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Uncovering a 2000-year-old settlement

PORT AU CHOIX, NL – Remnants of Newfoundland’s earliest peoples are being discovered near the small fishing community of Port au Choix.

Under the direction of Dr. Patricia Wells, the Port au Choix Archaeology Project has devoted the past four weeks to uncovering artefacts and excavating at the Groswater site near Bass Pond, within the Parks Canada Port au Choix National Historic Site. 

So far this summer they have found various remains at the small ancient enclosure, including stone tools and other remnants. 

Dr. Patricia Wells and her team test a sediment sample recovered from Bass Pond.

The Groswater people lived on the isle of Newfoundland from 2,800 to 2,000 years ago. This particular settlement was found on the Point Riche Peninsula in 2012.  

“This year we are running a small excavation,” said Wells. “We believe it’s important to leave as much of the site as possible for archaeologists in the future – whose methods may be much more superior to our own.”

Dr. Wells and her team have undertaken the project as a multi disciplinary effort – with her graduate student Zoe Armstrong, from Memorial University’s Department of Geography, taking an in-depth look at the ancient ecology of the area.

“We hope to assess whether the Groswater had any impact on the pond ecology, and look into the long ecological history of the region as a whole,” said Wells. 

As they were known to be seal hunters, Wells is investigating the possibility that the Groswater occupied the pond area and used it for processing seal skins.

Armstrong will focus on the contents of the pond’s sediments to determine if the Groswater had a lasting impact on the pond and its surroundings.

“So far we have determined that this site represents a small camp where people were making stone tools and using them to cut skins for clothing,” she said. “But it is very unlikely that they hunted from this site. There’s no view of the ocean, which would have prevented the Groswater from monitoring for seals, and no suitable beach near the site for landing game on shore.”

In their short time studying the area, Wells and her team have already largely accomplished their three main objectives. These include deducing whether other cultures were represented at the site, testing to determine the general size of the camp site, and learning what kind of activities were represented at the settlement.

The team experienced some initial difficulties as the site is waterlogged. Test pits to determine the extent of the settlement quickly filled with water as they were being excavated.

The researchers had to use containers and large sponges to remove water from the test pits, to avoid damaging the site, keeping it relatively intact for future archaelogists.

 “It would have been foolish to do blind archaeology,” Dr. Wells explained. “In an effort to open a larger area and allow us to maintain good archaeological practices, we created a kind of a channel to allow water to run off into a sump area.”

Their work, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with ongoing support from Parks Canada, will continue until the end of this week.

To view some of the artefacts uncovered and learn more visit the Port au Choix Archaeology Project page on Facebook.

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