B) the other was partially. From her excavation of pit B she recovered wrought iron nails, iron axes, spear points and awls, forty-one beads (forty of which were seed beads) and quantities of bone, much of which appeared to be caribou. And she found that pit B was rectangular in shape and measured 12 x 16 feet. Along with these historic period artifacts she recovered thirty-eight stone tools and numerous flakes.

Excavation photo from Devereux's 1965 report on Pope's Point (Devereux)

While Pope’s Point is often thought of as a Beothuk site there is much evidence for a Palaeoeskimo occupation at the site including the artifacts in the two pictures below, most of which appear to be Palaeoeskimo.

Bifaces collected by Devereux in 1964 (Devereux)

Bifaces collected by Devereux in 1964 (Devereux)

In 1967, just a few years after Devereux, Pope’s Point was revisited by Don Locke an amateur archaeologist from Grand Falls. According to his notes he collected pieces of metal, bone, ceramic and stone artifacts. He also noted the site had three house pits, one of which had a long eroded hearth.

In 1982, the site was again revisited by a professional archaeologist Callum Thomson. He spent a small amount of time test pitting at the site during his survey of the Exploits River from Red Indian Falls to Grand Falls as reported in his submission for Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1982. He found, like Devereux, that the site had further eroded from spring flooding and he could locate only one house pit. He was also told that looters had used metal detectors at the site to find metal artifacts. Despite this his test pits showed the site still had in situ deposits.

Pope's Point flooded in 1983

Just 10 years later when the site was revisited by Fred Schwarz in 1992 there was no evidence of a house pit at the site. However he did find considerable evidence for in situ deposits within the Forestry compound including flakes and a Maritime Archaic ground slate axe, interspersed with disturbed areas.

In the spring of 2003 Badger and Pope’s Point was once again flooded.

2003 Badger Flood

In May of 2003 Ken Reynolds tested the site to see if anything remained of the site. Six of his ten test pits contained cultural material including flakes, four small calcined bone fragments, two recent fragments of bottle glass and two fragments of iron. Noting that the Forestry compound was no longer in use, Reynolds made regular revisits to the site on an annual basis.

Post 2003 flood - Forestry building pushed off it's foundation (Reynolds)

During his 2008 revisit he found that the site had been bulldozed for what turned out to be a Recreational Vehicle Park development.

Pope's Point after clearing for the RV park (Reynolds)

Pope’s Point is one of the few deep interior sites which has evidence for nearly every culture that inhabited the island of Newfoundland. Maritime Archaic Indian, Groswater and Dorset Palaeoeskimo, Recent Indian, Beothuk and Mi’kmaq artifacts and features have either been recovered or historically recorded to have existed there at one time. Unfortunately river erosion and flooding, illegal pot-hunting, building and landscaping associated with both the Provincial and National Forestry Services impacted greatly on the site over the past 100 or so years. Recently the development of a RV Park by the Town of Badger has added significant damage to this site. However, it is believed that cultural material, albeit in a disturbed context, will still be found in small pockets lying close to either the banks of the Exploits River or Badger Brook.