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Archaeological Discovery in Organic Terrain in Canada – Page 5

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Artifact-bearing Blanket Peat Sites

A poll of the site data records of the peat blanketed areas of Canada produced hundreds of examples of sites (dating from Palaeoeskimo or Archaic times to the Historic period) where the artifact bearing surface or matrix is reported to be under 10-50 cm of peat (Figure 5). The number reported, however, is a tiny subset of the total number of recorded sites for, intuitively, one suspects that (natural and/or bio-cultural) accumulations of ‘peat’ are part of, or are in proximity to, a much higher proportion of the site sample. However, sites where artifacts were actually discovered in, or presumed to have eroded from, peat deposits are rarely reported and, once again, most of these are from Newfoundland and Labrador and areas ‘north of 60′.

Photo: Jean-Luc Pilon, jlp913478 Figure 5: “The peat deposit was this thick”. (Willie Simon Modeste of Tsigehtchic, near Travaillant Lake, Lower Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, 1991)
Photo: Jean-Luc Pilon,
Canadian Museum of Civilization

An important site where artifacts have been found in peat is EkBc-1, the Red Bay site, a multi-component (Pre-Dorset, Dorset, Basque) site largely in a blanket peat environment where well-preserved examples of clothing have been found. Red Bay, Labrador, the ‘whaling capital of the world’ in A.D. 1550-1600 (Tuck and Grenier 1989) and site of ‘the world’s first oil boom’ (Tuck 1987), is now open to tourists, along with an interpretation centre. Human remains have been excavated from the Basque whaler’s cemetery at Red Bay and, although most of it consists of marked graves in shallow well-drained soil, a shallow peat bog nearby evidently once served as grave-of-expediencey. These bodies, all male and uncoffined, were buried together in a boggy, apparently unmarked grave but, because of the shallow burial and partly aerobic conditions, preservation of bone and soft tissue was poor (White 2001). This multiple Red Bay burial resembles many bog body discoveries in northwestern Europe but sacrifice, murder, or offerings - as portrayed in the Mysterious Bog People exhibition - are not suggested. But, like many of the European examples, it represents a disposal rather than a burial. This essentially European peat burial is the only example found in the archaeological literature pertaining to Canada and the site record form databases canvassed.

Other sites where artifacts have been recorded from a (natural) peat context include JcDe-8, the Bush Island 1 site, in the South Baffin district of Nunavut, located by Fitzhugh (1977) who “found Dorset artifacts on a beach which had eroded down from a peat layer along the beach”; and JcLh-11, the Edehon Lake site in the Keewatin district of Nunavut, located by Sid Kroker (1977) which consists of “a minor chipping station eroding from a decaying peat deposit”; and MlDc-10, the Idjuniving Island 1 site, also in South Baffin, where the “erosion of a cliff face above the beach has exposed a layer of rich peat soil below the surface containing a very heavy concentration of chipped stone” (McKenzie-Pollack 1969). A small unnamed site (KkPp-14) on Sarah Lake, in the Northwest Territories, recorded by Tom Andrews (1992), consists of quartz and siltstone flakes, mostly located on exposed bedrock, but “a few flakes appeared in disturbed patches (bear diggings) in an area of muskeg immediately behind the exposed bedrock”. In the vicinity of McLean Lake, near Whitehorse, Yukon, Jeff Hunston (1983) recorded JeUs-19 which consists of a “side notched obsidian projectile point… found in peat which was quarried within 2-3 m of road. A follow up visit failed to uncover any additional cultural material”.


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