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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Losier

Turpin's Island excavations have officially begun!

Week One at Memorial's 2024 Field School on Turpin’s Island, Little St. Lawrence

Memorial archaeology field school led by Dr. Catherine Losier officially began this past Tuesday. Although we could not visit the field on the first day due to heavy rain, we spent our time wisely with a visit to the lab (thanks to the town of St. Lawrence!). In the lab, we worked collaboratively on a brochure about the history of the site and the objective of the project.


Excavation of the site began on Wednesday, June 26th, 2024, as our team of 10 undergraduate students and 3 teaching assistants started a test pitting campaign in order to determine the ideal location for larger-scale excavations. Following an educational demonstration from Dr. Losier, students were divided into groups of two and established the first 5 test pits of the season. Several exciting artifacts were found in the first few test pits including a decorated pipe bowl, several sherds of pearlware with hand painted decoration (more about those can be found on our Instagram @memorialarch2024 and from undergrads Kaitlyn and Mars), several pipe stems, and a sheep’s tooth.


On our second day on Turpin’s Island, we completed our initial test pits, their corresponding layer forms and stratigraphic profiles, and then began working individually on 10 new test pits. These test pits were spread across 100 meters towards the north shore of the island, ensuring that we get our steps in when we need to share equipment (or as our TA Kassandra Drake would say: it’s “a trot and a half”).

Fig. 1: Dr. Catherine Losier test pit demo; TA Kayla Low teaching stratigraphy techniques; Aerial picture of Turpin's Island


Fig. 2: TA Valentin de Filippo and Dami Olaniran mapping with the RTK

The excavations revealed several distinct layers. Generally, beneath the sod, we encountered an abandonment layer of clayey silt, followed by a layer of silty sand which we suspect to be the occupation layer. Students uncovered a wide array of artifacts such as iron nails, bricks, flint, fragments of a pipe stem and bowl, and ceramic sherds, all of which will help us gain a deeper understanding of the site’s history and the chronology of its occupation. In saying that, the main objectives of the campaign are to determine and confirm the dates associated with the site, locate artifacts from several documented occupations and, for us students, to learn the skills required to identify different types of artifacts, soils, and elements, as well as to properly document our findings. While students were hard at work, our TA Valentin de Filippo had some fun with the drone and began mapping the test pits using Real-Time Kinematics (RTK) with the help of Dami.


We encountered more bad weather on Friday, but we did not let that deter us. Instead, we took the opportunity to go to the lab once again. We began cleaning the artifacts found in our test pits and identifying them. Unfortunately, some of the things we brought back were simply rocks disguised by the mud but unsurprisingly this did not make a dent in the number of proper artifacts we had collected. Students carefully washed their artifacts and set them out to dry before they could be catalogued.

Fig. 3: Joey and Keelan cleaning artifacts in the lab; Artefacts drying

On Saturday we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather in order to make up for the few days that we missed earlier in the week and so we headed back to the field to continue working on our test pits, but not before taking some group photos with our drone!

Fig. 4: Best Team ! "Best Kind"! Kaitlyn, Sarah, Skyler, Catherine, Mars, Charlotte, Leah, Joey, Keelan, Alyson, Dami, Valentin, Cassy, Kayla.

Most notably on Saturday we uncovered a French Normandy stoneware sherd from the 17th or 18th century and a pipe bowl sherd which includes the TD maker's mark - both of which gives more information about the cultures and peoples who occupied the site.

Fig. 4: Domfrontais Normandy Stoneware (France, 17th or 18th century); "TD" Pipe bowl 19th century

Fig. 5: Slippers the seal

We invited people from Little St. Lawrence for a Community Day where they could ask questions and see what we were up to. Some people took us up on the offer, and also shared their own connections to the land. Our friend Slippers, the Seal, who visits us nearly everyday on the back beach of Turpin’s Island, also took the chance to drop in and say, "hello!”

Since we had all been so productive throughout the week despite our hiccup with the weather, we decided to reward ourselves with a trip to Shoal Cove Beach where we had a bonfire and watched in awe as our professor Dr. Losier surfing with the whales and our TA Valentin decided to go for a swim.

Fig. 6: Surfing and swimming in Newfoundland water!

Although the weather conditions have not been ideal this week, our team held strong spirits and worked very hard to accomplish as much as possible (which was a lot!). As of Saturday, we have opened 18 test pits and recovered dozens of artifacts giving us incredibly high hopes for the weeks to come. We look forward to sharing more information as time goes on!

Bonus: Aerial visit of the site, enjoy!


Losier, C., Ledger, P., Whitridge, P. (2024). “Turpin’s Island, Little St. Lawrence, CfAu-05. Small Scale Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Excavation Provincial Archaeology Office 2023, Archaeology Review, Vol. 22, p. 95-109.


Sarah Morgan (Left), Leah Constantine (Right)

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