2022 NLAS News- Blog from the President

Hello readers, its been a while! This is Robyn Lacy, 2022 president of the NLAS. Since our last blog post and AGM, our board members have taken a much-needed break, and have been working hard behind the scenes to get the NLAS ready for the 2022 season. We had our second meeting of the year with the board, and have a lot of really exciting things in the works for the upcoming year! It’s getting warmer outside, archaeologists are itching to pick up their trowels and shovels, and we hope you’ll join us for some cool events!

NLAS x Admiralty House Dig

We have teamed up with Admiralty House Communications Museum in Mount Pearl this year! Our board member Elsa Simms is the museum director there, we are planning a small survey and excavation to take place on the grounds of the museum. The NLAs hasn’t directed an excavation in many years, and we are really excited to undertake this project in such a public setting, and give visitors to the museum the chance to see archaeology in action, while finding out a little more about the museum property. This excavation is TBD, but we are hoping it will take place in May/June, with more news coming soon (watch our socials for information as it comes). The Admiralty House grounds are free to visit for the public, so there will be no admission fee to watch our archaeologists excavating and recording artifacts…and maybe even get you hands dirty too!

F.A.B.S. Talks: Ferryland & More!

Dr. Barry Gaulton speaking to our field trip group at Ferryland, 2022

We are finally getting the FABS (Friday Afternoon Beer Sessions) series rolling again for the springtime. We are within the 400th anniversary year of the founding of the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland, and are tailoring our FABS talks this year to have many speakers who research and work at the site. Last summer, we did a field trip with our members to Ferryland, with lunch at Ferryland Picnics, and had an amazing time! We’re setting up our spring/summer FABS schedule right now, and I’ll be posting it as soon as dates and speakers are finalised. Talks will include graveyards, the famous ‘Colony Cook-off’ and working in the historic kitchen, and industry at the site. It’s not just Ferryland, and we hope that you’ll join us for some interesting talks from researchers in the province.

1st Annual Mount Pearl Renaissance Fair

We at the NLAS are so excited to be participating in the 1st annual Mount Pearl Renaissance Fair, to be held on August 27-28th, 2022, at the rugby field on Ruth Ave, Mount Pearl. This two-day weekend event will be family friendly, and involve medieval story lines arcing over the weekend, sword fighting, food and vendors, and archaeology! We’ll have a tent with our Edukit, artifacts, and hopefully some demonstrations of tool making and other historic skills. We invite you to stop into the tent and learn about archaeology in our province. Costumes are encouraged!

New Logo Rollout & Upcoming Merch!

Finally, we are so pleased to formally announce the new NLAS logo! Created by local artist and illustrator, Mike Feehan, our new logo features some elements of the original design in the form of the font choice, the onion bottle, and the harpoon head, as well as many other images that reflect the vibrant and varied archaeology present in the province. From top centre, moving clockwise, we have: historic nails, onion jug, a beaker, bird tracks, harpoon head, lead cod jigger, oyster shell, heart-shaped locket, human tooth, bone comb, fish skeleton, kaolin clay pipe, the classic trowel, an ulu, and a projectile point.

This new logo represents the cultures and peoples across Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as many aspects of archaeology, from Indigenous to historical, zooarch to labratory analysis, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

The NLAS is currently working with a printer to get new merch underway, in the form of tshirts, potentially hoodies, and tote bags…and mugs were in the discussion at last night’s meeting as well!

It’s going to be an exciting year for the NLAS, as we find new ways to engage with you, our members. If you attended our AGM last fall you’ll know that we have had some issues with our banking, which have nearly been sorted. If you have been trying to email us through our old email regarding membership dues, or pay your dues for 2022, please hold off at the moment until we announce that our online banking is up and running. And please reach out if you have any ideas or events you’d like to see us involved in, or ways you’d like to join us to learn more about the archaeology in this incredible province. We look forward to connecting with you!


NLAS 2021 AGM Keynote Lecture: Thirty Years of Archaeology at Ferryland, Newfoundland

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 2021 Annual General Meeting, both in person and online! This year, Dr. Barry Gaulton delivered the keynote lecture at the AGM, in honour of the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Ferryland, Newfoundland and Labrador. He has graciously written his lecture up as a blog post, for those who were unable to attend the AGM. Enjoy!

“Thirty Years of Archaeology at Ferryland, Newfoundland” by Dr. Barry Gaulton

2021 is the 400th anniversary of the founding of the English colony of Avalon established in Ferryland in 1621 by Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. This year also marks the 30th season of continuous archaeological excavation, analysis and interpretation at Ferryland. Therefore, it’s an ideal time to reflect upon this longstanding community archaeology project: from its heyday in the 1990s, to economic downturns in the 2000s, to a changing climate and rising sea levels. Throughout it all, faculty and staff at Memorial University and employees and volunteers with the local not-for-profit Colony of Avalon Foundation (COA) have adapted in the face of various challenges to strengthen this community-university partnership.

