They traveled all over Labrador and parts of Quebec over 3,000 years ago and made the banks of Lake Melville their summer home, according to Scott Neilson, the lead archeologist in Sheshatshiu for Labrador Institute at Memorial University.
The biggest of the finds are a number of spearheads that have been unearthed, making the find extremely rare, as well as Dorset tools, (people who lived along the coast), in amongst the Intermediate Innu tools they have found.
“There are no documented arrowhead usage during this time period in this area with the ancestors of the Innu,” said Neilson.
Based on the size of the spearheads, he thinks that they are exhausted spearheads, meaning that they were much larger at one time and overtime have been sharpened until they no longer served their purpose.
He says the glacial till that the site is sitting on has lots of quartzite cobble there, so people who were in the area actually mined the site to make their tools there.
“This a bit different for around here instead of carrying stones from as far as Rama Bay or from up the coast or the interior,” added Neilson.
Neilson says that the ancestors would take a nice size stone and knock a piece of it off and begin to shape their spearheads, making them light weight and easy to carry.
“Because the Innu were so mobile, walking hundreds of kilometers, they did not want to carry heavy loads of stones and rock around, so they made them in smaller sizes, making them easy to carry in backpacks.”
Neilson said the Innu most likely made spearheads to hunt caribou, porcupines or anything they may be out hunting for.
“The bigger spearheads would most likely be for hunting Caribou, where the Innu most likely hunted the animal at water crossings, either in a boat or wait at a fording point, where it came back to shore,” he said.
Neilson said a few Innu living in Natuashish went out and tried hunting as their ancestors did, just to see what it was like to spear a Caribou instead of shooting it.
The project that began in 2003 was stumbled upon after clearing began for an access road. A community member who happened to be at the site noticed what he saw as artifacts being unearthed and notified other community members who contacted MUNS Archeology.
The University met with Band Council office and told them about the discovery. After talks Band Council agreed to stop work temporarily to allow the University time to work several areas and unearth the Innu’s history of the area.
As word spread of the find the community became gung-ho and some from the community started to show up wanting to help with the work.
A full-scale excavation began on the site in 2010.
Neilson said when Sheshatshiu gained reserve status in 2006, it put a boundary on the reserve, prohibiting them from building outside the reserve, making land a premium and forcing the reserve to move into the archeology area to build new homes for the community.
“This place, where the sites are is the last place that is easily accessible that is close to the existing infrastructure.”
He says the Band Council has shown a big interest in what the archeologists have uncovered at the sites and has put money into the effort wanting to know who put the artifacts there.
“Not necessarily a great-great grandfather or anything like that. Just the fact that there is some sort of relationship there,” Neilson said.
What is interesting is that 3,000 years ago the artifacts would have been along the shoreline, but because Labrador land mass is rising, the artifacts have been discovered a great distance from where the shoreline is today.
This is due to glacial rebound, isostatic rebound, we have a rough idea that certain elevations relate to a certain time period when the land emerged out of the water and you can see the active shoreline which dates back 2800 years ago.
Neilson says at this point there have been no discovery of human remains and has no idea what the Innu did with remains 3,000 years ago.
“There have been sites in the Maritime Archaic Period. There was a cemetery that was excavated in Groswater Bay that dates back 3500 years ago,” he said.
“We have found lots of red ocher on the site, which in other jurisdictions I have worked, if you find red ocher, that is the end of the dig. Because it is associated with burials, the Innu are different when it comes to red ocher finds, because it could have been used for skin pigmentation or preserving tools.”
Mark Story the lead supervisor of the dig site says the size of the dig is a massive area that is being excavated and several building lots have been cleared and ready for housing to begin.
“We are the first people to see these sites in 3,000 years and we will be the last people to see them before it is demolished.”
Story says because the land that the artifacts have been found on is under federal land, there is no legislation to preserve the sites as historical sites. He says it is a terrible loophole.
“I think we are the only G8 country not to have a National Heritage planning guide.”