Maritime Archaic Indians

Burial Site of Beothuk Ancestors
Maritime Archaic Indian Archaeologists have unearthed artifacts of the Maritime Archaic Indian culture at Back Harbour, Twillingate, a short distance from the Twillingate Museum. Specimens were excavated from the “Curtis Site” and date from about 1500 B.C. Although no human skeletal remains were associated with the found implements, chemical tests of the soil attest to the former presence of bone and ivory in the graves. Furthermore, archaeologists were able to recognize an ancient burial pattern at the site – a pattern found in many parts of the Atlantic Provinces and North Eastern States and known as the Maine Cemetery Complex.

The burial ground was discovered in the early 1960s when Stanley Curtis and his brother Frank of Back Harbour began digging a hole on property adjacent to their house. The original find included some 34 stone artifacts dug with pick and shovel from the beds of red ochre in which they had been buried three feet below the surface. Subsequent investigation produced another 37 specimens. The 71 artifacts found included stone gouges, axe heads and spear points. In addition, several fragments of what appear to be charred twisted leather or bark and badly decayed breast bone of ptarmigan were found suggesting burnt offerings. A five inch square sheet of mica and other minor stones were also found. Further excavation there uncovered a total of 15 graves yielding some 400 artifacts, as well as two small dwelling sites containing certain occupation and workshop debris: stone axes, adzes, spear points, and the hammer and grindstones with which these tools were made.

Individuals who worked at the site included: Donald McLeod of the National Museum; David Webber of the Department of Provincial Affairs; Bill Dallaire, Ottawa; Jaques de Martel, Montreal; Serge Forest, Montreal; and Stanley Curtis and Jim Anstey Jr. of Twillingate.

The Twillingate site yielded the first definite dates since the accurate dating of archaeological specimens was accomplished by subjecting charcoal fragments belonging to the site to radiation tests. In this case, the charcoal was probably the remains of ceremonial fires lit during the funeral rites. The Maritime Archaic Indians were NOT Beothuks. The Maritime Archaic Indians were among the earliest occupants of Newfoundland – possibly the earliest. They were succeeded by the so-called Dorset Eskimo people, whose dwelling sites are found all around the coast line of Newfoundland. Then apparently the Beothuk came probably from the mainland. This whole historical sequence is represented at Twillingate.