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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Losier

Excavations Are Progressing! Northwest We Go!

Updated: 4 days ago

Week Two of Memorial University's 2024 Field School on Turpin’s Island, Little St. Lawrence

Turpin’s Island archaeological project led by Dr. Catherine Losier continued this week (July 1st to July 7th) as the team of undergraduate students, Masters and PhD students, pursue the excavations. Our goals are: to determine areas with high archaeological potential and to better document which cultural groups settled on Turpin’s island (exactly where and when). According to the archaeological and historical data we have gathered so far, we know that Turpin’s Island was occupied for at least five-hundred years (this is very exciting!). Throughout the week, the test pitting campaign made its way to the northwestern side of the island and we are pleased to report that we have opened 39 test pits to date!

Fig. 1: Polaroid pictures of all the crew! Left to right: (Joey, Kassandra, Sarah, Kaitlyn, Catherine, Alyson, Kayla, Charlotte, Keelan, Mars, Skyler, Leah, Valentin, and Dami)

The week started off with Canada Day as well as the anniversary of Beaumont Hamel, Battle of the Somme. The crew had this day off to rest our bodies and minds to prepare for a week of hard work ahead. During the evening, the crew met up at one of the houses that we have rented during our stay (thank you Kate and Lucy) to participate in some games. It was a lot of fun!


Tuesday, we were met with more rain, but we did not let that stop us from working. We headed to the St. Lawrence municipal center as they have so kindly offered some space to set up our field laboratory (thank you again, this is extremely generous!). In the lab, the undergraduate students learnt more about how to properly fill out their field forms with the help of Dr. Losier and TAs (Kassandra Drake, Kayla Low, and Valentin de Filippo). Valentin, had the altitude points taken from all of the test pits up to this point that he collected using RTK (Real-Time Kinematics). With this new information, the undergraduate students reported their altitude points on the forms for their completed test pits. Lastly, students cleaned their artefacts and set them to dry to better catalogue and study them in the near future. Once all tasks were completed in the lab, the crew had the rest of the day off! What did the undergraduate students do with their early day off? Played charades!


On Wednesday we got a special visit from Blair Temple from the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO), who started excavating test pit # 29 on the northwest side of the island. Mars helped Valentin with the RTK, and Keelan found a piece of Normandy stoneware that is associated with the French occupation of the island! We finished up many of the test pits on the northern shore of the island, which seemed to mostly yield artefacts from the English (Newman & Co), and later Newfoundlander occupations (1784 -- present). After work, most of the team went out to Shoal Cove beach for an evening of surfing, wading in the (very cold) water, and cooking over a campfire!

Fig. 2: Walk on the beach, BBQ, and surfing at Shoal Cove

Thursday was a new day on the field with wonderful weather (which seems to be rare this field season, but we persist!). A few more test pits were opened on the northwest side of the island, Skyler got to help Valentin with the RTK, and Paul Lambe involved in the St. Lawrence Historical Advisory Committee visited the site! We had many exciting developments on Thursday, as the team uncovered four new features on the site!

Fig. 3: Sketch of the features and test pits.

First, Dami and Catherine realized there had been a construction trench dug into the natural layer (the layer that has consistently yielded no artefact) in test pit # 24! The feature consists in alignment of big (30-40 centimetres) stones that could be associated with a 20th-century fishing store (located next to a stage) on the northwestern point of the Island.


The next feature was found by Blair in test pit # 29. He uncovered a stone wall bordering a platform built close to the shoreline. Some of the artefacts found in his test pit include a well-preserved pipe stem and pipe bowl fragments, some pearlware, and the largest piece of Basque tile excavated so far! Charlotte in test pit # 32 has identified the eastern wall of the same feature.

Fig. 4: Dami and the feature in test pit # 24

Fig. 5: Blair Temple excavating in test pit # 29 and close up on a basque tile

Joey in test pit # 31 also discovered wall belonging to another feature which looks like the foundation of a building! It is still too early to date this feature precisely, but according to the artefacts (cut nails, window glass), it could date from the 19th-century.

Fig. 6: Joey’s feature (wall) in test pit # 31


On Friday we continued excavating our test pits and documenting features discovered earlier in the week. All four of the new test pits with features in them seem to be very promising (stay tuned for next week's blog post!). After working on the field until around 4:30 PM, the field school students gathered at the student house and enjoyed watching movies for the rest of Friday night.


On Saturday we took a break from the field and relaxed. Alyson, Sarah, Joey and Leah all went for a fishing trip out in Lawn. Although the rain came before they could catch any fish, it was still good fun. Later in the day all of the gang went to the socced field and Trophy Room in St. Lawrence to watch a soccer game (St. Lawrence is the capital of soccer in Newfoundland) and socialize with the community. We got the chance to explain our project some of our new friends, everyone seems very excited about the Turpin’s Island archaeology project. For our last day off on Sunday, a few of the undergraduate students took a road trip to the Burin Cinema! Lots of good snacks!

Fig. 5: Undergrads; Sarah, Joey, Keelan, Alyson, Leah, and Kaitlyn at the Burin Cinema

This week’s excavations were more fruitful as we covered more ground and most importantly, we better understand the extremely interesting site we get to excavate. We hope to find more interesting artefacts to share with the community and to help unravel the history of Turpin’s Island. Next week's forecast calls for some sun, field time, interesting finds, and smiles all around. We will continue to update the blog with information about our work, stay tuned!

Bonus footage: Aerial visite of the site, week 2


Archaeology Office 2023, Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, p. 95-109

Authors: Alyson Tulk, Joey Ried, and Skyler Yetta

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