Image 1: 1986 excavation, Area C (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

Setting aside limited exploratory work in the first half of the 20th century, the archaeology at Ferryland really begins in the mid-1980s with two field schools led by Dr. James A. Tuck from Memorial University. These excavations were conducted along the southern end of Ferryland’s sheltered inner harbor known as The Pool. It’s important to note that local Ferryland resident Arch Williams had previously convinced Dr. Tuck that the remains of Lord Baltimore’s colony was located in the Pool area, and that several local residents allowed Jim and his team to undertake excavations on their lands.

The discoveries made back in the mid-80s — including sections of 17th century stone walls, a rectangular feature that was later determined to be a flushing privy and the colony’s early forge built in 1622 — were so well preserved and the site so rich in artifacts that Jim reluctantly backfilled the excavation until such a time when adequate resources and funding could be marshalled to conduct a more thorough investigation (Tuck 1993).

The site then lay dormant for five years.

In 1991, a multi-year federal-provincial agreement provided funds to further investigate the archaeological remains of Ferryland’s buried history. This cost-sharing arrangement was finalized shortly before the Newfoundland Cod Moratorium. Thus, when excavations restarted again in 1992, the archaeology brought with it the added benefit of employment and retraining opportunities for community members in both Ferryland and surrounding towns (Tuck 1993).

Image 2: 1992 excavation, Jim Tuck talking with staff and visitors (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

Following the formative years of the early 1990s, as more of the 17th-century colony was uncovered, interpreted and made available to the public, Jim’s vision for the site evolved in close collaboration with local staff and community members. In 1994, the local not-for-profit Colony of Avalon Foundation was established. Together, archaeologists and volunteer members of the Foundation sought to make this archaeological site a key tourist attraction for the region. But of equal importance, they sought to make it a source of collective pride for the community and a way to embrace our past to build a viable and vibrant future (Gaulton and Rankin 2018).

In partnership with the COA, the level of interpretation and public dissemination grew in leaps and bounds. An old school not far from the site was renovated into an interpretation centre, with an in-house conservation lab and collections room to display, conserve and store our finds. Guided tours were available throughout the summer months and three heritage gardens were established in and around the archaeological site (Gaulton and Rankin 2018).

Image 3: Reproduction 17th-century kitchen room shortly after completion (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

In the late 1990s, the COA also acquired a former bait shed and repurposed one half as a gift shop, and directly behind it created a reproduction 17th-century kitchen room. Once completed, the kitchen room boasted a large stone fireplace, a flagstone floor, wood paneling and a collection of period oak furnishings including a table, cupboards, chests and chairs all hand made by Jim at his home workshop on Mt. Scio Road. Also incorporated into the kitchen were reproductions of the same ceramic and glass vessels found during the excavations at Ferryland. Visitors could therefore learn about where these objects were found on the site and what they were used for (Gaulton and Rankin 2018).

With the addition of these new components, community members received further training and employment opportunities as tour guides, heritage gardeners, living history interpreters and retail staff. Local artists were commissioned to produce accurate reproductions of site-specific objects for sale in the gift shop. Local businesses also flourished due to the popularity of the archaeological site and its thousands of annual visitors (Gaulton and Rankin 2018).

The archaeology at Ferryland saw a notable downturn in the late 2000s due, in part, to the global financial crisis and Jim Tuck’s retirement from Memorial University. The result was a shorter season with fewer staff, and big shoes to fill by one of Jim’s protégées. Around the same time, we started to note significant erosion events along the shoreline, in particular a large area at the eastern end of the site, combined with increasing occurrences of flooding around The Pool caused by rising sea levels and storm surges (Gaulton 2019).

In the context of funding constraints and climate change, we embarked, in 2012, on the next stage of this community-university partnership, one that involves a greater variety of experiences and opportunities for visitors and locals of all ages and interests. While still maintaining the core experience of active archaeological research and on-site conservation, visitors can now participate in the Archaeologist for a Day program. In addition to the educational and public outreach benefits of the program, would-be-archaeologists, under direct supervision of the archaeology team, excavate along the actively eroding eastern side of the site as part of our ongoing mitigation efforts to record in-situ deposits before they are lost to the sea (Rankin and Gaulton 2021).

Since 2012, lab staff have also enhanced the visitor experience by developing a series of revolving displays called “Finds from the Vault” focusing on themed artifact types to show visitors more of our existing collections. At the same time, graduate student research has been incorporated into the visitor experience as part of a guided tour. This practice allows students to disseminate their field or lab research to the public on a daily basis, honing their presentation skills, building their confidence, and learning to respond effectively to questions. For the general public, it provides a behind the scenes look at various stages of the research process, often involving large or diverse archaeological assemblages (Rankin and Gaulton 2021).

Image 6: One of several ‘Finds from the Vault’ displays produced by lab staff at Ferryland (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

Young children are now engaged during guided tours through the COA’s “Baltimore’s Backpacks” program, working to complete an on-site scavenger hunt and participating in dry sifting and lab activities. Finally, members of the general public as well as local knitters have also partnered with the COA in the ‘Stitching Time over Nine’ project, a multi-year endeavor in the form of a large hooked rug with 9 panels, each representing an important part of Ferryland’s history, based in part on archaeological evidence (Gaulton and Rankin 2018; Rankin and Gaulton 2021).   

Looking back at the last 30 years of archaeology at Ferryland, what have we learned about this place that we didn’t already know from historical records?

In truth, beyond a handful of early letters from 1621 and 1622 we knew next to nothing with regard to the When, What, Where and How of the colony’s development back in the 1620s and 1630s. We have no sketches or maps from this early period, nor do we have any additional surviving letters stating what was built where, or how and when it was constructed.

Image 7: Aerial of the Ferryland site (2009) showing two distinct terraces (Courtesy: Gord Carter, National Currency Museum, Bank of Canada).

It has taken upwards of twenty five years of archaeological investigation to paint a comprehensive, albeit still incomplete, picture of George Calvert’s colony of Avalon. That picture, however, reveals the well-planned and substantial nature of this early British settlement. When you examine the overall placement of the early structures and their elevations on the 17th-century landscape, as revealed through archaeology, you can clearly see that the Ferryland colony was built on a series of anthropogenic terraces (Gaulton 2012).

Essentially, this was a terraced seaside village built into a hillside.

The archaeology has demonstrated that Ferryland’s lowest terrace (alongside the inner harbor) was built on reclaimed land using the earth which was dug out to make a second terrace to the south. In places, upwards of 6 feet of fill was used to build up this first terrace and at the north end was a massive stone retaining wall that also served as the colony’s quayside. A large stone warehouse was constructed at the eastern end and immediately to its west, an ingeniously built, stone-lined privy, equipped with two openings at the north end so that the rising tides could enter twice each day to ‘flush out’ its contents.

Image 8: Waterfront buildings (ca. 1620s) including sections of the stone quayside, warehouse and privy (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation)
Image 9: George Calvert’s ‘Mansion House’ (ca. 1620s) (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

Eight feet above the quayside, warehouse and privy is a second terrace containing the domestic core of the Ferryland settlement, including a cobblestoned street measuring 13 feet wide and running 400 feet from the east to west end of the village. Directly south of the street are the remains of several dwellings and a variety of outbuildings including a stable, a brew house and bakery, and a blacksmith shop. Some of these structures were even built with subterranean slate drains that allowed liquid waste (in various forms) to be redirected away from these spaces and into the inner harbour.

Image 10: Beothuk hearths in 16th-century contexts at Ferryland (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

Another important fact that we’ve learned thanks to the archaeology is that there was a significant Beothuk occupation at Ferryland during the 16th century. Jim first found evidence for the Beothuk in pre-colonial deposits during the 1986 field school, and up to that point there was no historical or archaeological evidence to suggest that the Beothuk ever inhabited the eastern Avalon Peninsula (Tuck and Robbins 1986). As excavations continued, evidence for the Beothuk presence became more substantial with over 14 hearth features and many more artifact scatters spread out over various parts of the site, suggesting that the coastlines of the eastern Avalon were in fact familiar territory and visited frequently back in the 16th century.

The final lesson that the community archaeology project at Ferryland has taught me, and many others, is that archaeology is as much about people and places in the present as it is about the past. Archaeology is about including local residents and local priorities in your daily routine. Archaeology is about job and retraining opportunities, about local economic diversification and rural rejuvenation. Longstanding community archaeology projects enrich the lives of everyone involved, they provide a collective sense of identity, and probably most important, a renewed sense of optimism in the future (Gaulton and Rankin 2018; Rankin and Gaulton 2021).    

Image 11: Ferryland field and lab crews 1993 (Courtesy: Ferryland Archaeology Project/Colony of Avalon Foundation).

References cited:

Gaulton, Barry C.
2012    A Terraced Village at ‘Avalon’: The Construction and Evolution of George Calvert’s 1621 Colony at Ferryland, Newfoundland. Paper presented at the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology conference held in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

2019    Climate Change at the Colony of Avalon National Historic Site. Presentation to the Climate Change & Heritage Places Information Forum and Adaptation Workshop (Parks Canada) held in St. John’s.

Gaulton, Barry C. and Lisa K. Rankin
2018    Archaeological heritage as a catalyst for pubic engagement, rural rejuvenation, and rethinking our shared past: perspectives from a quarter century of community archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador. História: Questões & Debates 66(2): 19-44.

Rankin, Lisa K. and Barry C. Gaulton
2021    Archaeology, Participatory Democracy and Social Justice in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. In Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress (Special Issue: Archaeology as a Public Good). Guest editors Stanton Green, Claudia Green and Joseph Schuldenrein.

Tuck, James A.
1993    Archaeology at Ferryland, Newfoundland. Newfoundland Studies, special issue Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 9(2): 294-310.

Tuck, James. A. and Douglas T. Robbins
1986    A glimpse at the Colony of Avalon. In J. S. Thomson & C. Thomson (Eds.), Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador 1985 (pp. 237–249). Historic Resources Division, Department of Culture, Recreation and Youth.